Peonies and such …

2018 05 20 peonyPeony. What a strange name for a plant.   it seems somewhat irreverent and just plain wrong to name a such a beautiful flower a word that you can easily string out to say pee-o-knee or worse … um, well, you get the image….

This is my first spring in my new home and lo and behold, this week there were 3 such buds on a small bush in my back yard.  By Friday, they had transformed into gorgeous lush pink blossoms in full bloom.  And the memories came flooding back to this time 3 years ago.

A friend had brought me the most gorgeous bouquet of peonies.  She must have cut every single one that her bush had produced, and she gave them to me to brighten my day, creating beauty in sorrow. Mysteriously, those flowers lasted through Warner’s last days and past his funeral. I must have admired them a hundred times over. Funny the things you remember so vividly.

Three years without Warner.  1,095 days. 26,280 hours, 1,576,800 minutes. I cannot count the seconds.  There are too many. I can’t wrap my head around such a number.

And yet I am still breathing. I get up every morning.  I do the day. Most nights I sleep.  The sun rises and sets.  The months go by. The seasons pass. Not even one of those seconds I dare not count has stood still or raced ahead or been lost in all this time.

Remembering the anniversary of the death of your beloved is so different from remembering that person’s birthday or anniversary.  Those dates come naturally, and with them sweet and dear memories of times shared together, events, joy, celebrations, laughter.  Those were traditions, planned and executed with longing, expectation, delight.  Even though there is a sadness to them now, there is also a tenderness that comes from thinking back to special moments shared together.  Not so with a person’s physical death. It happens once. That day is marked forever as an ending, with each of its moments burned in your brain with irrevocable finality.  Done and done. That date on the calendar reminds you of one thing.

Even so, peonies still bloom.  I googled the word today to learn a bit more about this flower that I had shunned my whole life just because of its name. I learned that the word peony is “a merger of Middle English, Old English, Old North French, Latin and Greek words, related to paiōnios (healing), from paiōn (physician), and so called for the plant’s healing qualities.”

The peony is known as the flower of “riches and honor. With their lush, full, rounded bloom, peonies embody romance and prosperity and are regarded as an omen of good fortune and a happy marriage.  The peony is a strong symbol of beauty, fragility and transitory nature of existence. Furthermore, they depict that getting great rewards is only possible by taking great risks.”

 Also, peonies rarely bloom the first year after planting. It often takes three years before you see an abundant display of flowers. Peony plants require little maintenance as long as they are planted properly and establish themselves; they do not respond well to transplanting. But once the plants do start blooming, you can look forward to a lifetime of beautiful flowers. They can live to be ONE HUNDRED years old!”

So, there you have it.  I think Warner would be pleased with my peony bush.  He had no problem with irreverence if it led you to a righteous goal. We shared years of good fortune and a happy marriage, full of beauty, fragility, the transitory nature of existence and great rewards directly related to the great risks he never feared to lead us through. And that comment about taking three years to abundance…  I sure do feel it coming…

Happy Birthday, Baby!

Happy Birthday Warner.  Since you’re not here for me to lavis016h you with presents, this birthday I’m thanking you for some incredible gifts you’ve given me since you went home to Jesus:

Finding joy in the ridiculous and being able to laugh at myself

There are days when I am 100% scatterbrained.  I can’t remember much of anything.  When something finally does come to mind, I have forgotten the reason why I was trying to recall it.  Of course, I am still very intense and focused.  However, it only lasts for fleeting moments!  Then I’m off to the next random thought, activity, conversation…

I have learned to find joy when, after diligent search, I finally discover my car keys in the freezer of all places.  Obviously, it made sense when I put them there!  I can see the humor in showing up for meetings on the wrong day and/or the wrong place.  It makes me giggle when I drive to Florida for the week, leaving my suitcase in my driveway in Franklin.

There are those days when I have it mostly together and am organized and on point like I was before Warner’s cancer…  Boy, do I notice, take advantage of and celebrate those!  At the same time, I’ve become less frustrated and more comfortable with myself when I just don’t have it together.  I think that this means that I am learning to cope. Or, to quote Peter Tunney: “I’m almost NOT crazy.”

The healing power of love

I seriously doubt that I would still be breathing today without Grigory and my close friends. They chose to carry me through and to the table this past year.  I have been dependent, needy, taking and not always being able to give. They have been gentle, giving, trustworthy in sharing the pain.  They have taught me love and I have been a willing student, watching, observing, learning…  Their consistent, untiring, active concern for me to experience their love each day has healed me more that words can express.  It is truly God moving through them into me.  We experience a fiercely strong and magnetic power of community that is beyond compare.  I am blessed.

