The undercover Face of Grief

I don’t think I ever really grasp, until this last year, the impact that my previous “episodes” with my AVM had on me. Looking back on it, there are a number of times where it changed the course of many things and I didn’t know it at that time.  Looking back on it, my life, my family and both sets of parents are richer because of it.

I’m going to call this Face of Grief – the Undercover Face. I know I probably watch too many cop shows on TV, but you know the undercover cops? The ones who are just moving around in the “normal” world trying not to be noticed.   
Trying to do their job, trying to gain access to the center of what’s happening, and trying to do it without you realizing it. That’s what the undercover face is.

Except on the cop shows, the undercover cop is the good guy and the people he’s trying to get “in with” are bad guys. In this case, it’s the exact opposite. He’s the bad guy, grief is the undercover face that’s trying to sneak in to your life. And you don’t see him and you don’t notice the trail of dirt that he left walking through your kitchen late at night. You don’t see that all is not well.

And then suddenly, you realize that he’s there. And suddenly you see all of the things that have happened which are ways you could should have seen him coming. But you didn’t. And he scared you quite badly.  

My parents lived with that undercover face of grief from 1972 to 2018. He was always around, but not always seen. I believe that in many ways, God used the grief and the sorrow that my dad experienced with his cancer to make his ministry and his life a much deeper and more impactful life for so many.

I’ve had that undercover face of grief hiding around me for a long time too. 1978 – I was in 8th grade. And I had to go to Mayo Clinic (at that point, I thought Mayo was the place where all of the really really sick people went). 1986 – the AVM was back – just as I was finishing college and expecting our oldest…..

So what have I learned from the Undercover Face of Grief? A couple of things:

 • Trust God – God is the parent there to help you when you are scared, sad, worried, and happy, funny, joy-filled. God is there to walk beside you – invite him to join you or you join him and the Undercover Face of Grief won’t be so scary when it shows up – and it will – we live in a fallen world.

 • Remember that as scary as the undercover face might be, when he “shows up” the light of Jesus and the support of others makes him less scary.

 • Don’t live your life scared of the Undercover Face. Instead, look for the joy in life. Look for the things that will add purpose and meaning to your life. Look for the difference you can make in your world – whether it’s in your home, your community or way beyond that.

 • Look around you – there are probably people you know who are staring down that Face of Grief right now. Stand up with them, stand next to them, tell them, “You are not alone.”

One of the many things I have learned over the last years is that there are way more people who are struggling and way less people who have all of their “ducks in a row” than I ever would have thought.

So, when your grief shows his head after hiding behind the scenes, acknowledge him, look at your life – are there things you’ve been doing that have made it easier for him to hide? I’m thinking of the old country and western song about drowning your sorrows…..

God’s grace is enough. Actually, the writer of Psalm 4 says, “I have God’s more than enough”

When grief shows it’s face, know that God’s grace is more than enough.

TJV

Hospitals and Schools and Airports

I find myself fascinated by Hospitals and Schools and Airports.

“That’s really odd,” I can hear you thinking that already. Don’t deny it. 🙂

Why?

What do they have in common?

No, it’s not the size of the buildings.

No, it’s not where they are located.

It doesn’t have anything to do with how much money they make.

Or with how many cool toys there are at each one.

Or whether it’s run by the government or run by a private organization.

That’s not what fascinates me.

“Well then, tell us!”

It’s the stories.

Most of them you don’t know.

But.everyone.has.one.

And they are almost always not nearly as pretty of a story as it looks. And they are always significantly deeper and more varied and complicated than they look.

The “very successful business man” getting on an airplane while carrying his briefcase and talking on his phone (usually too loudly). You can’t see underneath to understand his true story. Maybe he isn’t successful but is trying to look the part. Maybe he’s off to visit another location of his business and eliminate 60 jobs at their plant in California. Maybe he’s…. or maybe he’s going…….

The young mom traveling with two little ones – is she going to visit Grandma? Or Dad? And what has led to this trip?

