Thursday, April 1, 2010

Grandma Traveled, Too.

I wrote this last fall but it disappeared from my page... so I'm re-posting it...

my thoughts as I fly through the clouds

We sat in that little-cluttered-damp breakfast room which was sandwiched into the ground floor of the old, tall, Venice hotel.  We ordered "American coffee please" as we delighted in the concept of a morning taking in the beauty of Venice.  Never mind that it was high tide and cold.  Too expensive and too touristy.  Our feet sported blisters.  The outdoors smelled like fish and we would have to dodge mud puddles.  Never mind any of those things because this was our day to treasure!  And so we would carpe diem in one of the most beautiful cities on earth.

 It was interesting that it was on this day here in Venice that I spoke to Nicholas about Grandma.  Perhaps it was the beauty of the city that reminded me of her.  Perhaps it was the tapestry shop that read "Grosse Pointe of Italy", reminding me of where she spent her growing up years.  Perhaps it was peering into the shops of silver and Venician glass since, when I think of Grandma, I think of her gorgeous tables full of china and crystal set for her latest dinner party.  Whatever the reason, she was on my mind.  And so we spoke of her.  And then I snuck a little Italian breakfast cookie back upstairs with me (for a later snack) and we finished preparing for our happy day of newfound adventure.  And it was then, as I sat on the bed organizing my shrinking pile of Euros, thinking that I just might buy a little tapestry at that tapestry shop since it reminded me of something Grandma Larson would have chosen, that Nicholas read me the e-mail my dad had sent for us in hope we would be able to access it on our Italy travels.

 Today Grandma traveled, too.Nicholas read.   I stopped shuffling around my sparkly Euros and looked at my new husband sitting there hurting for me as we both took in the news.  Today was Grandma's day to go to Heaven.  Today was Grandma's day to see Kristy.  And Aunt Ginnie.  And Grandma and Grandma Pieschke.  And Peter and Paul and Mary and John and the zillion other saints of old.  And JESUS.  Today she had traveled to Heaven.  She had woken up in glory and found it home.  She had taken hold of a hand and found it Christ's.

So I say there just not quite sure what to think.  It was a weird experience for me, a fast-food generation baby, not able to get in immediate contact with my world and relatives 5,000 miles away.  I was not able to do anything about it except write back and tell my dad "I am so sorry and thank you for telling me and we are going to lose internet in 15 minutes because we have to check out of our hotel.  Can you find a ticket for me please, Dad, I won't have Internet again for another day or so?"  No ability to call.  No sisters to hug.  Not much ability to process at that moment as I ran around grabbing my toothbrush and tourist books so that we could zip up the suitcase (and also checking under the hotel bed since Grandma taught us to always check under the hotel bed to make sure nothing was left by mistake).   But I processed throughout that day at little moments.  Mostly when I saw beautiful things because Grandma and beauty have always gone hand in hand.  She kept popping into my mind.  We'd be talking about a cathedral and all of a sudden I'd say something about Grandma as my brain scrambled around memories of her life on earth and also Heaven thoughts of her new life.

It was strange as I faced my grief for her because I realized it wasn't new.  It was the end of a long process.  I have been grieving Grandma for a long time.  I guess a little kernel of it started when I was 11 and went to Maine to visit Uncle Vernon and family.  At a rest area she became confused.  It was just Grandma and me in the bathroom when that happened and I didn't know what to think.  For awhile after I had sat very quiet next to their miniature schnauzer in our nests of toys and dog bones in the backseat, as we continued the drive toward Maine.   It was the start of her epilepsy but for me it also started to open my eyes to the reality that even my ever strong and amazing grandparents were still human, still became ill, that they wouldn't be there forever.  And the last few days as I have gone through pictures of Grandma at Christmas, I have seen how every year she became noticeably weaker.  So for a long time I've known the reality of her health.  I saw that her body was worn out.  I saw that she couldn't respond anymore the way that she so desired to (even at the end of her life she would speak of wanting to cook dinner for us and go shopping and help Becky paint her nails).  But for her to be in Heaven for real now is a new feeling that will take awhile to know how to face.

