Posts Tagged With: joy

Dying, As You Do

My friend is dying.

We found out at the end of last year that Georgia has a brain tumor.  In January some friends and I flew out to spend a weekend with her and go out for one last over-the-top meal before the chemo-necessitated diet kicked in.  We accompanied her to doctor appointments, invading the waiting rooms with our Very Much Diva presence.

023I mean, we were polite and all, but there were five of us.  Still, apart from that one incident with the unattended wheelchair and the empty hallway at the hospital, I’d say we behaved ourselves pretty well.

Even so, four middle-aged women, who are used to advocating for themselves and their children – we each have at least one with some level of special needs, so we are all very used to doctors and hospitals and insurance companies – accompanying a fifth woman who is, from sheer height, physically imposing, with a personality to match…

Well.  We made the day interesting for the staff, at any rate.

087cropAnd then we went out for dinner at the second-fanciest restaurant I’ve ever been to (the first was the night I met Georgia) and accidentally spent $132 on a plate of caviar.  Okay, but the “1” was really, REALLY small, and did I mention we’re all middle-aged?

When I finally returned home, I figured that was probably the last time I would spend time with my friend.  As much as I wanted to hop a plane again and hang out for a weekend, I knew my schedule was not going to allow it.

And then, miraculously, she was able to come here this weekend for the 4th of July celebrations.  It was like a bonus round.  She has quit the chemo, so the diet is off, so once again we went out to eat food we know better than to eat, because if you can’t eat foie gras with your friend who is dying, when can you eat it?

My heart is full today, full of love for my dying friend, for my friends who are walking her through this, and for the inevitable day that approaches far too rapidly when we will all come together once more on her behalf, but without her presence.

003For now, though, I will focus on the laughter last night around the table, the delight we took in each new dish that arrived at the table, the moments of bliss we shared with that first bite of that steak sampler, that song that we enjoyed so much as it wafted through the sun-warmed patio, the sea breeze that was just enough but not too chilly.

None of our lives are easy at the moment, and every now and then one or the other of us would bring up something we’d had to deal with during the week, and we would find the funny side and laugh about it, and then move on to another topic as if to say, “Yes, this is hard, but it too shall pass and what matters is this – this moment now, this shared joy, this camaraderie, this love for each other.”

Death puts life into focus. Death lines up our priorities with lightning speed. While I do not want to let my friend go and every ounce of my being screams that it’s too soon, that the world needs her, that we need her, that this isn’t fair, I can’t sit beside her with only that in my heart.  I can’t waste these precious last moments I have with her on this earth on complaints about the manner in which she is exiting.

So in my sorrow, there is joy.  I dig deep and focus tightly on that joy, and the sorrow that wails in the periphery, threatening to rush in at any moment and extinguish it, only serves to make that joy all the more precious.

There are any number of Scriptures I could quote here, but each one that comes to mind seems trite in the face of this reality.  Not that they don’t apply, or that they aren’t true, but I don’t think you can just pull out a verse and slap it on a situation like this.  Reality is hard, life is messy, and death is heart-breaking.

It helps to have the assurance that one day I will see my friend whole again, cancer-free and in full command of the words that now elude her grasp.  But there isn’t one tidy little verse that I can recite to encompass all of that, nor do I think I should try.  It’s in times like these that I can only draw on the full extent of faith, of walking with God, of having tried and rejected pat answers and legalistic forms of religious behavior, and having come to the end of myself and having realized more than once that without Him, I am nothing.

And I can rest in the knowledge that as dear as my friend is to me, as much as I love her laugh and her joie de vivre and the mischief we bring out in each other, God loves her more – really loves her, gets her on a level no one else does, cares for her and is walking with her every step of the way until the day He welcomes her into His arms for eternity.

Until then, there are still moments to savor, smiles to share.

And baked olives to eat.

(Something, incidentally, I would not have known had I never met Georgia.)

Categories: Faith, Family, Food, Relationships | Tags: , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

No Filter December – Day 24: Comfort and Joy

The words to Christmas carols are hitting me in a new way this year.  We sing them every year, but certain phrases are jumping out this time around and sticking with me.

