A case of being in the right place at the right time with the right camera. This picture captures how I have felt as of late…light shining through darkness, beauty, hope. (taken on 31 December 2008 at the Agra Fort in Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India)
Sometime after my high school graduation and in the first year of college, while in a reflective mood, I penned a list. This list was inspiring, a gathering of hopeful goals for my life, born out of deep desires and longings of my heart. At the time I was dreaming. People make lists, 10-year plans, but I…I would make a list that makes me happy. I was indeed in touch with those desires of the heart which guide me even today. Even when the list was folded and tucked away in a storage space for years, its contets forgotten in my mind, my footsteps still followed its direction. Here is some of it:
- Return to New Zealand
- Travel to all 50 states*
- Read the Bible regularly
- Complete a marathon
- be fluent in German
- Visit towns in Alsace and Ukraine where ancestral family came from
- see a tornado
- publish a photograph
- stay in touch (with specific people)
- give money/volunteer for Neurofibromatosis research
- run regularly
- acquire a large classical music collection
- continue to play the clarinet
- see Africa
- travel the world
Those in bold are things I have done. In a period of my life when I am grasping onto anything hopeful and happy, contemplating the list and the journey of my life since high school is inspiring. For, it is more than merely crossing items from a list—these are pieces of me, and together they make me whole. Not only have I completed a marathon, I’ve finished five; not only have I given money for Neurofibromatosis research, I ran two marathons for charity; not only have I published a photograph, but have been paid to take pictures and published some writing; not only have I traveled the world, but I lived a year in Germany and became fluent in German there; the 50 states is a work in progress, as I have knocked off 30+ already; and in less than two weeks I will be in India—what an adventure that will be!
To think of these things brings me hope and joy. I run, listen to or play music, travel, experiences cultures, donate my time because these things cause something inside of me to be whole.
Now I wonder, what else should I add to this list for the next decade of my life…
while the waiting continues, i must journey through some rocky terrain. the job i anxiously awaited did not come into my favor. that alone is a disappointment—one that heals quickly—yet there is more that ushers in sadness. a series of events, seemingly falling on top of me in succession has left me confused and disoriented. it is a season of sadness that will pass. this i know. but i wonder, as the psalmist does, “how long, o lord? will you forget me forever?”
how long must i wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? how long will my enemy triumph over me?
i do have selfish, negative thoughts. i fight daily to purge them from my body and mind. this is why i feel the psalmists cries in psalm 13. somehow the genuine sadness and grief, and confusion of relationships has turned in on itself and become distorted.
its not solely concerning myself—someone i hold dear to my heart has been violated. and a friend’s mother has died. i weep for her, i weep for her future, i weep for my friend and his loss, and i hope. i hope for the justice only god can bring. but i wonder, as another friend did recently, where is god sometimes?
and i turn to sufjan stevens to accompany me, as he sings, “o god, where are you now? o lord, say somehow. the devil is hard on my face again. the world is a hundred to one again. would the righteous still remain. would my body stay the same. o god, hold me now. o lord, touch me now. there’s no other man who could save the dead. there’s no other god to place our head…”
the psalm ends with hope. that’s where i end, too.
but i trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. i will sing to the lord, for he has been good to me.
amen. so say we all.
Flowing with adrenaline from the opening ceremonies to the Olympic Games in Bejing in these early morning hours, I cannot sleep. I turn instead to the comfort of music and prayer. Now that I am alone with space to reflect, I recall the beauty of more than 200 nations represented by more than 11,000 athletes—what diversity of talent, culture, language, and location! And we come together to compete as brothers and sisters, as humans.
Reconciliation. During the summer and winter games I am inspired by the courage of athletes. I am also inspired by the spirit of the games. And now tonight, it hits me—reconciliation.
On this night of world unity I am reminded of the lack of unity in my own family. But, there’s hope. There’s hope for reconciliation of twin brothers who have not spoken in a decade. Today my dad mailed a letter to his brother, after I suggested so yesterday.
It’s been a long time coming. I saw my uncle at a wedding recently. It was so good to see him again. They both said similar things to me about wanting to talk to the other.
My tears tonight are shed in grief for lost relationship, but hopeful for reconciliation. May brothers be reconciled! Oh God, may this be so!
6And I say, ‘O that I had wings like a dove!
