Into your hands I commit my spirit: Erin Ware [Retrieve Lament 2019]

Holy or Silent Saturday may be the most important day in the church calendar to help us recognize what it means to live in the already-but-not-yet kingdom of Jesus. Jesus has already conquered death, but we haven’t - not yet. We still die. Our dreams, our loved ones, our relationships all face the threat of death. We know that death does not have the last word, but until Jesus comes and calls us from our graves, death tramples our hearts and homes with a vengeance. Today, this Silent Saturday, I invite you into one last Lenten fast. Would you set aside some time to sit with the mourners hiding in Jerusalem after putting Jesus’ body into the grave?

It helps me to enter their story by entering the stories of those who’ve written lament here all week. The Jewish custom of sitting shiva to mourn a family member’s death could be instructive for us today. Will you sit with me and help retrieve the lament that’s been omitted?

My introduction (Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.)

Walter Wittwer (Today, you will be with Me in Paradise.)

Drake Dowsett (Woman, behold your son. Son, behold your mother.)

Eva Chou (My God, why have you forsaken me?)

Kirstin Dowsett (I thirst.)

Marcie Walker (It is finished.)

Erin Ware (Into your hands I commit my spirit.)

Today’s guest is a friend I’ve met in person only once, several years ago. We enjoyed a brief but meaningful introduction, and have stayed in contact ever since, connected by our mutual appreciation for art, theology, and spiritual formation. I also love Erin’s instinct to gather people around beauty.The artwork you see throughout this post shows the power of Erin’s substantive reckoning with grief. I’m grateful for her generosity in sharing it with us this Holy Week.

Would you read Erin’s story with me, and listen with an open heart for any words Christ might be speaking to you?

 
It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, 45 while the sun’s light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last. 47 Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent!” 48 And all the crowds that had assembled for this spectacle, when they saw what had taken place, returned home beating their breasts. 49 And all his acquaintances and the women who had followed him from Galilee stood at a distance watching these things.
— Luke 23:43-49 (ESV)
 

Retrieving Lament

by Erin Ware

Even before my mom died in May 2015, I already felt as if I’d been shipwrecked and washed up on an unfamiliar shore. I had been through an immense amount of change—some very good, like marriage, but some that was disorienting and, honestly, devastating. In the months leading up to our wedding in April 2014, Nathan and I went through things that are too sensitive and private to share on the internet, but just take my word for it: it was heartbreaking and scary stuff. As if the statement “When it rains, it pours” needs to assert itself every time something goes wrong, we also found ourselves without a church, therefore without much of our community. At the same time, I was laid off from my job, and I had my car stolen. And on top of it all, my mom’s brain tumor came back, with all the accompanying and scary symptoms, and she had to have her second brain surgery. Nathan wasn’t even able to come and sit with me in the waiting room because of an intestinal parasite he had picked up from drinking bad water. Seriously?! It is no joke that I began to laugh when I received bad news—I had begun to look for it.

The signs came as early as January 2015. If I had been paying better attention, maybe I would have noticed them earlier. The doctors found another tumor in my mom’s brain, and this time the prognosis was… hopeless. I moved home to help care for her and almost every morning found a fresh assailant—a succession of symptoms arriving more quickly than we could muster ourselves to fight them. She lost use of her left arm, all feeling on her left side, use of her left leg, ability to see on her left side, cognitive clarity, speech… the list goes on.

I had hoped—we all did—that a miracle would occur, or maybe that’s called denial. I don’t know. I will tell you this—I am a person of hope, always have been. I’m buoyant, and not easily pulled into despair, but this was too much, and I was drowning.

The morning I came to terms with the reality of my mother’s impending death, I went for a walk. I walked like she did—fast, purposeful, worship music blaring in my headphones. I didn’t care if the neighbors thought that I looked strange, pounding the pavement, arms raised high in abandon, last-ditch prayers and broken pieces of song pouring out to heaven. I held nothing back, and yet I felt that my prayers were as likely to reach heaven as a handful of paper airplanes.

I was wallowing in self-pity, I admit, when God suddenly broke through and gave me a vision: a massive golden eagle swooping down, grasping my paper-airplane prayers in its talons, and with one powerful thrust of its wings, carrying them up to heaven. I stopped right there in the road and wept, and I walked back home feeling a bit lighter, feeling—at the very least—heard.

My mom died a few days later, on May 3rd, 2015, surrounded by family and in her own bed. It was eight o’clock on a Sunday morning, and we sang her out. We like to think that she left this life to make it to the “early service” in the next. It was a good death, and she was at peace.

