He jumped up excitedly when he heard the sound of a large vehicle approaching. “They’re home,” he cried and was passing through the door before I could say anything.
“They aren’t riding the bus today. They have after school activities today,” my words caught up to him.
He ran back to the table as tears over took him. His kinesthetic personality and general good nature sometimes mask his kindness and caring soul. He buried his head in my shoulder till either he regained control or his grief lost hold.
“It’s ok to cry.” I patted him. “Why are you crying?”
“I miss them,” he said said, his words small, as emotion seemed to finish washing passed him. It was as if he road it like a surfer on a wave, neither fighting the wave nor gaining control of of the wave.
“I miss them too,” I said. Because I have. And I feel tears sting my nose as my eyes imperceptibly water.
He moves away to talk over Legos with his little brother. And the wave recedes back into the sea.
Copyright 2019 J. A. Goggans
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Bone and muscle and tendons and eye sockets tired.
Not a surface sleepy.
A deep tired.
Toes, heals tired.
And It creeps up the Achilles’ tendon and settles in the place in the calf where a charlie horse grows. It finds that place just above the middle top corner of the scapula bone and It spreads like melted butter, sticks like honey, and grows like kudzu. It reaches your jaw, and scalp, and shoulders and finds your clavicle and drips to your elbows.
The still elbow begins to rust.
It takes over.
Resistance is necessary.
Resistance feeds It.
Is there a word like that?
Written 8/14/2013 Edited 2019
Copyright 2019 J. A. Goggans
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Jeff Jones opened his front door and stepped into his living room. Jenn had seemed OK, when he left for work. They had talked about their schedule for the day—he had meetings, she had errands, the kids had choir. But when he came home there was a hole in the living room ceiling, a set of lighthouse steps haphazardly leaning into it and a Led Zeppelin song playing quietly on repeat. The house was eerily still and empty.
He became acutely aware of all of his senses. His heart beat wildly. His feet felt rooted to the floor. He could feel his keys still in his hand. They were digging into his palm as he gripped them. He even noticed the warm sweet smell of the spring air coming from the open windows. The Led Zeppelin song was getting louder and louder and not only because of the musical dynamic crescendo. The sound seemed to be turning up. It overwhelmed all his senses as his heart beat faster.
He gasped, opened his eyes, his new clock radio blared the classical guitar solo. He was in his bedroom, in their new house, and Jenn was next to him asleep. His heart still racing, he felt a surge of adrenaline in his already alert body. He had detected some movement in the darkened room. Stepping close to the bed was his four-year-old son. He began climbing up next Jeff and Jenn as he often did when he woke up in the mornings since they moved to their new house. Jeff sighed in great relief.
As the little boy scrambled all over the covers and kicking Jeff with cold tiny feet he said, “I had a dream about our old house again, Daddy.”
To be continued….
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Copyright 2018 J. A. Goggans
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Nineteen years ago my grandfather passed away two days after Christmas. I was in sort of a denial phase. The previous year, was a terrible Christmas. My other grandfather went into the hospital, he never fully recovered, and died six months later. I also spent that Christmas day in a prison visiting a relative–not metaphorically, but with real razor wire, guards, and inmates. It felt grey. I can’t remember the Christmas before when they were both alive and well. I can’t remember the last Christmas I had at my childhood home before everything changed forever.
For years I had a hard time with Christmas. I couldn’t look forward to it. I felt the dread of anticipation not the excitement. So many plans where the object is short lived happiness. What could go wrong? This is situation is about as fragile as the glass ornaments I see no reason to put on my tree with little children around. Christmas seemed like a lot of hype that had little to do with anything. A lot of vapor that was really gone in a second. Traditions seemed like a hollow excuse, a manipulation to relive some past moment that could never be captured—much like that vapor that life is. I still believe that tradition should never be used in such a way. But never the less, unlike any other holiday or season, a large part of Christmas is memories, tradition, and nostalgia.
When something bad happens at Christmas it memorializes that tragedy in a unique way. I don’t mean ordinary bad things like being late for work, burning dinner, or the car breaking down. I mean the kind of thing that when revealed it leaves you with that sick hollow ache that won’t leave you even when the morning comes. It keeps you from sleeping, relentlessly hangs on you, and you know down deep that even if you heal and things are made new nothing will be the same. Same. Same isn’t that what people try to do at Christmas? Go back to some Same Place that comforts and brings joy. But now, now, this is the new normal this new thing this horror, this tragedy is the thing you will remember every year or you remember nothing. The evil corrupts even the good Christmases.
