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

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

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Gifts in spiral notebooks

I go through Eric's things in waves.  I'll tackle a drawer, a closet, a couple of boxes and then when my emotional energy has run dry, I set it all aside for a while.  Over the months it has become less painful.  There are fewer tears.  I seem to be more productive.  My hands are loosening their grip on his things, because they're just things.

This past weekend I pulled out several boxes of paperwork that needed attention.  The carbon dating set the contents from the late 80s to the early 90s.  There were scripts from plays, music from choirs, college syllabusses by the dozens (and for those of you who are going all Latin grammar on me, syllabusses is just as acceptable as syllabi and it sounds better in my sentence).  Among this box of treasures was a notebook that clearly had served as part journal, part notes for the classes that Eric was taking around 1989--stats, some theology course, and poetry.  He was also in the middle of playing Harold Hill in The Music Man so there were lots of notes about rehearsals, fellow actors and tired vocal chords.  I've seen this journal a dozen times and I had read enough of it to know that there was some mention of me as I was entering the plot line of his life.

I decided a couple of nights ago to read the notebook from cover to cover, just to be sure that I hadn't missed anything important--a nugget here or there that I could pass on to the kids or tuck away for a later day.  What I found was the poem below, scribbled in Eric's unmistakable handwriting.  There were lines scratched out and others squeezed in, but it was there, in its entirety--two stanzas, twenty lines.  I'll admit I googled several of the lines because Eric loved poetry about death and I wondered if he had just copied it from somewhere.  Nothing popped up so I think it's safe to believe that it's an E. Rynders original.

I've secretly wished that I would find some epic letter that Eric wrote for me to find after he was gone.  A letter that would serve as a guide for how to finish out my life without him by my side.  I also hoped to find some great testimony of his faith in the God who created him.  I think I may have found them both.

My heart it pains, and I may die
I did not whimper, so do not cry.
Although my heart could not keep pace
with all the daily trouble race,
It sought quite hard to do His will
and is rewarded, for now tis still.
Now I know that I have won
for every race to me is done.
It does not matter any more
for I have settled every score.

So mourn me not, don't shed a tear
for I no longer linger near.
But mourn yourselves for you must go
into the curtain of your last show.
I paid my time, my battle's through
and now I lie and wait for you.
You may not have the courage now
to stand and take your final bow.
But when it's time for you to stand
don't worry, He will take your hand.

~Eric Rynders, November 28, 1989

Thursday, June 4, 2015


Today marks eighteen months since that normal December day when everything that we had come to know as normal left our house.  Eighteen months of mornings that I've woken up and for a split second had to relive everything so that I understood once again why his side of the bed is still tidy and tucked in.  Eighteen months of singlehandedly making decisions that should be made by two. Eighteen months of seeing his words, convictions and humor lived out in his children.  Eighteen months of receiving support and love from the most unexpected places.  Eighteen months of adjustment to using I and me instead of us and we. Eighteen months of being more aware of what it means to be alive than I had ever previously experienced.  Eighteen months of reconciling that the hand of God that comforts is also the hand that takes away.  Eighteen months of loosening the death grip that I had on the need to have this all make sense.  Eighteen months of resigning to and then leaning into, even embracing the truth that God is God and I am not.  Eighteen months of seeing miracles and joy unexpectedly rise up from the rubble of cancer and death.  Eighteen months of mercies that are new every morning, just like He promised.

Friday, April 17, 2015

This Man

This Man...
  • was the most amazing father, even though his own father died when he was only two
  • loved farming and happily looked forward to the busyness of both planting and harvest
  • never missed an opportunity to tell his kids how proud he was of them
  • married his neighbor girl and spent the rest of his life being the kind of spouse and parent that we all want to be when we grow up
  • could bring your world crashing with the words, "your mom and I are disappointed in you"
  • was a leader not because he put himself at the front of the line, but because everyone wanted to follow his example
  • always told my mom that she had prepared exactly what he was hungry for--whether it was a gourmet meal or a bowl of cereal
  • said "we'll be thinking about you" which really meant "we'll be praying for you"
  • was concerned about us wasting ketchup, really concerned
  • was gentle with his animals, disciplined in his work and playful with his children
  • could sneeze louder than anyone I know and usually did it in sets of 9
  • told us kids that he had the most beautiful wife around and believed it with all his heart
  • never missed an opportunity to tease his grandchildren who adored him
  • gave free rides in his combine
  • always made my friends feel welcomed at our house
  • was proud to have served his country
  • grew up in a single parent home where his mom continued to run the farm even after she lost her husband
  • prayed before and after every meal I ever ate with him
  • owned a well worn Bible
  • will not be in history books, but was one of the most influential men I've ever known
  • asked me two questions before I married Eric, Is he good to you? and Does he love the Lord?
  • let me lay my head on his shoulder and cry in the middle of night after Eric left us
  • always had enough peppermints to pass down to each of us just when the church sermon started
  • was a humble hero who saved a little boy's life on an autumn day during harvest
  • is the reason I named my oldest son, Henry
  • cried easily
  • entered into his eternal home on a Good Friday
  • lived conservatively and gave generously
  • had calloused hands, but a tender heart
  • was everything you could ever hope for in a dad and is missed deeply each and every day