This was just the beginning of my grief over her death, but somehow all the events leading up to it helped me to move through it. I don’t mean that it was easy (not at all), but that I was at least equipped.

I kid you not, there was a time, not long before all of this happened, that I thought that “the worst thing that could happen” would be my car breaking down, because I was very financially vulnerable. Then, almost like a joke, my car was stolen, and I couldn’t replace it. (Spoiler alert: I got through it.) The truth is, for most of my life, losing my mom would have been the worst thing that I could imagine—and then that happened too. I don’t want to think about what my “worst thing” would be now. All I know is, through it all, I have come to realize that there is life after death in more ways than one.

Holy Week.Erin Ware1.jpg

The other thing that I have learned, though it took me a while, is that when God seems far away, or maybe even completely absent, he is actually closer than ever. About a year after my mom died, I put away my “mourning clothes.” I knew that I would always miss her, but I gave myself permission to live the way she would want me to. I suppose I thought, rather naively, that I would begin to “feel” the way I had felt before all these things had changed me. I thought that I would find God where I used to find him. But I did not. Luckily, I was in school studying theology and art, and it was my job at the time to find God in this new landscape. That search became my final project for graduation—a paper and gallery show, entitled “The Presence of Absence.” It began as a series on mourning and ended with a theophany of praise.

In the last conversation I had with my mom, the last time that she was able to feebly acknowledge that she heard and understood what I was saying, I told her that I would remember the faithfulness of God. That was her life’s message and what she wanted everybody to know: God is faithful. So I promised her that, after she was gone, I would remember his faithfulness to me and to our family, even in this dark hour.

I have not only remembered it, I have lived to see it.

 
You have turned for me my mourning into dancing;
you have loosed my sackcloth
and clothed me with gladness,

that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent.
O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever!
— Psalm 30:11-12 (ESV)
 

Pray:

O God, Creator of heaven and earth: Grant that, as the crucified body of your dear Son was laid in the tomb and rested on this holy Sabbath, so we may await with him the coming of the third day, and rise with him to newness of life; who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
— Book of Common Prayer, Collect for Holy Saturday

Holy Week. Erin Ware bio.jpg

Erin is a mixed media painter and textile artist. Her interests lie in the intersection of art, faith, and daily practices, subjects about which writes about on yetuntold.com. She and her husband, Nathan, and their two-year-old boy, Felix, are happy to call Savannah, GA home after recently moving from Vancouver, B.C. She completed a Master of Arts in Theological Studies at Regent College, with a concentration in Christianity and the Arts in 2018. Her portfolio can be found at erinware.com.



Once, ritual lament would have been chanted; women would have been paid to beat their breasts and howl for you all night, when all is silent. / Where can we find such customs now? So many have long since disappeared or been disowned. /

That’s what you had to come for: to retrieve the lament that we omitted.
— Ranier Maria Rilke, "Requiem For A Friend"

(See all of the Retrieve Lament stories from this year here.)

It is finished: Marcie Walker [Retrieve Lament 2019]

Jesus gave us a litany of last words as a Sufferer; we refer to them as the Seven Last Words of Christ. The deathbed words of the Suffering Servant provide a framework for the stories of lament we share here this Holy Week.

I count it a high privilege to know each one of these writers. Their lives walk the path of celebration and also suffering -- illness, relational disillusionment, anxiety, joblessness, the death of loved ones, and the death of dearly-held dreams. Their stories have helped form me in my understanding of suffering and I believe they could also encourage you too. 

I haven’t met today’s guest in real life (yet), but I’ve been following her online and respect her deeply. Marcie (Black Coffee with White Friends) approaches theology, history, lament, protest, and her own story with an exquisite attention to beauty, wisdom, and connection. Her prose moves me, and the artifacts she curates accomplish a kind of prophetic work similar to the affect of poetry. In additions to adding beauty to my week, Marcie’s work has been instrumental in helping me to recognize and repent of the places I’ve compromised with systemic prejudice in my own heart. I’m grateful to Marcie for sharing some of her story here with us on this Good Friday.

Would you read Marcie’s story with me, and listen with an open heart for any words Christ might be speaking to you?

Greta Leśko   Source

Greta Leśko

Source

Heaven and Earth were finished, down to the very last detail. Genesis 2:1

When Jesus received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And, He bowed His head and voluntarily gave up His spirit. John 19:30

It Is Finished.