Its hard to write this I don’t want to go down this haunted path. But I know, know it in my heart that others experienced death, betrayal, and grief when the world is full of nothing but twinkle lights and parties. And I want to share the hope I found.
Quite awhile ago I began a journey answering the question, “What if I was motivate by joy instead of fear?” Now when I asked this, I didn’t necessarily have a lot of joy and since then, fear still has raised its monstrous head. But the journey of asking the question led me to a see that I had an earthly world view of life and not an eternal one. While this perspective has grown there was one particular moment where it was solidified, and that moment redeemed Christmas even the saddest ones giving them permission to be horrible and sad. And, they lost their power to corrupt.
Two years ago and about 10 months into my journey in Joy, I attended a devotional that my son’s 7th grade class lead. Each student shared a verse and to my surprise the verses were on joyfulness. The last verse was quoted by my own son. We all know the passage, even Linus!
Luke 2:9-10 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. (KJV)
That moment condensed fear vs joy; it was the culmination of my entire year and all of history in one verse. Without that moment in history, when the word became flesh, we wouldn’t have a hope of joy. Now I see Christmas differently because the Christmas season is a discipline in advent where we look forward in the wishes of Christmas Day joy. It reminds me that we are in a season of ADVENT right now. We are looking forward to the hope of Christ’s return. That hope is certain, it is not a wish. Embracing the future hope is what has given me joy when I felt like all was lost. That hollow feeling following tragedy has much to do with why the WORD became flesh and dwelt among us. He is the light in the darkness. He came to bring hope to all people torn by the darkness of this world.
4 and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” Revelation 21:4 (NASB)
Mourning and grief at Christmas is really just part of the larger story of ALL TIME. The modern Christmas season is a just the prism of The Story. It is a picture of it all. We weep now, but joy is promised. We can grieve even when joy is promised just as Jesus wept with the women when their brother died. Yet he was going to raise him in moments. Tragedy is part of life but we get through it because of the hope that we have in him. Christmas is no different, it is the hope that we have in him and everyone is celebrating around us. Like one day, when every knee will bow. This momentary light affliction is nothing compared to the eternal weight of glory! Turn your eyes upon Jesus and the things of this world will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace. And suddenly our life isn’t just a vapor anymore it is ETERNAL. Death has lost its sting. We might not know what our life will be like tomorrow but we know that one day we will see him face to face and we will be like him for we shall see him as he is! Do you see how amazing that is? That we will be like HIM? That isn’t just being saved from our sins for that is mercy. For him to make us like him is grace, how can we even imagine what that will be like? We are looking forward in an advent, The Advent of all time, to the day when our joy will be realized, the darkness breaks, the morning comes, the tears are gone and the healing is complete.
“The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning.”
And as He spoke, He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at least they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.
– C.S Lewis, The Last Battle
“Mom, can we look at the Christmas stuff they have here [at Lowe’s] when you’re done?”
I was on a scouting mission at Lowe’s because I am designing some shelves for the boys’ room, as a part of getting ready for a new little baby joining us soon [December 2013]. It’s the Sorting, Shifting and Storing Season before a baby comes.
“We will see,” I said cringing a little because I’m not sure how Christmas is going to be this year.
It’s November [of 2013] and I am due to have our fifth baby on Christmas Day. My husband just took a 2nd full time job. He started his own firm this year and things are going well but like most business start-ups we are now thankful for cheaper health insurance and steady pay check that the 2nd job provides. However, the 60-80 hours a week he is working is daunting to us both. [Looking back now in 2018– 60 hours per week was nothing, it was much closer to the 80hrs – with no real sick days but that’s another story.] It doesn’t take Shawn Spencer to “read between the lines” that Christmas is going to be very different this year. It will be small in adventures, small in experiences, small in parties, small in activities, small presents, small in decorations, small in energy, and small in time. And this means small in the big one: “TRADITION.” Some of you sang that didn’t you? I did.
