The Grief Episode

This episode was difficult for me to record. Several times throughout, I had to stop, breathe, and collect myself before resuming. The point is, grief may not have an ending point. I’ve learned that that’s OK. I hope through listening to this episode, you’ll realize that, too. Especially in the Christian community, we have a tendency to think that it’s OK to grieve — but only for a time. After that time has lapsed, we better be better. If we’re not, sometimes the message to us is that our faith isn’t strong enough. If we really believed that we have eternal life and that we’ll see our loved ones again, why would we continue to grieve?

And yet we do.

Listen on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Red Weather Christians: “S2E9: The Grief Episode”

Dad

It doesn't seem that long ago
that every day
you'd lace your boots
every day
you'd wear your boots
no matter the event
you'd wear your boots
you didn't care
Christmas day or
playing chess or
fixing cars or
walking to the park
with me

you'd wear your boots
rhythms of tightening laces
face concentrated wrapping
laces around metal eyelet hooks
you were hooked
every morning edge of bed
you said
you'd wear your boots
until your boots wore out
and out and about you went
in boots
years later
years later after sole replacements
new laces
living room spaces designated for
buffing and shining and moisturizing
the leather 
protection from weather
you cared for those boots

years later you'd wear the boots
for the last time
the last time I talked to you
about boots you said
shaking your head
as you set down the torn and warped boots
that you couldn't get 
that quality anymore
stores didn't sell boots
that lasted
you asked if
I knew of any 
I didn't

but yesterday I went to a 
boot shop
leather boots
     hanging
zig
     zagging
on
     one 
wall

and       bookshelves
of    boots    on    the
other    swaths      of
leathers all different

colors 
draping from a 
lazy susan hanging 
from
the 
ceiling
feeling oddly at home
as the shopkeeper outlined
my bare foot 
on a piece of white paper

the piece of white paper
that outlined the program
of your memorial
makes me wonder if you're wearing
your boots
in heaven
are they the ones you always wore
that you loved
or are they new from the shop
built from swaths of leathers
all different colors
shopkeeper outlining your foot
on a piece of white paper

me on earth
and you in heaven
me and you we're wearin'
our boots.

Listen: The Grief Episode

everyone goes

hey
dad
it's been a 
minute
but I wanted to
talk about heaven
with you
and I think you're
there right now sitting on your lawn chair drinking hot coffee

I wanted to
talk about heaven
with you
and tell you that
I'm sorry
for all the times you told me
Everyone goes to heaven
and I 
scoffed
because I knew
I knew
you didn't understand
how
the 
gospel
works
you called me a princess
but it was an attack
and I hated you for it
but now looking back
I now can see
how that's
exactly
what 
I
was

I was a spoiled princess
How Dare you Defy Me Dad
Don't You Know I Know
more
than
you
about
life

you told me everyone goes to
heaven
how could a god allow people to
go
to
hell
how could he do that
and why
and I
scoffed
the royal princess that I was
and why should I listen
to someone who wakes waiting
to drink
every
day

I was so much better than that
but now I think I'd like to
talk about heaven
with you
and say
I'm 39
and not a day
goes by
that I don't think of you
and I don't think of you
in hell
but how you have a lawn-chair seat in heaven

and when we
talk about heaven
I want to tell you
that I wish I would have
been a better daughter
later after you died
I tried
I tried
I tried to understand your 
pain
in life
your pain
I think you numbed
you'd sink into
grayed and fuzzed and cotton-muffled brain

but we're talking about heaven
and I want to say
that even though you couldn't stay
to make your heaven
here
on
earth
you've got it now
and now
I know that
I 
don't 
know
all the things I thought
I knew
and you
and you are sitting on your
lawn chair
drinking coffee
restful and content
so proud of me
(you were always so proud of me)
I wish I could have been proud 
of you

but it came too late you couldn't wait
to leave
you 
could 
not
cancer decided
you
did 
not

so hey 
dad
it's been a
minute
but I wanted to 
talk about heaven 
with you
and tell you
that I am doing what I can
to make my heaven
here
on
earth
and when I drink
hot coffee
I think 
of you
of you
of how proud
I am
of you.

Listen: The Grief Episode

Todays, Tomorrows, and Turkey-Cheese Sandwiches

“Tomorrow is never simply a repeat of today.” –Rob Bell, Love Wins

Well thank goodness for that. You know, we have bad days sometimes. We just do. And it’s nice to know that after a bad day, we’ll go to sleep and wake up in the morning to a new day, a new dawn. It’s no wonder that an entire genre of poetry is dedicated to celebrating the morning. An aubade greets the morning and looks forward to a beautiful and bright day. How lovely!