But that's something I particularly cherish as part of my being a Christian.  I can go to God with the scattered emotions of my heart and He will do His healing work that strengthens and comforts the very fibers of my soul.  I can not be OK with the idea of death.  I can say this stinks.  This hurts.  This seems to go against every grain of what should be right and good.  And I can be OK with that because, as a human made for complete relationship with our holy and good God, death isn't exactly how it is meant to be.  Death is the result of a world broken with damaged relationship of God with His creation, the consequences this curse of sin.  So I wrestle with that.  I hurt.  I grieve.  But through this wrestling I learn to face this loss, not seeking to wrestle to win over God, but wrestling to come to that place of resting in His comforting hand.  And as I do this I can come face to face with that glorious  fact  that His hand is not only just comforting.  His hand is also victorious.  By His victory we are raised from the curse of death into the reality of life everlasting.  A paper I wrote for my last semester in Greek was on Ephesians 2 "that awesome reality of how we are raised up with Christ, even while on earth we are heirs of Heaven already seated there.  And when we die we just walk into that eternal reality more fully.  And our bodies, although wracked with the results of the destruction of sin, and in some ways becoming increasingly no longer our friends as they age and weaker, are promised to be returned to us in the final day.  Returned restored.  Greater.  Fuller.  The beauty of our faith is that it isn't that we are rescued out of our bodies into a state of release from the destruction of the physical, but we are brought into a life of the restoration of the perfection of the physical.  This is something that is of particular delight to me as I think of Grandma.  She isn't just floating around on a ghostlike cloud playing a ghostlike harp.  She is with Christ, she is very much an individual being, very much herself.  And one day her body will be restored in perfection.  She is serving God in a concrete way.  And the physical things she delighted in on earth will one day be restored in perfection (an interesting note is that the Greek for new earth may not be a complete wipe-out of the old but a restoration of it - but either way, it means a restoration of the perfect physical which God called good.  (And I could write a whole paper or two on this, which I won't here. but I have before since it is such a passion I suppose).  Grandma is very much alive because of the victory of our Creator and Savior, Jesus Christ.  I found that interesting last week as I visited the dreary catacombs near Rome.  Down 30 feet in the dark.  Dark and damp.  A dampness similar to the dampness of Venice, but the surroundings severely different.  The guide didn't say, but I wondered about why the Christ-followers found it so vital to bury their dead in the catacombs.  I mean, would we have done that today?  I wondered if they were standing against the views of Plato that had infiltrated much of the thinking of that time.  The idea that the body is evil, physical is evil, a trap from the good spiritual.  And then we contemplated on the Necropolis (the burial place of the dead) that was so different than the words the Christian used... the cemetery (the place of rest and sleep) but all this is getting off on a tangent (but not an unimportant tangent since understanding Grandma's wholeness, her purposefulness now, her selfness regained and restored in the presence of the Author of beauty, is significant).

But back to the reality of grief.  So I hurt.  Deeply. And I carefully weave the threads of memories together in my mind, hoping to never loss any of them.  Right at this moment it is the fun memories that come to mind: when I was little, if I kept my room clean, she would bring me to McDonalds or pay me a dollar or buy me a new hairbrush.  We would have slumber parties where she would bring us to the store to pick out snacks (Garfield fruit snacks were the item of choice) and then we'd pull out her sofa bed in the living room and watch Nick at Night until very later (probably 8 or 9pm).  And all our Easter egg hunts.  And Christmas celebrations.  The time Grandpa thought Grandma had made Pfeffernuse cookies and so he took a handful of "cookies" into his mouth, only to realize it was Lisa's dog food.  And sewing doll clothes. 

And there are deep and dear serious memories, too; the way she shown Christ so powerfully.  And my mom doesn't have a mom on earth anymore and that is really hard.  And I keep thinking of Grandpa (who happens to be one of my greatest heroes) and I can't even wrap my mine around trying to contemplate his hurt because that is just too overwhelmingly heartbreaking.  I don't like this.  I don't like death.  I don't want to go see my grandma's casket.  I want her to still be standing at the door on Bluestem Terrace and calling for their dog Lisa to come inside.  I think of these things and I hurt for me and I hurt for my family  because I miss Grandma and this funeral signifies that we don't get any more memories with her on this earth. 

