Death.

I think one often thinks of death as an event.

But actually, I suppose, it is a process. All of the deaths I have known so far, I guess, have been rather sudden. One day so-and-so was alive, and then we received notice that something had happened and they had died. Already gone. But today I had a thought and realized I had never thought anything quite like it before; “She is dying.”

We saw her just last week and she seemed about the same as usual, though complaining of a recent shortness of breath. . .Her physical body has been slowly failing for quite awhile, a new symptom here or there. Every new ailment seems to make life a little more uncomfortable. One still plans to keep on living, though — one buys a new chair, plans what to wear to a wedding in December.

But suddenly, things seem to be gathering momentum. Trips in and out of urgent care. Trouble enough breathing to call the paramedics. They say now that her heart is failing.

But it isn’t, of course. Her heart has never failed, through raising three children and watching two move far away, through taking care of her husband as he succumbed to cancer which had spread to his brain, through living yet a decade and a half longer as a widow and as time went by attending the funerals of so many lifelong friends, through patiently appreciating the diverse personalities and quirks of all her family members and smoothing the ways between through clashes, through watching and worrying from a distance as her grandchildren dreamed crazy dreams but saying, “Well, you never know. She could do it.”  . . . Through rocking grandchildren in her arms, and watching them grow up, and then rocking great grandchildren as well. . .Always “there.” A watchful, hopeful, loving eye, yet so often left in the background.

I wonder if she has often felt left behind. She has watched so many others go on, whether into living or into death.

If I were to live to her age I would have to live for another 60 years yet. More than twice the length I’ve lived already! Lately, life has seemed so short to me, and yet that span of years is unimaginable.

She once cut out an advertisement for a writing contest and sent it to me. She wished I would have given it a try, perhaps, to succeed for her. I think she said she had once written a book-length story. I wish I could read it.

I wish I could know her better.

People are so unknowable. . .and so precious.

I wonder if the aches and pains of our aging bodies are really just growing pains as our souls grow beyond what our bodies can contain. And some fine day the shell splits wide and we burst out into light and new life with Christ, unhampered by the old constraint.

I’m sure the bird in the egg can’t even begin to imagine what it will be like to unfurl its wings out in the open and begin to soar.

This world is not our home. . .more, an eggshell sheltering us while we grow.

But even knowing that, the feeling of loss — when one of us nears the end of this phase and strains forward to the next and we would hold them back but can’t — is so very real.

Unashamed.

I was going to share this post on Facebook because I appreciated the perspective, but I realized I had more to say than just a caption to a link.

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For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes – Romans 1:16a

It is tempting right now to be quiet–if you’re a Christian in America. There’s this very strong stereotype circulating that Christians are ignorant and hateful. . .By ignorant, it is meant that we believe the Bible is actually true. And to be labeled as “hateful,” it seems, one only has to politely disagree with what the majority of Americans consider to be progress. The peer pressure is real. It’s easier to stay quiet, to be “shushed” by popular culture — but Christians? That is, in fact, our mandate to speak.

But not, I think, with blustering outrage.

I am not here to argue against the legalization of gay marriage.

We live under what is supposed to be a representative government and it’s been a long time since the majority of the population it’s representing has been “Christian” in any meaningful way. Our founders designed the country so that its citizenry could decide the laws of the land. . .And by growing trend, the citizenry seems pleased to extend the recognition and societal benefits of marriage to gay couples as well as straight.

As Christians, I think we’ve been complacent in this country, used to being the governing majority; but I don’t think the changes in the world or culture should surprise us nor the reflection of these changes in our government. Christianity does not have a precedent for being comfortable, and we’ve been comfortable here for too long. Jesus explained it to his own disciples:

If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me. John 15:18-21

We should expect to be at odds with the status quo in the world. Because the status quo is to choose self-rule before Christ-rule, and we’re here to say, “Hey guys, that’s backwards. Christ first.”  So this whole “hating on Christians” thing that is starting to be really common in America is really….not all that new, and certainly not unexpected in the grand scheme of things.

As a Christian, I believe that when I don’t understand God—even want to disagree with Him, maybe—God wins by default. Because He’s God (i.e. perfect, holy, omnipotent, omniscient, etc.) God is always right, even if that means my feelings or perception of a situation has to be wrong in comparison. So to be honest, there’s a lot I don’t really understand about homosexuality (good article at the link); but I know that God speaks out against it, and God is God. To people who don’t believe in God being God (perfect, holy, omniscient, omnipotent, etc.) this sounds like absolute gibberish. I get it. I get that it’s unreasonable to expect people to live according to God’s instructions when they don’t believe in who He is to begin with.

So anyway, what I’m saying is that gay marriage is not the real issue for Christians to be arguing about here: the issue is that people don’t believe in the Cross of Christ. They don’t see the saving grace that is freely given to them or understand why or how we all really need it. (Reader, God loves you.)

Yet even still, knowing it’s a symptom and not a cause, my first reaction to yesterday’s Supreme Court decision about marriage was one of sadness.

It was an odd, hard-to-define kind of sadness. Like if you were looking at the most amazing sunset and turned to the person next to you to share it and realized they couldn’t see.

A couple weeks ago, I felt the same way when I overheard someone say, “Marriage has nothing to do with religion!”

I was more than a little speechless when I heard that because it was a thought so unfamiliar to me. But then I realized that she was right — for her, marriage had nothing to do with religion.

But to me — to all of us who still claim Christ and His teachings — marriage is the most beautiful expression of it.

I’ve been thinking a lot about marriage lately — because it’s on my to-do list this year, rather than for any current events reasons — and to me, marriage is a covenant made in the presence of God, and the keeping of it is directly enabled by His grace. It is the opportunity to learn to be Love — real, sacrificial Christlike love.

