Something shifted on the global axis. and personally, in my world. Our national sense of security was forever shaken.
InOctober 2001, a severely damaged tree was discovered at Ground Zero, with snapped roots and burned and broken branches. The tree was removed from the rubble and placed in the care of the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation.
From the charred and broken tree, signs of life and hope emerged. Under the watch–care of thecrew, the Callery Pear Tree began to thrive. After its recovery and rehabilitation, the irrepressible tree was returned to the Memorial in 2010.
New, smooth limbs extended from the gnarled stumps, creating a visible distinctionbetween the tree’s past and present. Today, the Survivor Treestands as a living reminder of resilience, survival, and rebirth.
A few years ago, on the cusp of becoming an author, I visited the New York Memorial for 9/11 with my editor. We walked by the tree and celebrated its survival; two stunned strangers in a strange landscape igniting a friendship beside the signs of unnatural life. When did your towers fall? What signs of life are emerging from the debris? Make a list, and inventory of the new branches, new leaves? So many upheavalslately. And yet. And still. That hushed and tranquil tree stands in Manhattan. In the spring, it’s the first to bud and the last to lose its leaves in the fall. Your root system is stronger than you think. The network of support all aroundyou is a social mazeof amazingness. Arich tapestry of connection.A matrix of life. We, like that tree, are a living narrative of joyous entanglement.
By Tonya Jewel Blessing from the Bible study, Soothing Rain
Some of us are preserved from the experience of dealing with death or the question of heaven when we are young. Other’s lives are forever affected by the tragic death of a parent still needed for a child’s safety and comfort.
While doing some research recently on the internet, I came across this very moving poem:
“Mommy went to Heaven, but I need her here today. My tummy hurts and I fell
down; I need her right away.
Operator, can you tell me how to find her in this
book? Is heaven in the yellow part? I don’t know where to look. Maybe if I call
her, she will hurry home to me. Is heaven very far away; is it across the sea? Help
me find the number please; is it listed under ‘Heaven’?
I can’t read these big, big
words. I am only seven. I’m sorry, operator. I didn’t mean to make you cry. Is your
tummy hurting too, or is there something in your eye? If I call my church, maybe
they will know. Mommy said when we need help, that’s where we should go.”
I know some of the poem’s phrases are outdated. Most people don’t use the Yellow Pages these days, and, with computerized services, operators are a rare commodity. Yet the yearning of a young child for his or her mother moves my heart. All kinds of thoughts and images of the child came to mind.
How long has his or her mother been gone?
Who is taking care of the child?
What does he or she look like? Who is reading this seven-year-old bedtime stories and rubbing noses for Eskimo kisses?
When I read the last stanza, I am brought to tears, “If I call my church, maybe they will know. Mommy said when we need help, that’s where we should go.”
There are churches all over our cities that are resourceful and safe places for grieving families to go. But the church is more than a name, a building, or even the pastor. According to Scripture, believers in Jesus are the Church.
As women who know Jesus, we’re the mothers to those who have no moms. We’re the ones who tend to tummy aches and bandage scraped knees. We read stories and place gentle kisses on the tear-stained cheeks of the hurting.
We give voice to the struggling, abused, and bruised.
We dig wells, feed the malnourished, and find jobs and homes for struggling young adults.
We know the secrets of heaven, and hold keys that help others who are caught in grief and uncertainty find a place of rest and peace.
Most of us have never worked as a telephone operator. But we have worked and will continue to work in sharing our time, resources, and the truths of eternity with those struggling in our communities and around the world.
If you know of a child who could use some comforting wisdom, I’d like to introduce you to a debut author in our publishing group. Jenny Fulton’s story, Princess Lillian and Grandpa’s Goodbye is precious, a valuable book in the library of any teacher, parent, or grief counselor.
Watch a scene from Tonya Blessing’ Appalachian novel, The Melody of the Mulberries set during the early American Spanish Flu epidemic.
We moms know a little about the action of listening. I am a mom, but I still need my mom to listen over the dining room table.
When you really think about it, listening takes a certain skill set. It involves intentionally hitting the “Pause Button” of your day and entering into another person’s story. And their story matters. Your choice to listen to it is an action of love toward them.
There’s a cute story I heard once, about a little boy who wanted desperately for his Mommy to know everything about his day. The lad burst into the kitchen where she was prepping the evening meal. As he told his fabulous story, she continued dicing, slicing and sauteing. I’m sure she heard every word; we moms are professional multi-taskers.
Still, that wasn’t enough for the boy. He became exasperated. “Mom!” he cried out. “You’re not listening!