The family with “similar” looking winter gear on, obviously heading to somewhere with bigger hills than we have to do some winter activities together.

And the doctor walking down the hall at the hospital, she has 7 significantly younger staff (probably residents) following just barely behind her; she’s got a story. A story of good, of sleepless nights wondering if she did “it” right, of successes, of failures. A story of explaining to her kids that she couldn’t do …… Because she had to tend to the needs of someone who……..

The mom being pushed down the hall in a wheelchair holding a new born baby. So much happiness, so much wonder and a good bit of nervousness too. Dad follows behind carrying all of the flowers and balloons while trying to get used to the new name, “Dad.”

The older man with the stooped shoulders trying to navigate how to get to his wife’s hospital room. Worry worn very obviously heavy on his heart.

The elementary school students all full of energy and chaos and questions. What do they take home with them? What stories outside of school impact the way they “do” school?

The middle school students – that awkward phase where you are trying to figure out who you are and what your place in this world is, let alone what place in your school is “your fit.”

You can’t forget the high school students. A conundrum of conflict between the kid that I was and the adult that I think I’m going to be. A time where parents need to work themselves out of a job – and let them grow and think and do for themselves. And that involves pain and struggle and skinned knees and bruised egos and it involves big steps and small steps and closing doors and knocking on new ones.

High School – I’ve heard it said that the only people who like high school are the teachers and staff. I’m not sure that’s true but many of the former high school students I know (present company included) would agree with it.

And then there’s the teachers – Did you know that a math teacher doesn’t really teach math? And a Spanish teacher doesn’t teach Spanish?

That’s right, what they really teach is life. Sure, it’s life through the window of Math, or life through the lens of a foreign language or life through the thoughts and ramblings of Atticus Finch or Shakespeare or Dante. But it’s life they are teaching and the stories they get to see a glimpse of as they do that, it’s an amazing privilege and an awesome experience to see the “lightbulb” go on.

Stories – a multitude of stories. Some happy, some sad. Some strong, some weak. Some simple, some complex. Some wet with tears, some overflowing with laughter.

I look around and I see a whole bunch of people. But even more, I see stories. Everyone has a story. Many of us have many different chapters to our stories.

Most of us aren’t willing to share our stories, and so we keep them stuffed down inside. Sometimes that’s good, other times, if our stories aren’t told, that leads to deeper scars and harder stories.

And each of our stories has something to offer, something to teach, something to encourage others with. But they won’t, if we don’t share them.

That’s why the Facebook page for Humans of New York has over 17 million followers the last time I checked.

17 million – that’s like the entire population of New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago combined.

So share your story. Even if it’s only with one person.

Even if it’s only one chapter of your story. You just might be the boost that that one person needs.

TV

A Legacy

Most of the time, when someone talks about someone “leaving a legacy” it’s usually because they spent money on something big, donated something big, discovered a cure for something really nasty, invented something, those type of “things.”

I want to talk instead about a different type of legacy. It’s not a legacy that has a price tag on it.

It’s not a legacy that you can drive past and remember the person.

It’s not a particular cure for something.

It’s a legacy of faith. A legacy of hard work. A legacy of willingness to follow God’s leading. A legacy of leading and caring and challenging and encouraging.

A legacy of keeping records.

What?

Yeah, that’s right, my Dad kept a very detailed record of and copies of most if not all of his sermons. Hard copies waiting in a filing cabinet in their basement.

Waiting for what?

Waiting for such a time as this.

As we as a family looked at the drawer after drawer of sermons, there seemed to be two questions that came to mind through many of us:

  • How do we keep copies of them for future generations?
  • How do we share them now to keep the work and the caring and the guiding that Dad did alive and use it to encourage others?

We’re working on the technical side of how to keep them for future generations. That is well underway.

And I’m starting the other part.

I have no idea how long it will take, I have no idea where it will go.

One of my Dad’s sermons that is in the top 5 of most remembered sermons is one called, “God moves in Zig Zag Lines.” Because of that, I don’t believe it would be wise for any of us to plan too far in advance on where we start or what parts we move to next or anything like that.

