Uncle Tim… Heaven Draws Near (part 1)

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PERSPECTIVES:  We can learn so much from one another as we sojourn horizons that both beckon and daunt us.  While our general experiences may have general connections, the specificity of our experiences depends on our position, our perception, and how we filter it all.  What is this all About?

This grief journey led me back to our family.  How do you navigate such a loss?  When I nervously asked if they were willing, several vulnerably shared distinctly personal elements of grief, sadness, struggle through this heavy darkness.  Each generation recognizing the varying social stigmas of suicide as well as the responses of their closest friends.  I am supremely grateful for their honesty.  While we share common relationships, every memory is profoundly unique to those who cycle through them; yet, our family’s openness to sharing weaved threads of bravery within me.

“While they spoke, I penned their words…and processed my own.”

– Heidi L. Paulec

When invited to participate in this perspective endeavor reflecting on Jamie’s life and subsequent suicide, most family members offered openness to share their story.   However, most did not feel either capable or comfortable to write their own perspectives.  Therefore, I sent surveys and conducted subsequent oral interviews from their responses.  These were used to establish primary source material from which to write on their behalf in the first person.  In each perspective, you can expect “Reflections on the Interview” and “Brief History.”  Both sections are written in the third person.  Then, the voice will shift to first person for their Perspective.

We welcome you here.  This remains tender space for us.  So join us accordingly.  Know you’re also welcome.  We invite you  to subscribe to receive emails as we publish pieces here.

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Reflections of the Interview:

Interviewing both my parents were actually the toughest for me. (Heidi)  We spoke so many, many times about Jamie and his death…  that was actually comfortable.  But, the articulating of devastation and the growing difficulty with parenting me after … that was difficult.

Many conversations fuse to make up these reflections for which I am profoundly thankful.

My Dad’s determination to understand and honor Jamie… even in the ultimate sorrow really became a deeper quest that illuminates ideas like identity… with more clarity and compassion.  Who are we?  In particular, in the intersection of this finite earth and the eternal home, who are we?… Leads us to Whose we are & more profoundly Who He Is.

Also, my Dad’s eternal perspective grows and grows.  His saturation in the Word, his commitment to trust, his perseverance, his hope, and his contagious joy encourage those around him.  He asks questions.  As he seeks, he finds… and he returns praise and thanksgiving.

Thank you, Dad.

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Brief History:

My Dad’s name is Timothy Paul.  He shared that he feels a bit more like a Caleb (trusts God) or Barnabus (encourager).  His passions include education, agriculture, industry, and cross-cultural opportunities.

He was born  and spent elementary school years in small town Kansas.  Waving grain fields remain the “yellow brick road.”  His family moved to Wichita, Kansas when he was in junior high school.  Tim, popular among his peers and who excelled as a multi-sport athlete, broke and set records.  He has an older brother, Dave, and younger brother Carlton.  Carlton is  Jamie’s Dad.  These brothers also have two younger sisters, Lori and Gretchen.

Tim spent two summers in high school working on harvest crews that travelled from Texas to Wyoming to help farmers bring in the harvest in a helpful and timely manner.  Tim actually worked for Grandpa Ken.  It was on these summer adventures he met Aunt Karen.

After high school, Tim had two options.  One enroll in college, or two prepare to be drafted into the Vietnam War.  He chose college, so he could get the student deferment.  Despite his athletic gifting, he turned down Kansas State negotiations to run track.  He decided to follow Karen to her small liberal arts college of choice.  He earned a degree in Social Studies Education with minor in Phys. Ed.

Upon graduation, Tim secured a teaching job at Karen’s high school alma mater in Albin, Wyoming where he taught grades 3-12 for three years.  He taught social studies honing his favorite Socratic Method of teaching.  Additionally, he taught PE.  He served at assistant football coach in Burns as well as head wrestling coach in Albin.  Several qualified for state under his coaching.  During those years, he also managed irrigated farm operations for the family.

In the early 1980s, Tim ventured into business.  He served as President of a start-up oil and gas operation.  Eventually, after selling that business, Tim began brokering oil and gas properties which remains his primary industry to this day.