“Oh, yes, honey. I’m listening,” she replied.
“No! I need you to listen with your eyes.”
Wow. The kid has a point. Listening, if it’s truly an action word, involves putting down the spatula and locking eyes with the storyteller.
Listening is something we think we are doing, when in fact we are pushing the storyteller to the margins; hearing him on the periphery. We think we’ve heard the story, but oh! How much we miss.
I am guilty as charged. Countless times, I have “listened” to the ones I love while checking my phone, scanning the menu, watching the weather channel and searching for my car keys. Is this listening? Really?! No, actually, not.
I’m practicing hitting the “Pause Button”
I’m practicing hitting the “pause button” but I’m not as successful as I’d like to be.
This happened recently when my daughter tried to convey something to me in the car.
Distracted listening is not intentionally loving. It’s minimizing. The storyteller can’t be sure your mind, much less, your heart was open to retaining the information. We are telling that precious soul we are taking in words, but not absorbing the weight and importance of the words.
How likely will this lovely daughter, this marvelous human being, come back to me with new stories to tell? The odds are getting slimmer.
I need to hit the Pause Button, silence the phone, pull the car to the curb, and just listen.
Now, before you think you are already well-versed in the art of listening, I have a simple challenge: try listening with no agenda. Go ahead. Try. It’s really hard. Honestly — I sat with a friend recently. As she shared her story, pouring out her heart, I could hardly wait to find an opening and tell my own story.
This is really not okay. Because, in that place where my brain was buzzing with the answers, the opinions, the questions and my own stories, I was missing her words. And they weren’t just words; they were pieces of her heart, laid out there on the table — bare and trembling and aching to be heard.
To march in with my pat answers is a lot like pushing her stuff to the edges because my stuff is far more interesting.
That’s kind of rude.
Listening is love
Listening is love. It’s an act of the will, an intentional nod in another person’s direction. When you love the storyteller, you need to be willing to listen without formulating your answers. That person really doesn’t need your opinion; she needs your humility and grace. She needs your ear and your uncluttered mind. She needs you to lock eyes with her, so she knows without a doubt you care.
This is exhausting. No wonder listening is a verb — the action of truly listening is a workout. Your listening-muscles will ache later, but keep at it. You just never know when a storyteller needs you to be ready.
Listening is love. Just ask my mom – she’s really good at it. I’m quite sure that’s why I carry all my most precious stories to her kitchen table. She pours tea. She sits across from me and gives me the gift of her undivided attention.
Thanks, Mom! Thanks for listening with your eyes.
Kathy Joy is the author of the children’s book, Will You Hold My Story? When her husband died suddenly, she had no one to listen to her grief and so she hired a counselor. Sally, the grief counselor, wisely advised Kathy to find someone else to hold her story alongside her. But sometimes people can be so distracted by their activities and their own families, that God decided to create pets. Dogs are especially suited for cuddling, and walking beside you, and listening to your story. Listening moms and friends are absolute treasures.
Today, writing a blog feels inadequate as I shift under the weight of yet another personal loss. In a short week, I found I had lost a dear family member and a co-worker whom I really liked.
“Words are like nets – we hope they’ll cover what we mean, but we know they can’t possibly hold that much joy, or grief, or wonder.”
Jodi Picoult, Change of Heart
I feel like any combination of words cannot capture the wistfulness of wanting everything to stay the same; for everyone to remain alive; for grief to pack its bags and visit somewhere not so close-to-home.
What a relief to know we don’t have to cast out our nets and fish for words to express how we feel.
There are other ways to reach out for meaning. Or to stay folded-in.
In difficult times, carry something beautiful in your heart.
Beautiful Things You Might Carry in Your Heart…
An anticipated event
A person you love
A landmark place where you discovered God
A rare and splendid moment
Let these treasures sustain you, carry you, ground you and tie all your loose ends to something real. Something of substance.
We know we must carry on even during a time of grief. How is that possible? Here is a quote I often turn to.
Just for Today
Just for today, keep it simple.
Don’t be so hard on yourself.
Look at your life
for all you have gained
rather than lost.
Look at your path for everything
you’ve gotten through, rather than
where you think you should be.
Celebrate rather than criticize.
Experience rather than expect.
Stand in the sunlight
Rather than the shadows.
Quietly honor your heart
rather than disown pieces of yourself.
Take a break from all that.
See how that goes.
Just for today.
Author, L.C. Lourie
Maybe today you need this. If not, I’ll not be offended.
The power of empathy is often felt deeply in silence.