Grandma

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I used to spend every Sunday morning in nursing homes. I used to try to imagine what the old and wasted looked like when they were young and full of life. But now I’m not just some stranger on an altruistic visit. I’m family, sitting in hospice, while my grandmother is dying. And I am dying with her. I can feel it, because the part of me that only she brings out is dying too.

The life we had together is coming to an end. Her muscles are shriveled, her skin hangs loose on her bones like Spanish Moss on tree limbs, her words sound like car tires turning on gravel, and her breathing rattles in her throat. But now more than ever I see her as young. The more her body withers, the more her beautiful soul appears.

When asked to describe her to a friend, I said without thought or hesitation, “She is like sunshine. She turns everything into a song. If once she smiles at you, some infectious moment of happiness compels you to smile back. She is simple in a world that makes everything complicated. She spreads love everywhere she goes. And the day she dies, the world will change forever.”

Lifeless and weak as she is, she still has strength to hold me, pat my head, and stroke my cheek. I kiss her hands and face, and lay my head gently on her shoulder. I sing a lullaby in her ear until she sleeps. Her smile hasn’t changed. Sometimes she looks at me in a room full of people, and her pale, thin lips stretch in that same familiar smile she has only for me. I am closer to her now than ever, even though my fellow Wayfaring Stranger is crossing the final border, “only going over Jordan, only going over home”.

“I’ll be waiting for you,” she said.

“Save a place for me in your house,” I replied.

“I will,” she promised.

The days in hospice drag on. She grows weaker, but she still shakes her finger at me. I’m onery and she knows just how I came by it; she shakes her finger at me because she knows I’m just like her. “Don’t get sunburned,” she says. “I won’t, Grandma,” I promise.

It is not hard to watch her die. She is ready and so am I. I only weep because I am tired, because I know that the time is coming when I will have to carry on without her. I dread the lonely days of wayfaring ahead: the dark clouds that lie out before me, the days when I want to call her, have coffee with her, read her my latest story, share my joys and sorrows, or ask for her prayers, and can’t. But perhaps I will not be as alone as I expect. Souls and the ties between them are not ruled by death. What are the laws of physics to supernatural souls? For the first time I realize that we are fascinating creatures, humans. We are part physical, part mental, and part spiritual. We are capable of ever so much more than we realize. Perhaps when my grandmother’s soul is at last set free, we will be even closer than before.

She sleeps more and more often. One day she’ll wake up in that other world that I only just catch glimpses of in that space between waking and dreaming. I can see heaven behind her eyes.

Hi, Grandma.” I have to shout in her ear now because she can’t hear me anymore.

“Who… who is it?” she asks. She can’t see me anymore either.

“It’s Sarah, Grandma.”

Her hands flutter immediately, reaching for me almost desperately, and words tumble from her too-dry mouth. “I love… you. I …love… you.”

“I love you too, Grandma.” She struggles to form the words. “You’re …shuss… to me.”

She can’t swallow and her tongue and lips no longer communicate her thoughts properly. But I know what she’s saying. You’re precious to me. It’s the same script we say every time.

“I’m not going to tell you goodbye,” I say firmly, “because we will meet again. So I’ll just say, see you soon.”

Something feels familiar about this experience, and I gradually realize as one day presses into another, that I have walked in the shadow of death before. I hear echoes of words spoken ages ago: come let us cross over. I see a forlorn face borne away by the train to places I cannot follow. I see the stars at 3 am twinkling in a dark foreign sky and confide in my best friend, “I don’t want to say good-bye.” “So we won’t,” came the reply. “Because we’ll see each other again. So I’ll just say, ‘See you soon’.”

Okay, then. See you soon!

See you soon…

It seems that all my life I have been learning letting go. Practicing little pictures of death. Perhaps this is so that one day when I too am dying, I will not have to be afraid.

Grandma is still teaching me, even as she sleeps now. And this is her final parting gift: by her faith that I am coming after her, by my faith that we will meet again, by her peace and her desire to be quit of this world, by her love, by her very dying, she is saving me.

I am homesick already.

On her last good day, she asks for her swab to be dipped in coffee. She sits up and plays the electric keyboard they brought just for her. On this day, I make my last confession.

Hey, Grandma.”

“What?” 

“I got sunburned.”