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The Stage of Sad

I don't spend much time thinking about the stages of grief.  I just googled them to even see what they were and the list which was provided sounded familiar to the emotions that cycle through my head on almost an hourly basis.  Overall, I've never been much of a fan of someone telling me how I will feel on a given topic at a given time.  Grief has made me feel even more strongly about that. 

A couple of days after Eric died, Bea came to me and said "They say I should be angry.  I'm not angry.  Do I need to be angry?"  I told her there weren't any rules to how she should feel.  I certainly knew that my head wasn't holding to any.  For the record, I'm not angry either--weary and frustrated some days, but not angry.

The stage where I'm stuck lately is just sad.  Going forward I'm going to refer to a lot of "they"s in this blog and when I say "they" I don't mean the experts or those who study these topics around grief and loss.  I mean a sweet and select cabinet of people close to me who have lost spouses and/or children.  I rely upon them tremendously on my journey through this maze that follows the loss of someone.

I can recall conversations with almost all of them that ended with a shrug of the shoulders, a sigh and this comment, "I'm just tired of being the person that's sad."  That's where I am lately.  Because you don't see me collapsed on the floor in a pile of tears, most people are pleased to see that I'm doing pretty well--and for the most part, I am. 

I'm going to steal a section from a well read blog of a newer widow than me because she says it better than me and why reinvent the wheel. (

People know I’m grieving, they just don’t know what it looks like. Or how long it takes. Or that it’s an actual, time-consuming act that can’t be compartmentalized and scheduled for convenient times like, perhaps from 6-8 on Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings.

If it could have been, I’d have done it, because at my heart I am just an overachiever looking for a gold star.

I fear sometimes that by being positive and not collapsing into a pile on the floor, I’m making it look easier than it is. And that doesn’t do any favors to the world, because it isn’t easy.

Survivable? Absolutely. 
Okay? Sometimes!
Doable? Yes.
Easy? No. Not easy.
There is no quiet.

And to all of that I say, Amen!

Recently, a new member of my grief cabinet told me that it's a constant reel playing in her head.  I wanted to hug her for saying that because I could finally visualize what was going on in my own head.  A looping video that plays constantly those moments and days around the loss.

This is what it's like. I'm blow drying my hair and I'm thinking about walking down the aisle with my kids at his funeral.  I'm choosing what spaghetti sauce to buy and in my head I can hear the ambulance sirens screaming while I told him it was all going to be okay.  I'm setting up meetings at work and he's short of breath and frantically asking me to pray for him.  I'm loading the dishwasher and I'm thinking about wrapping my arms around Henry on the couch as some kind-faced ambulance attendant told us Eric was gone.  All those sad, but meaningful moments  that are stuck on repeat in my head.  Do I want them to stop--no, because it would mean that I would lose those last pieces of him.  Do I want them to quiet down and be less of a distraction--yes, absolutely. I assume that over time the volume and clarity of all those scenes will soften and then become less and less.  But never be completely gone. 

Some days I lay on my bed and try to think back to what was in my head before Eric died.  What did I even think about?  How did it feel?  What made me happy?  What made me sad?  It's almost impossible to imagine what that was like. I can't remember the before because of the enormity of the after.  And that's the rub.  To want to purge my mind of that sad movie that keeps playing is to get rid of parts of him from my memory.  I don't want that.  But to look away from the real world and keep my eyes glued to the video that runs in my head puts me in a sad place and probably dangersous place that isolates me from the good that remains in my real life--and there is so much good. 

So I'm working on figuring out how to make this sadness a part of the good and even beautiful landscape of my life.  There is a part of me that will always be sad for the loss that I've experienced.  But, I don't have to let that sadness and loss ruin the joy and abundance that's still all around me.  They can live beside one another in the same way that a harsh winter makes spring just that much sweeter.  Can I do that?  I don't know.  It sure sounds good, but it will take work.  I also have to remind myself--over and over--that I'm sad because of this amazing person that I lost.  He is worth being sad about.  That life we had together is worth the sadness I carry today.  I would gratefully do it all over again even knowing exactly how it would come to an end. 