He’s one passionately versatile man.  Never fully shaking the teacher and coaches heart, he founded the Jenks America Track Club in the 1990s.  He ran for state senate.  He’s served as elder in his church.  He’s travelled around the world, including Africa and east Asia as an ambassador for missional business.  He loves the opportunity to share and encourage.  Organically sharing the gospel through cross-cultural business opportunities stirs wonder of what heaven will really be like.  Can you hear that choir?

Did I mention my Dad (Uncle Tim) sings, too?  Although he loves all kinds of musical genres & the history of the music, hymns remain among his most treasured.

My Dad was Uncle Tim to Jamie because Jamie’s Dad is his brother and Jamie’s Mom is his sister-in-law because she’s Karen’s sister.  However, I’m not sure the title without explanation is adequate to describe their relationship.  As mentioned in Karen’s five part perspective, Tim and Karen were not able to conceive more children beyond Heidi.  They both loved children.  In many ways, Carlton and Kathy’s children became like their own.

Uncle Tim loved Jamie like a son.  He corrected him, disciplined him and encouraged him very similar to the way he guarded and guided me (Heidi).  I think Jamie looked at Uncle Tim as a second-father figure.

written by Heidi L. Paulec

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Perspective:

Right around the time of Jamie’s death, Eric Clapton released a song he’d written after the loss of his own son.  The song?  “Tears in Heaven.”  My soul didn’t question God’s Sovereignty.  Yet, my emotions resonated with some of the questions he posed in that powerful song.

Do you know Horatio G. Spafford?  He was a businessman who faced devastating loss.  First, he lost a son.  Then, the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 impaired his enterprise with great loss.  When his friend Dwight L. Moody planned an evangelistic campaign to Europe, Mr. Spafford decided he and his family would join him.  He sent his wife and four daughters ahead of him with plans to join them in a few days.

After their ship sank, he received this from his wife… “Saved alone.”  Immediately, he boarded the next available ship to join his wife.  While at sea, he penned the world-renown hymn “It is Well.”

  1. When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
    When sorrows like sea billows roll;
    Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
    It is well, it is well with my soul.
    • Refrain:
      It is well with my soul,
      It is well, it is well with my soul.
  2. Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
    Let this blest assurance control,
    That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,
    And hath shed His own blood for my soul.
  3. My sin—oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!—
    My sin, not in part but the whole,
    Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
    Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!
  4. For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live:
    If Jordan above me shall roll,
    No pang shall be mine, for in death as in life
    Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.
  5. But, Lord, ’tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait,
    The sky, not the grave, is our goal;
    Oh, trump of the angel! Oh, voice of the Lord!
    Blessed hope, blessed rest of my soul!
  6. And Lord, haste the day when the faith shall be sight,
    The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
    The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
    Even so, it is well with my soul.

And Lord, haste the day when the faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend

What powerful imagery!  This is not merely imagination.  He’s coming back.  Why?  To bring His own to the Heavenly Home.  Jamie’s life and untimely death rolled back some clouds for me.  Darkness… more real.

Inevitably, our beliefs are tested.  Shaken.  We may even wonder if we might sink under the losses.  When we sift through it all, where does my hope land?  Why is it a trustworthy foundation?  How do I live humbly… honorably… every day in the shadow of Heaven’s Hope?

continued Uncle Tim… Heaven Draws Near (part 2)

Dialogue: Breaking Silence

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Join us September 10th at  9pm eastern as we “Dialogue”

this tough & tender topic.

Edit: Join us on Shadows Presence facebook page.

the Live recording … here’s link: Dialogue: Breaking Silence … Perspectives with Alex & Heidi

January 18, 1992:  The day death clenched my family.  Not an accident.  Not an elderly relative…not even a fit of rage.

Rather, a seventeen year old young man whose abilities amazed, whose potential inspired, whose kindness encouraged, whose efforts focused on others… but whose hand dared… and successfully silenced his own heartbeat.

The first piece I ever wrote on this subject, He Stopped Laughing (follow link to read in entirety), has received heavy traffic as well as feedback from readers world-wide.

In his silence, questions screamed in me.  The “what-ifs,” the “who’s fault,” the “‘what did I say-or-not-say’ or ‘do-or-not-do’ that could have…would have convinced him otherwise?”

At first I couldn’t even put words to the whirling questions and emotions.  I scoured libraries first.  Evidentially, my search led me back to my own family.  Who, despite generational stigmas in the realm of suicide, opened up to me their Perspectives regarding Jamie’s death and their own subsequent grief.