“Uh-oh…”

“I’m sorry, Grandma. I love you. I’ll see you soon, okay?”

She summons the strength to lift a skeletal hand, her thumb reaching for the ceiling. “Okay!”

I am a poor wayfaring stranger
While traveling through this world of woe
Yet there’s no sickness, toil or danger
In that bright world to which I go

I’m going there to see my father
I’m going there no more to roam
I’m only going over Jordan
I’m only going over home

I know dark clouds will gather around me
I know my way is rough and steep
Yet beauteous fields lie just before me
Where God’s redeemed their vigils keep

I’m going there to my mother
She said she’d meet me when I come
I’m only going over Jordan
I’m only going over home

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Of God, Geeks, and Doctor Who…

With friends. Well, friends and a Dalek and a Weeping Angel. There's one more? I don't remember. What's a Silence?

With friends. Well, friends and a Dalek and a Weeping Angel. There’s one more? I don’t remember. What’s a Silence?

Warning! The following may contain Doctor Who references, fandom spirit with distinct overtones of a Christian and spiritual nature. 

Recently while on vacation in Alabama, I attended Con Kasterborous, basically a Doctor Who convention. I unabashedly love Doctor Who; I won’t deny it. And Con Kasterborous was probably the best first con experience I could have had.

People of all kinds from all walks of life came together to celebrate, discuss, and totally go crazy over one thing: Doctor Who. People postulated, hypothesized, and referenced the classic and spin-off series more than I had ever imagined anyone would. They debated whether the next doctor would be male or female, blonde or ginger, who was the best companion, and how Moffat will get around the 12th regeneration problem.

We have found our people, we joked. Now, I’m not used to random strangers understanding my quips. But part of the magic of the con was being in a room packed with people, where you could make the slightest Doctor Who reference and everyone in the room would get it.

It was one of those things that seems like it should be just a fun weekend event. But it may yet prove to be more life-changing than even I suspected. I was happy. I was grateful. I was overwhelmed with dreams of great purpose, etc. It was very much inspiring. That deep heart-string at the seat of my being resonated all the way to heaven and back. I believed God was showing me glimpses, not of the whole picture, but of a greater, more complete direction for my future. I was reassured that it was okay for me to like the things I like, to dream the things I dream, and write the stories I write, because everyone else at that con was either an artist, a writer, a fan, or all three. I began to think that maybe I didn’t have to be quite so shy about wanting to write fantasy or sci-fi or whatever genre my scribbles may be. It is always my hope that whatever I write will speak to someone, whether it is fantasy or fanfic or a post on a blog. To quote one of the speakers, Lady Soliloque: “Make your art whether it’s writing, drawing, or fanvideos. Some one will appreciate it. So put it out there. Go. Create!” We had found our people indeed! I saw through a glass darkly, but after that con, I saw a shade more clearly.

Lady Soliloque and me at Con Kasterborous

Lady Soliloque and me at Con Kasterborous

One of the things that impressed me the most was that, no matter if we sometimes disagreed, or didn’t see eye to eye, or if our favorite doctors weren’t the same, in the end we were united by our common love of Doctor Who. It resonates with us in some deep way that we can only guess at and it bound us all together. It was a beautiful thing.

All my life, Sunday School and Youth Group leaders have endeavored to teach me that if you are not going to church to have a spiritual encounter with God, then you are going for the wrong reasons. Okay. I am a sincere, spiritual, and devout person. But rarely have I ever encountered God in a church. He doesn’t change my life in sermons, prayers, or worship songs. Generally, when He wants to redirect my life profoundly, He will whisper to me in the wind, at a Ukrainian bus stop, in a yoga class, or at a Doctor Who convention.

A good number of my generation and I are losing patience with the modern church. We seem to be looking for community, peace, and a safe place. And let’s face it: there are very few churches where one can truly find those things. These days it seems like Christians will have one disagreement and split! Ta-da! A new denomination is born. Church history shows this pattern from the Protestants and Martin Luther all the way back to the very first split between the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church in the 11th century.

Me, Vita, and our new ride!