Christ is the point of marriage. Christ is the point of living.

Marriage (for Christians, anyway) is, in actuality, a majestic, breathing portrait of God’s love for us:

Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— for we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. Ephesians 5:22-32

To take marriage out of that context and assign its meaning simply to a license issued by the state! It makes my heart ache. So much is being missed.

I think Justice Kennedy tapped into some of the truth behind the gay marriage movement when he said this: “It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves.”    And (I realize I’m departing from his meaning when I say) that seems to me so tragic. It is the classic tale of looking for something where it cannot be found. I truly believe fulfillment in marriage comes from experiencing Christ through it.

So when I say the legalization of gay marriage made me sad it’s not because I hate gay people. No, truly, it’s because I feel like they are missing out on something so beautiful — they’re striving for it, by achieving the hollow form, but the soul of marriage is Christ, and it’s just out of reach and they won’t realize what is missing.

Sigh. So if you’re reading this and getting angry, I’m sorry if you hate me for believing this or expressing this. But I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ; I truly believe His love is the most important thing to ever come into the world, more important than our personal agendas or anything else. And it is freely given to all.

And Christians, I just wanted to say that we’ve been entrusted with something so precious and important. Let’s not be lukewarm. Let’s not misrepresent what was done at the Cross or why. Let’s press into Christ and make sure we’re pouring out the love and illumination we’ve been given.

“Lord, do Thou turn me all into love, and all my love into obedience, and let my obedience be without interruption.” – Jeremy Taylor

Mixed Feelings.

There were always some dreams I held at arm’s length. Because I didn’t want to feel what I was missing, I suppose, and what I expected I might spend my whole life missing. Better not to dwell.

So even though every other female on the planet had a wedding inspiration board on Pinterest. . .I didn’t make one. I let my eyes slip over those pictures, and the pictures of cute dads, and new babies, with as much disinterest as I could muster. I didn’t do too much daydreaming about the future. When I thought of the future, my focus was on becoming financially self-sufficient. I anticipated I would probably be living alone most of my life. And it would be nice not to be a burden on anyone. And to be able to afford cats. (That’s not sarcasm; I really do like cats.)

Sometimes I had pity parties, of course, but I tried to rein in my heart with pragmatism.

Since last April, though, I have begun to allow myself to dream. And as time goes by, I find my dreams gathering definition. A winter wedding, probably. The colors, maybe creamy whites and dark greens punctuated by either blush pink? Or crimson? Maybe kind of a “snowy woods” theme. And in a few years….maybe a couple of incorrigible children with his brown eyes and gleeful grin.

I almost can’t process what’s happening. It’s overwhelming, and I just don’t know how to be happy like this; it doesn’t come quite naturally! How can this dream be happening to me??

I have found a man whom I can trust and admire and love, who’s responsible, and hard-working, and adventurous, and compassionate, And who will cherish and protect me. And it’s amazing and too good to be true, and if I think about it too hard, it brings tears to my eyes that this dream I didn’t dare dream is coming true.

Because I can still feel the echoes of that ache at the base of my sternum–that ache that almost won’t let you breathe sometimes, smothering you under an enormous sense of loss as you try not to think too hard about the possibility….probability…that maybe you’ll never have a husband. That you’ll never be a mother. That burning ache still brings tears to my eyes and a lump to my throat, too.

It’s real. It’s valid. And I don’t want to ever forget this ache, or become careless as I embrace this life-change, doling out platitudes and well-meant but woefully inadequate “encouragement.”

I feel like I am receiving this enormous blessing, by having married life on my horizon. . .And I “know” I would be equally blessed if I stayed single. Yet I also know which blessing seems preferable to me and easier to rejoice and be grateful for. I don’t want to become inaccessible or lose touch with the very real soul-ache of singleness. I don’t want to forget….

Why I’m Not Okay With “Bitch”.

I was talking to someone today about offensive words. Without hesitation, I said that I found the word “bitch” extremely offensive no matter the context, and at least in part because of how freely it’s thrown around. It started me thinking, though — out of all the offensive words floating around in the atmosphere of daily life, why can I tune out (most of) all the “fucks” and “shits” and so forth, while this one word zings uncomfortably in my mind every time I hear it.

Here is what I have come up with, and why this word is not okay:

  • Because there aren’t really male equivalents. You can call a man a prick, jackass, bastard, or jerk, but these terms are somehow less severe or serious. Guys might call each other bastards, but the tone is more likely to be humorous.
  • Because I have heard men call the women in their lives “bitches” or “hos” as if these were terms of endearment.
  • Because I’ve heard dads tell their daughters to stop being bitches.
  • Because regardless of the tone or intention, it’s always demeaning.
  • Because in a dictionary published 200 years ago, it was considered “the most offensive appellation” you could give to a woman. In 200 more years is “rapist” going to be a compliment?
  • Because any unpleasant, unfair, or unfortuitous event in life can also be called a bitch.
  • Because some women use this word as an excuse to be rude and unkind while trying to cast themselves instead as “strong” and “assertive.”
  • Because I don’t want to have to be a bitch in order to be strong and assertive.
  • Because if I heard somebody casually throw this word around about a friend of mine, I would not be okay with it.

But most of all, because when you call a woman a bitch out of annoyance, you are effectively shrinking and categorizing her. She is having a bad day, maybe, or bad year, or is feeling ugly and unloved, and this comes out in her personality so that she seems bossy or unkind; therefore you condense her entire being and identity (as you perceive it) into this one, negative little word. Never mind that she has hopes, dreams, desires, a heart–she’s just a Bitch.

There is no way in which any of this is okay.