Sad?  Unbelievably
Thankful? Absolutely
Happy? Honestly, yes
Hopeful?  By God's grace, always

Monday, March 16, 2015

Pain and Purpose

I recently attended an oh so sweet retreat.  This is the second time that I was invited to attend.  Last year the weekend fell just days before my last chemo treatment and three months and a handful of days after Eric's passing.  I was in a raw place--inside and out.  At the time I thought that I had accepted the reality of Eric's death, but in hind-sight I was still in the midst of thinking that any minute he would walk through the door and I would have had the starring role in some strange new reality show.  It sounds ridiculous, but it was the type of thing that bounced around in my head during those first months after he left us.  Let's blame it on the chemo and just flat-out denial.  The first night at the retreat everyone was given the opportunity to introduce themselves.  I came knowing 2 out of a little over 30 women in the room.  I turned to my friend and said, "Should I drop one bomb or two?"  I took a deep breath and played both of my ugly cards.  There was love and there were tears in those faces around the room as I told my story of both cancer and loss.  I took a chance on that group of women and opened up about my hardest stuff.  It was a moment where God gave me the courage I needed to live out loud in the midst of this amazing group.  I'm glad I did.

This year felt very different.  The new faces were not as new and time had begun to heal many of the open wounds that I had been busy bandaging last year.  Most of the women there already knew my story and I knew theirs.  Then the sweetest thing happened.  These faces who were strangers to me last year as I entered that old stone house came up to me this year--many of them--and told me that they had been praying for me this last year.  That they thought of me and my kids often.  It mattered.  Please hear me when I say, it mattered.  All of those prayers, said while doing dishes, running errands, kissing foreheads and packing lunches--they made a difference to my little family.  I felt humbled and so very grateful knowing that these women had quietly helped me carry my difficulties over the past 12 months.  Last year this was a place to hide out and hurt, but this year it was a time to be refreshed and challenged for the next season.

A lesson that I've learned during my chapters on cancer and loss is that when you're weary of your story you get to a point where you're scared to be open--about your pain, your mistakes, your weaknesses.  It's exhausting to be vulnerable and it's not always met with open arms.  We think the world expects us to be strong, to be survivors, to hide weakness and hurt.  But where does that get you?  Usually in a very lonely place where it's all up to you to make it better--and let's be honest, who has enough energy to do that most days.

What I saw at my sweet retreatland was a group of women willing to get in the trenches alongside one another. I saw empathy, not pity.  I saw women strategizing with one another about the best way to peacefully walk through their days while tending to their heavy burdens that they've been asked to carry.  I saw true concern and promised prayer.  Maybe it's my age or possibly the circles I run in , but I think I can safely say that everyone carries a burden--maybe even more than one.  If you don't, then jump up and down, high five someone sitting near you and thank the Lord for that blessing and then go and use your extra bandwidth to come along someone who needs your support.  Really.  Use your good for someone else's good.

So there we were, a marketplace of women exchanging pieces of their hard things with one another. That bartering made the burden lighter, offered new perspective and most importantly gave hope.  It was an amazing thing.  I walked away wanting desperately to integrate these practices into my non-retreat life.  How can I stay open to my kids' hard things, to my co-worker's challenges, or to things that bring my friends to their knees?  How can I keep the busy of my life from getting in the way of really listening to and caring for my fellow sojourners in this world?  You need to absolutely know that something miraculous happens when you take the time to get comfortable with someone's difficult thing--you show them the love of our heavenly father and in turn you are given strength for the moment and blessing for the journey.

Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.  ~Galations 6:2

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Making Peace with Death

I've had this situation a couple of times recently--mostly at church during a brief 3 minute meet and greet that's sandwiched right between announcements and the beginning of the service.  Enough time has passed and our church has grown enough that I'm often seated near young couples or college students who are relatively new and don't know me or my family.

We both extend our hands and offer up our first names.  I try to find something that will help me remember that name for future reference and then I turn to introduce my three kids who are all turned in different directions doing the exact same thing that I'm doing--some with new faces and some with old friends.  Then comes my dilemma.  I know as this sweet twenty something couple looks over my family they're likely thinking one of two things: her husband doesn't come to church or she's divorced.  Most people don't jump to the conclusion that the missing husband is actually dead.