We do not speak as professionals.  We’re grateful for those who serve in the frontlines of crisis and counseling, so we encourage all to seek the helpful resources available.

We speak from a more raw and personal place.  We speak honestly, but hopefully as well.  Tender space, indeed.  Those who grieve will likely find a voice or two that speaks clearly to their journey.  And the feedback we’re receiving is that our hope & prayer to share is encouraging families beyond our wildest dreams.

We look forward to sharing more of our journey with you.  We welcome you to shadowspresence.com.  Come on in & read around our story.  You’re welcome to leave comments, questions, etc.  Although this is over two decades of research & writing, we began sharing publicly in January 2016.

My husband Alex & I will be dialoguing this evening on the Perspectives portion of this project.  We’d love for you to join us on Shadows Presence  (click this link to find us:  Living Hope ~ Connect ).

Here’s to Living Hope Together~

Heidi  (founder & writer of Shadows Presence)

“Light the path that I must walk. 
I don’t care how many hurdles are in the way, how many pits I must jump over or climb out of, or how many thorns I must step through. 
Guide me on the right path…
Just show me which path is Yours,
dear God, so I can walk it.”

~ Nabeel Qureshi
Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus

“…God has woven a beautiful nest out of the ‘twigs’ of my life.”

~ Alice von Hildebrand
Memoirs of a Happy Failure

 

Grandma Phyllis… patios & picnics (part 4)

Grandma Phyllis

I think, Jamie, with his heart of excellence and service, knew how to give to others; however, he had a real hard time receiving.  Maybe he thought he was taking something, and he just could not do it.  I don’t know, but my heart still breaks thinking of this.

As I am of Italian ancestry (my grandparents emigrated from Sicily just before my Dad was born), I am emotional.  I cried so often in the months following, but I felt deep concern for Carlton and Kathy, Michael and Holly.  Somehow their little home would feel so empty, and I ached for them.  Also, my folks, Grandpa Philip & Grandma Ruth, were older, physically weaker.  And emotionally they seemed quite unsettled for a long time.  (Great-Grandparents Grieve (part 1))   My Dad was an extremely sensitive man.  I saw grand displays of his every emotion.  Even when he knew one of his family was sick with a cold or the flu, he would get upset to the point of tears at times, so I knew this would be nearly unbearable for him and my Mom.  Finally, I felt so concerned about Heidi.  She and Jamie were like our twins.    They had been so close.  What is she going to do?  How is she going to handle this?

While my own pain was deep and real, I felt a great deal of comfort just gathering with family those initial weeks and with church friends when we returned home.  Our church friends comforted us with listening ears, wonderful meals, encouraging prayers, cards and plants.

For me, crying myself and comfort from others drained much of the heaviness of the pain, but the deep confusion that followed still haunts me.  I still can’t believe he is gone.  At times, I have felt so angry he hurt so much— from his mouth sores to the lack of sleep to the rejection of his freshman year.  Why did this loving boy who was becoming such a wonderful young man have to endure so much pain so early in this life?

The Scripture from Ecclesiastes (Chapter 3) shared at the funeral, “A Time for Everything,” has been an encouragement to me.  In a fallen world, we do have a time for birth & death, planting & harvesting, war & peace, laughter & tears, silence & speech.  I still cannot claim to understand all this.  But I trust the Lord will one day restore our fallen world.  Jamie’s personal profession of faith in Jesus and baptism at age 13 along with the Scripture where Jesus said, “Let the little ones come unto me,” comfort me.  Despite Jamie’s earthly suffering, he knew Jesus.  Trusting in this truth, I have confidence Jamie is at eternal peace.

Our home continues to be filled with family photos including Jamie.  Often, I will pass of one of his photos and think, “Where would you be now, Jamie?  Would you be married like Heidi?  Would you be an airline pilot?  Would you be a Dad?”  The questions don’t go away completely, but I am not overwhelmed by them.

Jamie sent a card to Ken, his Grandpa, I treasure.  In his handwriting, he signed it, “I love you, Jamie.”  What a gift for us to pick up every now and then!  We loved him; he loved us.  Oh, how I wish that could have been enough to keep him alive.

