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)