By Marcie Walker, Black Coffee with White Friends

When my mother was sentenced to serve 8-25 years in prison on the charge of involuntary manslaughter, we all said, “This is it,” which in our hearts translated to, “So, this is how it all ends.” She was nearly 60 and all of us, her children, were grown but still asking ourselves,”What kind of woman is this? Troubles ride on the wind and land at her feet.”

I can’t remember a time when my mother wasn’t a deeply disturbed woman. I can remember throughout my childhood more of her absences due to her extended stays in various mental care facilities than I can remember her presence at birthdays and school meetings, recitals and assemblies.

Every time I read scriptures that capture the disciples constant state of perplexed wonder, questioning if Jesus was indeed who He claimed He was, I am entirely sympathetic to their longing to simply know once and for all: Are you the One who was sent?

This is exactly how it felt to be my mother’s daughter. Who was this mother? Like Thomas, so many times I wanted to straight up explain to her, “Woman, we have no idea where you’re going. How do you expect us to know the road?” (John 14:5)

Reading ancient and sacred things often leaves us feeling a bit too highly of our own intellect. We wonder, “How could they not know that Jesus was obviously The Messiah? He walked on water!!! He changed the water to wine!” We forget that we can only be so cocksure because each of these doubting disciples left us their stories.

Besides, don’t we see miracles every day and still struggle to believe? We carry time machines in our pockets and have cups of coffee while suspended in the sky—but we scoff at the very idea of a God who can see us, hear us, and is very much a part of all of us.

I had a black mother who gave birth to five perfectly healthy babies and lived to tell the tale. Given the disproportionately high maternal mortality rate of black American women that still plagues us today, I am nothing short of a miracle. My daughter is a miracle. Therefore, it shouldn’t be hard at all to believe that Jesus of Nazareth died on a cross given the extraordinarily high rate of crucifixions in His day. However, when I read that He cried out from the cross, “It is finished,” do I believe Him? Is this it? Is this how it all ends? What kind of man is this?

John, the one Jesus loved, tells us: In the beginning, before all time, was the Word, Christ. And the Word was with God, and the Word was God Himself. He was continually existing in the beginning, co-eternally with God. All things were made and came into existence through Him. Without Him nothing made came into being. In Him was life and the power to bestow life, and the life was the Light of all. This Light shines on in the darkness, and the darkness did not understand it. So it could not overpower it, or change it, or swallow it whole. It could not put the Light out.

For six days, God spoke the Word and the Spirit moved:

And there was Light.

Then there was Sky…

then Dry Land,

then Sun, Moon and Stars,

then Fish and Flight,

and then Beasts and People.

Until finally, “God looked at all of this creation, and proclaimed that this was good, very good.  On the seventh day, God finished all the work of creation, and so on that day, God rested.” (Genesis 1:31; 2:2). Our kingdom here on earth is made.

As to the beginning of this kingdom right here and now, Jesus sets into motion His eternal Kingdom in heaven:

First, He comes as the Light of the World.

Then the Sky opens to speak, “This is my Son in whom I am well pleased.”

Then He tames the desert land…

and, His face shines as bright as the sun,

and He multiplies the fish,

Then He rides an ass and a colt into His Kingdom

And laments His people.

Until finally, “It is finished!” And He bows His head, voluntarily surrendering His spirit to rest for three days.

At my mother’s trial, when the gavel struck, we heard, “It’s finished. Done.” We knew this would be the finality of my mother’s arduous existence. “It’s finished,” we said. “It’s all over.”

Little did we know that her story was only beginning. From a cell, much the size of a tomb, our mother would earn a GED and an Associate’s Degree and miraculously get remarried and released from prison 8 years later. She would be back home for the births of her first great-grandchildren. More miracles.  

And little did Thomas or any of the disciples know that when all seemed finished, it would only be the beginning of finally understanding just who is this man who calms the storms, walks on water, makes the blind to see, who speaks to demons with authority, who leaves the tomb to meet them along the shores of the Sea of Galilee, and who did so many more things that if they were all written down, each of them, one by one, the whole world would not be big enough to hold such a library of books. (John 21:25)

My Lord and My God,

You cried, “Telelestai, it is finished! It is complete! It is fulfilled and continues to be fulfilled on earth as it is in heaven!” You are the One who was sent and the One who will come again.

This I believe.

Selah.

