Tag Archives: death

Grief: It Is a Very Large Word Indeed

Grief. It’s a far bigger word than we usually think.

Oh, we all know that it applies to the loss wrought by death as we’ve stood at the graveside of a loved one, smelled the flowers, felt the emptiness, and wondered how to face a world so suddenly changed.

And every day changes. We may think we’re doing, well, some better. At least, maybe making small steps in the right direction. And then we get up on the next day and find ourselves, it seems, having taken two, or twenty, steps backward.

Following the death of his wife, C. S. Lewis wrote of grief’s pervasiveness, “Part of every misery is, so to speak, the misery’s shadow or reflection . . . I not only live each endless day in grief, but live each day thinking about living each day in grief.”

Grief seems to color everything. We long for the time to come when it isn’t the first thing that hits us in the face yet again each morning and the last thing we think of before we finally find sleep each night.

Such is so very true regarding death-induced grief.

But grief is spelled L-O-S-S, and loss comes in many bitter flavors.

Whatever dreams you had for your marriage, only your nightmares would have included the divorce that throttled those dreams.

Whatever your dreams for your child, well, only bad dreams included . . .

Your dreams for your business or profession were bright and optimistic and seemed real at the time, but . . .

Maybe you’d dreamed of traveling in retirement. And now? You are. Mostly to specialists and pharmacies.

In any of your dreams for the future, did these words figure in? Cancer. Addiction. Bankruptcy. Jail. Tragedy. Hurt. Disappointment. Depression.

Need I mention that those are not words you’ll ever lightly drop into a Christmas letter?

And by the way, in the midst of such loss is one that colors it all and may surprise you until we name it. But we need to name it. It’s the loss of control.

“I don’t know what to do about . . .”

“What now?”

“Here’s what needs to happen, but I can’t . . .”

“I have no clue what . . .”

“I can’t imagine how I’ll . . .”

The ship has already embarked. You’re in the midst of the sea and the storm. And the rudder has broken loose from the wheel.

Need I tell you? This is frightening. Worse, really. This is terrifying.

Will it help much if I point out that none of us was ever really in control anyway? That was largely an illusion.

But maybe it will help a little for us to consider where we actually might try to exert a little control. Maybe just in small moments at first. But in our attitudes. In our next footstep. In sincerely asking for help, for each of the ten thousand times we’ve asked and failed yet again to truly “cast our cares” on the Captain of our souls (and leave them there). He really does care for us, love us, more than we can imagine.

As deeply frightened as I often am on life’s sea, I believe that the “man of sorrows” really is “acquainted with” our grief in all of its forms. We can believe in and trust his willingness to “carry our sorrows.”

And, paradoxically, stronger and deeper, more real and pervasive than any of our genuine grief, is his joy. When all of our griefs and hot tears have faded away, his joy will remain for a thousand forevers.

 

     You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

Copyright 2019 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


Cemeteries Help Keep Life in Perspective

I’m weird, and I know it. But I sort of enjoy spending some time in cemeteries. I’m talking, of course, about the times when I want to be there, not the times when I have to be. Big difference. There’s been way too much of the latter recently, it seems to me.

But I find cemeteries peaceful and interesting. Strolling among the tombstones (since I don’t have to mow around them, I much prefer the standing ones), I get the chance to play Sherlock Holmes and deduce all sorts of life stories from all sorts of inscriptions.

Some cemeteries are quite beautiful with well-kept shrubs and trees and grass. They are quiet places; I like quiet places. And, if I may say so, the folks who populate cemeteries tend to be incredibly easy to get along with.

Since I’ve been a pastor in my community for over thirty-four years, more than a few of the names I see on the stones in our area cemeteries are connected with lives and stories that I know. I stood at the heads of quite a few of those graves and spoke words I hoped would point to the Author of Life just before the earth’s blanket was rolled over those remains.