So there is hurt and I can and must walk through that grief.  But there is also something else.  A profound something else.  That whisper of joy that surrounds a Christian's death.  A sort of happy shadow, a raincloud that actually pours forth sunbeams of joy.  That crazy amazing reality of Heaven and wholeness and forever-after beauty.

As mentioned earlier, this funeral signifies that, for Grandma, she finally can be herself again because she is whole.  The last few times I saw her I didn't see much of her Grandma self anymore.  Her personality was almost hidden in the medications and pain.  I grieved that Grandma couldn't know beauty as she used to.  She couldn't paint her fingernails.  She couldn't delight in all those Grandma Larson things she delighted in.  Sometimes I'd catch a glimpse of my grandma.  The things that delighted her heart.  She might be so tired and in so much pain.  But then we'd talk of dresses.  My wedding dress.  Or something beautiful Mom bought her to wear.  And she would light up for those few happy seconds before she sank back into tiredness.  Ah, but now!  Just think about now!  Grandma still loves beauty and now, in the presence of the Author of Beauty, she has known greater beauty than ever filled her greatest dreams.  It is in this I find such joy and peace.

So what does that mean to me here now currently as I'm in the air?  Not enroute to Heaven quite yet, but on a plane from Paris to Houston.  Ever so many things.  It should affect every single ounce of my being, every single ounce of my living.  Realizing that I am a citizen of this Heavenly country should be the catalyst upon which every decision and pursuit flows.  And, realizing the beauty of the physical, the reality that, although this earth is broken in so many ways, that this earth still reflects the glory of Christ, the glory of the Gospel really, the goodness of the physical and an expectation of the perfected physical, should affect my enjoyment of this earth and give and excitement about my future in Heaven.  As I deeply embrace each day here on earth, I can ultimately look toward Heaven and cling tightly to the true hope (hope in the Bible means assurance) of Heaven, of my own present and future resurrection into the heavenlies (Ephesians 2).  It rips my fingers off of the earth a little more every time another treasure in my family heads on up to Heaven.  But I think it also causes me to appreciate life on earth a little more, too.

Several weeks ago I was married.  I crafted my wedding to seek to reflect the eternal marriage of Christ and the Church and the true happily ever after we have in Heaven.  At my wedding my bridesmaids walked down the aisle to the tune of "Finally Home."  These words are my grandma's words.  I thought Italy was the dream honeymoon.  Seeing the wealth of history and the profound ways it impacted the development of the Church universal.  But my grandma really had the dream trip this week.  For this one she didn't need a camera.  No taking yet another picture of smiling in front of a stone edifice a few thousand years old.  Nope.  Not for her.  She came face to face with the Author of history, beauty, and life!  The Author of it all.  And it is this place she will live happily ever after.

Death swallowed by triumphant Life!   Who got the last word, oh, Death?    Oh, Death, who's afraid of you now? It was sin that made death so frightening and law-code guilt that gave sin its leverage, its destructive power. But now in a single victorious stroke of Life, all three - sin, guilt, death - are gone, the gift of our Master, Jesus Christ. Thank God! (1 Corinthians 15:54-56).

"When engulfed by the terror of tempestuous sea, unknown waves before you roll; At the end of doubt and peril is eternity though fear and conflict seize your soul. When surrounded by the blackness of the darkest night, O how lonely death can be.  At the end of this long tunnel is a shining light; for death is swallowed up in victory
But just think of stepping on shore and finding it heaven, Of touching a hand and finding it God's, Of breathing new air and finding it celestial, Of waking up in glory and finding it home." (The words to Finally Home)

Once Upon a Time...

