Sing for the joy that's found in setting up the pins and knocking them down

Monday, May 30, 2016

Wave and pray.

Every weekday morning at my house, Henry counts down departure time for school.  Let's go!  Ten minutes! Five minutes til we leave!   Simon, get your socks on and head down to the car! Although he comes off as a drill sergeant, I'm grateful to not be the only one in the house that's trying to herd kids in a certain direction under some kind of deadline.  Slowly, but surely, they tumble into the car with backpacks and lunches and off they go.

Lately, when the mornings are mild, I make my way to my front steps as the kids drive off.  I wave. And I pray.  Keep them safe, Lord.  Everything I love is driving away from me.  Away from my protection.  Away from my input and guidance.  Away from my feeble attempts to keep them from harm.  I watch from the steps until they've safely pulled onto the highway.  They blend into the morning traffic and they're gone.

On mornings when I'm busy getting myself ready or have to be at the office early, they sneak away without my watchful eye.  My insides worry that I didn't say my safety prayer to get them through their commute to school.  It seemed easier when I pray over them as they slept in my arms or as I peeled them off my leg and transferred them to their teacher.  Now it's a hurried plea as they throw their car into drive and turn on the radio. It's completely cliche, but we've moved through those transitions at lightning speed.

We are just on the brink of another transition.  In just months and minutes, one of these babies won't be snuggling in the safety of our home or coming home after a day at school or be the daily driver of my precious cargo.  In a blink Henry will be off to his next adventure.

Our days right now are filled with lots of lasts.  Hear me when I say that I am completely grateful for the knowledge and savoring of these lasts--his last prom, last research paper, last juggling show, last day he drives away as a high school senior.  These lasts are easier than the lasts that happened while we were living without a thought that there wouldn't be another.

I get asked often how I feel about Henry leaving next fall.  I'll be honest, I also ask myself that all the time.  How will I feel when he's gone?  In some quiet ways, I feel like he's partway gone already and that's okay.  This is a process and there's no need to have it happen all at once.  Ultimately, it's my job to make him not need me.  I'm not afraid to say goodbye as he drives away.  I've survived a goodbye that meant no more phone calls, no more text messages or no more coming through the front door and announcing that he's home. Yes, Henry will leave us, but his leaving is the end of a chapter, not the end of the book.  

So now I'm the one counting down the departure.  I stand by the door and yell--three months, two months and lots more orders that probably go in one ear and out the other.  In my heart, I know he'll be fine.  He'll stumble.  He'll make mistakes that he shares with me and ones that he doesn't.  When he succeeds he'll be able to claim it as his own.  He'll appreciate all of us more after he's gone, but it will take time before he admits it.  I'll continue my feeble attempts to keep him safe from afar and he'll continue to humor me in my attempts.

I've looked at this blog for several days now, trying to come up with a nice way to wrap it all up, find a nice moral to leave you with.  But this isn't that kind of post.  This story continues and will hold lots more lessons for me and Henry in the months and years to come and I'll likely share those with you, as well.  Soon enough, I'll be standing by the door counting down the months and days for Bea.  The stretching and learning has just begun for each of us.  Instead, I'll leave you with the song that has been the background music in my head while I've pounded away at my computer the last couple of days.  There's a good deal of wisdom in the words about letting go.  Enjoy.

"You'll Find Your Way"  by Andrew Peterson

When I look at you, boy
I can see the road that lies ahead
I can see the love and the sorrow

Bright fields of joy
Dark nights awake in a stormy bed
I want to go with you, but I can’t follow

So keep to the old roads
Keep to the old roads
And you’ll find your way

Your first kiss, your first crush
The first time you know you’re not enough
The first time there’s no one there to hold you

The first time you pack it all up
And drive alone across America
Please remember the words that I told you

Keep to the old roads
Keep to the old roads
And you’ll find your way
You’ll find your way

If love is what you’re looking for
The old roads lead to an open door
And you’ll find your way
You’ll find your way
Back home

And I know you'll be scared when you take up that cross
And I know it'll hurt, 'cause I know what it costs
And I love you so much and it's so hard to watch
But you're gonna grow up and you're gonna get lost
Just go back, go back

Go back, go back to the ancient paths
Lash your heart to the ancient mast
And hold on, boy, whatever you do
To the hope that's taken hold of you
And you'll find your way
You'll find your way
If love is what you’re looking for
The old roads lead to an open door
And you’ll find your way
You’ll find your way
Back home 

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Hard and Holy Time at The Curtain

A dear friend of mine said goodbye to her mother a couple of weeks ago.  From the other side of the country we exchanged a few supportive emails.  "Thought of you often in these days that are hard and holy."  Her words were short, but so true: hard and holy days.

