Ash and Starlight

Connecting with God, each other, and ourselves in the broken and beautiful

Category: Grief

Friday Prayer, February 26, 2016

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Today, we give away our beloved Sunny to her adoptive family. It is a searing pain….

Last fall, we learned of our daughter, Eden’s,  numerous food allergies. We were concerned that she might be allergic to our golden doodle, Sunny, as well. Eden and Sunny love each other. Eden chases after Sunny, calling her “Bah-Bah” (which we think imitates her bark). But when Eden continued to break out in hives at seemingly random times, we had blood tests done to confirm she has a high allergy to dogs. Her allergist explained that keeping Eden in this environment with Sunny would increase her likelihood of asthma.

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We were devastated.

She’s been an integral member of our family, and the memories flood our souls. Sunny always had a special affinity for my father and comforted us through his death a year and a half ago. The day I was in labor with Eden, Sunny remained by my side, sensing what was happening. She’s traveled with us to South Dakota, Minnesota, Chicago, and Iowa City. There are, of course, the memories of excursions to the veterinary ER too for mishaps with a medicine jar and a canister of dark cocoa powder…

Sunny’s always been there for the holy moments of daily life, and taught us how to appreciate them through her simple joy, abiding love, and unwavering faithfulness. I think of the book, Marley and Me that says, “It’s just the most amazing thing to love a dog, isn’t it?” Or maybe it’s the most amazing thing to be loved by a dog. God’s come to us in tangible ways through Sunny.

Scores of family and friends have prayed with and over us as we’ve handled the news and wondered how to proceed. And then, through acts we can only attribute to the grace of God, a beautiful family and set of circumstances came into our laps.

And we realized we had to say yes to goodbye. And yes to grief. And yes to trust. And yes to the seasonal nature of life that asks us to believe there is yet joy to receive in each one.

Even when it hurts like hell.

We shared a blessing service when we first adopted Sunny nearly four years ago, and we had a time of blessing last night as we prepared for today. I lift up this prayer of saying thank you and goodbye.

We love you, Sunny, precious creature of God…

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Oh God,

Be with us in our goodbyes.

When we are asked to open our hands and

release what we hold –

what we’ve held tightly

place your peace between the fingers.

Put your comfort in the cracks and crevices of our hearts.

Let your Spirit take the groans too deep for words

and fashion them into prayers of

Yes.

Thank you.

Use our falling tears as nourishment for

this ground of grief,

and bring our souls, our lives, our trust

to new blossom.

In Jesus, Whose love never fails,

Amen.

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The car ride when we first adopted Sunny and were bringing her home three-and-a-half years ago

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Sunny’s favorite food – a fried egg – always received on her birthday

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Sunny loved Minnesota snow

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Car rides are one of her favorite things

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This happened more frequently than we like to remember

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Always watching for us to come home, and always ready for the next adventure. 

On grief, gratitude, and hope…

Dad and I before walking down the aisle for Jeff's and my wedding in 2008

Dad and I before walking down the aisle for Jeff’s and my wedding in 2008

Today marks one year since my Dad died. I’ve written a lot about my dad in this space, and owe the name and formation of the blog to him. I’ve reflected on the impact he made in this world and my life, and how his last vision before dying was the inspiration for our daughter’s name.

He was a tremendous human being. An incredible husband. A beautiful, beautiful father. He was not perfect, nor was our relationship, but we adored each other. The hole of his absence is wide and deep. We walked (and ran) much of life together in close connection.

After running the Twin Cities Marathon together in 2009 with Team in Training (Leukemia and Lymphoma Society)

After running the Twin Cities Marathon together in 2009 with Team in Training (Leukemia and Lymphoma Society)

And so this year, Grief has been one of my most influential teachers. Though not a gentle teacher, I’ve discovered it to be a patient one, giving me the space and grace to feel whatever I feel and journey at my own pace. It’s taught me to embrace the crests and nadirs, the zigs and zags, in which my heart goes, rather than confining my soul to some kind of linear progression.

Some of the most freeing, helpful words I received at the time of Dad’s death concerned the seemingly conflicted things one can feel at the same time. My friend wrote,

I pray that you have the space to feel fully, without restriction, all the many complex and perhaps contradictory emotions you’re experiencing. Sometimes people (maybe even we ourselves) don’t want to give space for those contradictions. They want us to be only sad or only hopeful. Only angry or only at peace. Only faithful or only doubtful. But life, and trauma especially, is just so much more complicated than that. I guess folks don’t know how to deal with contradictions, and so it makes them uncomfortable; they’re harder to solve. But I guess that’s all sort of the point: this isn’t something that can be solved. It’s just something to BE WITH. It’s just something to allow to BE, that  moment when we’re smiling or laughing or just feeling OK, followed, seemingly without transition, by the moment we fall apart and wail.” 