God moves in Zig Zag Lines and we are going to see where we find God leading us.

I hope you’ll stay with us, it’s going to be an interesting journey.

Tom

Where are we going?

“Are we there yet?”

Haven’t we all either said that or heard someone else say that. It would probably rank up there pretty high in a poll for the “most annoying thing ever said in a car.”

As I’m beginning this Spiritual Journey, I’ve been doing a good bit of wrestling with the question, “Where are we going? And also the question, “Are we there yet?”

The answer that I’ve come up with can work for both of those questions and can be spelled out in three words:

I

Don’t

Know

I don’t know where we are going on this spiritual journey. If my Dad were still here and I could ask him if his ministry went in the direction he thought it would, I know he would say that it hasn’t. There are many things that happened during my dad’s ministry that far exceeded what he originally thought they would when he was back in Seminary.

So, I don’t know where we’re going, and I don’t know when we’ll get there.

I don’t even know if there is a “there” here.

The journey is the goal. The destination is not somewhere to go, the destination is to be on the journey.

I hope you’ll join me.

Tom

My Faith – How?

I was talking to a friend the other night. Actually, talking isn’t the right word, we were messaging back and forth. We were talking about some of the issues that each of us are facing. And “the topic” came up….

What would you have done if you sat there on January 1, 2018 and were able to look forward and see what this year would bring?

That’s a tough question. And when you’re dealing with medical conditions or problems, it’s often even tougher. I mean, let’s face it, if you knew that by driving from this point to that point on that particular day was going to result in an accident where someone got seriously hurt, you could take another route or stay home or something like that.

But you can’t do that with medical issues. You can’t “avoid” a problem that is already there. You have to deal with it as it comes.

So what would we have done?

Probably a couple of things:

  • Slowed down the chaos that we as Americans seem to thrive on.
  • Spent more time with God. Once again, that comes from the being too busy. We don’t spend enough time watching, listening to and talking with God.

Speaking of God, that gets to the heart of the question…..

How can you have faith in God when bad things happen?

People have written entire books on that subject. People have spent their entire academic career attempting to answer that question. I am not going to attempt to answer that question in this very short space, except to use one brief analogy.

If you are at all a history buff, or at least have a decent knowledge of WWII, then you know a couple of important dates:

  • June 6, 1944 – that’s when the Allied forces attacked the Germans in an effort to turn the war around and to end the hostilities.
  • May 8, 1945 – the date when Germany finally surrenders to the Allied forces and the war in Europe was over.

Why am I telling you that? Because I believe that in many ways, we are living in a time similar to that period from June of 1944 to May of 1945.

We know who’s going to win the war. We didn’t for the first while, but after a bit, the ultimate winner was a foregone conclusion. But that didn’t mean that there wasn’t pain, suffering and extreme difficulties in between.

Now let’s take that and move it to today. In the spiritual realm, we know that God is going to win the ultimate war. He has already paid the price and the end result is guaranteed. But that doesn’t mean that the fighting is done. That doesn’t mean that all evil, imperfection, disease and any other of the bad things that happen to good people are gone.

We are in a battle. We know we will, because we are on God’s side, win the final war. But we also know we need to push back against the dark. The world was perfect once, but Adam and Eve kind of blew that chance. It will be perfect again, but we aren’t at the end of the war yet.

So how can my faith remain strong? I was going to say, “In spite of….” what has happened, I still have faith. But that’s not really the right way to say what I feel.

Because I can see God’s hand throughout this past year in many ways, I have faith and I know that God is good (all the time).

Because I can see the impact that my Dad had on so many people through his 5 (yes, that is not a typo) battles with cancer, I know that God is good and that my Dad’s part in fighting the battle has impacted the lives of many and brought them to the safety that comes from believing in God.

My faith remains strong because my God is bigger than all of this and I know the end result.

We both agreed that if it weren’t for faith in a God who is bigger than all of “this,” the pushing back against the dark would be too much for any of us to do.

I hope you feel that way too.

And that’s how my faith remains strong.

Tom