After Eric died, he still felt so very close.  It was like we were two people living on either side of a curtain that divided our realities--one side hard and the other holy.  I slept by the curtain, I woke up by the curtain.  As I began to work my way back into life, I always kept my grief curtain in sight.   On day four after each chemo, I would make my sick self comfortable right up next to that curtain and would let the dark heaviness cover me like a familiar blanket.  Some days my time at the curtain was planned and other times I was thrown there unexpectedly by a song, a smell, something said.

In those days when grief was so heavy I thought that if I could press my hand up against my imaginary curtain, it would be met with the pressure of his warm and loving hand from the other side. Standing in this grief, gave me security that he wasn't completely gone from my life, from our family's life.  On the flip side, I felt like my faithfulness at the grief curtain showed him that he wasn't forgotten.  That his loss mattered to us.  That he was worthy of us taking the time to be in this hard and holy place.

I found comfort at the curtain.  It was where I could take a break from the noise of life and I could more easily remember his voice, his laughter, the sound of him coming through the front door.  I could remember his solid confident words about how I would beat my cancer.  At the curtain, the noise of the world quieted enough for me to imagine him saying, "You've got this, Dawn.  The hard times will pale in comparison to the holy that is to come"

The seasons changed and although I hated to leave the last winter that Eric had experienced with us, the business of life crept in and the curtain of grief quieted and my time there lessened.  It became the backdrop of our lives instead of the focus.

The truth is, he doesn't feel as close as he used to.  It no longer feels like he's right there waiting for me to press my hand into the curtain that divides us.  I have to work harder for the memory of his words, his laugh, his presence--and that's mostly okay.  If the intense grief of those first days and months continued it would rob me of the life that I am meant to live.  The life he would want me to live.  The life that God has prepared for me to live.

I don't foresee that the curtain will ever completely leave, nor do I want it to.  It will quietly hang as a divider between the now and the not yet.  A reminder of everything on the other side--every one on the other side.  Some day that curtain will raise and it will be time for me to say goodbye to this world and the hard and happy things it has held.  Until then I will rest in the hope of Him who holds the curtain and comforts those who find themselves in that hard and holy place.

And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that 
you also may be where I am.  John 14:3

Saturday, December 19, 2015

We Were Together.

Tomorrow would be our 24th wedding anniversary.  Eric and I really had no business getting married.  We had precious little life experience and our bank account only had enough cushion to get us through a 4 day honeymoon.  Crazy, by today's standards.  I would say we got married on a wing and prayer.  We held the same beliefs, enjoyed similar things and made each other laugh.  At the time that seemed like reason enough to merge our lives.  So we did, with little care for what the future might hold except that we would be together in it. 

I was good at being married, but Eric was better at it.  He pushed me to be stronger than I ever thought I could be.  He made me talk when the silent treatment was my weapon of choice.  He looked at me with an adoration that not every wife gets to enjoy.  He pushed me and I calmed him.  We brought out the best in each other most days and although some of that refining came by fire, some of it was pure enjoyment.  

Was he perfect?  Not even close.  Neither was I, so it worked out just fine.  We were two flawed souls, trying to do the best with the love story we had always imagined.  God was gracious to our time together and he brought us just a couple weeks short of 22 years.  Some may think that our marriage was cut short, but those were the exact amount of days that God meant it to be.  The exact amount of smiles, laughs, conversations, kisses, fights, tears and growth.  

A couple months before he died, Eric looked at me and said, "I don't see us growing old together."  I quietly agreed and admitted that I had the same feeling.  I know it must sound like a terribly sad exchange, but it really wasn't.  There was a calmness as we faced the path that we felt we would likely walk.  Eric's health really forced us to be grateful for every day.  God's preparation of our hearts was then and still is a gift that softens the sadness of separation.  

On our 20th anniversary I wrote the passage below.  It's still true today.

"God has been good to our story, he has given us just what we needed in order to become the people that He meant us to be. While we once focused on how many chapters He would write for us, we now take time to cherish each page and are thankful for each one that we get to finish."