Pray:

Almighty God, we pray you graciously to behold this your family, for whom our Lord Jesus Christ was willing to be betrayed, and given into the hands of sinners, and to suffer death upon the cross; who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
— Book of Common Prayer, Collect for Good Friday

Holy+Week.Marcia+Alvis-Walker.jpg

Marcie Alvis-Walker is the writer behind Black Coffee with White Friends, a blog that chronicles her experiences as a black woman navigating white-dominant spaces. Through the use of memoir, letters, and devotionals, she hopes to narrate the legacy of our life and times today,mostly for her daughter but also for future generations.

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/blackcoffeewithwhitefriends/?hl=en
Blog: blackcoffeewithwhitefriends.com 


Once, ritual lament would have been chanted; women would have been paid to beat their breasts and howl for you all night, when all is silent. / Where can we find such customs now? So many have long since disappeared or been disowned. /

That’s what you had to come for: to retrieve the lament that we omitted.
— Ranier Maria Rilke, "Requiem For A Friend"

(See all of the Retrieve Lament stories from this year here.)

I thirst: Kirstin Dowsett [Retrieve Lament]

Jesus gave us a litany of last words as a Sufferer; we refer to them as the Seven Last Words of Christ. The deathbed words of the Suffering Servant provide a framework for the stories of lament we share here this Holy Week.

I count it a high privilege to know -- at least in a small part -- the writers of the mourning stories I'll be sharing here during Holy Week. Their lives walk the path of celebration, yes, but also suffering -- illness, relational disillusionment, anxiety, joblessness, the death of loved ones, and the death of dearly-held dreams. Their stories have helped form me in my understanding of suffering and I believe they could also encourage you too. 

Today’s guest is a new friend who made her way a year-and-a-half ago from the west coast to Manhattan in order to marry her husband Drake. I’m so grateful for the handful of opportunities we’ve had to be in each other’s company - over gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches in the East Village or among a group of artists here in Connecticut. Kirstin is the sort of person that immediately makes each person she meets feel welcomed and comfortable but simultaneously invited into deep, meaningful conversation. For that reason, I especially lament the loneliness she’s experienced during her first year in Manhattan. Have you ever experienced this kind of relational desert?

Would you read Kirstin’s story with me, and listen with an open heart for any words Christ might be speaking to you?

Tabernacle,  Denise Kufus Weyhrich  70,000 communion cups collected after use from Easter 2009 to Yom Kippur 2010 held together with 7 silver ribbons reaching to the heavens. 3'x3' 2011   Source

Tabernacle, Denise Kufus Weyhrich
70,000 communion cups collected after use from Easter 2009 to Yom Kippur 2010 held together with 7 silver ribbons reaching to the heavens. 3'x3' 2011

Source

 
After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), ‘I thirst.’ A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth.
— John 19:28-29 (ESV)
 

Friendless (in NYC)

by Kirstin Dowsett

"I thirst.” This simple phrase has taken on such profound meaning for me in this past year. I’m humbled and challenged by Christ’s ability to be present in the moment and to voice his lack, to affirm his need. He could have remained silent. He was actively dying and knew this; his thirst was temporal. He could have dismissed it, waved away this need, let his followers mourn uninterrupted. He could have avoided being a burden to them. Yet, Christ humbly submitted to his human limits, verbally acknowledged them, and invited his community to respond to his needs.

Recently I’ve found myself taking notice and marveling at God’s ability to engage fully in reciprocal interactions with humans, even mirroring their limits though he is limitless. Whenever I’ve read the story in John 4 about Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well, I’m always amazed that the encounter starts with him asking for something from her! The Very Source of Living Water asks her for a drink. There’s a beautiful grace in Christ’s willingness to engage those around him – his community – in giving to him and providing for his needs.

His acknowledgment of his physical thirst emboldens me to acknowledge my own spiritual thirst.

I thirst. As the church calendar rolled into Lent this year, I found myself laid low under a prolonged season of loneliness, a parching lack of deeply relational community. Eighteen months ago, I left a home place where I had been embedded in a richly Christ-embodied community to join my now-husband in Manhattan. The first several months of life here were dizzying with transition in every arena; it was a season of survival. My husband and I were married last Eastertide and the celebratory spirit of our new union carried us high for several months. As life finally started to settle and relatively still (as much as life can in New York!) last autumn, we began to notice and grieve the lack of intentional community and deep knowing in our social spheres. My husband had been living in New York for two years prior to my move and was already experiencing a deficiency in deep friendships.

