Sunday, April 05, 2015 : 5:58 PM

Josephus and a ram

I'd heard of Josephus, a historian--Jewish history. I downloaded a writing of his a few months ago, 'cause I've heard about him 'forever' and had no clue just what he wrote, and wanted to see. Every few weeks, I'll read a few more pages.

A few days ago, I resumed reading and ended up in his description of various animal sacrifices conducted by the Hebrews. I'd gotten through his descriptions of "whole burnt offering" vs "thank offering" (with a list of "approved" animals for each of those) and was now reading about variations of sin offerings. There was a distinction between what I'll call "oops sin" (akin to "I'm not sure, but I might have sinned") sacrifices versus sacrifices for when a person knew clearly that they had done wrong. Josephus noted that a ram was the offering for the known sin.

Ram... I backed up, skimmed through Josephus' lists of animals for the other sacrifices. Sure enough, the first mention of ram was for the "I know I did wrong" sacrifice and, unlike the other cases with "options" on which animal, only a ram was accepted here. (Heh, imagine the line of folks showing up with animals to be sacrificed, and they see the dude with a ram--"Wonder what HE did...") So, there was this very clear connection between a person bringing a ram for sacrifice and their doing so with a clarity about their having done wrong. And such sacrifice was God's arrangement for their "paying in full" for their sin (okay, at least till their next offering).

Hundreds of years before, Abraham had gone up the mountain, anticipating he'd sacrifice Isaac and, at the last moment, God stopped Abraham. Abraham saw a ram stuck nearby. Abraham offered as his sacrifice the ram that God provided.

(Gears turning in my head...) Abraham couldn't have known the possible symbolism of his sacrificing a ram, in effect his saying "I do this because I know that I have done wrong." And God had provided that ram.

Easter week. Here we are. Easter is about God having provided the sacrifice that paid in full for my sin. And just like the uniqueness of the ram and the person owning up to their wrong, so the "paid in full" nature of God's offering of Jesus only applies to those who show up with a clarity about their sin. Deny my sin? Payment not applied. Own up to my sin and accept "God's ram"? Full payment--and life eternal with Jesus who rose from the dead. I have no doubt I have done and do wrong. I choose to believe in God's substitute payment.

Thursday, July 31, 2014 : 10:33 AM

Part 2: Hey, that's not what that word means

A friend told me she was going to be reading the following verse to some ladies as part of her introductory talk: "Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life."

"Issues?" I knew the verse with different wording than "issues". The word I knew was "wellspring". I asked her why she liked her version, asked her what "issues" meant to her. She had definitions of "issues" that seemed like decent guesses, considering the english word "issues" we're familiar with. She also noted that "issues" had a nice sound to it. It was a bit like poetry in that sense.

Hmm. How was it that one translator could come up with "issues" while another came up with "wellspring"? And were any of her guesses (based on her definition of the english word "issues") on the right track? I was curious to know more about the hebrew word behind this. And so I used the free online tool to get insights for myself. (You may have seen one of my long-ago posts where I explored another word, the word "delight": The mysterious delight word)

In both cases, I used a free online tool to get insight. A key point of this post: You, too, can do this. You can do it right smack in the middle of a church service, if you have a computer or smart phone with access to the online tool. Do it!

Guessing the meanings of words or just assuming that "the english probably means such-and-such" is really unwise. And I really want to teach you right now how to use an online tool that can take away so much guessing and get you on the right path of knowing what a passage is about. The online tool is part of the web site


In a browser, go to (this short name then turns into for you)

There is a search box and a dropdown for you to choose a translation, if you wish.

In the search box, type the reference of the verse of interest. (In my case, it was Prov 4:23)

Verses in that chapter are listed. Yours may be at the top right now.


For each verse, you see "TOOLS" and the verse number. Select the verse number.

In the resulting display, the verse is spread out vertically, with one phrase or word per line.

Each line starts with the english word or phrase. Sometimes it is followed by "PHR". And there is a "Strong's" number, and then there is a hebrew or greek word.

If you see PHR, that means that the english on the left is a *paraphrase* of the raw hebrew or greek. There is something about the hebrew or greek that could not be directly translated to english.

You know the phrase "white caps" which refers to white peaks seen on wind-swept waters? Russians have their own name for the same peaks. The word-for-word English translation of the Russian name would be "white horses". But that would be unclear to an English audience because we understand "white caps" and don't know about "white horses". In this case, a *paraphrase* helps. It is a kindness if a Russian person says "white caps" so that his English audience understands. So, sometimes an English paraphrase is used because it is easier to understand than how the Hebrews or Greeks would have talked about hte same concept.