I asked my friend, Vita, who went to Con Kasterborous with me made a similar observation. So I asked her to share some of her thoughts as well:

“[Recently], I went to my very first ‘con’. Con Kasterborous was one of the craziest and fun events I have ever been to. I was surrounded by a thousand other humans who all shared my love of the BBC show Doctor Who. It was fabulous. There were so many different unique and amazing people there! I was inspired and challenged. I felt like God was saying, “Hey, your pen has been silent for far too long. It is time to let your words out on to paper.” My good friend, Sarah Marie, was the one who finally hit the nail on the head. She said, “Why is it that this weekend, at a con, I felt closer to God than I do when I go to my church?” I was blown away, because I felt it, too. At a non-Christian event, God was making His presence known to us. This got me to thinking. Why is it that I feel closer to God everywhere but in a traditional church setting?

“I love Jesus Christ. I love having Christian friends (I love my non-Christian friends, also!). I love going to church. But I am so tired of being around other Christians that are “play-acting” church. We pick songs to get an emotional response. We show videos that I swear the sole-purpose of is to make people cry. Why do we go to that much trouble to get an emotional response? Where have all the genuine Christians gone? I am absolutely exhausted with modern religion. Why do we feel like a church setting is a good place to pick apart our faith? There are certain areas that I consider to be gray areas of Christianity. Subjects that in the Bible God isn’t exactly black and white about whether they are wrong or not. And that’s okay. These are the subjects that each Christian has to approach from where God leads them. What is good for one may not be good for all! (Just check out Acts 10!) In the modern church setting, these are the subjects we as Christians pour so much time and effort and passion into. Stuff that doesn’t matter in the great scheme of things. We allow them to split churches and divide families. We allow them to get in the way of God’s vision and plan for our future. We focus on them more than we focus on God. We forget that God told us to love Him first, and love others next, nothing more, nothing less.

“We are a society that is obsessed with being right. And that’s wrong. We are so busy judging everyone else’s sin that we forget about being remorseful about our own sin. There aren’t multi-levels of sin; there is just sin. And Jesus died for all sin. Equally.

“So, why can’t we as Christians come together in the same way as other groups of people? We have even more of a reason to come together. We are united under more than just a mutual love of something nerdy. We are united under the God who created the world. We are united under the Son of God who died for our sins, so our imperfection could be perfection.

“Imagine, at a con, that some of the different fans got into a fight over whether Superman was Caucasian or African American? The mud starts slinging and all of a sudden the one group splits into two. Then the groups split again over whether he has brown eyes or blue eyes or green eyes. What was once a fun topic would no longer be enjoyable. Eventually the fandom would be so split to the point of breaking. The comic books would no longer exist because there would be too many versions of Superman to get enough support to survive. We wouldn’t let this happen to our fandoms, so why do we let it happen in our churches? Why can’t the different fandoms (church bodies) of Christ put aside their petty disagreements and come back together in the common unity of love for God and love for others? Why do we continue to allow the fighting, misunderstandings, and disagreements to destroy the reason why the church exists? Why do we continue to stress over pointless things? What good does it do if we decide that dunking or sprinkling is the proper form of baptism, if people are still dying and going to hell?

“Maybe we feel closer to God outside a traditional church setting because we are too busy in the church to remember that we are there to worship Him. We are too busy trying to get a response out of other people to remember to approach God on our own and show others by our example. If we want to be near to God, we need to quit focusing on others and start focusing on being right with Him ourselves. If we draw near to Him, He will draw near to us. (James 4:8 – Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.) We need to rejoice in His love, and let the miniscule things go. We need to love others, because we were put on earth to show God’s love to the world. We need to unite in Jesus Christ.

“Be encouraged, be challenged, be loved.

V”

In the end, it all comes down to people. Christianity is a religion of love, redemption, and forgiveness. Why then are there so many Christians who seem to be just the opposite? Shouldn’t we be united by our common love and adoration of Christ? Shouldn’t we be able to share our faith and enjoy fellowship without undergoing a “great divide”? It’s like telling a child to believe in the power of true love while their parents repeatedly remarry and divorce.

That’s not to say conflict will never happen. Conflict will always be with us. We’re people – unique and opinionated people – and at one point or another, we’re gonna disagree. But can you imagine if Doctor Who fans split every time they disagreed over whether the Doctor should be male or female or ginger? What if they split over their favorite Doctor? If Whovians split over every little thing, “Whovian” would not be in the dictionary and we wouldn’t be sending a TARDIS into space. (True story! Check it out here!)