Even now, I cannot believe he is no longer with us.  I can still see him on Grandma Ruth’s patio on a mid-day picnics with Heidi —both her arms around his neck, Jamie smiling and pulling away.

Grandma Wanda… Beyond Brilliance (part 4)

Grandma Plinsky

As months passed (Defining Time) after everything changed, our house needed some remodeling, so our mental and physical focus preoccupied us and lightened the press of heartache.  We still miss Jamie, and we always will.  And our concern for the our whole family’s response to his death remains.

A pastor at a funeral of a Godly man who committed suicide once said, “God didn’t call him home, but He welcomed him.”  Some days we may feel sadder than others.

Questions still arise.  Does the hurt ever really go away?  No, we do adjust to it.  We wish Jamie would have had a longer, fuller life.  Yet, we must remember we still have a life to live.  Hopeful living is a gift and a choice.

At every family occasion, we always feel the missing.  But I’ve felt we ought not overly focus on Jamie’s absence at the holidays or at our other grandchildren’s special events; otherwise, we let death overshadow the living.  Whether we say anything or not, Jamie is always missed.  Yet, we must also be careful to go on enjoying life without restraining one another with added guilt and unearthing grief.

We want to be there to “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and mourn with those who mourn.”  Not with divided hearts.  Rather, we choose how we adjust, remember the dead, and encourage real living.

Has God used all this for good?  I’m sure He has in countless ways we cannot see.  I am grateful for the ways He’s allowed us to see good.  For example, one of our daughters, Gretchen worked at a bookstore.  When customers inquired after books on suicide, her colleagues referred to her.  Her assistance helped them find what they were looking for, but more than that her compassion encouraged them as well.

Our other daughter, Lori,  and I had the opportunity to share our experience losing Jamie at Wichita State several years ago.  After we shared our story, several young people approached us with tears.  They thanked us for being willing to talk on the subject.  Several were grieving losses, including some whose families decided to pretend the suicide away.  Acknowledging death is one thing, but accepting it was a suicide is another.  This denial was much more common in the past; however, this class helped me realize it is still a common method of hiding from the truth.  We must be able to talk about it.

I remember one telephone call we received from a man who didn’t believe in God and  whose son committed suicide.  This man, clearly tormented, found no comfort any where.  Up to that point, he chose to close himself off from God.  I pray for him and others like him to be softened toward God through these times, not hardened all the more.

For me, searching the Scriptures brought great strength and perspective.  At first, I thought only of Judas Iscariot as being the primary suicide of the Bible.  However, as I studied more, I realized how many there were and how profoundly God used them in life and in death.

So, how does all this help us today?  The choice is ours.  Death cannot be undone.  We can choose to be defeated daily because of how our lives have changed, or we can watch God use it for good.  We can draw others to the Lord Jesus Christ by following Him and thanking Him without restraint.  Or we can become sullen, bitter and envious of others we think are experiencing good fortune.

“Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do His will, working in us that is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.”

Hebrews 13:20-21

Join my prayer~  Lord, please use Jamie’s life and death to bring honor to Your Name by displaying Your Comfort and Goodness in personal ways that draws souls to You and restore them with Your Joy and Strength.

Grandpa Darrell Remembers… Mercy (part 2)

Grandpa Plinsky

The caller?  Our youngest son.  Jamie’s Dad.

He methodically explained all he knew up to that point in time.  I listened.  (What do you do when your youngest son calls to report his firstborn child is gone?  Gone… at his own hand.  What do you do?  Listen.)  Before we hung up the phone, we prayed.  That next morning, Sunday morning, our flight arranged easily as our son worked for a major airlines.  We were grateful for that.  The airlines made the flights, and the employees made it comfortable.  We made our way to Denver.  In shock, I remember meeting family there.  So few details remain.  It was a time of intense sadness.

Several days were spent together with family and relatives awaiting Jamie’s body released from the morgue in the mountains and transported to Denver.  Wanda and I went with Carlton and Kathy to the funeral home to choose a casket and vault.  Over the years, Wanda and I  had buried both our Dads along with a step-father.  In addition, recent to that time, we made all the funeral arrangements for Wanda’s mother, so we had some idea our limited experience would be helpful at such a time.  We appreciated the funeral home representative who was respectful, helpful, and non-pressuring.   He left us alone, so we could take the time we needed to think through all the details.  We are simple people, so deciding how many pillows are sufficient for burial can seem complicated.  Difficult though it was, Wanda and I were thankful we could be of some help in this process.