There are also some hebrew and greek words that scholars aren't so sure about. They may wrestle among themselves about the right interpretation. And their choice of english words might be the result of their best guess at the meaning.

(In my case, there is indeed PHR for the phrase that includes "issues". "Why was it a paraphrase?" I wonder.)


It is the number that we're interested in. Click the number to see details about the original hebrew or greek word. (In my case, I clicked on H8444.)

The resultant display contains many sections.


My eye naturally jumps first to the dictionary-like section, the section titled Outline of Biblical Usage.

It is more than a dictionary: it is a listing of the many ways that this particular hebrew or greek word is used in other places in the bible. (In my case, I saw four lines in outline style).


There is an important section to combine with this, and that is the section just below this outline. The section is the "KJB translation count," that is, how many times the word is translated one way versus another in the King James Version.

Maybe we should wonder, "hey, it's just one hebrew or greek word--why didn't the translators use the same english word every time? Why am I seeing that this one word ended up in several different english forms?" That's a good question... Pursue that!


Let's stick with this point about "several different english forms" for a moment longer: scroll down lower until you see a bunch of verse lines that each start with TOOLS. Note how the verses are from all over the bible. A tiny number appears in the middle of each verse there. That tiny number draws your attention to how the word got translated for that particular verse.

(In my case, I was pursuing the english translation, "issues". Here I see definitions about "outgoing", "source" and "escape". What I do not see in these definitions is "issue". Interesting! And now I wonder "why did the translators decice that 'issues' was part of a good paraphrase of outgoing/source/escape?)


The next thing that I like to skim through is the portion that looks kind of like text in an old newspaper. It has a lot of italics in it, and it mentions verses by their reference number, etc. This is information extracted from scholar material. If you read it, you may get a little more insight into the more concise list of definitions above it. This section is helpful sometimes just because there is just a little bit more explanation.

(In my case, the scholar mentioned that the hebrew word has something to do with "a place from which something goes forth" like a "gate or a fountain", like a "fountain of life". Aha, perhaps that's the insight behind "issues of life" and "wellspring of life". When I now know that the emphasis may be about "source", then I can understand that "issues" does not mean "problems" (like "that man has issues") but rather "issues" is an old-style word meaning the place something comes from. You may be familiar with the old phrase about a woman having "an issue of blood", that is, blood flowing. I'm making progress on my word study: the core concept here is "source". Or at least I like that so far. Alert: I see the scholar then says that this same word can also mean "exit" or "escape". Hm, I don't know what to do with that. It can mean "source" AND it can mean "exit"? Well, we have our own english words that, depending on the context, mean different things. So, I'm trusting that the translator picked the right use here, "source".)


I enjoy seeing where words originated. You know the word "cardiology". Where did that word come from? It has two root words: "cardia" (greek for heart) and "logy" (greek for "study of"). From the root words, we understand "study of the heart.

At the top of this section is a Root Word box. It has one or more numbers. You can click each of those and learn more about the formation of your original word of interest. Caution: when you get there, what you find is NOT to be taken as "the meaning of the first word I was looking up." No, this is the meaning of some other word. That other word somehow plays into the formation of your particular word. Read it for insight into your word.

Another example: the phrases "NOT GIVEN TO WINE" and "NOT GIVEN TO MUCH WINE"

Timothy was instructed by Paul in how to choose elders and deacons. There is some overlap, some similarities; and there are key differences.

These english phrases "not given to wine" and "not given to much wine" are different by one word. That's a significant differece in english. So, I want to know the greek origin for this idea of "much". Also, I am curious what "given to" means and whether there is more insight (akin to "issues" actually being about the source or origin of something).

Before researching with the approach described above, I had assumptions: I expected to see the same greek words in both verses, and I expected to see a little greek addition which turned into "much". Thus my first (big) surprise was learning that the greek words are completely different and not similar at all. That makes me wonder "what happened?" regarding the translator using identical words in the english (okay, in at least one translation/version of the bible). At the moment, I am pretty convined that "given to" is a confusing way of translating the greek concepts. While I can understand how a translator could *choose* those words to convey meaning, I still think it wasn't the best choice. (This is akin to choosing "issues" when the words are really about "source/origin".)

The next surprise for me was what the greek phrases mean. Each seems to have a fairly specific meaning, at least as best as I could figure out from the scholars notes. Why would Paul pick out two very specific concepts, not related to each other, one for elders and a different one for deacons?

See also my discussion about context, Hey, that's not the context.

Part 1: Hey, that's not the context

Movie trailers and TV show previews are cleverly crafted to get us to think one thing when in reality it is something else. Snippets of scenes have been put in a different sequence and that sequence is exciting and creates the sense of doom or sense of victory or drama and we now want to see the whole thing. And then we watch the movie or show and see those snippets in their real context and realize it's a completely different story. Oh, but it was so exciting in the movie trailer!

