Check out this shot from my ‘surplus years’, Visitors.
This portrait was ten years ago. I was 42, and Chris was the picture of brawny health. A mere four years later, heartache of the most enormous magnitude would be forced on me. My kids would lose a terrific dad, the world lost a funny and talented teacher, and frankly, I would lose a pretty smooth life.
I traded it for scarred and resilient children. I traded it for working all the time with a high degree of focussed intensity, and I traded it for some hard won successes. In recent years, my inner emotional ‘bank balance’ has been getting pretty hefty. EA is going swimmingly, my dad is OK and my kids are making terrific life choices. Life is good, and I rejoice in this stretch of peaceful sailing.
Lately, it seems a though my situation has been an ‘anguish attractor’. I can’t figure it out. For my Christian visitors, one might ask “What is God doing here?”.
Heartache of all sorts has rained down around me. A dear friend is divorcing an addicted and abusive wife, and asked for my help to rent out his house. Another dear, close friend lost a relative to a freak accident. Another was just hospitalized for a heart issue, third time this year. Another has a child who was just diagnosed with bone cancer, stage 3. Yet another has joined the absolute legion of folks my age getting rejected by their spouses and enduring a bitter divorce. All have come to me, seeking counsel from me or merely a listening, supportive ear. I am happy to do what I can.
Back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, Chris and I were steered to some wise, Biblically grounded budgeting advice by our pastor. The late Larry Burkett ran a wonderful ministry devoted to helping God’s people learn wise money management according to Scripture. Nearly thirty years later I am reaping what I sowed, and often have a budgetary surplus to share with folks who have less than me.
It occurs to me, Visitors, that surpluses, or ‘extra’ can take many forms. None of my wounded friends are asking me for money, this is Evergreen, after all. But did you ever notice, as time goes on, that the essence of loss is lack?
Ponder that one with me for a minute, Visitors. I lost Chris, the most heartwrenching life experience I’ve had to endure, thus far. In the years he’s been gone, I felt the lack of a friendly companion, a useful partner, a father to these kids, and warm feet under the covers.
The people around me are lacking. Lacking health, lacking loved ones, lacking direction. Our society answers that in curious ways. It frosts my cookies more than I can tell you to listen to the myriad of predators out there who promise the moon to hurting people. I see it with every single hurting situation around me, these days. Take this vacation! Buy these clothes! Eat this product! Use this cosmetic! Do these things and that lack in your soul will be filled! What nonsense. Listening to these types tell my people that the holes in their souls can be filled by emptying their pocketbooks nearly incites me to violence.
(Perhaps you’ve noticed, Visitors, one thing I lack is tactful diplomacy. My people can’t take this sort of directness. )
See, Visitors, I lost the burning desire to ‘be right’ a long time ago. What drives me now is the desire to be useful. Evergreen Academy is a great example of this. I get the privilege of guiding new parents every day in my job. Most of my clients are self-directed and accomplished, and most are self-aware enough to face their cluelessness head on (My clients are pretty endearing). New parents are easy enough to guide, usually they’re a pretty open bunch.
The newly grieved, though, are an entirely different matter. The haze of grief is often impenetrable, and is often perceived as permanent. How to be useful to the ones that end up weeping on my shoulder, or slogging through a seemingly endless grief-stricken marsh, like Frodo in Lord of the Rings?
Christian and non- Christian visitors alike, I think the answer to this is found somewhere in the idea of community. Someone I respect once told me that ‘just showing up’ is critical to the meeting of any need. Reaching out in the real and digital domains, a simple “Are you ok? Just checking up on you” enhances the idea that we are not alone, there is a long chain of hands pulling even the saddest of us back from the brink.
I have a surplus of emotional energy now. I’m sure someday that will change, but in the mean time, I’m giving it away. It helps my little community around me, and honestly, it’s the least I can do.