This experience of loneliness in New York City is not unique to my husband and myself. It is a well-covered subject. I came across Olivia Laing’s The Lonely City last year which chronicles her own and other NY artists’ experiences of loneliness. She writes:

“You can be lonely anywhere, but there is a particular flavour to the loneliness that comes from living in a city, surrounded by millions of people. One might think this state was antithetical to urban living, to the massed presence of other human beings, and yet mere physical proximity is not enough to dispel a sense of internal isolation. It’s possible – easy, even – to feel desolate and unfrequented in oneself while living cheek by jowl with others. Cities can be lonely places, and in admitting this we see that loneliness doesn’t necessarily require physical solitude, but rather an absence or paucity of connection, closeness, kinship: an inability, for one reason or another, to find as much intimacy as is desired. Unhappy, as the dictionary has it, as a result of being without the companionship of others. Hardly any wonder, then, that it can reach its apotheosis in a crowd.”

One of my favorite authors, bell hooks, lived in New York for several years. She eventually moved back to her native Kentucky and in her book, Belonging: A Culture of Place, she reflects on the years she spent in Manhattan: New York City was one of the few places in the world where I experienced loneliness for the first time. I attributed this to the fact that there one lives in close proximity to so many people engaging in a kind of pseudo intimacy but rarely a genuine making of community. To live in close contact with neighbors, to see them every day but to never engage in fellowship was downright depressing. People I knew in the city often ridiculed the idea that one would want to live in community – what they loved about the city was the intense anonymity, not knowing and not being accountable.”

My own feelings of loneliness and lack echo these women’s narratives as I’ve faced many of the dynamics they’re describing at play in New York. I’m tempted to provide a narrative of all my individual actions and the joint efforts with my spouse to promote deep relating among our peers, but this is not a reflection on my competencies or capabilities. Rather this is about me sad and at my wit’s end and unable to do a damn thing about it.

And this is how I came into Lent: thirsty. As Epiphany was winding down and I was praying about how I would participate with Lent, I was already feeling like a failure and pretty sure I was going to fail my perceived spirit of this season. The unfortunate conceptualization of Lent as a time to increase our performances of piety has long-maligned the Church’s (and my own) interaction with the gospel. Many of my previous experiences with Lent have involved a failure to perform: so many prescriptive good intentions, so many devotional studies abandoned part-way through, so many fasts broken.

I felt increasingly convicted that the Lord was asking me to commit to a fast this season and I became anxious that I would (again) be unable to keep it. As I brought this anxiety to him in prayer, I felt the Spirit asking, what has led you to break fasts in the past? What has been so frightening about allowing yourself to hunger and thirst? Why have you hurried to escape your hunger or tried to satiate it with false coping mechanisms? This time, why not remain in it and invite me into it. Tell me you thirst.

O Lord and Savior, I thirst!

So I’ve spent this Lenten season sitting face-to-face with my loneliness and thirst for community and confessing this to Christ. On Ash Wednesday I took a post-it note and scribbled, “Lent 2019: I acknowledge I thirst, I cannot sate it on my own, and I need Jesus” and stuck it in my wallet where I see it multiple times each day. A few days later on the first Sunday of Lent, after receiving Eucharist, I shuffled over to a fellow congregant who was serving in prayer ministry that day. With tears in my eyes, I told him I am lonely for friends. I confessed my thirst and acknowledged my need. And this member of the embodied Christ prayed over me.

My loneliness and thirst have served to remind me that all is not right with this world. I’ll conclude with the words of another New Yorker, Robert Farrar Capon: “For all its rooted loveliness, the world has no continuing city here; it is an outlandish place, a foreign home, a session in via to a better version of itself – and it is our glory to see it so and to thirst until Jerusalem comes home at last. We were given appetites, not to consume the world and forget it, but to taste its goodness and hunger to make it great.” I thirst because I - and my city - need resurrection.


Pray:

Almighty Father, whose dear Son, on the night before he suffered, instituted the Sacrament of his Body and Blood: Mercifully grant that we may receive it thankfully in remembrance of Jesus Christ our Lord, who in these holy mysteries gives us a pledge of eternal life; and who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
— Book of Common Prayer, Collect for Maundy Thursday

Holy%2BWeek.%2BDrake%2B%2526%2BKirsten%2Bbio.jpg

Kirstin Dowsett is a woman continuing to learn what it means to follow Jesus as her true self. She is a native Oregonian who is currently living in the East Village of Manhattan and thrilled to find it just as eccentric as Portland. Kirstin is grateful to share her life with her favorite person, Drake, and they are considering getting a cat. 