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Quilted Memories

So my mom does this thing.  She sews together pieces of random fabric and makes something beautiful.  Some people would call her a gifted seamstress or a talented quilter, but it's much more.

Within days of Eric's passing, I cleaned out his least sentimental items--t-shirts, underwear and mismatched socks.  Pretty easy to toss and I could finally stop feeling guilty about the socks I had lost and the t-shirts that I couldn't keep white.  Done, just like that.  Jeans are just jeans, they all look the same.  They were easy to part with, as well, and the additional drawer space was a nice consolation prize for my efforts.

A few weeks later when I gathered up the strength to work through his closet, I was faced with a couple dozen button down shirts--mostly long-sleeved, some linen, most cotton, all patterned with plaids, stripes and checks.  Of course, I loved them all because as head of the procurement department, I had hand-picked each of them with him in mind.  Quite honestly, I really miss shopping in the men's department and bringing home a nice crisp shirt for Eric to tell me that he didn't need.

We had a little game that we played.  He would ask what he should wear to church or out for the evening.  I would grumble that I had to dress him and three children...  He would appear in something that he picked out on his own due to my grumbling.  I would say, "You're going to wear that?"  He would give me that look and respond, "Wouldn't it have saved us both some time if you had just told me what to wear in the first place?"  He was right.

So these shirts.  I folded and packed them in a plastic bin.  I couldn't bear the thought of unloading them at a local thrift store.  I didn't necessarily want to see them worn by anyone that I know and it seemed silly to hold onto them in the hope that someday the boys would want to wear them.

Enter my mom.  After my grandmother passed away, she made the most amazing quilt out of my grandma's polyester shirts.  Every time I look at it, I'm reminded of being with her--which was always good.  Just days after my first chemo when Eric taking care of me on my worst days, he walked into the bedroom with that quilt--the grandma blanket, as we called it.  I couldn't get warm and nothing in my body felt right.  He laid the blanket over me and tucked it all around my sick edges.  He said, "I thought maybe you could use a little love and encouragement from your grandma." That is one of my very favorite memories of Eric.

I gave the bin of shirts to my mom, with a printout of a simple quilt pattern called "Crossed Canoes" which just made sense.  I know it took her a few months and a couple of tries before she could cut into them and get started on the process of making quilts for each of my kids.  She would come visit and take along squares that she was working on to show us the progress.  Each new square was sweet reminder of the normal days that had slipped away.

When the quilts were done, there was still plenty of fabric left so she made table runners that will be Christmas gifts for Eric's family--shh, don't tell them.  There were also ones that were made for me and the kids.

Last, but certainly not least, my mom told me that she thought she could squeeze out 3 baby blankets. Blankets for me to tuck away and give to the grandbabies who would never get to meet their Grandpa Rynders while on earth.  She said that this way they could always be wrapped up in his love and also his legacy.

This fabric story is just a glimpse of the amazing mother that I've been blessed with.  Her wisdom, her strength, and her faith make me want to do better each and every day.  To give to my kids what she so willingly gives to me.  What I love most is that she has no idea how amazing she is.  She creates beauty and sweetness in the hard places.  She does this in her handiwork, but more importantly she does it in life.

Thanks, Mom.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

It is well with my soul, but the rest of me struggles

Last week at church we sang one of my favorite hymns, When Peace Like a River.   I grew up singing it in the pews of my childhood church, Eric sang it for my uncle's funeral and because Eric also loved it, we sang it at his funeral.  The chorus echoes the phrase "It is well with my soul."  And as I sang it in the pew of my adulthood, I had to agree that my soul actually feels like it is doing well. While my soul is good, it's the rest of me that struggles.  

I think of it as layers.  My soul being the deepest layer.  My foundation.  A solid rock to rest upon.  On those days when everything else feels like it's falling, that place doesn't tremble.  It quietly sees me through each day.  This layer knows that God's promises are good and that all of this crazy life makes sense to Him.  This is the layer that sheds tears as I sing in church, because I know that He made this good place for me to stand, but this side of heaven it will also include some struggles.  