Then the day came.  All the men of the family went to the funeral home to view the body before the rest. Tears flooded me.  My expression, “What a waste!” A whole, hopeful life ahead.  Jamie was so intelligent and hard-working.  Humble and compassionate.  He could have been a doctor, a lawyer, or a business man, but he did not grant himself the opportunity to live out his capabilities.  Those 17 years were not a waste, but all I could see, as a grandfather at that moment, was all he had ahead of him.  Vanished.

 As written in The Fierce Good-bye: Hope in the Wake of Suicide, a response to a daughter-in-law’s death:

“I stood beside the coffin a few moments, my brain a turmoil of confusion.  Grief, loss, and pity flooded over me, but the most overwhelming feeling was one of waste.  For those who are desperately ill, death can be a welcome relief.  Sudden death by accident or heart failure always shock and devastate.  But suicide, deliberate self-destruction, especially of a talented and gifted young person appalls.  The unfulfilled dreams, the unfinished work, the uncompleted promise, mock like demons.”

The Fierce Good-bye: Hope in the Wake of Suicide G. Lloyd Carr and Gwedolyn C.Carr 27

After those intense moments, God’s grace did a healing work helping me to focus more on being thankful for the remaining family members, especially the grandchildren.  God granted strength to free my focus on this horrible death and shift to the life we who remain are called to live.

continued… Grandpa Darrell Remembers… Mercy (part 3)

“… light inaccessible …” (part 3)

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Growing up in Wyoming meant many long drives across the Great Plains to attend sporting events or even pick up groceries.  From time to time, I rode alone with my Dad in his pick-up with the windows down.  His observant eye spotted everything- from a pronghorn herd hidden in a grain field to rain streaking the sky hinting storms moving in… I think he taught me to see… really see God’s creation with childlike wonder.

For quite some time, I suggested my childhood died instantaneously when Jamie did.  However, slowly, my senses softened and my lungs expanded again.  The gripping tension in my chest weakened.  And the darken vision of what this “after” life would be… unfolded albeit slowly, mysteriously.

In the dead of winter, we recognize the dormant season.  Willows, once cloaking forts, stand naked and exposed.  Snow shrouds the growth underneath.  Yet, when the cherry blossoms in the spring, when the tulips and daffodils unfurl, when the dawn’s rays rise and the birds sing, do we hide our heart’s recognition of new life?

Little by little, my heart, soul, and mind gained strength reaching deeper than the grief.  Out of the well, fresh awakening and delight saturate my soul.  Withholding gratefulness is an option, but an option that’s sucks life out of us.  Thanksgiving directed toward the “Immortal, Invisible God Only Wise” helps us see and breathe- breath by breath.

In the vivid wonder of eternity’s embrace, do I hide and hoard this fresh nourishment?  Am I not utterly compelled  to share?  Who really cares?

Honestly, both response have been mine over the years since Jamie’s death.  The hiding and hoarding are the yielded responses to fears… especially of vulnerability most people stutteringly steer to avoid.  Discerning when to shine solely from the soul and when to speak continues to be a delicate dance.

Struggles taunt me still, but daily His Word and His Creation revive and refresh the wonder of Who He is and who I am in Light of Him.  He chooses to use seeing people among us to encourage and lighten our loads.  Let’s remember to thank Him and thank them… even if the words don’t come for decades.

And He chooses to use us, too.  Sometimes, we see…and choose to look the other way.  When we hear whispers to reach out, no matter how simple, let’s heed and act.  We never know exactly how He chooses to illuminate Light and breathe Life again through our simple acts of obedience… including sharing our keen eyes of His Hand among us.

Artist and saint alike grope in awe to comprehend the incomprehensible disproportion of the glory of God and the humility of the Incarnation:  the Master of the Universe, become of the earth, earthy, in order to be one with his creatures so that we may be one with him.”

– Madeline L’Engle Walking on Water pg. 154

While our earthly breath is temporary and often labored, the Breath of Life breeches shadows and breathes the delights of eternity into dry bones… and grieving girls.