Once, ritual lament would have been chanted; women would have been paid to beat their breasts and howl for you all night, when all is silent. / Where can we find such customs now? So many have long since disappeared or been disowned. /

That’s what you had to come for: to retrieve the lament that we omitted.
— Ranier Maria Rilke, "Requiem For A Friend"

(See all of the Retrieve Lament stories from this year here.)

Why have you forsaken me?: Eva Chou [Retrieve Lament 2019]

Jesus gave us a litany of last words as a Sufferer; we refer to them as the Seven Last Words of Christ. The deathbed words of the Suffering Servant provide a framework for the stories of lament we share here this Holy Week.

I count it a high privilege to know -- at least in a small part -- the writers of the mourning stories I'll be sharing here during Holy Week. Their lives walk the path of celebration, yes, but also suffering -- illness, relational disillusionment, anxiety, joblessness, the death of loved ones, and the death of dearly-held dreams. Their stories have helped form me in my understanding of suffering and I believe they could also encourage you too. 

Our friend, Eva, contributed today’s lament. She is another friend we met in Austin and is now living in the north(ish)-east. Eva’s the friend you want to meet and fall in love with and marry your other dear friend because together they make up such a beautiful story of God’s goodness. She’s the kind of person who is smarter and stronger than most anyone in the room, but won’t be standing around talking about it because she’ll be in the kitchen slicing pears or gourmet cheese or some other interesting, delicious food she’s brought to the party. I’m grateful I was able to meet Eva’s dad at her wedding a few years ago, and mourn his loss. Eva is a good daughter, sister, aunt, friend, and wife. I’m delighted you get to meet her here today.

Would you read Eva's story with me, and listen with an open heart for any words Christ might be speaking to you?

Arcabas   Source

Arcabas

Source

 
From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’
— Matthew 27:45-46 (ESV)
 

Do not lose heart

by Eva Chou

At the age of 42, I became an orphan. I had lost my mother in September 2010, and in October 2018, I lost my father to an unexpected, precipitated progression of his illness. Several months ago, I found out that my father was critically ill between surgical cases. My phone rang incessantly with messages during surgery: “Your dad is in the ICU and on the verge of death.” As most physicians are taught to do, I put a barrier between my personal and professional life and finished the task at hand. After completing my last surgery, I received permission for emergency travel from my command (as all military members must), handed-off of my patients to my colleagues, and hopped on a plane with Jeff the next morning to Taiwan, where my parents had moved back to after I went off to college. In the states, I am comfortable navigating the medical system and have the inside advantage of being embedded within; in Taiwan, I am just a family member who speaks broken Chinese without any insight into their medical system. And here I was, put in charge of making medical decisions with the help of Google Translate.

Almost exactly eight years before, I received a similar message from my father who relayed that my mother was losing her battle with cancer. That day, I hopped on a plane from DC to Taiwan to help transition her to hospice. Hers was an honorable and long fight with a cancer that almost nobody wins. On Halloween day 2017, in the midst of my residency, I found out about her diagnosis in the midst of a busy clinic day: “Call me. Mom has pancreatic cancer.” In the years to follow, I made the trip from Boston to Taiwan every three months to spend time with my mother during each vacation week. We spoke on the phone twice a day, typically on the way to and from work. We read the Bible together, prayed for each other, and many times sat in stillness together. Through these ordinary times, I knew with certainty that God’s hand was guiding her journey of life and illness. I have to admit that, although she and many in my family had faith that she would be completely healed, as a physician I was unable to fully embrace this belief. However, the fact that she survived for three years (vs. the 4-6 month prognosis that she was initially given) was an absolute gift from the Lord. Although it was heartbreaking to see her suffer, I would not give back the richness of those years for decades of a lesser relationship.

Holy Week. Eva Chou1.jpg

With my dad, the situation was certainly different. In the past several years, he had been diagnosed with myasthenia gravis, an autoimmune condition which typically starts with drooping of the eyelids (ironically, my surgical specialty). In 50% of people, the disease progresses to generalized muscle weakness, and, in its most advanced state, affects the ability to swallow and breathe. Often times the treatment is as bad as the disease. As a stereotypical stubborn, old, pain-adverse, male doctor, he chose not to take the medication that could have prevented the progression of his condition and extend his life. While he was hospitalized in the ICU, Jeff and I started to clean and organize his house, which was mostly unchanged since my mother passed. When we were cleaning out his medicine cabinet, we found months of unused medication. I was angry because I felt that he didn’t have to experience the very advanced stages of his disease or to suffer in the way he did. And yet, in hindsight, I realize that this was in God’s perfect plan. My dad would not have tolerated years of debilitation and non-independent living; for him, death was the kinder option.