So what do I do with that?  I would like to be able to casually close our conversation with "And their dad, my husband, passed away last year.  He was a great guy."  I'd like to do that but I usually don't.  I don't because as soon as the words "passed away" pass over my lips, the smile that's on their faces passes away also.  They immediately come back with some kind of uncomfortably shocked response and I reassure them that it's okay and proceed to tell them we're doing fine, etc. until the music for the next song cues up and we politely return to our pew.  I know in my heart that I've brought a little black cloud over their time at church and now I'll forever be the lady with the kids whose husband died a while ago.   The thing is that I'm okay being that lady, I clearly am that lady.

My friends who have lost children find themselves in this situation all the time.  "How many children do you have?"  A safe enough question, right?  Not for those parents who have already said goodbye to one of their own.  So do they politely say they have three or do they tell you about the three here and the one there and then ruin your day just a little?  Please know that it is only by the grace of God that they do not blurt out that one of their sweet babies died one day and a part of their heart died with them..oh, and have a nice day.

The thing is that we want to be honest, we really do.  By not mentioning that missing child or spouse or parent we feel like we are hiding this monumental thing that happened in our life and therefore feel like we're hiding this person that we loved with all our heart. We feel like a bit of a fraud because this thing that we're not telling you feels so obvious to us that certainly you can read it all over our faces. Every fiber of us is saying, do you see how broken we are, how incomplete our family is, how devastated?  But we don't say that because we're pretty sure that you don't have the stomach for it.  If we're honest, we hardly have the stomach for it, but we don't have any choice.

What do we do with death, people?  It's destructive and despicable, but it's also common and completely expected.  There has to be some kind of middle ground.  For those of us walking in grief, we've had to make peace with this hardest reality.  We can't escape it.  It's like a lens that has been put over our eyes that we will forever look through during our time on this earth. And we want you to know that we've become okay with it and sometimes it helps us a little to talk about. We need to talk about it without you getting that look on your face--you know, the one where conjure up a smile and  try to make us happy, to make our hurt go away.  You can't do that, no one this side of heaven can do that.  But you can offer up two sincere words, "I'm sorry."  And that's good enough.   We're sorry, too, but every day we're figuring out to live fully in the face of death.  We are going to be okay.  We are already okay.

"He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, no crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away."  Rev. 21:4.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Things you stumble upon...

I'll be honest, I've had just a couple of people ask me if I ever thought that Eric was trying to send me messages from where he is right now. I can say that after 22 years of him hardly ever not talking to me, if there was a way for him to talk to me from the other side he would have certainly utilized it. Enough said.

But just because I don't ever hear his voice, doesn't mean that his words aren't all around me.  I find his words in my head, coming out of my kids' mouths, on notes and  on lists, lots and lots of lists.  This weekend I stumbled upon his words in the form of a past Valentine's card.  For those of you who want to know about our Valentine's Day traditions--or lack thereof--please refer to my post about Mother's Day and drop in Valentine's Day--but maybe not quite as bad.  What I stumbled upon was a lovely Hallmark card that didn't have any tell-tale signs of frantically being purchased at Cub Foods.  The card's sentiment was simple.  "I love sharing forever with you.  Happy Valentine's Day."
On a side note, we used to laugh because Eric claimed that nearly all Valentine's Day cards started with "You know that I never tell you enough how I feel...." and clearly that didn't apply to him.  It was one of his reasons for mostly boycotting the holiday.

As I read what he had written on the bottom, it sounded so familiar.  "What is one year when compared to forever?  I would go through it all again just to be by your side.  I love you."  It sounded familiar because those words are nearly the exact words I tell myself when I stand still in the scurrying of my day to look at his picture on my living room wall.  It's how I comfort myself when sleep escapes me on these cold winter nights.  It's the encouragement that I cling to when I look out at the years ahead of me.  What is one year compared to forever and yes, a thousand times, yes, I would go through it all again to be by his side.  I thought these were my words of comfort and hope, but there they were in his scribbly handwriting, loving me so sweetly from years ago.