“… light inaccessible …” (part 2)

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written by Heidi L. Paulec

Oh, how wanted to keep Jamie alive … who he was… not just to me, but everyone fortunate to know him.   His logic.  His eloquence. His kindness.  His quiet wit.  People claim the deceased “live on in our hearts” or “as long as you have memories, he’s still with you.”  Honestly, these feathery words felt empty to me.

When I was asked to be either a pall-bearer (one who carries the casket) or honorary pall-bearer (one given a seat of honor, but no heavy lifting required), my acceptance of honorary over actual pall-bearer brewed out of my hesitancy to accept the permanence of his death and to assist willingly in tucking his memory into decomposing soil.  Neither could I passively accept his absence, nor could I actively indorse his choice.  And somehow I knew the weight of death in a box… no matter how strong I wanted to be… was too heavy for me.

His choosing suicide still perplexed me. C.S. Lewis suggests, “suicide is the typical expression of the stoic spirit and the battle of the warrior spirit.”(1)   Jamie, the bright and mostly compliant over-achiever, recognized immediate gratifying paths led to meaninglessness.  He willingly worked hard and focused.  From Legos to aviation, his devotion to the process and enjoyment in the successful steps along the way yielded visions far beyond his mere 17 years.  While the methodical details he marked in ending his own life fit him eerily, I didn’t want to believe he really did it… to himself.  How could he?

During much of our childhood, I felt like I followed his lead.  He set the academic bar of achievement high. Before we even started kindergarten, he was reading.  I remember listening to him and watching him read words.  Then sentences.  And yes, paragraphs.

His abilities inspired me to sit still a little longer.  This enabled me to give phonics time to saturate.  Competition edged out my previous excuses to put off learning to read myself.  Like Tom Cruise’s character in Top Gun, I found flying in second place to Jamie easy, manageable.  Freeing, really.  He set the standard, and I dared to catch up to him as fast as I could.

But his demise left me solo-ing in the darkness.. left me fumbling and fragile.  I remember my role at the funeral included entering and exiting in a honored lineup.  I vowed to be strong enough that day.  I remember feeling like I trudged through… feeling the spotlight… “This must be the worst of it.”  I thought…                                   {shallow breaths}…silencing my interior groans and screams…securely away… somewhere deep.

Strong enough to live without him?  Strong enough to live out his potential and mine?  Strong enough to see beyond the present shroud cloaking me?   All of us, really.

No, the worst was yet to come.  We grew up primed by the prevalent worldview that perpetuates seizing obstacles by virtue of self-will alone.  If I think it, I seize it.  I win.

The problem?  Since I’m still here, I thought I must live this thing called life brilliantly for the both of us.  I even attempted to embody a few of his character qualities, the distinctly effortless part of him, so foreign to me.   Grief’s grip… was strangling me. And my fight?  Weak, frantic, and hidden… as best as I could manage.   Suffocating, really.

Paradoxically, I became nearly transfixed and self-focused (self-protection) while I also sought to think of others well above myself.  (Remember  “Defining Time” ?)  Before his departure, this would have been much more out of the ordinary; however, after he left… well…

Honestly, this step came fairly easily.  When one loses a loved one to suicide, the rejection of kinship  often severs a confidence in the survivor to extend friendship… because really?  When my friendship resume’ includes loss to suicide, I wondered how many ways I had failed him… and I feared failure might result in all relationships.  While I was just out-going enough to easily hide in arenas of conversation and service.  Instead of really connecting,  I found socializing actually helped me escape, too.  Reminiscent of C.S. Lewis thoughts, I found means to live in a crowd.  Caucus replaced friendship.(2)   All this barely breathing beside people… while the longing for friendship deepened.

Strong enough.  Strive enough.  Serve enough…

…but I am not enough.

In the state of cloudy grief, I returned to a large 6A public high school.   God chose to use my friend, Amy-in my sixth hour Algebra 2 class, to breath His Word into me.  How?   Amy slipped hand-written notecards with Bible verses to me periodically through the remainder of our semester.  Imagine, a high school junior thoughtfully taking the time to scratch out a verse or two to pass to me discreetly during class.   Simple.  Personal.  And life-lifting.