As I was reflecting on this post, I re-read many of the blogs I wrote during my mother’s illness. My mother was the first person in the family to become a Christian. She became a believer before marrying my father, who came from generations of Christian faith. Her faith grew remarkably as her body was tested by disease. After her initial surgery, she spent 40 days without any food or water – we saw in this the similarity of Jesus’ journey in the wilderness. As Jesus exited the wilderness, he was primed for his three years of ministry – those years were by no means easy and proceeded with an end goal of crucifixion, death, and resurrection.

We were reminded to “be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer (Romans 12.12). Our prayers often mirrored those in the Psalms: “I call on you, O God, for you will answer me; give ear to me and hear my prayer. Show the wonder of your great love, you who save by your right hand those who take refuge in you from their foes. Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings.” (Psalm 17.6-8) Days before my mother’s death, I wrote: “Please pray that we will not lose heart.” One often loses heart in the grief of dying parents. I still continue to grieve and know that this will be a lifelong process. Photographs, memories, the lament of my nephew not having grandparents around for most of his life – these are all losses that I weep over. I am thankful for this long grieving period as well. It means that my parents meant so much to me that I will continue to grieve them for the rest of my own days. As our last several years of church community have been transitory, I find that I have found the most solace in the least expected of places, from my own patients. Many have reached out to me and loved me as one of their own. They have prayed for me, written letters and emails, and sat and listened as they asked and I shared about these experiences. They have been a balm to my soul.

 

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you… So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For in this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”

- 2 Corinthians 4.7-11,16-18

 

Pray:

Lord God, whose blessed Son our Savior gave his body to be whipped and his face to be spit upon: Give us grace to accept joyfully the sufferings of the present time, confident of the glory that shall be revealed; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
— Book of Common Prayer, Collect for Wednesday of Holy Week

Holy+Week.+Eva+Chou+bio.jpg

Eva is the younger of two sisters raised by immigrant parents in Southern California. Her childhood home was always full of guests, food, and activity. When she left the nest for college in Berkeley, her parents permanently relocated back to Taiwan, although the family remained close with the help of long-distance phone calls and transcontinental flights. She moved to Boston after college to work and ended up staying for 13 years, becoming a de facto Red Sox and Patriots fan. Her first job as a Navy ophthalmologist took her to the DC area. An opportunity for fellowship followed in Austin, TX, where she met and married Jeff, her nicer half. They settled back to the DC area where she continues her work at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.


Once, ritual lament would have been chanted; women would have been paid to beat their breasts and howl for you all night, when all is silent. / Where can we find such customs now? So many have long since disappeared or been disowned. /

That’s what you had to come for: to retrieve the lament that we omitted.
— Ranier Maria Rilke, "Requiem For A Friend"

(See all of the Retrieve Lament stories from this year here.)

Woman, behold your son. Son, behold your mother. Drake Dowsett [Retrieve Lament 2019]

Jesus gave us a litany of last words as a Sufferer; we refer to them as the Seven Last Words of Christ. The deathbed words of the Suffering Servant provide a framework for the stories of lament we share here this Holy Week.

I count it a high privilege to know -- at least in a small part -- the writers of the mourning stories I'll be sharing here during Holy Week. Their lives walk the path of celebration, yes, but also suffering -- illness, relational disillusionment, anxiety, joblessness, the death of loved ones, and the death of dearly-held dreams. Their stories have helped form me in my understanding of suffering and I believe they could also encourage you too. 

Our friendship with today’s guest took a serendipitous turn when Drake’s move from Austin to Portland to Manhattan coincided roughly with our move from Austin to Connecticut. We live a short train ride away from each other and take advantage of that every chance we get. For almost eight years we’ve walked together on a healing journey, first in Austin and now, along with his wife Kirstin, here in the Northeast. As long as we’ve known him, we’ve witnessed Drake’s desire to know God’s heart more deeply and to reflect it to the world more wholly. It’s been a beautiful journey to watch, and I’m grateful to introduce a small part of his story here on the blog this Holy Week.

Would you read Drake's story with me, and listen with an open heart for any words Christ might be speaking to you?