My surface layer is good.  That's the layer that most of you see as we work side by side, or sit across a meal from one another, I smile, I laugh, I make everyone feel satisfied with how well I'm doing and for the most part it's an honest representation of who I am.  I'm functional.  This life is feeling normal.  I can talk about the kids, about Eric, about my story and I can feel comfortable with letting people in on my life.  That top layer is genuine, but right now it's not as deep as I would like it to be.  Although I'm good at navigating in a way to keep that surface smooth and pleasant, I also know that the smallest thing can disrupt those peaceful waters.  

So what about the stuff that lurks between those two layers?  That's where the trouble is.  That's the part that aches for one more conversation, one more family dinner, one more text message, one more chance to lay my head on his chest and have him tell me that it's going to be okay. This layer also hates being a single parent, hates it for me and hates it for my kids.  This layer doubts. It doubts everything from how often I get my car washed to the sincerity of my children's faith life. This middle layer is quite simply weary of this plot line in my story.  That layer is sad and tired and even as I write this that layer is saying "get to your point and start folding that laundry basket you've been avoiding this last week."  

We all navigate these layers of life.  We have our public face and we have a soul that our heavenly Father gives us and that the Holy Spirit faithfully attends to.  Then we have that difficult in between stuff that shows up when in the middle of the night when sleep escapes us, or when our kids are dancing on our last nerve or when the hymn that we're singing is more about words and less about worship.  That layer tells me that the layers on either side are a fraud.  That I'm a fraud.  That I'm really just this inadequate person sandwiched between a smiling face and a steady soul and that I should spend all my time in this middle layer because that's who I really am.  By the grace of God and the faithful prayers of people who know me and even hardly know me, I continue the fight to grow my insides into the person everyone sees on the outside, Along with that but even more importantly, I want all my layers to radiate the God of my foundation.  

I know this won't just happen on its own, so my plan for these next stormy water months as I face difficult anniversaries, birthdays and holidays is to keep that middle layer in its place.  To shrink it back to a less disruptive size.  I want to make my surface layer more about true joy and less about just happy. I want that joy to be about God's grace and not about my own strength. I want that solid foundation to steady all the doubting parts that make me weary of trying balance everything on my own.  I want that foundation to quiet the noise and self pity of that keep me awake at night and distracted during my days.  I want that sure foundation to whisper into every part of me, "Be still."   

Nevertheless, God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness.”  II Timonthy 2:19

He will be the sure foundation for your times, a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge; the fear of the Lord is the key to this treasure.  Isaiah 33:6

He says, “Be stilland know that I am God"  Psalm 46:10

Saturday, August 29, 2015

What he said.

This week I was in my garage deciding the final fate of a couple of boxes of books that my family had set aside for me to look through at such a time as this.  They had tucked away a couple of pictures, cards, memorabilia that they thought I might want to keep.  Amongst those books was another Valentine's Day card from Eric, no idea what year or how it had first been presented to me.  It was one of those word-covered Hallmark cards that takes commitment and time to read through.  I opened it up just to see what his scribbly handwriting said at the end of it.  When he did give me cards, he always said something sweet, something funny or something that only I would understand.  This was one of his sweet ones.  I smiled and thought, you probably could have done so much better but you were stuck with me and I laid the card on the keep pile.  I went back to sorting through the books and yearbooks, but was stopped by the overwhelming need to pick up the card and read his scribbles once again. 

Now the backstory in my head, particularly this last month, is that being a single parent is hard under the best and most ideal circumstances.  Anyone who is a parent knows the effort it takes to keep kids headed in the right direction--socially, academically and spiritually.  There's been plenty of doubt about Eagle Scout projects, college choices, skirt lengths, video games and the hundred other things that parents have a hand in each day.  Eric had high standards for his children and some days I feel like I'm stuck with cashing the check that he wrote.  Most days I'm happy for the things he started with the kids--the strong foundations that he put in place regarding morals, religious convictions, the importance of humor, but some days I'd like to give him a piece of my mind about leaving me alone to finish the three biggest projects that he left undone.  Lately there has been more of the latter.  There are lots of doubts about my consistency, my strictness, my slackness, you name it.  I also realize that every parent has these fears even with a very capable co-parent standing by their side.  Back to my story.

