The Un-Birthday

Today marks the second birthday that we will be remembering Tricia without the joy of her physical presence.

I’m discovering that moving on from a loss doesn’t mean we erase the significant days of those people we love who most shaped and shared our lives from our calendars. It may just mean that we change the context in which we commemorate them. Just because I change the context of something doesn’t change the significance of it.

I have decided that on this side of things I am going to take a different approach to the way I observe Tricia’s birthday. Frankly, I am clueless how to celebrate something as personal as a birthday without the one I’m celebrating being present anyway. So this year I am choosing to look at it like the scene in Alice in Wonderland where the rabbit and the hatter are throwing themselves a “un-birthday” party. Alice, of course has no concept of what a un-birthday is but she soon learns it is the other 364 days of the year that aren’t her birthday that are worthy of celebration.

This year I am celebrating Tricia’s birthday by moving toward celebrating her “un-birthdays” – those moments we have over the other 364 days of the year that remind us of a beautiful life. I will celebrate her when I talk to our daughter and see glimpses of her in Lauren. Lauren’s laugh, her strong sense of principles, a certain determination, the way she waves her hand to make a point, and the sparkle in her blue eyes that she inherited. These are the daily joys that come on the “un-birthdays” which I can celebrate repeatedly.

I celebrate Tricia as I remember something she would say to me in the form of encouragement when I am feeling like I’m swinging in the wind at things that don’t come to fruition fast enough to suit me.

Sometimes when I drive in to Nashville from being out of town and see the skyline on the horizon I remember how fearful I was of moving here over twenty-five years ago and I quietly mumble to myself, “Thanks, Sweet Pea,” for her believing in me more than I did.

I can even celebrate her in the fact that she had our deck built with the stairs going down the wrong side of the house (in my opinion) and I laugh at that disagreement with every trip down those steps.

There won’t be a cake with Tricia’s name on it today. We aren’t going to get together and ceremoniously blow out her candles. Those are beautiful expressions but those aren’t ours to do now. What I will do is continue to celebrate her “un-birthday” tomorrow and each day when I see the glimpses of what she left here – a beautiful, bright daughter, a host of friends, the lasting impressions of her generosity, a circle of people she impacted and empowered, and a laugh that will stay in my mind as long as I remember her.

And occasionally, when I trudge up and down those blasted deck stairs that honestly should have been on the opposite side of the house.

True Poverty

Jesus, my Brother and Lord, I pray as I write these words for the grace to be truly poor before you, to recognize and accept my weakness and humanness, to forgo the indecent luxury of self-hatred, to celebrate your mercy and trust in your power when I’m at my weakest, to rely on your love no matter what I may do, to seek no escapes from my innate poverty, to accept loneliness when it comes instead of seeking substitutes, to live peacefully without clarity or assurance, to stop grandstanding and trying to get attention, to do the truth quietly without display, to let the dishonesties in my life fade away, to belong no more to myself, to not desert my post when I give the appearance of staying at it, to cling to my humanity, to accept the limitations and full responsibility of being a human being – really human and really poor in Christ our Lord. – (Brennan Manning: Reflections for Ragamuffins)

The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him,
to the one who seeks him;
it is good to wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord.
Lamentations 3:25-26

Waiting on the Lord is something I’m learning a little more about than I ever cared to know, quite honestly. It is one thing to say that I belong to Jesus and that I have a certain hope as a Christian. It is quite another to say that I am willing to let go of my excuses, facades, strip myself of all my favorite substitutes, and lay myself bare – poor before Him (as Brennan Manning’s prayer so vulnerably articulates) and simply wait.

About six months before Tricia passed away I was having a session with my counselor. I was tired, frustrated, and numb. I began to share about all the ways that my life seemed to be dictated to me. My reality felt very decided for me by my circumstances as a caregiver and while I complained about it on one hand, there was a certain safety in it on the other.

After listening to my “I feel so stuck” speech for the bazillion-and-seventh time my counselor became unusually quiet and began to speak in a very cautionary tone as if she was treading into the conversational equivalent of a walk across a frozen pond.

“David, when Tricia dies I believe you will experience some very anxious days. There is likely to be a level of anxiety that you haven’t encountered even in her illness.”

“No,” I snapped back, “I may be a lot of things – sad, regretful, heartbroken, and even relieved, but anxious is NOT going to be one of the things I feel. I can promise you that.”

She smiled and continued her verbal trek across the icy Lake David.

“Well, time will tell,” she said. “But I believe Tricia has represented a barrier between you and several things that you haven’t had to confront yet. Suddenly it will be open season on things like vocational changes, new relationships, professional opportunities, personal risks, – all things that you haven’t even considered, let alone pursued simply because of your situation. You will be free and fearful at the same time and you will have to honestly ask yourself what you are going to do with these new options. You need to be prepared for that. As much as you’ve been shackled by her illness, you’ve also been protected by it and losing that safety net can produce anxiety.”

Sure enough, in the days and weeks that passed after losing Tricia I began a journey of restlessness like I’ve never experienced. I felt as if I didn’t belong anywhere. Nothing in my life was the same. I was no longer married. I lived alone in the house we built together. I had too many choices. No one necessarily needed me. Life was moving on and I felt as if I was left standing at the station waving at it.

When the subject of a season of fasting here at CCC first came to my attention I initially felt that it was just one more time I was being asked to give something up. Upon more prayerful reflection it occurred to me that I needed to treat this as a season of investment instead of a season of doing without. I realized as I approached praying for our church, prayer for change, and prayer for direction for us as a body I am demonstrating that I need that prayer for me. Life without excuses and substitutes is not for the faint hearted.

I’m finding that peace can reside in the fear as well as the freedom. And waiting on the Lord is simply waiting – quietly, patiently, and purposefully as we acknowledge all of our human limitations. For me, embracing the poverty of Christ is less about what I sacrifice and more about embracing His.