Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Biggest Heart I've Ever Known

Twenty-four hours ago I answered the phone and heard her voice. Her broken, weary voice. "Matt died. Matt died yesterday. He's gone." Amy proceeded to tell me in shock-induced detail the most heartbreaking story. Of deserted beaches and tides and gasping for air. Of being stranded on the sandbar with her two sons for over an hour, watching as the sea took her husband's body away. Of flagging down help and a ride in an ambulance. Of not needing to identify the body because his was the only one missing in the water.

Over two years ago I got a call. Amy was at the hospital. She was losing her baby. After miscarriage upon miscarriage, she had gotten this baby to 22 weeks. I spent the night with her boys while she and Matt spent the night laboring to bring a not-yet-ready-to-be-born baby into this world.

Two days later Amy poured her heart out in the most beautiful words which many of you read, which I shared in my post "No Words, Just Tears." Because there are times that there are no words, just tears.

There really is no way to fathom this loss. Matt was her stronghold. The love of her life. Her kind, compassionate, strong, wise, gentle, creative, goofy, quirky, hilarious husband of 20 years. And he was the father that every kid would dream of.

Who wouldn't want a father who was part Peter Pan, part Norm Abrams (the This Old House guy)? Who could build your tiny home and expansive lot by Bee Tree Creek into an Appalachian Neverland?

Matt Auten was all heart. The biggest heart I have ever known. All tender, gentle, humble, and often broken heart. He felt deeply and loved deeply. He was a brilliant musician with a voice smooth as butter. He was a witty wordsmith. He saw life the way it was. No delusions. No pretending.

He was the closest thing I have ever had to a little brother. He was a kindred spirit and fellow weather junky. He called me one day, "I am over by Home Depot and the sky is a Kermit Frog green." We shared a dream of storm chasing. We shared a love of severe weather and Diet Dr. Pepper and a hatred for poison ivy.

You could pour your heart out to Matt and know that he not only listened, but he felt it with you. No condescension. No fixes. No heady theological answers. Just compassion and empathy and a mutual need to cling to the grace and mercy of God in a world we don't understand.

On Tuesday that grace and mercy he so clung to was made made fully him. I picture him now, singing praises to Jesus on guitar, maybe those hymns I begged him time and time again to record. I see him there, surrounded by those babies he never touched, and by Baby Christopher, whose tiny finger he held for those few brief moments. I see him there, rejoicing and loving and maybe even building tree houses in heaven, while wearing shorts, no less. With a Diet Dr. Pepper in hand. I see his tears washed away.

But for his dear wife, Amy, who has experienced too much loss already, of babies who just weren't meant for this world, and now of her lover, rock, and best friend, my heart breaks. For his sons, who at ages 9 and 7, have lost their hero, there are no words.

No words. Just tears.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Connecting the Dots

When I was a kid I used to love those connect-the-dots puzzles (truth is, I still do). Having the artistic ability of a warthog, it was great fun to draw a line (never terribly straight in my case) from dot to dot and see, in the end, that it actually looked like something.

But the only reason my connect-the-dots artwork ever looked like something was because they had numbered the dots for me. Sometimes it was completely counterintuitive to draw a line from Dot 16 all the way across the page to Dot 17, when it would have been so much easier to go directly to Dot 20 right next door.

But following the numbers was the only way to get the intended picture and connecting the dots any other way would have ended up with an entirely different picture.

Now I am a grown-up. Or so they say. My life is filled with dots. But no numbers. Others' lives are filled with dots. But no numbers. Yesterday I discovered how easy it is to connect the dots in the sequence that seems most logical to me and come up with a completely inaccurate picture of somebody else. It breaks my heart.

I have asked for forgiveness. It has been most graciously granted.

I am learning. I am learning that the most logical connections are not the most accurate ones. In order to know where to go next, which dot comes next in the picture, I need to know more. I need to ask questions. I need to listen and listen and listen some more and even then humbly accept the fact that my limited skills may paint a less than full picture.

I do indeed see through a glass darkly.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Fellowship of Grievers

Robin Williams is gone. Suicide. I guess the darkness was too dark. The future too grim. The pain just too much. I don't criticize him for that. As many others have said recently, there but for the grace of God go I.

Depression has been part of my life, along with its buddies Anxiety and Obsessive Thoughts, for almost 40 years. Sometimes it comes. Sometimes it goes. Sometimes it has been crippling. Other times more like a little black rain cloud following me through the day. I have had my most intense depression as an adult and as a Christian.

One of the hardest things about depression is the loneliness. The isolation. The world around you spins on. The people around you continue to live happy, productive, and fruitful lives while your heart feels like it is being ripped out of your chest. You hurt. Yet you are alone in your hurt. It seems like nobody else in the world can understand. You long, more than anything, for somebody to look you in the eye and say, "I know. I know."

And that is the tragedy of suicide. You often don't know that somebody else was feeling the same kind of despair until it is too late. You don't find out that you had a kindred spirit until he is gone. And that makes the loneliness all the worse.