So I stood in my garage,  knee deep in my parental self doubt and I once again read Eric's words, "I couldn't have done any better. ~E"  This message of comfort replaced the message of flattery from years past.  It was as real and meaningful as if he had been standing there delivering it to me in his booming voice with his arms wrapped around me, my crying face buried in his chest.  I stood there, feeling not quite as alone, and cried.  Not so much for the words from my kids' missing father, but because of the heavenly father that I Eric and I share who had set me up for this moment.  My family had salvaged this paper card from several boxes of books that I had given to them and said just do whatever you want with them.  They had tucked it away, and my heavenly father had orchestrated me finding it on a hard day where it felt like everything was caving in.  There, alone, in my garage, once again amazed.  Perfect timing.  Comfort. Encouragement. Renewed strength for the journey

Thursday, August 6, 2015


Clearwater Lake is one of my favorite places.  We were first invited here several years ago as the result of two little blonde girls and two hovering mommies.  Anna-Liv and Bea were seated near one another that first day of kindergarten and their friendship has stuck ever since.  Ann and I, being just as outgoing as our girls became quick friends.  When the time was right we introduced our husbands and our other children to one another and, as they say, the rest is history.  They have graciously welcomed us into their clan, as well as cabins and somewhere along the line we started to feel more like family and less like guests.  

For those reasons and so many more Clearwater Lake is rich with memories for the Rynders family.  We all had our friends to play with--Sam and Eric creating canoe paddles that were more like works of art and Ann and I solving the world's problems, or occasionally a jigsaw  puzzle, over coffee or wine, depending on the time of day.  It has always been a place to let our shoulders relax to a more comfortable elevation and for our minds to take a break from lists and unfinished projects at home.   We traveled here each summer at least once and looked forward to welcoming in the new year over the holidays.  When Eric died I wondered if I would be able to bear to be there without him, but I soon realized that the memories we had made during our years of visits remained warm and comforting even after he was unable to make new ones.  

The summer after Eric's death, Sam and Ann offered that I could use the little boathouse (stuga) next to their cabin if I needed a summer retreat for me and the kids.  We happily retreated last July 4th to our sweet Swedish stuga.  That evening, while most of the group enjoyed the fireworks at a nearby town, the unthinkable happened.  Just as I was about to crawl into bed with the girls to watch a movie, the cabin two doors down burst into flames.  It was a moment of panic and lack of control that felt all too familiar to the fresh tragedy of calling an ambulance to help my husband only to have the outcome be a total loss.  The same was true for the cabin.  

I remember the following day watching Ann's brother and family sift through the ashes, hoping to find something that was still intact--a Bible, a journal, a wall hanging, just something that was familiar and unharmed.  There was nothing that satisfied the void that this loss had created.  The foundation was still there along with the memories that were created within that foundation, but that was all.   What they were doing, as they picked through this familiar but forever changed space felt exactly what I had been doing for months.  Emotionally, I spent all kinds of energy sifting through our lives and the lives of my kids to find something that felt normal and untouched by Eric's loss.  But every time we searched we come up empty-handed and with an ache for what used to be.  The foundation was still there, but we knew it would take lots of decisions and hard work to build the walls and create something new that honored what was lost but still moved forward in hope.    

Today, a beautiful home stands where an unexplained fire came through and threatened to destroy the memories of a place that had housed a couple generations of Johnson family.   What I think they've learned is that memories cannot be watered down by fire hoses or changed by fresh paint.  The structure is new, but the old memories of laughter and love that filled the lost cabin still linger.  

The kids and I are building, too.  Each day we pick up a board, a gallon of paint, a window and we create a home where our current family can live  peacefully alongside memories of our original family.  Some days the building goes quickly and the result is better than we expected and some days the work is laborious and feels not nearly as good as the original structure. By God's grace and strength we continue the process.  

I think all of us are building, repairing, figuring out what to do with the pile of rubble in the corner.  Your loss might not be death or fire, but it might be a strained marriage, a broken relationship, a disappointing career, a chronic illness, a wayward child, all of which put you in the position of repairing, rebuilding.  

Why do it?  Why not sit in the debris of our life and throw our hands up in the air--I ask myself that, often.  In our family's construction project we've had our eyes opened to the reality that we build for a bigger purpose and that our blueprints are not of this world.  What we create in this world will always fall a little short--and that's okay.  It was never meant to be perfect.

So we keep building, hoping to honor the memory of our earthly fathers, but more importantly to live within the foundations set by our heavenly father.   He was a carpenter and he's building, too.

"In my father's house are many mansions: if it were not so I would have told you.   I go to prepare a place for you."   John 14:2