My desire is that Christians would come together because of their mutual love of God, and not just because church is the thing to do on Sundays, or to be a good Christian, or so all the other Christians won’t judge us. (Besides, wouldn’t it be awesome to cosplay your favorite Bible characters or saints on Sunday and not only at the yearly Harvest Festival on October 30th?)

But the truth is, God is powerful and loving enough to give his children places of rest, healing, and peace. God once made me a promise, when I was rebuilding my faith from the ashes up. In the middle of my messy life, when I wanted to change but I didn’t know how, he promised me, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you.” (It’s Jeremiah 29:14, but I didn’t know that then.) In all the subsequent years of feeling like I might well be playing hide-and-seek with the God of my universe, He has never failed to be found in precisely the moment I needed Him. He has never failed to lead me exactly where I needed to go.

If we seek to find God, He will be found. Even if He chooses to be found at a Doctor Who convention. And I find that infinitely reassuring.

This is the Fun Part

“How do you tell if a Ukrainian boy likes you? I don’t understand the boys here at all,” I whined to one of my roommates, Anna.

I was about three weeks into my trip, and stressing about relationships, obviously, or the lack of them. America has labored unceasingly to teach me that if you are over 25, single, and childless, there is something wrong with you. Hence I was begging Anna to explain how these things work in Ukraine, as they seemed incomprehensible and I was convinced that Ukrainian guys were not interested in me at all.

Looking back, I don’t know why I wasted brain power on the thought. I didn’t really want a boyfriend, maybe only to feel popular.

Anna gave me a piece of advice that has proved to be one of the most important things anyone has ever said to me.

“Just relax,” she said sagely. “Besides, maybe it was just the magic of the night, a foreign language, being in a different country. You don’t know. Time will tell. If something is going to happen, it will happen. So you don’t need to worry. Just relax and enjoy it. If you’re falling in love, this is the fun part.”

I kept forgetting that she was a few years younger than me. I can still hear her voice like an echo:

If you’re falling in love, this is the fun part.

I didn’t want to spend my time in Ukraine worrying over boys and relationships. I wanted to be happy, fancy-free, to see and do everything, speak Russian, and generally be on holiday and enjoy myself.

She was right after all. I had been beguiled by the night, a pair of pretty eyes, and the music of a beautiful language. Somewhere along the way, without even knowing, I fell in love.

I realized it walking down Tychyny street one day. I was so excited about discovering new words and understanding, and how incredible it was to be in a foreign country with all the language skills of a two-year-old. I almost missed it. I was pondering the process of breaking through the language barrier, chipping away at it little by little, word by word, when suddenly, I knew that I would have no do-overs. I would never pass this way again. Once I broke through the language barrier, I couldn’t go back and do it over again. So right there on a little sidewalk in the left bank in the big city of Kyiv, Ukraine, I made up my mind to enjoy the process as much as I possibly could, while I tried to conquer the city and the Ukrainian/Russian language. Anna’s words came back to me with a crash and the equivalent force of a falling grand piano: “This is the fun part.”

It stopped me dead in my tracks, stunned.

Then I knew. I was in love! I was in love the way you love someone you can’t stand. You fight. You argue. You quarrel. They make you angry. They make you crazy. They make you mad. Until one day you wake up and you realize how angry crazy madly you love them, no matter how bad it gets. And the rest is history, or so they say.

Of course, Anna and I had been talking about a boy. And she had been absolutely right. Only, it wasn’t a boy I fell in love with. It was Ukraine, Kyiv, that place and time. I fell in love with life and the unhindered living of it.

I didn’t have to worry about how to make that “special someone” like me, or if that “special someone” was the “right special someone”. Suddenly, it just didn’t matter. I saw everything clearly. For once, it was simple.

Love is not a real-life game of Pin-the-Tail-on-the-Donkey, though a lot of people treat it that way. To pin all of my hopes for happiness on someone else, or hang my dreams on their fragile wings, and then try to make them feel the same, is an unfair exercise in futility and a dangerous one.

It seems to me that people generally believe they must have a significant other in their lives to be happy. But I protest. Hearts are far too precious treasures to leave at just anyone’s mercy. Why had I ever thought I would find happiness by doing just that?

I don’t mean that I stopped wanting someone special in my life; I just stopped thinking that I had to have someone.