At first, I couldn’t even read them.  Why not?   Another  well-meaning friend approached me within the first 72-hours of Jamie’s death with this encouragement: “You know Heidi, the Lord doesn’t give us anything we can’t handle.  He’s prepared you for this.”  In my cloud of confusion and grief, I thought to myself, “What if this God holds me responsible for all I know of His Word?  What if he’s testing my reliance and resilience?”  Again… not enough.

I remember making a decision – not against God Himself for I still awed and revered Him- but against acquiring any more of His Word into my heart or mind out of pure exhaustion and fear of on-going testing.

However, His Word  found me in a quiet corner of a public high school.  I found sanctuary in His Love poured out in His Word hand-delivered on 3×5 cards by my friend who knew only one balm for my heart’s puncture wound.  I’m not sure I’ve ever thanked her enough.  Her simple obedience to keep reaching out quietly to me… rooted my -once rocky- faith in Jesus.

Through His Living Word – handwritten heart to heart~ “The things of this world will grow strangely dim in the Light of His Glory and Grace.”(3)  He’s referenced as the Lifter of Heads in the Psalms.  He tenderly reached out to me.  Personally.  Patiently.  Lifting my gaze.  He helped me distinguish the prowess perpetrators among us while also revealing His Presence pulsing within His people…within me.

Discovering myself loved by God and forging new dimensions of intimacy with God’s Presence had brought healing to my fragmented life.”

C.S. Lewis The Problem of Pain pg.4

Entering every day recognizing, “He’s really gone.”  “He’s not coming back.”  No matter what vivid dreams of him in crowded halls or traffic-jammed parking lots, I awoke… still alone…wondering, “Do I have what it takes to make it through?”

James 1 became my heartbeat:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, when you face trials of many kinds because you know the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work, so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.  If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without find fault, and it  will be given to him.” (NIV vs.2-5)
Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love Him.” (ESV vs.1:12)

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.  And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.”  (Hebrews 10:23-24 NIV)

I don’t have what it takes to carry on… but I know Who does.

continued… “… light inaccessible …” (part 3)

 

(1)  Lewis, C.S.  The Problem of Pain HarperSanFrancisco ZondervanPublishingHouse, 2001  (2)  Lewis, C.S. The Weight of Glory HarperCollins, 1980                                                                      (3) Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus a hymn

 

“… light inaccessible …” (part 1)

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written by Heidi L. Paulec

The palpable difference between being alive and yielding to eternal living often pulses the brightest evidence in our darkest grappling.  “O, help us to see.”

“Our design… is only to discover how, perceiving a suffering world, and being assured, on quite different grounds, that God is good, we are to conceive that goodness and that suffering without contradiction.”

CS Lewis The Problem of Pain pg.27

After being privy to Jamie’s battling with depression & sinking under the shadow of death via suicide, I remember recognizing my own labored breath. The staccato, involuntary panting of shock slowly subsided. Each inhale and exhale… once instinct… now demanded mindful… labored efforts.  Efforts, I feared I simply wasn’t strong enough to muster and maintain.

For a time, my mind attempted to fight the coils of questions with self-sufficiency.  Soon, my own spirit collapsed within me. I may have been alive; I wasn’t the one our family buried in the ground.  However, grief prodded my broken heart incessantly.  Since Jamie and I were so close and everyone knew it, all eyes followed me.

However, the steps to this dark dance… I didn’t know… my stage expressions couldn’t conceal the seething weakness … the gravity of grief gives way to a raw reality that is too heavy for improv.

In the years since, I related to Jim Carey’s character in The Truman Show.  While it would have been utterly ego-centric of me to assume the remaining attention (which prior to his death, I would have snagged eagerly) ought to fixate on me, I felt the stare of focus.  In part,  my Mom worked in human resources of a large public school district.  Her access to counselors as well as statistical data spotlighted me as a possible copycat… Now, I don’t know that she ever even verbalized this to me, but as an intuitive only child, I  sensed the concerned squints hovering around me.

And for the first time in my life, all I wanted to do was escape and hide.  Maybe in silent isolation, this paralyzing ache would evaporate and normal could return.  Virtually, all of me paused. For quite some time.  The outside of me continued to go through the motions of my existence while the inside conflicted between containment and collapse.

While I recognized the loving desire of family and friends to genuinely care, their grief and confusion heaved and hid, too.  At the time, I could not have formulated words to describe it all.  I just knew I didn’t want to add to the burdens already there.  I felt responsible for them… I felt responsible for Jamie.   All more than I could bear.  And I hated feeling this weak.