Like “tidings of comfort and joy.” Wow.  Who doesn’t need some comfort?  Who among us doesn’t feel a little bit beat up by the frenetic pace of life, the difficulties of today’s economics, the greediness of politicians, the abuse of power by those who have it, the unfairness of society, or maybe just by the selfishness of those around us?  Especially this time of year, when you add Christmas shopping and holiday traffic and expectations of The Perfect Holiday Decorations/Food/Gift to the normal grind.  I’m raising my hand.  I could use a little comfort.  The emotional equivalent of fuzzy slippers and hot chocolate in front of a nice warm fire would be good just about now.

Teacup Party Girl TherapyAnd joy, too.  I like to people watch.  It’s what I do at red lights to pass the time when I’m first in line – you get a really good view of the faces of drivers who are turning left onto the street you’re on.  So I can tell you, for the most part, people look miserable.  We need some joy.  Not happiness, which is fleeting, but joy, that deep joy that roots in your heart and can’t be budged by circumstance and situation.

So yes, some tidings of comfort and joy are just the kind of news people want to hear.  Where do we get this comfort?  Where does this joy spring from?  People want to know.  People need it.

I went to a Christmas Eve service tonight.  It was packed – the semi-annual Christmas and Easter crowd was out in full force. I wondered, though, how many of them were searching for comfort and joy in the traditions of religion and church attendance, but were not finding it because their favorite carol wasn’t sung, or the decorations weren’t like they remembered at the church they grew up in.  It’s easy enough to do – to look for the right thing in the wrong place.

The problem is that when spiritual matters are relegated to the realm of personal choice and cultural preference, as opposed to the realm of fact and truth, it is actually hard to find comfort in faith.  In fact, when faith is considered, as it is by so many today, to merely be a form of personal expression, it’s pretty empty faith.

It might feel good for a little while — along the lines of Christmas Spirit and That Holiday Feeling — but if these tidings of comfort and joy, this good news that is sung about in so many of the traditional carols, is not based on truth, then it is actually of less use than the Santa Claus myth.

Faith is not something you experience or feel.  It’s something you believe, and if you are trying to put faith in something while at the same time keeping your options open as to whether or not this thing is actually true, you will not reap the benefits of your faith.  Faith is not the thing that brings the benefits – the truth of the person or concept in which you put your faith is the only meaningful source of benefit.

The writers of these carols meant it when they offered tidings of comfort and joy.  It wasn’t just a Hallmark sentiment, like dreaming of a white Christmas. They were referring to something with which they had first hand experience.

Like this verse from It Came Upon A Midnight Clear:

O ye beneath life’s crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow;
Look now, for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing;
Oh rest beside the weary road
And hear the angels sing.

These words were not written along the lines of Rudolph and Frosty.  These writers sincerely believed in “glad and golden hours.”  They were talking about something they were counting on.   They had experienced relief from “life’s crushing load” and wanted others to know about it.

Did they want to tell others about this because they would earn points by doing so? There are religions that foster some kind of a point-earning system, but in this case, no, these writers weren’t trying to impress anyone.  They wanted people to know because it worked.

If you were to visit a primitive tribe somewhere, and noticed that they were constantly sick because they didn’t wash their hands, would you withhold the information you had about the existence of germs because you didn’t want to influence their culture or offend them? No, you would tell them you knew a better way, because you wouldn’t want them to suffer with sickness any more.

The world today suffers under a great sickness of heart. A quick glance at the headlines of any given day will tell you that. So when someone says they have any answer that will bring peace, joy, comfort and salvation, it might be worth looking into.  Maybe that person is not just participating in a cultural ritual.  Maybe they are telling you the truth.  Perhaps their delivery is not flawless.  People are, well, human.  But even if the messenger is not perfect, maybe the message is true. Maybe it might be worth having a discussion about it with someone whose life reflects the sincerity of their belief, because if it truly works for them, it will work for you too.

But the angel said to them, “Don’t be afraid, for look, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people: Today a Savior, who is Messiah the Lord, was born for you in the city of David. This will be the sign for you: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in cloth and lying in a feeding trough.” Luke 2:10-13

A nice story to read at Christmas time or a history-altering event wherein God Himself came down to earth in order to set people free from the things that so easily entangle them? People are spiritual beings, so just as it’s worth reading up on foods that will help your body function better and exercise that will keep your body healthy, it’s worth spending time looking into the things that heal and nurture your spirit. It’s worth your time to explore tidings of comfort and joy.

Baja Mission 12-2014 275crop

Categories: Christmas, Faith, Family | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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