Each year I try to sum up my annual trip around the sun. In a word or two, I want to catch the essence of what I have experienced.
Sometimes it takes many words. This year, only one.
That single word sums up the varied events and various experiences that made this year like none before it.
The sun now sets on the 365 disparate sunrises that made up 2015…a year of unmatched challenge and unparalleled loss.
I said goodbye to more this year than in all my 56 previous combined.
It started when my family said goodbye to my nephew, David. His sudden departure left a ragged hole in the fabric of his little family and distorted the pattern of our bigger one. Nothing is quite the same when one part of a family is removed. The puzzle isn’t quite complete anymore. David is sorely missed.
Two weeks later we said goodbye to my Dad. His reemergence in and reconnection to my life was too short and too shallow to salve the deep longing we all had for the man we called Father. He was back in our lives just long enough to remind us of all we had missed. Like a child’s incomplete coloring page we never quite got to see it finished.
Next it was goodbye to Granny. This matriarch of my wife’s tribe was such a stabilizing presence and constant force that her absence is deeply felt in the daily routines where you normally don’t feel much at all. She did normal so naturally that without her here the ordinary seems far less substantial and beautiful.
Finally, we said goodbye to our home. This house where we rebuilt our shattered lives, watched the struggle of teens becoming adults, saw the battle for true loves and the birth of those who came from those loves was now too big. It was too much house to hold our condensing but clarifying life together. Since the younger ones moved out and the elder ones went home we wanted less space for stuff and more room for memories. So we “downsized”–modern lingo for saying goodbye to a place that held more meaning than we can ever know.
This has truly been the year of opening our fisted hands to let go of what has been. In those same painful moments we were opening our weary arms to receive what will yet be.
Jesus said it this way, “When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” (John 16:21-22)
The fleeting nature of life has come closer to home and the things that give value to this wisp of time we call living have become clearer.
I have learned that what matters most is what is left behind after the loss.
Mining these dark caves of loss in my life, I have unearthed three gems that pour meaning into those gaping wounds like a healing balm.
- Life has more unanswered questions than unquestioned answers. Paradox and perplexity are more central to real life than the canned answers so glibly offered in the neatly packaged morals of 30-minute sitcom stories. Life is inherently messy–a muddled mix of what makes sense and what drives us crazy. Learning to live with the mess is a key to hanging onto joy in the face of life’s subtractions.
- Each day offers an array of choices that either form regrets or frame change. No day ever goes by when I am not faced with decisions to make my future more painful or meaningful. It is the constant flow of little things well-managed that changes the mundane into the miraculous. As I choose to pursue what matters most instead of what screams the loudest in my life, I am setting a course for legacy at the end of my living.
- The difference between what you go through and what you ultimately become is what you believe.There is a constant vortex of lies I must navigate daily. What people say, what pain declares and what failure decrees over my life must constantly battle what my loving Father believes about me. If I choose to listen to the internal voices trumpeting my inconsistencies I run like a prodigal. If I hear the external voices shouting my inadequacies I will posture like the elder brother. But if I embrace the still small whisper of the God who alone knows me at my core, I will be formed into His dream come true.
Life is filled with loss. “Goodbye” is a painfully integral part of the vocabulary of this hard-scrabble existence. Truth is, we are forced to say it too often to too many important people and things in our lives.
Like victims of nature’s storm and fury, we sift through the rubble of life after loss. In the debris we find what really makes it worth living.
What counts most and makes the biggest difference is not what you lose but what remains.