So as I read through Rob Bell’s book Love Wins, I am captured by his idea that Heaven will be on a renewed earth, every day different than the one before. That we will work and live and grow and change and be in union with one another and God. Just yesterday, my husband and I were chatting about Heaven and what we think it will be like, and we were both struck with this strange, discomfiting feeling that maybe we wouldn’t want to be in Heaven.

Because the Heaven we grew up believing in is a place of perfection — but also of stagnation. Now I don’t pretend to have any answers on this, and I certainly acknowledge that my finite, mere-mortal brain can’t even begin to comprehend what God is capable of. But I also believe that God definitely wants his mortals to think. And so I think about things.

I think about things like Heaven.

And Hell.

And I can’t wrap my mind around the concept of Heaven without there being stagnation. If everyone is perfect and everything is perfect and everywhere is perfect, then how is there variation? Today is perfect, tomorrow will be perfect, and all days will be

perfect

perfect

perfect.

How can we be in an eternal state of perfection? (Wouldn’t it get boring?) Even writing this, I feel like the religious people out there are shuddering: How can Jen presume to know that perfection — as defined by God — might be boring?

I can tell you that even as a child I didn’t really understand how Heaven could be perfect — with us in it. Yes, yes, perhaps if we all received new souls before entering the pearly gates . . .

but then would we still be . . . us?

So when I read some of Bell’s ideas about Heaven being a place where we continually are “participating in the ongoing creation of the world,” much like what Adam and Eve were tasked to do, I resonate. In fact, I can recall a picture in my pink (Mom chose the color; I actually detested pink when I was young) children’s Bible of the Garden of Eden. I thought, “This! This is what Heaven will be like!” And because I had a particularly scarring experience as a child of stepping in still-warm rottweiler poop (I was barefoot; it squished between my toes — more about it here), I thought, “And I’ll be able to walk around barefoot and never have to step in anything gross or sharp or sticky.” What a heaven!

To read about the idea of Heaven being a renewed creation — a new earth — I get excited. Bell talks about how in Revelation 20 “people will reign with God.” He clarifies that “‘reign’ means ‘to actively participate in the ordering of creation.'” Whaaaat?? This is sounding like God really knew what we need and what we love. Like God really knew us — fully. To create a heaven where we “explore and discover and learn and create and shape and form and engage in this world”? Sign me up. I can do without the gold streets and mansions. That just seems weird anyway. Give me mountains and lakes and trees and sky.

Tomorrow is never simply a repeat of today.

Even in this (mere mortal earthly) life, I love the idea of tomorrows being different than todays. Variety is the spice of life, after all. And if you’re familiar at all with Rob Bell’s philosophy, he believes that God created this world to function as a heaven on earth —

right now,

in this life,

for us,

mere mortals.

And I think God knows that the mortals he created need variety. We’re not robots programmed to follow a set of rules. And we’re not on this earth living in a “waiting period” just to get to Heaven. That kinda takes the joy out of living, doesn’t it? It makes it seem that we’d be living with a serious case of the-grass-is-always-greener-on-the-other-side syndrome. Ick.

One of my coworkers eats a turkey and cheese sandwich for lunch —

every

single

day.

And that is fine. He knows what he likes, and I can respect that.

I am not like that. I need different food —

every

single

day.

I even have a hard time stomaching weekly meal plans where you eat the same meals every week or two. When we have leftovers, I find myself trying to reinvent them into different meals. Variety is the spice of life, indeed. Even with literal spices in literal food.

I read somewhere that it’s good for us to drive alternate routes sometimes — just to change things up. And recently, I read an article from NPR about a book called Severance that pokes fun at an apocalyptic world where people get stuck in their ways after being infected with Shen Fever:

“Once infected, ‘the fevered,’ as they’re called, forget to eat or bathe; instead, they ‘loop indefinitely,’ until they die, performing rote tasks like folding sweaters or vacantly turning the pages of a book over and over.”

But of course, with apocalyptic fiction, there are always kernels of truth. How many of us are mindlessly performing our daily tasks and sending emails and tapping on our phones and eating meals and and

and

and

and.

We aren’t meant for that kind of life. We are meant to “explore and discover and learn and create and shape and form and engage in this world.” So let’s do it.

Let’s explore our neighborhood and city. Perhaps there’s a hiking trail or a local restaurant waiting for us to discover it.

Let’s learn better ways to live life. Maybe a simple reorganization of our sweater drawer. Just because it’s simple doesn’t mean it won’t have a positive effect on us.

Let’s create. Let’s put words to page, creating a story or a poem where once there was only a white abyss.

Let’s shape our bread dough so that when it bakes, it rises.

Let’s form the minds of our children so that when they turn a corner to a challenge in life, they assume the fighter’s stance: feet rooted, torso angled, fists out, chin down.

And let’s engage. Let’s engage in our relationships with friends, with family, with God, and with this beautiful heaven-creation.

I think that when we do this, our tomorrows will never be simply . . . anything.