And we see similar with politician versus politician--okay, and husband versus wife, sibling versus sibling, schoolmate versus schoolmate. It is so convenient to grab just a snippet of what the other said or present part of what happened, and present it as if it were the whole thing. If someone else showed up who knew the whole story, they might easily recognize how the snippet of info was misleading or inaccurate. Hey, it might be true--we'll give them that. But the reality is something different.

In this post, I take aim at "bible teaching" or "bible explanation" where someone is telling you something as a "truth" yet some of the details ain't right. But the risk is that you don't know that some of the details ain't right because you'd rather just hear their heart-warming, pleasant little speech and not put in your own effort and see for yourself, "Is that really what the bible says?" and "Is there a bigger context that suggests their speech has flaws?"

I set out to write a different post, one about "how to analyze specific words" in the bible so that YOU are not at risk of just running with whatever definition suits your personal agenda or running with whatever definition someone else threw at you and it turns out they're wrong and you don't know it. I felt the need to point out that there are many ways we can be deceived, and specific wording is one of those. Context is a really important one.

And so I'll pursue this "context" issue with this simple advice: Read the context, darn it! That's it. When someone quotes a phrase--whether that phrase creates a beautiful image or that phrase creates a scary image--you really should consider whether you know the context of that quote. If you have any question, just go read the context. If you are sitting in church listening, go read the context. (Hey, of all places to read the bible, they better not get mad at you for ignoring them while you go read the context!) And then either you will agree with the speaker that they used the phrase in an okay way OR you will discover that--whoa--they should not have put their spin on that phrase, that that's really not what that phrase is about, considering the context.

Even better is studying on your own. I appreciate this advice on reading and studying from a pastor: (1) Read the whole book (e.g. the book named "Galations") a few times. (2) In each rereading, work at grasping WHO was the audience and WHAT was going on for them at the time they received that information from the writer (well, "Galations" is a traditional title given to what was a letter, a letter written by a spiritual leader named Paul to a whole bunch of christians living in Galatia and then the letter was delivered to them somehow; they had some really messed up thinking about spiritual concepts). (3) Work at grasping WHAT did the author want for them to understand or change or whatever (Paul wished for them to grasp some key truths and see how they thought they were doing the right thing but were really far off and they really needed a huge shove by him in the right direction). (4) Think about whether the concepts that were aimed at that original audience have merit in your own life. Can their issues and solutions for them at that time be applied to you now? Is there insight for you, too? It's nice to be open to that idea that you, too, can benefit from that original purpose.

And finally, (5) When someone quotes a small portion from that book, you can remind yourself what the CONTEXT was at that time for that audience. This so totally depends on your having done 1 through 4, huh? Many of us have NO CLUE about the context. And when we have no clue, we're vulnerable to running with whatever point the speaker wishes to make. That's risky.

Point made. I could stop there. I'll finish with a story. I laughed (negatively, shaking my head) while hearing a radio teacher introducing the section of bible that tradition calls "the beatitudes". (I really, really like this teacher's teaching, so it's nice to say that he otherwise does an excellent job. ) The teacher introduced his teaching on "the beatitudes" by saying that "in the middle of that is the word 'attitudes'". He followed that thought for a bit, encouraging us to have the right attitudes. That sounds so heart-warming and spiritual and appropriate, doesn't it? But that was so incredibly wrong.

The listening audience would not so quickly catch the immediate error, that the real word starts with "beat" and not "beatt" and that the word "attitudes" is not part of the word at all. Those who are willing to do the work of looking up the meaning of "beatitudes" find out it simply means "blessings". (What the heck? Why do we keep referring to Jesus speech to the crown on the hillside as "the beatitudes"? Why not just call it "the blessings"? Heh, that's the stuff of tradition and fear--"oo, it would be 'wrong' to say anything other than the traditional 'beatitudes'!" Noooo, it wouldn't be wrong. Come on, people, relax and use normal english for your audience. Call it blessings. I dare you to cross out the title in your bible and write in blessings :)

Oo, that's a nice segue to my post Hey, that's not what the word means where I teach you how to dig into specific words on your own with a very cool, FREE online resource, something I often use right in the middle of church while listening to a speaker, just to see if he or she is saying things that match the words or conflict with the words.

Saturday, September 01, 2012 : 4:15 PM

To be a candle or to be a flashlight...

A cheerful greeting too early in the morning may be counted as a curse."

My sister laughs in recalling our school days where she'd walk down the stairs and yet again find me sitting at the base of the stairs with my sleepy face propped in my hands, enduring the time it would take for my body to begin cooperating with the schedule demanded by school.

