Our Sabbatical Journey Towards Poverty

My very GRAND son holding me at birth and deathDuring the first four weeks of our sabbatical—I think all that happened in me was a slow coming off the drug of work; the stimulus of my adrenalin and a steady withdrawal from being available. My brain was too tired; too vacant to read anything at all. I spent hours staring at the waves from a barrier island off the coast of North Carolina where we hunkered down. There I read the waves—not books. I couldn’t read words, listen to sermons or podcasts. It was too much…just way too much information coming at me. I had to stop and learn to listen and hear in a new way. Silence said more to me than at any other time in my life.But as I documented in my journal, I finally wanted to read in week three. And what I wanted to read was the Scripture. I needed ancient words to stick in my soul.Modern words can be so shallow sometimes. So I began to read Exodus—a fitting book because here I read about being in the wilderness and I found myself in one after so many long years of work. I skipped to Acts where I read about the movement of Jesus taking root in the heart and lives of the new found followers of Jesus. I found myself wanting what they wanted. I needed what they needed. I longed for the same things as many of the people found in that book: healing, purpose, companionship, forgiveness. The list goes on.Then, I landed upon the Beatitudes of Jesus—those short, life altering statements which throw a rod into the spokes of our fast moving life. They made me stop. They altered the trajectory of my life. The dismantled my programs for happiness. They undid me. Day after day, I read them, sat with them and marinated in them. They de-stabilized my efforts to be happy. They offered to me a whole new way of looking at life. And I suppose I was ready to breathe these paradigm shifting and life altering statements deep within me.The first one talks about being “Poor in Spirit” and the blessing that comes to us in such times of poverty. Yes, I was found in my own spiritual, emotional, mental and relational poverty. I had to lay down my efforts of knowing how God works. I was empty for explanation of any sorts to myself, to Gwen, to my family. I was needy—a beggar of sorts. Desperate for someone to give me my daily bread because all the bread I was making wasn’t satisfying my soul. To become poor is to become dependent on the care of others--like a beggar. A truly poor person becomes open to the receptivity of others--the generosity of a crumb--even a small token of love has a way of filling a poor person's heart and soul.I was helped here in becoming poor by the death of our fourth grandson. Losing something that you thought was so important has a way of bringing us to our knees. This happened to me. I felt bankrupt of feelings and wallowed in sorrow for our loss. I couldn’t not find words—even though I love words and use words and teach words and write words. I was wordless and still am in some respect. I feel poor in my ability to say what has happened in me.I got to see Tommy fifteen minutes after his birth. I held him. Gwen was able to be in the delivery room and witness his birth and passing into Heaven. When I went in, his body was already changing from pink to blue. As his body became blue, my soul became more blue. I held him and in a way, he held me. The picture you see is Tommy holding me—my finger—my soul. As this happened, I was saying “Hello, Tommy—welcome to this world. Good bye, Tommy, I will see you soon in Heaven.” It was way to brief; way to short; way to hard.What made my poverty even more of a loss for me to experience is that so many of my friends seemed to have remained quiet. I still don’t really know why that is. Maybe I have not understood the quietness of friendship yet. Perhaps, they assumed we would be surrounded. We were not. Perhaps ,they were afraid of saying the wrong thing. Perhaps, I live with illusions about what community looks like, feels like and tastes like. I also know that we are loved but in such a time as this for us, the quiet became so very loud and seemed to only reinforce our aloneness even more. We are so very grateful for the acts of love we did receive. They truly did assuage our soul. But let me just say it here: plain and simple. Nothing replaces the incarnational love of God in such a time as someone's flesh--someone's hug; someone's embrace. Nothing replaces that. It was for us, the loneliest time of our three scores of walking this planet and I never want to feel that sense of aloneness again in my life. Never. In this time, I read an article by the New York times columnist, David Brooks who hit the nail on the head in his most excellence piece, "The Art of Presence." Please do go back and read his true words. His words should become required reading for anyone who thinks of themselves as a caring, loving person.In the end, our sons and daughters rallied around us and in them and through them we found a solace we so, so needed and wanted. Grief is the robber of all joy and our grief was doubled in that Tommy's death was OUR grandson, not just any child; not just a statistic of chromosomes gone bad; not just another baby. Flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone leaving to become dust is such a loss. It is heartbreaking for any 26 year old couple to lose a child and enter into the death of innocence.It was not just Tommy's death. It was witnessing the utter devastation of our last born son and his beautiful wife. In many ways, this grief was, for us, harder than Tommy's death because in a way, our son and daughter both died that day---or a big part of them did. Our grief was doubled by this realization too!Grief and poverty---becoming poor in spirit became the key to unlock both of the hearts of Gwen and myself. Grief and poverty of soul forced us in ways, we did not even know we could, rely on the One who is Comfort indeed. And what we found is this: God's comfort really is real. God's love really is enough. My poverty leads to God's riches. Yet, we would not have chosen this key to unlock our frozen hearts. But through our grandson’s death and walking with our son and daughter in law, we were taken to the greatest season of neediness that we have ever experienced in our lives. We became raw. We became desperate. We became poor. And this poverty has now ushered us into such richness that we will try to explain in upcoming posts."Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Jesus in Matthew 5: 3"Your blessed when you are at the end of your rope. With less of you, there is more of God and his rule." Jesus in Matthew 5:3, Message