I wrote a besotted love letter in my journal, one stormy night not long after that conversation with Anna:

“I got off my bus early and walked home. I like to do this sometimes, because it helps me collect my thoughts. Or if I’m not quite ready to see a flat full of people. But this time, I got off because it was raining gently, I thought, and as I walked it got more and more, until I was laughing up at the Kyiv night sky, for sheer joy, because I realized that now I’ve seen Kyiv in so many moods, not all maybe, but I love her in all of them.

“Kyiv to me is like a woman or a person. You know, the ones you meet [with whom] at first you don’t get along. You fight, you humph, you disagree, you torment. And then one day you wake up and realize how crazy madly you are in love with them and how boring your life would be without them. Kyiv is maybe not the woman you would marry and raise kids with, but she’s the one you judge all other women by, the one you never forget. Kyiv is that affair to remember, the one you never quite get over. I laughed at the rain, because I’ve seen Kyiv sleepy, quiet and still, drunk, hungover, chilly, and warm, depressed, and wild, hurried, and bored, angry, and tender. I laughed because if by some chance this is the only time I ever spend with Kyiv again, I wanted to let her know that I enjoy every minute. That I love Kyiv in all her moods.

“Kyiv is that rare person you meet once in lifetime that you love so much that it doesn’t matter if they love you back. It’s as though after 3 weeks in Kyiv, breathing her air, eating her food, meeting her people, and drinking her beer, has spread Ukraine throughout my system, my cells, my blood. She’s under my skin and in my heart. It’s as though we finally stopped fighting. Maybe we can at least be friends. I can not tell you in any language how alive I felt on this night, sharing Ukraine with people, and walking, feeling her flow all around and through me.

“I can’t imagine, when I write such things with such emotion, admiration, and tenderness, what it will be [like] to go back [to America].

“Ukraine is not for the faint of heart, but she’s worth it. We are alike, she and I.

“Someday I hope someone loves me the way I love Kyiv, Ukraine.”

Unmasked

We recognized each other by our masks
In our mutual assessments as if for war
And we perceived the common traits
And shared respect, for now, no less, no more

Years, thoughts, motives, fears
Blank pages, photographs, ribbons left undone
Memories forgotten, hopes that never were…

But the silence stretches ever long
I ask a word spoken
No matter what kind
So long as the silence is broken

On that day when the masks are fallen
Twin faces false
And underneath we are not the same

Slipping from our hands, they will shatter like glass
In dismay
And so we walk our separate ways

My true face I will show unasked
I will stand

Unmasked

Sarah_006_by_JB_Photo

Photo by JB Freelance Photography

 

On Being Freshly Pressed

My Dear Readers,

Writing No More Lies was one of those cases where the words flowed out faster than I could put them on paper. It was easy to write, but so hard to publish. I kept checking the views, thinking, “Oh, good. No one is reading it.” I never actually expected to be Freshly Pressed. I thought, “Oh, maybe someday. That’s a nice goal.”

It was a complete surprise when I got the email just before work on Friday. I went around gasping, “I’m Freshly Pressed!” and clapping and waving non-stop like an excited baby seal. My mother was with me; she can attest to it, though I hope for the sake of my pride that she won’t. (We should have taken pictures, but a photographer I am not.)

I want to give a HUGE thank you to the editors of Freshly Pressed for featuring me and all my new readers and to everyone who liked and commented for all the kind words and support. What an honor! It means a lot. Really. I had no idea what to expect,and my head is still spinning. Thank you to everyone for being a part of my seventh really-truly-deeply-happy moment! I will treasure this forever!

This whole experience got me thinking. I began to reevaluate my goals and plans and my general intentions. After some serious thought, I’ve decided to give the blog a minor make-over to reflect this (just an update or two to the About Me page).

I write as I always have: because I have something to say, because I want to leave something to be remembered by, because I can write things on paper that I can’t say out loud. I write because my silence is over. I’m amazed and delighted that what I had to say resonated with so many people. I hope that this will stay true for the rest of what I have to share (because there is, oh, so much more). I hope I can encourage all of you as much as you have encouraged me!

And also, because I have unexpectedly found myself in need of a new goal, I would like to announce that my first book is in the works! Now, I am not sure how long it takes to write a book — I’m sure it’s different for everyone — but I will post updates as it progresses.

Hold on to your hats, people. The best is yet to come!