When I think of my life and the life of our community, it’s hard for me to visualize life without many of the folks I’ve just mentioned. I no longer bump into them at worship or at the coffee shop or wave at them as we pass on the street. I miss that.

But they are still very much a part of me. A part of us. And that’s especially true if they were part of the community of faith. They may or may not have been part of my congregation or my denomination, but so what? Christ’s church is so much larger than the fences we build to try to keep God all tied up and tamed. Thank God indeed, God won’t be shut up in anybody’s box, and he has never been willing to be successfully tamed.

Death is the harshest reminder of all that we’ll never get even this world tamed, much less its Creator. We may not look long upon those boxes that we bury, but they are nonetheless a constant reminder that life can’t be successfully controlled.

Cemeteries help put our lives in perspective. The “drop dead” late-filing date for filing federal taxes just passed, but folks who have passed away care not at all. And even if life’s cost is (almost certainly) increasing at a steadier clip than your paycheck, once your heart stops, the meter quits running, too. Perspective.

Cemeteries help us divide what really matters from what really does not. What matters most is who we chose to ultimately trust in this life—ourselves or our Creator. That’s a serious decision.

But once that decision’s made, cemeteries also remind us that life is far too precious to be taken too seriously. God is the God of all joy. Those who love him can dance in his presence both here and hereafter. They know better than to think that love and laughter and beauty cease on the other side of the tombstone.

 

      You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

Copyright 2019 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


When Your Whole World Seems Tilted in Its Orbit

It’s very nearly as weird-feeling as it is heart-rending—a day when you wake up and realize it’s just another ordinary day for most of the world around you, but your whole world has tilted in its orbit, shifted on its axis.

For you, almost nothing feels the same, and even the things that do, don’t. Their very sameness in this new universe renders them incredibly strange.

You brush your teeth just like you always have. Part your hair in the same place. Take your keys off the same old hook. Just like you did in your old universe. But this morning you feel as if you’d opened your eyes in a universe where two plus two could not possibly still equal four. Is plumb still plumb, level still level? You know it must be, but you wonder how as you take your first steps in your suddenly off-axis world.

This morning you waked up for the first time in your life in a world where the mother or father who gave you life didn’t also wake up. You wonder how many times you’ll have to think, “I need to call Dad,” before your mind will face that fact that you can’t.

How long did it take this morning for you to realize that you were alone in the house? No shower sounds. No smell of coffee. Nobody else’s alarm going off. Your spouse really has left. Some of the last words before that were a little loud. But this jarring silence seems louder.

This morning you took your first breath of consciousness in a world where the child who was the light of your life no longer breathes. People say sadly that you lost a child. No! As if you could misplace your own heart! You didn’t “lose” her. Cancer or tragedy or incomprehensible accident seized her, wrenched her out of your arms. But not your heart. Never your heart. It still beats. And you wonder how.

Whatever the grief—and grief is the name of this thing that feels so strange—you waked up this morning in a universe that seems completely tilted.

You managed to get out of bed, but could that really have been you yesterday in the doctor’s office? Did she really say that the test results confirm that you have a life-altering disease? Now you’re staggering between the uneasy “peace” of at least knowing the reason for your symptoms and the abhorrence of the new label you never wanted, the name of the disease you’re told you that you have but right now seems to have you. “Your” symptoms? The disease you “have”? You resent “having” something that’s “yours” that you have no option to throw away. The old words are not adequate in this new world where the ground won’t stop shifting.

Hear now some words that point to a reality that is rock-solid, foundational, unchangeable, always trustworthy. Grief has a name, but so does Hope. God’s “mercies” really are “new every morning,” every moment, even in what seems a new and unwelcome universe. The only thing greater than your pain is God’s love. “Great is his faithfulness!” It is no accident that those words, deeply true, are found in the tear-stained Bible book named Lamentations (3:22-23).