I would fly away and be at rest;
7truly, I would flee far away;
I would lodge in the wilderness;
Death is frightening to face, and confusing for those still among the living. In mourning we cry out and wonder why…and while death does not make sense, there is meaning in life. Sometimes, however, terror takes over. As I walk through grief for some situations in my life, I remember Psalm 55. In the cold shelter of a somber memorial at the Dachau Concentration Camp near Munich, Germany, I read this Psalm. Tears streaming down my face, I mourned for the millions, and reflected on an unimaginable terror. Why did such horrible events take place?
My heart grieves tonight for several reasons–remembering and honoring the dead, my own wounded past, and putting to death some plans that are unattainable. But even in grief, I hope. On a walk today I noticed new life in spring, as little baby ducks swam alongside their parents. With a sigh I wondered about the cycle of life and death, both physiologically and spiritually for us as humans. Life and death. So complex, so confounding. Life does spring where once was death…trees grow, our hearts heal, new relationships form…
When our hearts are wintry,
grieving, or in pain,
Christ’s touch can call us
back to life again,
fields of our hearts
that dead and bare have been:
Love is come again like wheat that springs up green.
Love is come again…that is my prayer tonight, that love may come again. That I may face that which frightens me with courage, and that all who grieve this night may know the spring love rising from the earth.
Death. It’s a mystery that I cannot comprehend, as hard as I try. It is a part of this life that we humans share, yet its appearance is often shocking, incomprehensible. Why, one asks…
I hope in the resurrection, but sometimes I want to call it all bullshit. Death comes with deep pain, shocking at times, even when it is expected. Numbness takes over the body and mind, a murky haze through which life seems unreal, or even too real. The death of another calls one to confront mortality, that of the self and those we love. The harsh reality of the living in the shadow of death surfaces a fear of the unknown, a fear of being finite, and the question: Is this all there really is? My answer is no, but I am constantly challenged.
As a chaplain intern two years ago, I heard the death rattle in one of the patients, a haunting gurgle of fluid in the throat of one who is about to die, but I was never in the room at the time of a death. I comforted a mother who lost her severely premature infant mere minutes before my arrival. I cried with her, put my hand on her shoulder and said very little. The tiny body lay limp in her hands, as tears streamed down her cheeks. She washed his body and cradled him while I prayed silently over her shoulder. In the presence of death’s ugly face, what is there to say?
A little over two years ago a cousin of mine died suddenly in a car accident. Gone. He was an aspiring pilot, giving lessons with dreams of flying commercial planes, and in his early 20’s. In a split second a head-on car collision shattered those dreams and left the family in shock and utter disbelief. Death leaves a large void where once was vibrant life. It is still shocking to think about.
These memories began to surface last week with an awareness of the coming anniversary of my paternal grandmother’s death. And they have been heightened since hearing last night about another sudden death, this one of my roommates boss. Oh God, where are you now??
Sixteen years ago on May 3rd, 1992, my grandma died; I was a month shy of my 12th birthday. Although her death was not unexpected, it was nonetheless a shock. She had Alzheimer’s disease and six months prior had burned herself in the bathtub.
On the day she died, there was a big race in there (in Spokane, WA). 50,000 people lined the streets to participate in the annual Bloomsday race, a 12k (7.46 mile) course through the streets of Spokane. On this day I was free to run by myself. Grandma, who had been hospitalized since December, was near the end. The plan was to run, meet with relatives who would take me to see grandma–my parents were already there. I ran strong, finished well…quite proud of the accomplishment for an 11-year-old. But her death came sometime as I was finishing or shortly after. I was not able to say goodbye.
Running became a method to process my grief, and it has been a mainstay in my life ever since. The course passes the the cemetery where she (and eight months later my grandpa, too) would be buried. I have run Bloomsday as I am able, this year to be my 11th year–and each time I run past the graveyard I honor them, and whisper my goodbye. That experience was a formative event in my life. although I am not as close to the memory of my grandparents anymore, the woman I am today is shaped in their deaths. Experiencing grief at an early age shocked my senses and enabled me to tap into a deeper part of my soul. The physicality of running to process grief soon helped me to process built up anger and other emotions; now it calls me to rise above, push myself harder as motivation to cope with life’s many mountainous challenges.
And so here I am. Grieving for these losses and living through. Yet, as I wrote above, I have hope. And my love for God and love of life keeps me going, even in the midst of sorrow.
May God comfort all those who grieve this night…