Family

Storm

Storm

A storm is coming. I see it on the horizon. I see its thunderous clouds gather. I see its menace and its power to undo me.

How do I survive it this time?

Provisions. I’ll make sure I’m stocked up with things to feed me while the windows rattle and the roof threatens to rip off and join the wild winds tearing about. Fill my kitchen shelves, my fridge, with wholesome nourishment for my body. Take my supplements. Fill my bookshelves with food for my mind – currently Timothy Keller’s Walking with God through Pain and Suffering has already thrown lifelines. AW Tozer, CS Lewis, all of them within arm’s reach.

Companions. Past losses and grief have shown me to be wise in surrounding myself with godly counsel, seasoned sailors of the high seas of adversity. As this tempest blows in, I will grab hold of the help that is a phone call, an instant message, an email, a coffee date and be deliberate in building meaningful connections around me. And remind myself of Who is in the boat with me….

Anchors. And I will tie myself to the mast, which is Christ. The wounded Lamb, the man of sorrows, acquainted with grief. And look forward to the day that ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.’ (Rev 21:4)

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Arrivo

Arrivo.

It was the first Italian word I learnt on Italian soil from Italian lips. Up until then I had studied Italian from a book. I had just moved into Via Cassio Parmense with Adriana of the Crazy Hair. The doorbell rang on the first day I was there and she sang out loudly, ‘Arrivo!’ – I’m coming, I’m on my way. The English ‘arrive’ isn’t quite the same thing. Adriana could yell really well, evidence of optimum lung capacity. I am thoroughly certain whoever was waiting on the other side of the extremely thick and solid, well-made, fortified Italian door heard her clear as a bell.

Last Sunday marked the start of Advent, the time of anticipation and waiting for the celebration of the birth of Christ – observed largely by the Western Church. Advent is from the Latin adventus – meaning ‘coming’, much like Adriana’s arrivo. In Roman times the adventus was the ceremony of welcoming a triumphant emperor into a city. Adventus is the Latin translation of the Greek word parousia – you might have heard that before. Parousia is all about… well, I’ll get to that.

Exactly a year ago, we were also awaiting the arrival of not exactly an emperor (although I am led to believe he has his royal moments), but of a little baby boy far, far away. My sister was counting off her final days of pregnancy as my mom and brother flew over to visit her for two months. Tiny, adorable, beautiful – my nephew arrived a couple of weeks later, just two days after Christmas. A precious gift of joy to us.

And now, we wait again – this time for my sister’s little family to make the long journey of a day’s constant travel by plane to reach our sunny shores. Just in time for Christmas and just in time for the cutest nephew in the world’s first birthday. The anticipation is enormous. I am so excited, I could probably go into orbit with giddy glee. I haven’t seen my sister for two years, and I have yet to hold that little boy and plant a kiss on his beautiful little head.

The cutest nephew in the world

Over two thousand years ago, another young, expectant mother similarly travelled to visit a relative, who was also expectant, but not so young. The Message paints the passage in Luke 1:39-45 like this:

“Mary didn’t waste a minute. She got up and travelled to a town in Judah in the hill country, straight to Zachariah’s house, and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby in her womb leaped. She was filled with the Holy Spirit, and sang out exuberantly,

You’re so blessed among women,
and the babe in your womb, also blessed!
And why am I so blessed that
the mother of my Lord visits me?
The moment the sound of your
greeting entered my ears,
The babe in my womb
skipped like a lamb for sheer joy.
Blessed woman, who believed what God said,
believed every word would come true!”

Even while yet unborn, unseen, Christ stirred the spirits and listening hearts of those waiting for him. Those who were expectant. And we know that he is coming again.  This is parousia – the second coming.  And Advent is intended to remind us of his return. Advent has made me wonder – am I delighted about the prospect of his arrival? Am I all organised for his appearance? As I make mental lists of all the fun things to do with my sister, I ponder Christ’s return and its implications. As I contemplate how to baby-proof my home in anticipation of an impending visit from a curious, crawling little person, I ask myself if my King will find me ready?

And what will it be like (one of my favourite songs, sung by Mercy Me, is all about this – see the Youtube video a little further down)? When the One who knows me better than I know myself is finally here? Like the nephew I’ve never touched or held, will love overwhelm me when my Saviour and my Lord is before me at last? What will I do?  What will I say? I don’t know. But I do know he is coming again. Adventus. Parousia.

Arrivo.

nicene

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How love has flourished in the face of loss

Today we celebrated Mother’s Day with my eighty-eight year old grandmother – all her children and grandchildren together.  My aunts put on a fabulous spread of cakes and pastries, the coffee was good, the conversation was, well, hilarious… Put some of us together and it’s a rather entertaining experience!

It was only when I came home and looked through all the photos I took today that I noticed something I’d completely glossed over between the great food, witty banter and raucous laughter.  Our clan, our group, our family has gravely diminished in number.

It started with an aunt in December 2011.  She died of cancer.  Then an uncle in September 2012, also cancer.  And then with wrenching, heart-ripping swiftness, my dad of a sudden heart attack in January 2013.  A few months later, another uncle.  Voices not heard today, silent and no longer seen at our feast table.

Unseen but not forgotten.

Our collective loss has altered us permanently.  There is no going back to the way things were.  As individuals, we face difficult seasons ahead now without partners, fathers, mothers, sons, daughters. We stood bereft at four family funerals, tears streaming down our faces.  And as if the initial loss of the person you loved so much is not enough, time drags on and cruelly displays to you the sheer enormity of a complex network of losses all connected to this death.  You can wallow for a while, but eventually you have to turn and carry on, with gaping heart wounds and heads hung in sorrow.

The human heart will heal – if you give it enough care and don’t resist the process of grief.  I saw it today as we laughed and reminisced about Dad’s silly antics.  Our heads are starting to lift, and we can smile.

As I contemplated our shrunken family party, I realised a greater truth.  That death and the loss of those we loved so dearly have only served to make us care for each other more.  Bereavement brings an alarming clarity to your inner world.  You have to sit up and listen.  Hear this! – your conscience is told – now is the time to love more, care more, appreciate more, talk more, hug more.  No more wasting time in showing your grandmother, mother, aunt, cousin how much you value them.  Our diminished family has been sorely pressed and wounded, yes, but we are not deterred or destroyed.

Our love has simply grown larger.

 

We are pushed hard from all sides. But we are not beaten down. We are bewildered. But that doesn’t make us lose hope. 2 Cor 4:8 NIRV