“This is what the Lord says— HE who made a way through the sea, a path through the mighty waters, “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” – Isaiah 43: 16-19
We will all eventually die. Learning how to live in this mortal truth has transformed me from my soul to my song.
I have known death from a young age as I watched grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends, and yes, dogs – die. And, for a long long time – even though my faith was strong – I was so very afraid of death – not so much the thought of me dying – for my faith was and is strong – but the thought of the living on after that must follow when those we love leave us. That inescapable truth was made resoundingly clear in my life this year. Fear and love are forever intertwined – life teaches us this, death makes it real.
It is not an easy truth to grasp – even for those who have watched loved ones die. When my mother died last year, I was not with her. Her death seemed surreal to me – still does at times. One moment she was there – as I knew she always would be – and the next – I was on the other end of a phone call no one wants to make. Her death journey during Holy Week made it even more, how shall I say it, awe-some? That our ever-loving God would call home his sweet sparrow on the first day of Spring – Palm Sunday, that we would memorialize her on Good Friday, and celebrate her new life with Jesus on Easter Sunday seemed so fitting -and yet her death and our journey through it is one I still have difficulty grasping. Perhaps because we didn’t have the chance to mourn.
I was with father when he died, just over one year later. His death remains very much alive in me – almost as much as his life continues on in I me. I was there for his last breath, I saw the light leave his eyes, and felt the life leave his body. It is a feeling that has accompanied me to bed at night, in the pews at church, but mostly when I am out walking. That my Dad would die after a hard-fought battle with cancer and the rages of sudden onset Alzheimer’s left me numb and yet completely aware of every whisper of his life. The greatest man I had ever known was gone. With his death, I was awakened to the reality of life.
It is in death when our full humanity comes to life. In truth, life is about learning to live through death. We experience death more often than we – at least on the surface – realize. When we graduate high school and college that season of our lives dies as we enter the next stage of adulthood. When we marry our life as individuals ceases. When a relationship ends – a part of us dies – the part we had given to that other person. When we leave a job, that part of our daily life ends. And yet, with each of these deaths we are given the opportunity for new life; they allow us to let go, they cut away the ties from our past, and lead us to discover a new direction in life.
Indeed, in this year I have experienced many deaths. It has been the most sorrow-filled time of my entire life. I have never been one who could let go of people or things – I am loyal and committed to the end – sometimes to my detriment. Saying good-bye does not come easy for me – and I have had to say goodbye so many times to so many people and things this year (good grief I even sobbed when I closed the door on my apartment for the last time!) but sometimes we have to say good-bye to live again.
During my journey through grief this year I stumbled upon a gem of a book: “Turn My Mourning into Dancing,” by Henri Nouwen. The title strikes me tonight, this eve of a New Year and the end of year that has left my heart ravaged and my life unfamiliar, because I have found myself dancing, yes DANCING this year away! I am dancing once again as I reflect on a year of fear and love and the new life borne of them.
As I mourned my mother and father, I made peace with who I am now – I can be no other than the daughter and woman God created through them 46 years ago. They raised me to shine a light in this world and shine it in honor and love for them I will! This year, I found my voice and my place. Never have I felt so fulfilled and so right then when I am sharing God’s love and the Good News through Word and Sacrament.
Committing myself to doing more than simply following in Christ’s footsteps but going to wherever He leads me, has transformed my faith from one of rigor to one of complete awe, trust, and love.
As I said goodbye to my family home of 25 years in Billings and my little nest of 4 years in Whitefish, I embarked on a journey of independence and responsibility I hadn’t yet known – proud Columbia Falls home ownership – all in one month!
As I let go of one I was holding on to because I do not fail at love – I discovered what self-love is all about – the door to giving and receiving more love to others.
As I struggled with despair and loneliness, I was humbled before God and found that life is far richer when shared with others and that meant letting go of my need to control and my fear of failing and not just share my life with others but give my life to others.
And most of all, I learned yet again that sometimes with great sacrifice comes great reward – that life is more than great running times and a good night’s sleep – that puppies are worth lost mileage and every sleepless moment. That out of the ashes of life and death comes new light, new life, and great love. The Ember of my heart.
So yes, as another year passes, as another season of life dies away – I am carried into the new year by the melodies of new life showing me how good it is to dance once again.
Thank you, dear Lord for the lessons of death and the light of new life – there for us each and every day.
May God bless you and keep you. May the Lord make His face to shine upon you with mercy and grace and give you peace, joy, and new life in the New Year!
Let your light so shine!