What is it about our culture that makes depression such a topical taboo? And what is going on in our churches that people cannot be honest and open about their pain? After all, Jesus was "a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief." (Isaiah 53:3)

I need to take that to heart. That Jesus is a kindred spirit. But can't we also learn from him? If the Savior of the world was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, then shouldn't it be ok to let others know that we hurt?

If indeed we are to "mourn with those who mourn" (Romans 12:15), how on earth are we supposed to do that if everybody is too ashamed to admit that they are mourning? I don't know about anybody else, but I need fellowship. Fellowship in pain and fellowship in grief. I need a Fellowship of Grievers. And maybe if we grieve together, it won't hurt so much.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Heaven Can Wait

I am a realtor. I see it all the time. People want heaven on earth.

Oftentimes I blame Martha Stewart or HGTV or Pinterest. All those magazines. All those shows. All those websites. All those ideas. To live well is to live out of a Pottery Barn catalog, or maybe inside the closest Ikea.

I get caught up in it, too. Though my affections are less stainless appliances, granite counters, monstrous master bathrooms and cavernous closets and more along the lines of farmhouses and small towns and wind blowing through my hair. I am sometimes tempted to pat myself on the back for being so much less materialistic than those obnoxious couples on House Hunters. 

I am not like that, I say.

But I want what I want. Perhaps as non-mainstream as it is.

Last month we drove right down the middle of Illinois. And I melted. Oh, how I longed for a life God has not given me and in a place he has not put me.

I dream of a white, foursquare farmhouse with an eat-in kitchen and window over the sink so that I could look out over the acres of corn and see the tornado coming (yes, seriously). Of course, this house would be on the edge of a small town where everybody knows each other and crime is nonexistent. I would spend my days working on the farm and my evenings sitting with my husband on our front porch. It would be heaven on earth.

But God has not called to live in heaven on earth, or what I perceive that to me would be heaven on earth. He has called me to live here. Where I am now.

My longings to tweak my exceedingly blessed life into my own personal hand-crafted heaven so easily pull me away from my true love him with my whole heart and my neighbor as myself and to do justice and love mercy and walk humbly with my God.

As for the farmhouse in the cornfield? Well, heaven can wait.

Wanted: Medics For the Culture War

It has been over twenty years since I first began hearing about the Culture War. We were warned over and over again about how the world is going to hell in a hand basket and it is all their fault. They, those people who are not us, have cast off all moral restraint which is resulting in the end of the tidy world as we know it.

I heard it. I heard it some more. I still hear it. Them vs. Us. Everywhere. And we must get out there and fight that war. Kill those enemies. Or, if necessary, circle the wagons and wait out the whole shootin' match.

I may have overstated. I am not trying to be terribly offensive, but I am weary. And concerned.

I have mentioned a time or two that my father was a Navy pilot in World War II. He flew nifty planes in the Pacific Theater and, best I can guess from the bits and pieces I have heard, did some rather heroic things. During childhood the memories of his old Navy days graced the wall, complete with photos of uniforms and airplanes and medals and flags. He may have been the most patriotic man I know.

I was well into adulthood before I found out that his father, my grandfather, was in World War I. I never knew this man, but I hear that he was a quiet and gentle man. Instead of flying the planes or shooting from the trenches at the well defined enemy, he served in a different, much needed way. He drove an ambulance. According to my father, "he could make an ambulance GO places."

Where there is war, there are wounded.

When the economy goes in the tank, we tend to rail against whatever political or economic ideology we feel is responsible. Do we out as much energy into caring for the casualties of a failing economy? Do we give of our resources to those suddenly without a paycheck? Or a home?

When we hear that the percentage of children born to women out of wedlock is reaching 41% (or even 50%, as I saw recently), we shake our heads at the moral laxity, tighten our grip on our own daughters, and jump on the modesty bandwagon. But do we come alongside those women who find themselves lonely and overwhelmed? Do our hearts melt for those children who might not know what a father is?

It is easier to fight an enemy out there than to love a neighbor in here. Up close and personal. Where things might get messy. Hands dirty.

We can debate and campaign until the cows come home. We might very well be right in our position. But the wounded are not healed by arguments or upright moral standing. The wounded are healed by kindness and compassion, mercy and grace, and love.

My grandfather may not have been a war hero. He will never go down in the history books. His actions didn't change the outcome of any battle. But I can guarantee you that to those wounded soldiers, his presence, his care, and his willingness to go to scary, messy places meant the difference between life and death.

The Culture War has plenty of soldiers. It's time we trained to be medics.

Monday, July 21, 2014

What Will They Remember?

Recently I spent some time talking with an older woman about her parents and grandparents. Who they were. What they did. What they were like. It is so easy to see people of the past as just names on paper. Dates in a book.

As she talked I found myself amazed at how very real these people had been. Not just real in their existence but real in their personalities. Adjectives flowed describing people who lived and breathed and laughed and cried before cars were in the road and plumbing in the house.

Adjectives like forceful, domineering, caring, tidy, frugal, sharp tongued, opinionated. These people who have been gone for decades suddenly came to life in my imagination and it got me thinking. How do I want to be remembered?

