Wish You Were Here

Wish You Were Here: Travels Through Loss and Hope is the title of Amy Welborn’s latest book. I was delighted to have been sent an advance copy for review, and some may recall that I already wrote a post on it as I was reading it. Now that the book is about to be released (February 7, according to Random House’s website), I thought I’d say a little more about it.

I’ve long been a fan of Amy Welborn and my heart was saddened when her husband Mike (Michael Dubruiel) died suddenly of a heart attack in February 2009. For those of us who have not experienced the loss of a spouse, it is hard to even imagine what it is like to have a healthy husband leave the house one morning and then be gone. (I drew a deep painful breath at Amy’s explanation of the feeling: “When the other set of eyes that helped you make sense of the world, when the one who held the mirror that helped you see yourself so much more clearly, when your best friend and companion is here one day and just gone the next, you can feel like you’re starving.”)

Five months after his death, Amy and three of her children took a trip to Sicily and this memoir is the story of that trip. Not in the sense of a travelogue (although there are some amusing tales of travel joy and frustration many of us will relate to), but a record of the journey of a soul exploring love, loss, and faith.

This isn’t a book one can easily summarize, but let me offer a few thoughts with the hope that they are only preliminary to you reading the book on your own.

First, if we are Christians who recite a creed, we say every week, “I believe in the resurrection.” Death of a loved one has a way of forcing us to confront what doubts we might have about those words. Do I not just mouth those five words, but believe in the depth of my heart and soul in Jesus’ death and resurrection and what that means for us? That Mike did is clear throughout the book. (One of the wonderful things about Amy’s book is how much we learn about this beautiful man of faith.) And it is equally clear that Amy knows the answer is yes.

Second, belief in the resurrection does not take away the pain of loss. There is still death, and it is painful. So, as Amy says, there would have been a great dishonesty to say to her young boys, “Daddy’s heart stopped today, but its’ really okay because he’s with God in heaven now. We’re happy about that, so let’s praise God, okay?” The grief was (and probably still is) real and we need to “give sorrow its due. The Good News doesn’t blow off the bad news. It transforms it.”

Third, the journey to healing is no more linear than our spiritual path in general. Things don’t just get better and better each day. The nonlinearity, the fits and starts, the ups and downs all come through in the book.

Finally, learning how to be when one no longer has “the other set of eyes…the one who held the mirror…the best friend and companion” is not an easy thing to do. Amy shares her struggles, her steps on the path, and the big and small moments of growth with honesty and with grace. There is much one can learn from her experience and I am grateful to have read the book.

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Learning from Ruth and Naomi

Saturday morning, I gave a mini-retreat for women at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Edina. I was delighted that so many women were able to come out on a cold morning to spend three hours with me, each other, and God.

I drew from Joan Chittister’s book, The Story of Ruth: Twelve Moments in Every Women’s Life, as the basis for our time together.  Chittister sees the biblical women Ruth and Naomi as metaphors, as models of all of the women of the world, and she uses their story as a way to identify the defining moments “that mark every women’s passage through time in a way separate from the men around her and that shape her as she goes.”

In the first part of the morning, I retold the story of Ruth and Naomi, with a focus on its revelation of the defining moments in our lives as women. I then focused on the first of the defining moments Chittister identifies in her book: loss, talking both about our experiences of loss and the invitation to change that flows from loss. Each of those talks was followed by a period of quiet reflection as well as small group sharing and large group discussion. I ended by talking a little about the final moment revealed by the story of Ruth and Naomi: fulfillment and our invitation to explore how we bring ourselves to fulfillments, and in so doing, make the world a fuller place as well.

I am enormously grateful to the women who participated in our mini-retreat. The sharing was rich and God’s graces flowed.

I recorded the two main talks I gave, which you can access here and here. (Each podcast runs for about 22.5 minutes.) Alternatively, you can stream them both from here.

The Story of Ruth and Naomi:

Loss and the Change it Invites Us To:

Cling to God

It is easy to see God in the beauty of nature or in the love a friend. It is so easy to shout hosannas and sing songs of thanksgiving when everything is going our way. It is not always easy, however, to see how God’s hand is at work in painful and difficult times (let alone, as I wrote about yesterday, being able to welcome suffering as easily as joy).

As I struggle with my parish community to come to grips with a lost that is causing great pain to all of us, it is hard for me to see what the road ahead will look like. In such times it is good to be reminded that even here – actually, especially here – there is God.

I came across some words of Francis de Sales that remind us that there is only one thing to do in times of strife: cling simply to God. He writes:

Strive to see God in all things without exception, and acquiesce in His will with absolute submission. Do everything for God, uniting yourself to Him by a mere upward glance, or by the overflowing of your heart towards Him. Never be in a hurry; do everything quietly and in a calm spirit. Do not lose your inward peace for anything whatsoever, even if your whole world seems upset. Commend all to God, and then lie still and be at rest in His bosom. Whatever happens, abide steadfast in a determination to cling simply to God, trusting to His eternal love for you; and if you find that you have wandered forth from this shelter, recall your heart quietly and simply. Maintain a holy simplicity of mind, and do not smother yourself with a host of cares, wishes, or longings, under any pretext.

Commend all to God, and then lie still and be at rest in His bosom. Sounds good to me.

Yes or No to Love

Catching up on my back reading of America, I came across an article that quoted from an interview Cardinal Ratzinger gave prior to becoming Pope Benedict XVI. He said that “love means being dependent on something that can perhaps be taken away from me, and therefore introduces a huge risk of suffering into my life.” Love means “seeing my self-determination limited” and “coming to depend on something I can’t control so that I can suddently plunge into nothingness.”

Well, that doesn’t sound all that inviting, does it? One can see the temptation so say, as Ratzinger suggests as a possible response, “I’d rather not have love,” thank you very much. If I don’t love, I don’t face rejection, hurt and disapointment in another. In the words of the old Simon and Garfunkel song, “A rock feels no pain and an island never cries.”

As Ratzinger goes on to suggest, however, we are invited to a different response. “The decision that comes from Christ is another: Yes to love.” The “true drama of history,” he suggests can be “reduced to this formula: Yes or no to love.”

Yes to the possibility of pain. Yes to the possiblity of rejection. Yes to the possiblity of disappointment. Yes to the risk that “I can suddenly plunge into nothingness.”

But also yes, in the words of the author of the article I read, to that which “alone brings us to ourselves and makes us what we should be.” Yes to opening ourself to another. Yes to swimming in the ocean of God’s love. Yes to being that which we were created to be – persons of love.

Yes or no to love? Is there really any question?