This column, Barefoot & Preaching, is also published biweekly in print by The Prairie Messenger.

Stepping into the courage it takes to breathe goodbye

Stepping into the courage it takes to breathe goodbye

The last several days frosted an intricate pattern of heart break over my eyes.  Friday, 15 people from the Humboldt Broncos hockey franchise died in a tragic bus collision just hours from my front door.  More than 100 people killed Saturday in Syria, between air strikes and a chemical attack.  And Monday, 23 children lost when a school bus drove off a road.  Senseless death surrounds.  The sun rises and the light and warmth melts the ice, blurring my vision.  Where do we get the courage to breathe goodbye, again?

I want a world where the people I love will always be with me. This weekend, I held my ten-year-old as she tried to absorb another round of overwhelming loss.  Her tears fell wet across my chest and her body shook in my arms.  The death of strangers exposes the wounds of our recent losses, and draws the new mourners into our minds and hearts.

“The world and its desire are passing away,” wrote John, in his second letter.  It is so hard to live in a world that is dying constantly.  The verse goes on to say that “those who do the will of God live forever.”  The living, now and forever, seem to be tied up with the dying, with willing to live through the death, to whisper goodbye in the heart ache, to walk through the darkness, and to will living in spite of death.

The ice melts slowly, the liquid gently and slowly, moving what was once solid and rigid.  Tears blur my vision, as if it was not already impossible to see how we could go on living without you.  The sun comes up on days without you in them and everything feels wrong.  There might be beauty left on the other side of the glass but it will not ever look the same.  Nothing feels good about this goodbye.

It is a strange irony that this piece will also be my last in the Prairie Messenger, published for over 100 years in Muenster, just outside of Humboldt. The paper is closing and with it go the pages that first published my work. I am barely breathing goodbye to the staff that have encouraged and sharpened my voice.  I am grieving the loss of a part of the prophetic vision and voice of the Benedictine brothers have faithfully offered from this prairie corner of the world.  The goodbyes we anticipate and expect do not necessarily take less courage than the ones that are forced on us with an unexpected violence.

In the throes of April, laboring feebly toward spring, prairie people have forced breath onto frosted windows our whole lives.  We have written our names on window panes with frozen fingers since we were children.  It takes tremendous courage to trace our shapes on a canvas that we know is melting.

It is a curious word, goodbye.  The word, like all language, is inherited.  In the sixteenth century, the longer, “God be with you,” contracted into the more contemporary, “goodbye.”  The older form works cracks into the ice.  To say goodbye is to courageously trust God’s people to God as we let them go.

I want to hold my breath, to freeze time somewhere before the moment of senseless death, to defy the constant passing away of this beautiful, changing world.  But holding my breath will not restore life.  It will only deprive me of the air I need to go on living.  So I can breathe goodbye as an act of rebellion against death itself.  God is with us even as death divides us.

From a God who breathed his final, tortured breath, and then rolled away the stone, sunrise follows the darkness.  When the frost obscures my vision, the sun gently melts the ice and gently cleanses me.  In time, the glass is clear again and I can see the steps into life and beauty on the other side of the loss.  Being changes the world, even if not permanently.

And so I am holding space for the grieving, myself among them.  For the courage for countless families to whisper goodbye this week.  For light and warmth to be wrapped around the grieving by the coming spring and the care of surrounding communities.  For the tension of held breath to give way to deep drawing in of air and its release.  For tears of pain and healing.

May we draw on the God who is grieving with us, the God who is with us on both sides of the losses.  May we be filled with the courage to breathe goodbye to what has been.  And may the tears slowly clear our vision to see and receive the life that follows loss.

Allowing it to be well with my soul

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Tending to the wounds of a broken heart

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Tracing the Shape of the Dark

My sister had an old dead tree tattooed on her arm. She always meant to have dark clouds filled in behind it, but she didn’t get the chance. I asked her why a dead tree and not a living one; she said it was because she had seen the dark and the dead and gotten through...

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With broken hearts, our family shares that Abbie Diana Speir was taken from us at her home in Yellow Grass on April 20, 2017 at the age of 33. Abbie was born at Royal University Hospital on September 29, 1983. She spent her school years in Elrose, loving her friends...

On Being Barefoot…

Before the burning bush, God asks Moses to take off his sandals, to notice and reverence that he walks on holy land. This holy land continues to burn before me, before us, signaling God’s presence before we arrived rather than because we did. This life we are living was holy before we existed in it. This land and creation we call home is the first book of revelation, God’s love letter to us, bearing witness to the Creator of it all.Our lives and the moments that make them up are the stuff of sainthood, our invitations to participate in Divine life to be swallowed up and fulfilled by God. At the grocery store, in the false solitude of our cars and commutes, in our laundry rooms, and over text messages. My shoes run the risk of “protecting” me from the sacredness of this naked moment. And how I love shoes, and how my sensitive toes resist the prickles of grass and the mess of sand. But barefoot is how my spirituality works, daring to live an embodied and earthy love of Jesus who took on flesh. I’m wandering through this life, yearning to let go of my shoes, to walk reverently and with deep attention to what passes under my feet and to what isn’t yet my path. Barefoot is how I write, how I speak, how I work. Experience shored up against an insatiable thirst for knowledge; direct honesty honed by sensitivity; and vulnerability chained to a commitment to competency. And an unapologetically barefoot tendency to speak it as I feel it, which leads me to…

…and Preaching

I’m a preacher without a pulpit, with words that burn until they are spoken ~ aloud or on a page.

My ministry is one of colliding words and ideas, reaching out to find a connection with God’s amazing people.

The world seems to me to be spilling over with grace and we seem to be people who, all too quickly forget that all of this is pure gift.

When I’m driving, eating, visiting, resting, cleaning, working, playing, and almost everything else, I’m frequently stunned by the pure miracle of what simply is.

It’s not all promised joy and ease, but it is all presenced and remembered by the One who gives it. And I can’t stop talking about it, proclaiming it, preaching this good news that we have not been forgotten or forsaken in any moment of this life.

For reasons I don’t quite understand, my words seem to be given to encourage and inspire. In a world where women and girls are still too-often silenced or secondary, I’m barefoot and preaching because my soul won’t rest any other way. If my words can be a gift to you, then that is a gift for me.

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