I posted this originally last fall but somehow it disappeared.  So here it is again... :)

Once Upon a Time... Our Nicholas & Kathryn Story…
What Kathryn says about Nicholas:
I love Nicholas' soul... the way he passionately pursues the Lord.... his humility... his joy... his desire to live for the treasures of eternity...
I love how he is so committed to truth... loves to learn and knows so many interesting facts... is a man of contemplation and enjoys discussing theology and worldview... I love just being together... laughing together about how we'll name our first son Theophilus.... realizing how our hopes and dreams are intertwined with each other...

What Nicholas says about Kathryn...
When I think of Kathryn, I think of someone living a dynamic life, whose joy and purpose is a constant positive influence to those around her. I am continually amazed at her peaceful and tranquil spirit, which is matched only by her passion for right; and I am challenged, in my own life, by her never ceasing desire to please the Lord.

I love how her presence lights up a room and how she brings both a fun sense of humor and intellectual depth to our conversations… in short; I am excited and looking forward to spending a lifetime with my friend.

Once upon a time I used to sit on my bed, contemplating over whether I should be a lawyer, hair stylist, or missionary when I grew up.  When I was 21 I attended a law school’s conference as I still contemplated over my big “what I’m going to be” decision.

Across from me in the conference room sat a young man named Nicholas.  Unbeknownst to me, he watched the speakers intently, but also watched me.  He had heard of me… the girl on crutches from having been hit by a drunk driver a few years before.  When he found out I lived in a house in Manhattan he figured I was a wealthy high-class girl who would never be seriously interested in him (later he found out I was from Manhattan, Kansas – not NYC – and he, being a Missourian, had vowed never to marry a Kansan).  I got to know his sister that week and, on the way home, she told her parents on her cell phone that Nicholas found his girl.

Well Nicholas went off to the mortgage industry and I went to Washington. A few years passed as he contemplated asking me out.  It was one day, while at seminary in Ft. Lauderdale (when I was making my weekly DC to FL commutes) that I received his e-mail asking whether I would be interested in starting to date.  I showed my friend, Susan.  I was quite shocked, particularly because I knew I was getting engaged the next week to a Washingtonian.  I think it mainly shocked me because my engagement to this other man was not smooth and there were increasingly concerns over this and, years before, my mom had mentioned how she had felt the man I was going to marry was at that conference.  Was this just a crazy coincidence or was this God doing something?  I wrote back to Nicholas and he was sad but realized the best thing was to entrust it in God’s hands.  I was engaged a week later but, a week before that wedding took place, my fiancĂ© cancelled it when he realized there were some significant areas of his life that were not solid.

Several months later Nicholas got in contact with me.  I ended up getting stuck in the Midwest after speaking at a conference during Hurricane Wilma before the Ft. Lauderdale airport opened again. I spent a few weeks chatting over things with him and our families better getting to know each other.  We were engaged several months later.  However, soon after, he called it off, feeling that he wanted a girl who would be content to pursue the world’s glitter instead of the Lord.  He wanted a girl who would look good standing next to him when he ran for office and wanted me to really delete so much of my heart and soul’s joy and life calling.  I told him I couldn’t do that and he told me to mail him the ring back.  I didn’t think I’d ever talk to Nicholas again but, every so often, I’d look online to see if he’d married someone else.  This was such a painful time for me… but the Lord gloriously showed me His goodness… wow… that’s a story in itself.

The years passed.  I graduated from seminary, was offered a job at Coral Ridge in the Women’s Ministries department, eventually headed Women’s Ministries there, graduated with another degree, traveled all over the place, etc. etc… so much fruit and growth these past few years.

Last fall – September 26 – I was at a conference in NYC (the city where I go to refresh) and God really encouraged me there.  The speaker talked about barrenness… I was feeling barren in many ways… who would ever actually want me as a wife?  I felt very non-choosable.  The heart song I had spoken to hundreds of girls – how they are precious, chosen, delighted in, beautiful, etc. etc. to the Lord as His Cinderellas – needed a strong refreshment personally from the Lord.  I had also gone through a terribly painful year of ministry and was just worn-out.  And, the doctors had just given some discouraging news about my medical issues.  That weekend was a weekend of deep healing.