When your old world “was,” when you don’t know how you can ever stand in this new world that “is,” when you’re deeply afraid of what “will be,” trust, one moment at a time, in the great “I Am.” The God of the universe is your Father. He loves you. That has not changed. It never will.

 

 

      You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

 

 Copyright 2019 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


“It’s Not the Square, It’s the Quilt”

 

 

quilt

A number of analogies would probably work.

It’s not the chapter; it’s the book.

It’s not the note; it’s the song.

It’s not the song; it’s the symphony.

But I think I like this one best: It’s not the square; it’s the quilt.

I’ve officiated at, helped with, or attended, too many funerals this week. Funerals on top of funerals. And more that I’d have attended if it weren’t for the others.

In a real sense, all death is unnatural and reminds us that we live in a fallen world. But some deaths are, in this fallen world, a merciful release from pain and suffering.

Several of this week’s were that kind. The families still feel the sting of loss and separation, but their loved one (or ones) lived good, long lives, and the release came truly at the right time. In other cases, though, no. The death seemed almost unbearably too soon. So utterly wrong.

That many deaths and funerals, of whatever sort, force you to think seriously about life. And here’s a thought—not particularly profound by any means but true—that pushed its way through this week of many funerals.

When we look back over a life in review, what we notice is not the square, it’s the quilt.

Yes, quilt. People used to make them. Still do. Not just a comforter (though I like those). Or a blanket. (Hotel rooms need more of those.) Or a “blanket throw” for your recliner. (It takes two to make one good one of adequate size.)

I mean quilts. Hand-made. Made with skill. And, often, with love. Always made of many “squares” stitched together.

When I think of the folks whose lives we’ve honored recently (and many more before), and when we think of the quality of those lives, I don’t find myself centering for long on one small or transitory part, even if it was important. We focus instead on the whole.

Hence, my point. It’s not the square, it’s the quilt.

That doesn’t mean the squares are not important. Where the person lived. What he studied. What she did for a living. What were some of the best moments of his life, and how he handled them. What were some of the worst times of her life, and how she handled them. What she was proud of. What he was ashamed of. What he liked. What she didn’t like.

My analogy doesn’t mean that the little or daily stuff, or intervals and incidents, long or short, in life don’t matter. They matter immensely because every decision, each moment, fit together to form a life.

But when it’s all said and done, it’s not the square, it’s the quilt. Even King David had a couple of ugly squares in his. But Scripture’s comment on the whole quilt? He was truly “a man after God’s own heart.”

Quite literally, by God’s grace, the life of Christ in a person living in covenant with God colors every stitch of the quilt, every atom of the fabric. The squares, imperfect as they are, are stitched together, held together, washed in, of all things, his blood.

And the quilt is beautiful.

 

      You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

Copyright 2016 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

 


The Resurrection: New Life Brings Present Hope

 

emmaus 01

Three words say a lot.

“We had hoped . . .”

And they point to three more.

“But not now.”

Cleopas and his companion were walking on the road to Emmaus, a little village seven miles from Jerusalem, when they were joined by another traveler.

“What are you talking about?” he’d asked.

With heads still spinning, filled with thoughts of crucifixion, reports of empty tombs and missing bodies, and mind-boggling confusion about what it all meant, they’d responded (this is paraphrased a bit), too tired to be particularly polite, “Are you kidding? Are you the only one in Jerusalem who doesn’t know what has happened there during these crazy days? That Jesus of Nazareth was a great and powerful prophet, that he was put to death by our leaders, and now our friends are telling us about empty tombs and missing bodies and angels and . . .”

“We had hoped that he was the one sent by God to redeem Israel, but . . .”

Their words point to a death. A terrible death.

It’s worthwhile to ponder the horrors of crucifixion. But as horrible as it surely was, the physical pain paled in comparison to the literally unimaginable horror of the weight of all of the sin of humanity that our Savior carried to the grave. Only God knows how utterly terrible that was.