And speaking of small, there is the small house. There is always a trade off in a little house when you decorate for anything even just for everyday life. But for Christmas, I ask myself, “Which piece of furniture do we move to put up a Christmas tree and where do we store it? How badly do we need it for the next month? If we don’t need it for an entire month, do we really need it in the first place? I’m doing this same thing now, but for the baby. “What do we do with the table in our daughter’s room when we put up the crib?” for example. I pointed out to the kids that we are going to have to clean out things through the whole house to make room for the baby coming; not to mention during Christmas when we usually bring more things into the house like, THE TREE.
“Ohhh,” they said, and they immediately started talking about not having a real tree or even fake one and just hanging something like a picture from the wall or a tiny model tree from the ceiling.
They were fine with the idea of not even having a Christmas tree! Kids adapt more than we give them credit, I think. I pointed out that their little brother (age four) has been talking all year long about getting another Christmas tree.
I said, “Even if it’s a little Charlie Brown tree, we ought to have something.” And the kids agreed, right away.
But I admit….my encouragement for a tree was as much for me as it was for my little boy. I want to take the kids to the tree farm and cut down a tree because I love watching the little ones, in particular, run around the trees, play, and pick out a tree. It’s a tradition and just like the furniture, we are going to have to pick which traditions are the most important to us this year. Which ones do we have money for? Which ones will we have time for? Which ones will we have space for? The tree farm is the one I want.
To some, Christmas just isn’t Christmas without family traditions. To me, they can be sacred cows* sometimes. I’ve heard so many people talk about the magic of Christmas and holding on to certain traditions because those always made Christmas feel magical. I’ve had more than one mother with kids at home and empty nesters tell me that traditions (Christmas ones) help define their family and bring them together. I don’t think they mean this from a theological definition, but a practical one. Now that my two oldest kids are old enough to think about what they did before, I see how they pull together in the name of traditions. They both want the same thing. Two kids that argue daily wanting the same thing–that’s big, isn’t it? I see it in myself now too. I remember that moment when a kid lit up when we went Christmas tree hunting. That little look, the glee in the voice when they see a little Christmas tree growing that is smaller than them.
That’s the moment people often think of at Christmas as being ‘magical.’ Sometimes those magic moments are between people, especially people we care about like family. Last year my ‘magical moment’ was between my then 3 year old son and his great grandmother who is struggling with Parkinson’s and was probably medicated so much because of the big day that between the disease and the medicine she couldn’t interact much. But when my little boy went up to her all on his own and looked her in the face and kissed her she lit up and she kissed him back. And for that brief moment I saw “MeeMee” again. I think this is the big reason people want to be with family at the holidays. Even with all the other stuff—the travel, the different personalities, unresolved conflicts—we love these people and miss them and want to capture those special moments again. And so, “getting together” itself becomes a tradition.
It is ‘magical moments’ that can start a tradition. We remember how great it was when we did the advent calendar, or decorated the tree, or how much so-and-so loved that special dessert so you make it again—just for them, because you want to see their face. Maybe a few more people start to love it too and do the same thing with their kids. It becomes a tradition passed down to another generation. It’s special, it’s defining, it becomes sacred (meaning; something set apart) for that family. When people move away, get married, have job changes, die, or even a have a baby at Christmas time it can threaten these traditions that we have set apart. And it hurts to let them go. Or is it that we feel we are letting the people go, and that’s what hurts?
When I was finished with my scouting expedition at Lowe’s I let the two kids that were with me go through the Christmas stuff. They loved it. The four year old was so excited. He didn’t think we were getting anything; he just loved looking at it all. I realized all of this was still new for him, so it was exciting. Then it hit me. That is the same face and expression he had at the Tree Farm. That was new for him. He is little, EVERYTHING is new to him.
I was caught off guard by the juxtaposition between tradition of old (doing the same thing every year) and how that tradition is often built on someone’s excitement of the ‘new.’ I think this is where the sacred cow part comes in. This is the part where my kids are willing to pull together for the new baby. They aren’t pulling together in order to relive the past. Its because they are looking forward to the future (this coming Christmas) not the past. That is what Advent really means—a coming arrival. While walking through fake Christmas trees, I remembered that I can’t relive a moment. You can’t recapture a NEW moment by doing the ‘same’ thing again. It won’t be magical, because it never really was magical. At least no more than our everyday lives already are. I get to see that little four year old light up like that every day. And if I paid more attention, the arguing kids get along and pull together over more than just traditions. That moment between my little fellow and MeeMee was not a Christmas moment, it was just a moment. Christmas is an invented Holiday, its just a day. We set it aside to remember what Christ did but we are supposed to remember him as often as we eat and drink our ordinary meals. That moment with my son and MeeMee is special because it CAN’T be relived. It can’t be contrived and neither can any of the other special moments that built traditions. An attempt to do creates the sacred cow.