That same night Nicholas wrote my dad an beautiful letter of apology, healing, and restoration. My dad and Nicholas started writing and calling.  My parents could see an incredible transformation in Nicholas’ life – he had become a passionate pursuer of God, full of such humility, vision, and grace.  When I found out about this I wrote out a list of 5 pages.  He had to be everything on these 5 pages or forget it.  I didn’t want to date guys anymore who were compromises.  They had to be everything on the list or I would not get married.  And I seriously meant this- that through God’s grace, I would be OK if that meant not getting married.  I only was willing to date and marry someone who would encourage me to b be stronger in the Lord, someone with whom I could serve God better than remaining single, someone whose life I could orbit around as I sought to be a complement to him.  Well he was everything on those 5 pages. Everything!

Although my dad thought I would accept Nicholas' apology, he thought the hardest thing for him in pursuing me again would be for me to trust him. I’d been hurt so many times.  But that day when he first wrote me, until today, that has never been an issue.  I know that is the Lord’s grace to both of us.  I have seen Nicholas’ heart and it is led by God.

Earlier this year I went to Thailand and thought and prayed about the relationship a lot while there (as Nicholas freaked out about my safety).  I returned secure and ready to run with it.
“Our song” – and the song playing when we had been engaged in 2005 - had been What a Wonderful World. I sent him a link to that when I responded to his first e-mail to me this time. He wasn’t sure what that meant… was I open to his apology?  Would I forgive him?   Or maybe was I even interested in developing a friendship again?  Would I maybe even be interested in marriage?  Whatever I meant, he thought that was a good sign.  We were so excited to talk that first day he called.  We hit it off – this time deeper than ever it had been.  This time there weren’t masks but instead was true vulnerability – I could see his heart and we came to delight in each others’ souls and realize how amazingly God had woven our journeys these past years to tie in with each other.  Our life hopes and dreams are the same and we have been increasingly delighted in what God has done.

I love Nicholas and am in awe that he would ever have chosen me.  We have so much fun together!  We just truly delight in each other.  He leads me spiritually as we discuss the day’s events, every night he reads the Bible to me on the phone, and we never run out of things about which to talk.  We agree on almost everything in life except liking black licorice.  We love to have long-distance "dates" together... both of us watching the exact movie at the exact same time as we stay on speaker phone.  Together we make each other better, encouraging each other and strengthening each other.  I believe we have an exceptionally deep and solid relationship that I know comes from God’s overflowing goodness.  We talk about our “usness” – how we have this amazing dynamic together.  We know that comes from God being at the core and from being honest and forgiving toward each other.

So that’s our story (from my eyes) in a nutshell.  I can hardly wait to be his girl officially.  We hope you’ll be able to join us on October 3 when we celebrate God’s’ faithfulness.
Oh, and the neat thing is that Nicholas did start law school… and I am scheduled to begin this fall. And in the meantime I learned how I could be a missionary throughout life.  And, I have become a hairstylist as well (you should see how perfectly I can make his hair stick straight up after he goes swimming… although his sister can almost make a mini-mohawk so I need a little more practice).  And, now, what I most want to do “when I grow-up” is be his wife and serve the Lord together no matter what each day brings.
Truly God has turned our tears into a song of His lovingkindness… turning mourning into joy (Psalm 30:11).  God promises to do that.  When He takes away or allows something into our lives that seems so painful, we can cling to His promise that He will restore joy as we rest in His faithfulness.

God is in the fairy tale business indeed!  I look forward with expectation of the fairy tale of being His eternal bride. Truly I am His Cinderella.  But I am also continually amazed as He brings facets of heaven to earth, weaving reflections of that eternal glory and joy into our earthly lives.


“But if the world of the fairy tale and our glimpses of it here and there are only a dream, they are one of the most haunting and powerful dreams that the world has ever dreamed…” - Frederick Buechner (from “Telling the Truth, The Gospel a Tragedy, Comedy and Fairy Tale”)

“[The fairy tale]…does not deny the existence of… sorrow and failure: the possibility of these is necessary to the joy of the deliverance; it denies (in the face of much evidence, if you will) universal final defeat…, giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief.” - J.R.R. Tolkien