It is no secret that I struggle. A lot. I beat myself up. A lot. My husband calls me a guilt magnet. A lot.

There are so many things that I should do, but I don't. There are so many things that I should be, but I am not.

So, so, SO many shoulds.

I should be more productive. More disciplined. More accomplished. More competent. More "together."

But is that how I want my children and grandchildren to remember me? To be described to the generations that follow?

What about this?

"She was one smart cookie."


"She looked great for her age!"


"Wow! Gubby! What a figure!"

No. No. NO!

I don't want to be remembered to the generations that follow for my accomplishments or impressive abilities, my beauty or my brains.

I pray that one day they will say of me...

"She was kind. She was compassionate. She was gracious. She was loving. She was merciful. She was understanding. And she was fun."

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Emotional Pornography

(Sometimes I just have to write a painful and honest post. There may not be another person on the planet who can relate, but if there is, if my post is of any encouragement at all to somebody who has struggled with the same thing and has felt so alone, then I count my vulnerability  worth it. If you cannot relate, well then perhaps one day, somewhere, you may come across somebody else for whom this is a significant topic in their life. And you can say, "I know somebody else who has struggled with that." Think of this as continuing education of sorts.)

I was boy crazy from as early as I can remember. I cannot remember ever a time in my childhood where I commented, either out loud or in my mind, "YUCK! BOYS!" Boys were never yuck to me.

I married my best friend. Ours was not a terribly romantic relationship, as per the movies and all . . . no stars in our eyes and fireworks in our hearts, ours was more of an "I trust you more than anybody on the planet and I cannot imagine a day without you" sort of relationship.

I learned about love from the movies. I learned about marriage from nobody. You can imagine my horror when, a few months into our marriage, I got a crush on another guy. I didn't know this was possible. I didn't know what to do.

I didn't understand why, when I was married to my best friend and a wonderful man by any account, I could have a heart that longed for somebody else and for something more.

It was when my husband began working long, long hours that my fantasy world really kicked into gear.

You hear so much about pornography, the huge number of boys and men addicted to it, and also now the huge number of women who find it strangely enticing. This is not the kind of fantasy I am talking about. There was nothing sexual to this.

I was tired and worn out physically, emotionally, spiritually. My heart was empty. I wanted to be rescued by my Knight in Shining Armor. That couldn't happen because I was married. But it didn't mean I couldn't dream.

I didn't get into those Christian romance novels. I didn't need to. My imagination was good enough on its own. But romantic movies would floor me. One story line, one scene, and I would find myself longing for the person on the screen rather than the person by my side.

A few years later I heard the term "emotional pornography." It had a name.

Like sexual pornography, emotional pornography is based on a lie. It distracts from the here and now to convince you of something that doesn't even exist in real life. It promises to quench your thirst for love, all the while making you thirstier than before.

I was in the thick of it one day, begging God to fill that hole in my heart that had me longing for something more when I had a glimpse of insight. It didn't explain the whole problem and did not absolve me of responsibility, but it made sense as to why I was so darn vulnerable.

Back when I was in counseling for my eating disorder, the counselor asked me who the men were in my life. Nobody, I said. He was shocked. Did I have a relationship with my father? No. Grandfathers? No, they were dead anyway. Uncles? No. Both my parents were only children. Family friends? None. He was actually a bit shocked and said that every girl needs a father or father-type figure in her life to give her validation. Who knew? Nothing more was ever said.

Fast forward to middle age and my male-hungry heart. I realized that I had never had a reasonably close relationship with a male that did not have the potential for romance attached. I had no idea what it was like to be loved and respected by a male, with no ulterior motive whatsoever. Not a clue.

I began to understand how huge the hole in my heart was and how pathetic my attempts at filling that hole had been. Like pouring teacups in the Grand Canyon. I realized that that hole in my life can never be filled by anyone other than God. It was unfair for me to expect even my husband to be able to do the job that he was never created to do.

Eventually I realized something else, another hideous similarity between sexual pornography and emotional pornography. Just as we cry out against sexual pornography and how it turns women into nothing but objects meant to satisfy, if only for a moment, the insatiable appetites of sex-hungry men, emotional pornography was turning men into objects to satisfy my ever present hunger for love and affection.

Just as sexual pornography distorts the view of sex in real life, emotional pornography distorts real life as well.

Just as sexual pornography becomes an all consuming, self-centered addiction, so emotional pornography turns in on itself, pulling you away from the people who love you most and from the people who you are called to love.

I am not saying I have licked the problem. I am sure the temptation will always be there. I now know what I can and cannot watch and when I am falling into the trap immortalized in my favorite line from Sleepless in Seattle: "You don't want to be in love. You want to be in love in a movie."

I now have to talk myself through the lie of fantasy that is the romantic comedy or chick flick. But now I know it is a lie . . . like all kinds of pornography—a lie.

Most of all, I have to rely on God to fill my Grand Canyon of a heart so that I can turn and love the man God has called me to live my life with, my best friend and husband.