Cleopas and his companion did not. But they’d lived through days difficult enough. Days focused on loss and death. The death of their Lord—and the death of their dreams.

“We had hoped . . .”

Like Cleopas and his friend, we also are incapable of any but the most rudimentary understanding of the real suffering Jesus underwent for us. But the death of dreams? That we do understand.

We’d worked so hard for the business to be a “success,” and we had hoped . . .

We’d poured our hopes and dreams into human vessels, and realized many sweet dreams, some better than we’d dared to dream. But human vessels are, at best, human. For this spouse, for this child, for this dear friend, we had hoped . . . Who knows what God may yet do, but that particular dream is dead.

Sometimes we stop in the midst of the whirlwind and try to make some sense of it all. We are not blind to the joys we’ve received, God’s gifts indeed. But sometimes when we stop, and think, we realize what we’re feeling at times has a name: grief.

It’s all wrapped up in those words: “We had hoped . . .”

Read Luke 24 and you’ll find that the traveler who joined Cleopas and his companion was the risen Lord. He is the One who listens to them talk about the death of their hopes, their dreams.

And it’s the risen Lord who on Easter imparts to them new hopes, new dreams, new life.

“We had hoped . . .”

Yes, but now in the light of Easter, we find that our hopes, our dreams, are alive again. New. Bigger. Stronger. More genuine than ever before.

We had hoped. And now, our hope is new!

 

       You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

Copyright 2016 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


One Day Death Itself Will Die

cross-sunset

Somebody was going to die on that Thursday.

Oh, I know. Somebody is going to die every day. Somebody is going to die before this sentence ends, but chances are it won’t, and can’t, affect you much.

But on that Thursday two weeks ago, the links that would lead to tragedy were already chained together, and someone not far from where I live and closely tied to a number of people I love was going to die.

The tragedy was set in motion on Wednesday night as lightning struck out in a field, hitting one of the big sprinklers on the farm. Its now-lightning-welded connections became one major link in a very unlikely but deadly chain of events that mindlessly conspired to send 480 volts through a pump housing. Whoever touched it would die a millisecond later. Guaranteed.

It could easily have been one of the farm employees. Or the father of that well-loved farm family. Or the son about to turn 30, married just five years with two little sons of his own.

But Thursday somebody was going to die. And it was the son.

As I looked into the eyes of that father and that mother, standing near the lifeless body of their son at the emergency room, a young man who had been filled, far more than most, with life and joy just a little while before, the kind of son any parents would be proud of, a boy not only loved but intensely likeable, it tore my heart out. And right now, again, I weep for them all.

On one hand, I can’t imagine being in their shoes. On the other, . . . This young man was buried on his 30th birthday. I have four sons near his age, one who is just 10 days younger and will be 30 this week. And all of mine do work just as dangerous.

Life is dangerous. And unpredictable. And unfair. It’s good that we don’t dwell always on those facts, but an event like this slams them back into our faces.

No one can make sense out of this kind of thing. And even if we could somehow understand it, do we think we’d like it better?

I know some reasons that even God has to allow pain and suffering in this world now. Even God can’t make powerful things (like electricity), which bless us in so many ways, totally safe. The same tools that can spare life can take it away.

I know that death is part of this world because of man’s sin. God loved us so much he made us free creatures so that we could choose to love him or not. Even for God, to create us free to love means creating us free to hurt and be hurt and open to tears.

I’m not sure why anger is one of my first reactions when people I love are hurting, but it is. (Read the Psalms, and you’ll see God can handle that.) I’d be last in line to blame anyone for asking where God was on Thursday.

But I think the answer is that in a way we cannot now imagine, God was there, hating the pain and suffering and loving that son and that family with a fierce and divine love.

Somebody was going to die on that Thursday. Nothing could have stopped it. But life and love and joy and laughter will have the last word forever because the Father who is all love allowed his Son to die on a Friday long ago so that death itself will die.

 

    You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com

 
Copyright 2013 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


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