 My pain honors Warner

At first, I ran from the pain when thoughts of Warner were so intense that they seemed to overwhelm and then paralyze me.  I would close my eyes tighter than tight, stand still and scream inside my head.   I tried every form of avoidance I could think of to keep from thinking of Warner, to keep from seeing and hearing him, to keep from missing him.   Warner was so stoic, pragmatic, unemotional.  I thought that he would want me to be the same in my grieving him.  I failed miserably.  I am not stoic or pragmatic.  I am emotional.  I needed release in the most desperate of ways.

A dear friend perceived what was going on inside me.  He explained that my pain of loss honors Warner.  I need to feel it.  It is a reflection of how much I love him and miss him.  I feel and react to pain differently than Warner did.  He loved me for who I am and would not want me to try to change and be like him or anyone else for that matter.

That conversation freed me on so many levels.  My heart does hurt and long for my man.  We were those “opposites” who attract each other and the synergy of our union was electric.  I’m actually hurting right now as I write this.  And through the tears, I do sense that I am honoring Warner, in my way, a way very different than he would honor me.  And he likes that just fine 🙂

Life Goes On

There’s a peculiar thing that happens when someone dies.  The rest of the world keeps spinning. Life goes on.  At first, I thought that it would stop.  Yet people continued to experience more than my husband’s death.  How could that be?  I couldn’t share in anyone’s joy.  For a while I couldn’t bear to look at facebook and see people having fun, getting married, having babies, graduating, and starting new lives.  It seemed so wrong.  Warner was dead.  The world was over.

Then I found myself waking up and smiling again.  Even my life goes on.  I miss Warner desperately.  Yet I also celebrate weddings and babies, graduations, daily life and vacations.  I laugh, I cry, I dance.  I have learned new skills – building bookcases, laying tile, fixing a toilet and a washing machine.  I wish Warner was here to share in it all.  Sometimes I still can’t believe that he is gone.  But then I feel the empty space and I know that he is.  Yes, life goes on…but not like before.  There will always be a “before Warner died” and a “since Warner died” in my life.  He will always and forever be a part of me.

The strength of vulnerability

In trying to comfort me when Warner was so sick and even after he died, people would tell me some version of: “You’re going to be o.k., you are a strong person…. You’re so strong you, I know you are going to make it through this.  You will grow and be a better person for it, etc. etc. etc.”

I did not feel strong then and I do not feel strong now.  Sometimes I feel weak and frail, even fragile. Sometimes I feel empty. I believe that I am the most vulnerable person I know.  I went to a counselor for help because I was so conflicted by what everyone said compared to what I felt.  This wise man explained that being strong doesn’t mean having it all together and “making it through.”    He said that strength is being true to your circumstance, not denying it, avoiding it or “dealing” with it.   Strength is walking through the difficult circumstance, present in mind, spirit and heart – feeling, thinking, doing, living and allowing God to lead me through the process.

This totally blew up my image of strength.  I am beginning to see that it is true.  I still don’t know how to respond when people tell me that I am “doing so well, that they knew I would because I am so strong…”  However, I don’t feel the tension between their words and my reality.  I am growing more comfortable and accepting of my vulnerability. I am who I am.

Letting go of expectations

I used to be the most productive person I knew.  I loved the challenge to excellence, the drive to achieve, the sense of accomplishment.  I pushed myself to do more, to be more.  I don’t live in that place anymore. What’s missing is my drive, my passion.  It is still on backorder.

This is not to say that I have gone into hibernation.  I still live an active life.  I’m just not willing to live it without margin.   I need down time now.  I schedule it in so that taking the time to breathe doesn’t mean going without sleep the next several days, struggling to make up for “lost time.”

There are only two things that I have done every single day without fail since Warner’s cancer took over his body and consumed our lives.  One is read my Bible.  The other is brush my teeth.  That’s it.   I am not obsessed on a daily basis to do more.  Sure, I tend to other things.  I continue my involvement with our church partner in Peru.  I trade stocks.  I spend time with my extended family. I plant my flowers and keep my garden.  Mold is not growing in my home.  I visit with my neighbors. I spend time at the lake.  I share in my discipling group, Bible studies, service.  I experience life with friends with whom I am bonded at the core of my soul.   It’s just different.  There’s no fire burning in my belly.

Have I lost my ambition, my life purpose in glorifying God?  No.  Certainly not.  The flame has not died.  It is just resting, recovering from the loss of my true love. I am living in “in-between.”

 What’s next

In this “in between” time when I am “doing” less, I am also thinking a lot more.  Since Warner died I find myself more focused on discovering God’s will for me and walking it out.  Certainly, when Warner was alive God spoke specifically into my life, guiding my individual sanctification process.  However, my course was based on a team model.  Much of my direction from the Lord was wrapped in Warner’s and his in mine.  We were as one, aligned, strategic, our vision as clear as God opened our eyes to see (and sometimes they were teeny, tiny openings!).