If  living was what was left for me… I didn’t know how anymore.  High school fashions, gossip, pressures shrunk away… just as a grander purpose for living…and dying demanded a response.  A breathless banter.   In this heavy haze,  I heard the faint whispers of my own wondering prayers.

continued  “… light inaccessible …” (part 2)

ant hills, mud pies, & rainy drives (part 3)

Jamie bucket bath1976

… the ant hill incident opened my eyes to an evil I had previously relegated to time long ago, a snake in a garden far, far away.  Ant armies illustrated the slithering, organized approach of evil’s shadowy tentacles…

Shiny things… horizons and mining mounds…

Biting pain… numbing, dimming soul… sure, we made it home. 

A fact quickly forgotten.  Only to focus on failure…and deadening hopes.

On another sunny afternoon, we found ourselves much closer to home.  In fact, we nestled on a back porch.   Hiding from the wind and sneaking water from the hose to make mud in barren planters, we attempted to pass time.  Great-Grandma Ruth spotted us, and she made sure we had proper garden tools.  She also sternly reminded us not to run the water hose.  Get what we need, and shut it off.  We nodded agreement, and she left us to return to her duties.

As we sat there, wind whistling around us, Jamie and I unearthed dirt clods and some decent four-year-old philosophical questions.  Like, “Why do grown-ups want to know our favorite colors?  Why do they make us eat food we don’t like?   Why is the grown-up world and the children world so segregated?  (I liked the kids’ table and all.  Mainly, we escaped etiquette training when we sat to ourselves.  But, I did listen in on enough conversations I wanted to talk, too.)    Why do the women work they way they do, and why do the men work they way they do? (Although I often complained about our being tossed outside for hours at a time, I couldn’t begin to imagine working anywhere else… I preferred raking out the barn to pushing dust around the house- any day.)  Why do we dress up for church?  And why were we the only kids not allowed to run in or around the church?

As Jamie and I sat grabbing n’ squeezing, grabbing n’ squeezing until dirt darkened under our fingernails, Grandma Ruth approached us again.  This time, she brought us each a pie tin.  She asked, “Have you two ever made mud pies?”  We looked at each other. Eyes wide.  This time- adventure was coming to us.  Although we were already fairly dirt-smudged at this point, we acknowledged our inexperience.  And our eager readiness to experiment.  Grandma helped us move mud into the tins.  She told us that after we finished loading and decorating them, we could leave them in the sun to bake, too.   Again, she left us to our “work.”

Jamie smoothed his heap meticulously.  I impatiently attempted designs.  I wanted mine done first (yes, that competitive). And mine needed to be prettier than his.  However, his slices would be air hole-less and much more precise than mine.  After a while of watching him smooth and re-smooth, I realized “I don’t even like to eat pie.”  I liked to smell it.  I liked to eat left-over crust baked with cinnamon and sugar.  I even enjoyed watching other people eat pie.  (Grown-ups make faces like children when they eat desserts.)  I just didn’t like to eat it myself.  So, how could I imagine even pretending to like this mud pie?  Was all this just wasted time?

Jamie, on the other hand, enjoyed eating real pie.  And he enjoyed this make-believe mess.  He questioned, along with me, on many things that day… (and many days to come).  The goodness of pie, however, was not up for question.  So, we completed our mud pie projects and placed them on a sun-exposed ledge.   And waited.  And we waited.  I touched mine.  Baking?  No way!  It was as wet and gooey as ever. “This isn’t working!”  I hastily complained.   We waited some more.

Finally, we ventured through the wind to Grandma Ruth’s house to ask how long they would need to bake.  She didn’t know.  She didn’t know?  A grown-up who suggested mud pie-making in the first place didn’t know the time they needed to solidify?!?  She suggested going inside to clean up and check later.  Jamie acquiesced to the suggestion while I complained the whole way back to the big house.

“Deep within every human heart throbs the undying hope that somebody or something will bring both an explanation of what life is all about and a way to retain the wonder.”

-Ravi Zacharias Recapture the Wonder p.13

continued… ant hills, mud pies, & rainy drives (part 4)

written by Heidi L. Paulec