Whether or not you have a four year old in your life, I bet you have these moments all the time too if you just pay attention to them. I admit it’s easier to see them through the eyes of someone who sees it all as new. However, the world is full of life and new things. The are small. They seem mundane until you open your eyes. Take a page from Ellie’s scrapbook from the movie UP. Life is the Adventure. So, just because Christmas might be small in adventures, small in experiences, small in parties, small in activities, samall in presents, small in time, small in energy, [small in house] and small in TRADITION;” life will not be small, because life is all those things and more. The small things are what make life big.
Author’s Note: I wrote this back in November 2013. My son that was born that Christmas is NOW four for only a few more weeks. Because my last four year old will soon be 5, I find I must resist holding on to the past in a way that tries to relive it, instead of grow and take joy from it.
*The phrase “sacred cows” was something my mom used when I was growing up, referring to the golden calf that Arron created when Moses was on the Mountain, however she used it figuratively to refer to something that is held as so important that it can’t be changed.
one that is often unreasonably immune from criticism or opposition
I love questions but that one sounds a little funny.
No, you can’t but you just did so—yes.
I joke but questions are important and sometimes people don’t always feel welcome to ask them. This is the 3rd in a 3 part series on asking questions (Part 1, Part 2).
Some act as though questions about faith equal doubt at best or hearsay at the worst. I discussed the “at worst” part in my first post: Here I believe that asking questions is necessary part of all learning, which I discussed : Here. Asking questions may very well indicate a lack of faith or doubt. Yet, what does the Bible say about questioning and is there a difference between examining and doubting? Is there are better way to question and is there a better way to treat those asking questions?
Most stories have an ending. Stories without ending or resolve are unsettling. I remember growing up watching live television and whenever there was a two part episode I groaned. My mind always thought through those stories in the week(s) that followed, I think subconsciously I was trying to work out the unresolved questions in the story because I would sometimes forget that it was a “To be continued.” I would think through the story to the most unresolved, scene cut short, left hanging…
The Chronicles of Narnia is one of my favorite series. At the end of the last book in the series the Narnia that readers fell in love with ended. The entire book feels out of sorts, it never quite feels like the other books because just when they think they have come to the turning point and everything will be set right again it isn’t. This continues time and again until they all face death. At first they don’t really know or think they have died, but they certainly have passed into a different world or realm. Since they have done this whenever they have moved from our world into Narnia and back this doesn’t seem that unexpected. Then they watch Narnia itself pass away. There is the sense of sadness and grief at first but then they look around to where they have been which appears to be a beautiful land. Very much like in the beginning when the children stepped through the Wardrobe, the heroes pass into a stable and instead of a tiny wardrobe or a stinky stable they find another world another. The other world turns out to be much like the old Narnia but more beautiful. However, they soon see that the Old Narnia was actually like the new one. The new Narnia is really THE Narnia and the Narnia they had known was a representation of the Real Narnia. The present Narnia is more real than the old one. Aslan calls them to come further up and further in. The adventures to come are better than all there old ones. They were like a cover story to the real one much like the first Narnia was a preview or a shadow lands of the Real Narnia. All the Chronicles of Narnia were just a preview of the stories to come. While nothing really bad could happen to them each story was better than the last. I love the ending. However, I am always a little unsettled because its hard to imagine a better story. Even so, I hope long for the sense of adventure and joy that C.S. Lewis portrays. The story resolves but it doesn’t end.
Just like no one likes a story that doesn’t have an end. I don’t think people like questions with out answers. Questions tend to resolve themselves like stories and we really don’t like the stories to change and we really don’t like our answer to change. Once a story is accepted, any change often bothers a lot of fans of the original. For example: Han shot first. But I digress. I think this might be the key reason why a questioner can bother people so much. It can make them feel unsettled if they are unsure of the reason for the accepted answer. They can feel that someone is trying to convince them their answers are wrong, they might feel they are trying to convince anyone listening as well. I don’t like it when movies change my favorite books. So I understand this to some degree but how should we respond to someone who is asking questions like this?