 His words reminded me of the phrase our family coined in that final week of Dad’s life – “joyful sorrow.” It’s one to which I’ve returned this week as my soul’s heard the echoes of a year ago. How can a heart feel so much pain and so much gratitude at the same time?

It seems unfair, almost a cruel kind of punishment, that the price we pay for our closest relationships is the agony of sadness when the other person leaves. But the purest love and the most genuine loss always interlace.

I will always remember sitting in the living room with Dad just a few days before he died – he on the big, green recliner, me on the couch. “You know, Arianne,” Dad said, “your lives…they’ll go on.”

“That’s hard to imagine right now,” I said.

“I know,” Dad replied, “but they will.”

I couldn’t fathom it then, but life is an incremental guide, and with each day, I’ve heard God and Dad both say,

You’re doing it. 

I think the greatest gift we can give our beloveds who die is the promise to keep living with passion, loving with dangerous trust, and letting the cracked-wide hearts within us remain vulnerably open. Life will always be different, but it can be good. And while we don’t get over our losses or “move on,” somehow God – with gracious, gentle hands – folds them into the fabric of who we are. We become deeper, kinder people because of it.

One of our favorite places to walk, run, and talk - the bike trail near the Outdoor Campus in Sioux Falls

One of our favorite places to walk, run, and talk – the bike trail near the Outdoor Campus in Sioux Falls

A few months ago, I was in the midst of cleaning out my office at church after ending my job. In the morass of files, I came across  an email I’d printed off from my Dad. The email was from 2011 when I was in the midst of my final year in seminary. I was working on a thesis about spiritual and emotional support for families facing cancer. In the midst of that project, Dad wrote me this message. It was God’s gift of mercy that I found the note. I’m not sure what compelled me to print it off those years ago, other than it is my Dad’s heart, life, and theology, in sum. He wrote,

It is tempting, for all of us, to measure God’s blessing in some type of tangible way, looking at the “good gifts” as signs of His love and favor, and to “answered prayers” as evidence that God really is listening, and that we somehow changed His mind in mid-stream.  I don’t think that takes into serious account the nature of God’s sovereignty, nor the substance of prayer.  It is also easier for those who subscribe to the so-called “success theology” to lean into interpretations of life events in such a superficial way.  Anyone who truly plumbs the depths of suffering and evil in this world does not find such answers satisfactory for very long.  Given these past eight years, I have mused on such things quite a bit.

God truly makes the rain fall upon the just and the unjust.  The thorn is not always removed.  The cup not only doesn’t pass us by, it smacks us in the face.  But what do we find?  God is God (see Job).  In weakness, we are strong, and God’s glory is made known (see Paul).  A bold, but impestious disciple dies a martyr’s death, but not before turning the early church on its head, and paving the way for all of us gentiles to join the family (see Peter).  Joshua 1:9 becomes profoundly true.  The ultimate tragedy, the Cross, becomes our greatest hope.  It’s a very, very long list, indeed.  Ultimately, God is glorified by those who are faithful, in all circumstance.  And prayer becomes so much more than a Christmas wish list, with results predicated on whether I have been naughty or nice.  I believe prayer is much more about changing US — both in the singular sense, and in the communal context.  The power of prayer last summer, at least to me, was in the collective of family and friends, God’s people, approaching the throne of grace on my behalf, and what that means to us as fellow believers, and as a Christian community.  And I found great comfort in knowing I could pour my heart out to God, not so He would know what I was feeling or going through (He obviously had a pretty good bead on that already), but because that is what He has asks us to do.  I had a great peace that whatever the outcome, renewed health or physical demise, obedience and submission were the keys to all good things, and the fulfillment of the ultimate purpose of my life — to glorify my Creator.  And THAT is God’s sovereign will, I believe. 

Amen, Dad.

So as I remember Dad, as I give God thanks, as I exhale and inhale and live into whatever this new season will be, I pray….

 

Lord Jesus,

I let go.

I say thank you.

I pray Your glory in and through me.

 

I exhale,

releasing the breath that once gave me life.

I inhale,

receiving fresh breath for this season

where I will wail and wonder

with gratitude.

 

I will dance,

letting my limp remind my soul and world

that broken bodies learn new rhythms of beauty.

 

With You, pain finds a home

in something larger than itself.

And sacred scars hold haven over

wounds that bless.

 

O Lord,

I let go.

I say thank you.

I pray Your glory in and through me.

 

Amen.

Dad had a really soft spot for Sunny. She misses him too.

Dad had a really soft spot for Sunny. She misses him too.

 

 

 

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