Saturday, 20 April 2013

brokenness and new life

I don't know why broken trees make me feel so sad. I guess I think about all of the years it took them to grow. Our ice storm, exactly one week ago, wreaked havoc on our trees. Some suffered minimal damage - a branch here, a limb there. Others, majestic, old trees, were split down the middle of their trunks.

I told my dad how it made me feel to see the trees on the farm broken like that. He just looked at me, hazel-green eyes calm, and said, "I just think it's nature's way of encouraging new growth."

Through my tears several weeks ago, my mom took me on a walk through the woods on the farm, and showed me little shoots growing up from the ground. It was this same idea: bright new green growing from soggy brown composting leaves.

Now, I'm not going to go looking for reasons to be broken. But when it comes, I can see this is what it does: makes a painful break, and then, after time, cracks open your heart to new life. Makes beauty from brokenness.

Thursday, 18 April 2013


it's a word that keeps coming back to me lately: broken.

It's how I felt on Monday when I heard the news from the Boston marathon. Broken.

It's how I felt on Tuesday when I read the news that a high school classmate, beautiful mother of 4, had passed away from cancer, her children by her side.

It's how I felt when I heard that Melanie, strong mother of our little friend Nolan, sang him lullabies into the night as he breathed his last breath.

It's how I felt when Nolan was diagnosed with brain cancer. It's how I felt when he died.

It's how I felt imagining my own 6 year old as one of those first-graders at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut last December.

From public news to the personal stories all around us, there are cracks and huge chasms.

"There is a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in." - Leonard Cohen

I usually like to protect myself. Say "I can't go there." Just to preserve me. And because I'm afraid. But lately, I've let the cracks shape me. Tear me open just a bit.

Those cracks make me sad, but also open me to tenderness. To compassion. To love.

Some days I have cried, cursed God, stared blankly out windows, no prayer words coming. Because there's something I know in the deepest part of me: it could have been me.

"The end of my youth was the possible truth that it all happens randomly." - Indigo Girls

The sermon preached at Nolan's funeral by Rev. Mark Lewis, helped me to remember to believe. In God, in humanity, in tenderness. I want to share some of the words with you:

"When a child dies, when a life so bright and promising comes to an untimely end, I ask the same questions that many of you are asking today, “Where is God?” and “How can God be so cruel?” I have struggled with these questions throughout my life, and I have worked out answers which might be of some help. I think I can tell you where God is.

On the night of Friday March 22, just before the opening game of the Kitchener Rangers / Guelph Storm series, God was at center ice; God was in the heart of a little boy filled with excitement, joy and exuberance as he dropped the puck to start the series. God was in the heart of a little boy so concerned with fairness that he wore both a Rangers Jersey and a signed Storm hat in order to show no bias. God was there! And not just in the boy, but also in his mom and dad and his two sisters who shared his joy and understood what the moment meant to the boy. And God was in the fans who filled the arena and who understood the majesty, solemnity, gravity and transcendent joy of the moment. And God was in the players who gladly stepped aside in awe and respect to invite Nolan to center ice and into such a magnificent moment. God is in humanity when humanity rises to such heights of love and compassion.  

God is not outside of us; God does not just live in churches, and is not particularly concerned with religious matters. God is concerned with tenderness and with our ability to feel the hurt and joy of others. God lives in us when with compassion we feel the needs of others.

You all feel brokenness, deep sorrow and tenderness towards this family; those feelings are God

God is not external to us; God is not outside or foreign. God is in our tears and our laughter.  God is in our love and care. We should have known this all along."

Monday, 8 April 2013

mourning with my children

It feels like the last week has passed in a foggy haze. Easter came too early this year, and I'm still not really there. I can identify with disciples who were walking around aimlessly, wondering what had happened to their friend and teacher. Right now I'm still not ready to believe in the miracle of the resurrection. Questions from my daughters ring in my ears: "why Jesus, but not Nolan? Why Lazarus, but not our friend?"

Mourning and celebrating the life of our dear friend Nolan has been heartbreaking and deeply moving. We are better people for knowing him and his inspiring family.

This has been a huge time of learning for our daughters and for us as parents. It was a teacher we didn't ask for: a friend who became sick with a terminal brain cancer - but it's the one we got, and we have certainly learned a lot of life lessons.

We have learned about the importance of visiting friends who may look and sound different than when we used to play with them at school.

We learned that you can care for people going through hard times by showing them you care, and by surrounding them with prayers. It's not an exaggeration to say that we have prayed for Nolan every day since we learned of his illness in September. Eden continues her prayers this week, praying that Nolan is having a good time with our guinea pig in heaven. His heroic journey has left a permanent mark on our whole family.

We learned that prayers can come in tangible forms. Our daughters and their friend gave a symbol of love by gifting Nolan with a prayer shawl in the fall. His mom told us that he kept this blanket very close, asking for it to come with him on his visits to the hospital. Prayers can come in the form of food and cards and messages of support and condolence. Today the girls wanted to pick out special beads to give to his family - ones that reminded them of Nolan.

We learned that it's ok to cry. Children learn, somehow, that they should keep their tears inside and not let others see them cry. We have done a lot of crying as a family: crying first for his illness, and then to mourn his death. We have cried in front of our church, and cried in front of friends and family. It's not just ok to cry; it's good to cry.

We learned that through this mourning, walls are broken down. Other parents of children our age, who were acquaintances before, become friends as we console each other in this time of deep pain. Teachers hug students, parents hug teachers, boundaries that are usually put up in the name of safety and professionalism fall down as we realize that we are all just humans grieving a great loss of a little boy.

We learned that others support you when you're grieving. Through hugs, phone calls, flowers, cards, and presence people show that they care that you are hurting. This is a powerful lesson of compassion.

We have learned about funerals: tributes, caskets, giving flowers, sharing photos, and remembering.

We learned that in this life we will experience pain, and that we can show God/love/tenderness to each other by supporting each other through that pain.

We learned that cancer is as close as your good friend in kindergarten.

We learned that a life can go on in the way that we live today. We know what things were important to Nolan. How can we pay tribute to these things in our own lives in an ongoing way?

We learned that grief comes and goes. We can't just cry once and be finished. Eden's teacher told me that for kids, grief is like puddle-jumping. They're in one moment, then out the next.

Eden's dragonfly and lily pad with names to remind her of loved ones who have died.
Great kids' book about dying that her Sunday school teacher read: Waterbugs and Dragonflies.

We learned that we live in a broken, grieving world where people are capable of boundless love and deep tenderness. That we need those things in large amounts in our world today. We need compassionate children and adults.

We learned that we can continue to remember.