There are many places in Scripture I could point to, yet I want to point to three People(s). The first are the Beroeans, the 2nd is Zechariah and the 3rd is Mary. The Beroeans were a group of Christians that were praised for their searching out the Scriptures to see if what Paul said matched. None of their questions were recorded but they searched each thing they were taught to see if it was true.
Acts 17:10-12 10 The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas to Beroea during the night. Upon arrival they went to the synagogue of the Jews. 11 These Jews were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with all willingness and examined the scriptures daily to determine whether these things were so. 12 Many of them became believers, as did not a few of the influential Greek women and men.
Paul the Apsotle wrote a large portion of what is now called the New Testament. If what Paul says can be questioned by the Beroeans and they get praised for it, I’m pretty sure that anything us present day Christians say about the Scriptures can also be questioned. The response is obvious, we should encourage anyone to do so.
Now does it matter how we question? The Beroeans were described as fair-minded. They weren’t trying to destroy Paul which is much like what those in Thessalonica were doing. When Zechairah was a chief priest in Israel. His wife Elizabeth was past child bearing years and they had not ever had children. An angel comes to him while he is in the Holy of Holies. (If you are unfamiliar with the Holy of Holies check out What is the Holy of Holies? ) What is important is, if a High Priest met someone in the Holy of Holies that someone is not another human and is a divine being sent from God or possibly God himself. The angel promises Zechairah that Elizabeth will have a baby and that they are supposed to name the child John and proclaims how he will turn people to the Lord in the spirit and power of Elijah. This was a big announcement. Zechariah questions the angel.
Luke 1:18 18 Then Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” 19 And the angel said to him in reply, “I am Gabriel, who stand before God. I was sent to speak to you and to announce to you this good news. 20 But now you will be speechless and unable to talk until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled at their proper time.”
His question, was not answered and was met with rebuke because he did not believe the message sent from God.
Immediately after the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth, Mary is told by the same angel, Gabriel, that she will have a baby. You are likely more familiar with this story if you have been to almost a church Christmas program. Mary also questions the Angel.
Luke 34-38 34 But Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?”35 And the angel said to her in reply, “The holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. 36 And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; 37 for nothing will be impossible for God.” 38 Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.
The Angel just answers her question and there is no rebuke. Putting there questions side by side they are very similar.
“How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” ~ Zechairah
“How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” ~ Mary
They both have a question, that is backed with a reason for the question. They both have very logical reasons for their question. There is a slight difference in Zechariah, he wishes for confirmation, and Mary asks for the process. Luke explains as he tells the stories that Zechariah asked out of doubt (I wonder if it was even out of a little bit of bitterness) and Mary asks out of wonder. Zechariah was the high priest he wasn’t just young peasant with little knowledge God and no position. He should have known that the way he would KNOW this was because Gaberial who sees God came and told him in the Holy of Holies.
Luke careful researched what he wrote in his Gospel as well as the Book of Acts and I don’t think that these two stories put side by side like this is an accident. I think it is clear we are to compare these two stories. I think that most significant difference is there attitude when they questioned.
So what does that mean for us? When we do question we need to be careful to be asking with humble and honesty not as a challenge. When we are questioned I think we need to encourage the questioner. How do we know for sure what motives are behind the questions? We do not have the same kind of knowledge or authority of the angel Gabriel, who stands before God, who was proclaiming a direct message from God. We have a message from God in the Scriptures but the Bible tells us that right now we see as like in a mirror darkly but one day we will see fully. For we will see him face to face.
I am left with more questions about questions. I hope I have inspired you to ask questions and search out answers like the Beroeans. I wonder though, when we see him face to face, will he just tell us everything we ever wanted to know like some kind of cosmic download? Or will he call us, in a similar manner of “further up and further in?” Oh yes I think we will see clearly but what will that next adventure be? Will each question we had be just a shadow of the ones we will ask then and that each new question will be the next adventure and challenge to face. Will each answer be more inspiring and beautiful and more real that the one before?