It’s all quite blurry to me now. God has not yet plainly defined my “next steps” as a single woman, as a widow.   This is especially challenging for me.  I am one who lives purposefully and intentionally according to a plan based on my internalized mission and vision.  Warner’s and my plan doesn’t work in my new world.   My mission hasn’t changed, it’s just that I don’t have an implementation plan.   Without the plan…   well, I feel pretty much like I’m sinking in bottomless quagmire.   So, I’m just “doing the next thing,” waiting, praying, hopeful.  I don’t think that this is necessarily bad.  I just thought that I would be further along after a year….

Oh, the options abound!  I’ve been given many suggestions and I have thought of at least that many more.  I could live in Peru, working with the CMA church in the Savings and Credit Associations.  I could finish seminary, going full time for a couple of semesters and be done with it!  I could move to a better suited house.  I could finish writing my book.  I could travel the world.  I could move to Florida and care for my mom.  There are so many additional options available. They are good options.  It’s just that I haven’t heard my “yes” from the Lord on any of them.  Without his favor, without his “yes,” any success in whatever endeavor would be short lived and dissatisfying.

Becoming aware of small acts of kindness

Living in a place of need, I have become hyper-aware of many small acts of kindness happening all the time, every day, mostly unnoticed.  It has become my mission to take note and celebrate!    I see them while shopping when a clerk makes eye contact or smiles and is friendly, when someone stops me in an aisle and gives me advice on a product I’m considering.  I experience it driving when someone lets me get in front of them in traffic so I can turn at the next light.  I feel them when a neighbor stops to chat for a moment, when a friend just checks in, when I get a “thinking of you” card in the mail. There is something about these small acts that is grand.  They are totally voluntary.  They come from the inside and overflow to the outside.  They are pure, given without agenda or expectation of reciprocity.  They are just a kind thought evolving into a noble act.  These “acts” often make my day!

Experiencing this has led me to sense more opportunities to share little kindnesses with others.  I get at least as much joy in seeking out and giving small acts of kindness as I do in receiving them.  They have become my secret, almost holy delight.  One of my favorites is when I see someone sharing an act of kindness with someone who doesn’t catch it (and folks usually don’t) and I let that kind person know I noticed.  It creates an instant bond and has started great conversations.

I’ve discovered that focusing on the positive actions take toward me and that I take toward others helps my perspective on life.  Sure, we DO live in a fallen world.  There is more evil bubbling to the surface than ever before.  At the same time, we are not without hope.  The Holy Spirit alive in us through Jesus makes us light.  As light, we have the potential to shine brighter as the world grows darker.  We just have to turn that light on.  I’m learning that turning it on in even the smallest of ways brightens the path, encouraging us toward the next step…..

 How it feels to be a non-person

When Warner died, some falsely accused me of wrongdoing, determined the issue was not worth resolving and wrote me off.  After years of relationship, they chose to sever our tie completely, to cut all communication with me in every way.  They have erased any trace of my existence from their lives.  It is a feeling unlike one I have ever known.

I had heard stories of what can happen when someone dies, that things can get ugly and people mean.   I just never thought it would happen to me.  My first reaction was shock and disbelief.  That turned to anger.  Then I moved to analytical, trying to reason how they could believe and rationalize their position.   I found nothing.  Now I carry a great sadness, I grieve the loss.

There is a bit of irony in this.  In 1979 I divorced my first husband.  I moved far away.  I did all I could think of to distance myself from anything and anyone that could connect me to him.  One of my coping mechanisms was to turn him into a non-person.  In my mind, he no longer existed in real life.  But this was nothing more than an illusion.  You cannot make someone a non-person.  They still exist in real life.

He found me.  He would call me, repentant and begging my forgiveness.  I always blew him off.  I held the power of forgiveness over his head, or so I thought.  It wasn’t until God confronted me that I realized the damage and the ugliness of my sin of unforgiveness.  It took me almost 20 years to both forgive this man and be forgiven by him.  I have learned the blessed sweet release of choosing forgiveness rather than bitterness.  I cannot imagine ever allowing the bitter root take hold in my life again.  It is deadly.  I am slow, but I am not stupid 🙂

So now I know experientially what it feels like to be on both sides of “non-personhood.” This can’t be for naught.  I am expectant of how God is going to use this deep hurt.  I pray every day it will be for His glory.

 Last but Not Least, or First and Foremost

Even with all these other important lessons that I needed to learn, I think that the most impactful thing I’ve learned is how little I know and understand about my God and how much more there is to learn still beyond my grasp.  Each new high reveals yet more grace.  Each new low displays mercy beyond my imagination.  I realize that the sum of my knowledge, the sum of my love of the Lord is but a drop in the bucket of His vastness.  But how precious that drop is!  And oh, how I thirst for more…