Christ on the Cross with Mary and St. John  (diptych), Rogier van der Weyden   Source

Christ on the Cross with Mary and St. John (diptych), Rogier van der Weyden

Source

 
So the soldiers did these things, but standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.
— John 19:24b-27 (ESV)
 

Behold your mother; behold your son

by Drake Dowsett

One evening, about four months into our marriage, Kirstin turned to me and said something completely unexpected and tragically astute. We had finished a call with my parents and were “debriefing” as per usual: sharing, reflecting, analyzing, and praying after any noteworthy interaction (and being newlyweds, every interaction with either in-law has been some kind of noteworthy to us). Over the years of our relationship, Kirstin and I had already debriefed a lot after each interaction with my family.

To me, it had always seemed that there was some great cultural divide between her family of origin and mine, that we were just reconciling our worlds, that we were working toward a place where it would eventually all just click. But this evening, reflecting on my mother’s behavior on the call, Kirstin quietly summed up the hidden reality of my childhood, my narrative, my life: “I wonder if she has borderline personality disorder.”

In the hours that followed, we had exhausted the content we could find online. Within a few days, I had several library books on the subject either in hand or on hold. (The most impactful one was Understanding the Borderline Mother by Dr. Christine Ann Lawson, which I could not put down.) I learned how Borderline Personality Disorder (or BPD) is a mental illness that results in emotionally treacherous relationships and how growing up in such an environment forcefully molds the defenseless child into the form of the ill parent’s caretaker. I read example after example that reflected the very dynamics of my family of origin.

It all made a new horrible kind of sense out of the things that had seemed difficult or impossible in my mother-son relationship as an adult. It helped explain the strain that Kirstin and I had felt as a new couple. It bolstered my confidence in the boundaries I had established as “family of one” in my late 20s. It illuminated so many odd memories growing up. But it also exposed a gaping ragged hole where I thought things had just been a little off: it exposed me as the emotional orphan I have been for decades.

I have so many questions. How is that I in my 30s have had my entire sense of normal shaped by such devastating mental illness and not known until now? This is a woman who deeply loves the Lord and seeks him with faithful discipline, going back years before I was born. How could the Lord not draw this out in community and bring health to her in time to spare her family the consequences? How could the church have been so ill-equipped that, through decades of her participating in Bible studies, mentorship, and prayer groups, this was neglected?

“When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son!’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother!’ And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.” (John 19:26-27, ESV) In the past, this passage has always had a charming quality to me. Look at the good man caring for the mother who’s lost her son! Look at how her needs are being met! This year, it troubles me. As a child of BPD, I have been wrongly conditioned to meet the emotional needs of the one who should have been meeting mine. This year, I worry for the disciple.

In the shalom that God designed for his creation, my mother was to be more like Mary, my father was to be more like Joseph, my life was to be more like Jesus’. I look at this passage and this time see how dimly our dingy triptych stands in comparison to the ideal. I can taste the absence of his kingdom and I am hungry for it with a deep ache that cuts back through the years to my earliest memories.

But we speak of the already-but-not-yet. In his kingdom that is already, the Lord has given me a future and a hope. He has captured my heart for himself. He has restored me far beyond what my childhood should have allowed. And it sure seems he is forming Kirstin and me into a healthier family unit than is our natural inheritance.

In his kingdom that is not-yet, when it has finally come, I have a quiet hopeful anticipation that Jesus will rush to greet me. And by his side, there will be a woman who I won’t quite recognize. And he will eagerly introduce us. And the beginning of our true friendship will be marked by his words: “Behold, your mother; behold, your son.”

Pray:

O God, by the passion of your blessed Son you made an instrument of shameful death to be for us the means of life: Grant us so to glory in the cross of Christ, that we may gladly suffer shame and loss for the sake of your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
— Book of Common Prayer, Collect for Tuesday of Holy Week

Holy Week. Drake & Kirsten bio.jpg

Drake Dowsett lives in the East Village with his wife Kirstin and [any day now] their cat. When he’s not writing blog content for a friend, he’s writing software for a tech startup, or composing music at home, or off drinking an oat milk cortado. He’s technically a millennial but does not really “get” twitter. Time to time he posts an amateur work of art on instagram: @dragoist.


Once, ritual lament would have been chanted; women would have been paid to beat their breasts and howl for you all night, when all is silent. / Where can we find such customs now? So many have long since disappeared or been disowned./

That’s what you had to come for: to retrieve the lament that we omitted.
— Ranier Maria Rilke, "Requiem For A Friend"

(See all of the Retrieve Lament stories from this year here.)