Just so you don't get the idea that every Valentine's Day was wine, roses and love notes, I also discovered another Valentine's card that was likely purchased the day after the holiday because some wife probably pitched a fit that there wasn't a card for her on Hallmark's favorite day.  If you're Eric Rynders, you will find a creative way to make your wife smile even when you miss her holiday.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

And Sometimes God Gives You Ham

When I was diagnosed with cancer, several friends--work friends, school friends, church friends--rushed in and organized meals to be brought into our home on the weeks following each treatment.  I was brought lots and lots of wonderful meals that fed me and my forever hungry children.  I really love to cook so relinquishing this duty was not easy for me.  Often times, even more lovely than the food that filled our stomachs, was the sweetness of the individuals delivering the meal.  Some of them were dear friends who would give me a hug, offer up some love and wish me well until the next time our paths crossed.  Some of them were nearly complete strangers who I had only every passed in a hallway at the kids' school events.  They knew about me from afar, but decided they wanted to do something to help.  They would express their sympathy about Eric, ask about me, about the kids, about how all of this was working.  I was grateful for the meal, but I was more grateful and impressed by their willingness to step their foot into our somewhat messy life.  These people were gifts to our lives during those long winter months.

I want you to know that we were delivered some really wonderful meals and please read this post to the end before you think of me as some kind of foodie snob or that I am one bit ungrateful for anything, gourmet or not, that was brought to our front door.  If you were one of the many people that might have brought ham, then you're clearly wondering if this was your night.  Go ahead and wonder. The story is not so much about ham, but about hope.  

It was a frightfully cold night and my taste buds were reeling from my latest dose of chemo.  The meal that was lovingly dropped off that night was ham.  Fantastic. Something salty is always the best option for me to be able to taste at least part of it.  I had kept all the dishes covered to hold the heat in while I quickly set the table after coming through the door from work.  After we had gathered, offered up a quick prayer to bless the food, I started to uncover the ham.  The kids asked what we were having and I said, "Ham!" as I uncovered the first dish.  What I uncovered was like no ham they had seen before. It was a processed pink color and the "string" indentations across the top were not fooling anyone.  They both leaned forward and stared, "That's not ham," one of them said.  "Yes, it is," I said.  "It's just not like ham that you're used to."  "Is it even cooked?" they asked, doubtful that I had any idea what I was talking about.  "Of's warm," I said as I touched it to confirm my theory.  I shaved a couple of slices off the one end and laid it on their plates.  They gave me a look.  I gave them a look back.  "It's just fine.  Just eat it.  I'm not making something else for you.  Someone made this just for us and we will eat it."  

You have to understand that these were some dark, very dark days after Eric's death.  We went through the motions that we could remember from life before and we prayed that each day would be a little easier than the one we were leaving.  I knew my kids were missing their normal and I was equally frustrated that I couldn't be in the kitchen preparing their favorite meals and serving those meals to a table filled with my people.  There was emptiness and sadness everywhere we looked.  One of those kind of days where a bad ham can send you right over the edge.  

We sat in silence, chewing our ham.  I think one of the kids asked if they could warm something up from the fridge and I probably said fine.  Out of the blue, Bea said, "I want to know what it feels like to punch that ham.  Mom, can I punch the ham?"

I sat for a minute and thought about the question--was it okay for my daughter to punch our dinner?  My first thought was "would Eric let her punch the ham?"  I worried that my chemo-clouded brain was probably not qualified to make this decision.  I asked her to repeat her question, certainly I had misunderstood.  She said more forcefully, "I want to punch the ham."  Knowing resistance was futile, I said, "Sure, punch the ham."

She walked around the table, looked squarely at the mostly uneaten ham and wound up for a solid punch.  The ham made the same noise that a well-toned stomach makes when you slug it--not that I've done that often in my life.  Henry and I exchanged looks and smirked.  He followed his smirk with "I want to punch it, too."  I shrugged my shoulders and nodded in approval.  He landed a blow that was slightly louder than that of his sister.  We all laughed.  Now everyone was looking at me and I just smiled and nodded and got in line to blow off some steam at this unassuming piece of pork.  Yes, I, too, slugged the ham.  By this time we were laughing harder than we had laughed in weeks.  Weeks where we wondered if we would ever really laugh again.  

Needless to say the ham got slugged repeatedly and might have even gotten juggled...  Once our laughter subsided and we had wiped away all the happy tears that had taken the place of so many sad ones, we gathered around the table and thanked God for this most amazing meal and for the wonderful hands that had brought it to us.  Although this ham wouldn't win any culinary awards, it was, by far, the most memorable meal that graced our table.  God knew that we needed something more than nourishment on that cold winter night.  We needed a way to remember the joy and laughter that had previously been so taken for granted around out table--and he needed a ham to make that happen.  We needed to break through the sadness and once again experience the freedom to throw our heads back and laugh.  It was a turning point for our somber family and as I look back I am filled with gratitude.

Moral of the story:  Sometimes God Gives You Ham