That proverb has fascinated me since my youth. Certainly, I could readily relate to the notion of the "curse"--morning greetings were mostly noise to me.

I could also relate to the cheerful greeter in the proverb because I've seen people respond negatively to my joking, my "cheerfulness."

Here is the easy, convenient-for-me interpretation of this proverb: "Hey, some people are just grumpy. Even when you've done something nice, they're going to take it wrong. That's their problem. I'm just going to keep being me." Yeah, there are grumpy people, and that's a bummer.

Who doesn't want to be a bright spot, a light, a helper, a bringer of warmth? Consider when you are grieving or hurting: you can probably think of cheerful people you would like to be with and just as easily think of cheerful people who you want to keep away. Among your talkative friends are those you like listening to and others who drain you. Among your listening friends are those who clear the way for you to open up and those who add to a sense of risk for you to keep answer their questions. Both are of value--talkers and listeners--yet either can be a healer at one time and a drainer in another.

The proverb has contribute to my pondering both sides. A lifetime of detecting that some joking was untimely or inappropriate has reinforced these additional interpretations of the proverb: "My idea of 'cheerful' may actually be inappropriate." And "What I consider to be the perfect gift may actually not be." Hm.

The risk for me is not releasing my grip on a blindspot. I'd rather not consider that the "curse" may in fact be partly due to my insensitivity to the other person's needs or state of mind.

As Dad was declining, many folks visited. Without doubt, each was clearly motivated by incredibly good intent. Bravo, yes? What a beautiful thing that anyone would extend such care. Nearly all were life-bringers. Their variety in personality and variety in offerings were beautiful. And we also observed some head-scratchers and even some life-drainers. A lady came and loudly sang a long song that was interesting to her. And a couple came and talked all about their interests and goings-on and we just listened till they left.

If you're thinking, "Oh no! Have I been one of those drainers?" my response is that reaction right away demonstrates a great thing: thoughtfulness and alertness and openness to insight. In contrast, the folks I mentioned are ones who I'd consider either not so self-aware or not open to the notion that their gift is anything but perfect. I would never expect these people to ask, "How might I be more of a life-bringer and less of a drainer next time?" Take to heart that you have gifts and characteristics unique to you and you can use them to bring life. You don't have to be like someone else and their style. Go and encourage!

And so this proverb has served as a reminder that I need to be open to the possibility that I, the "cheerful greeter," have some responsibility in this exchange. I continually have an opportunity to consider what might work better next time.

Candles are a beautiful touch at a wedding or in a restaurant. They're an appropriate light in that setting. But in a mine collapse, a candle wouldln't be so smart. "Hey, I'm bringing light into this darkness! Of course I'm doing a good thing! That's my gift to you all!" But it's draining the room of oxygen. A flashlight would be appreciated in that setting. And a flashlight would be annoying in a wedding candelabra. How am I going to know what is best?

Sunday, March 13, 2011 : 10:22 PM

Do you have your Sauls?

I have the books of Samuel in mp3 form. Been listening to them here and there over the last few weeks as I drive to and from work. Quite the drama of Saul versus David.

Saul is King. Saul is really bent on killing David, running Saul's men all over the place in pursuit of this dog David.

David is on the run. There's a time when he's living in one of the cities of his enemies, having convinced the enemy he's now on their side. At other times, he's living in various caves. Yep, he's not safe at home; there's not really a home for him.

At some of David's actions, I stare blankly with eyebrows raised, uncertain what to make of them (killing this person, that person, wiping out someone's flocks). If some of those details weren't there, I'd more readily side with David. But overall, when I compare the lives of Saul and David as conveyed in the scriptures, I'm rooting for David, flaws and all. His having God's blessing or approval or annointing is a key part of that. His being the underdog is a key part of that. (His father Jesse went through all of his other sons first as likely choices when Samuel went looking for God's next annointed king. His response strikes me like this: "Do I have another son? Yeah, if you must know, there's David. He's... he's out there with the sheep. Seriously? David?")

On two different occasions, Saul has camped with his men while in pursuit of David, and David has snuck in and taken something and then alerted Saul from a safe distance that he was right there and could've taken his life, but far be it from him to touch God's annointed. And, one of those beautiful things about Saul, Saul has a reality check and responds with some humility, responds with kindness to David for David's kindness. Things are all better, well, at least till the next day or so when Saul is back to hating and pursuing David.

Quite a band of men has joined David. Men in flight themselves because they're not in the best place in their lives; they're in debt or are criminals or something; they don't fit in back home, etc. Strikes me they're a bunch of guys who aren't keen on answering to authority. I suspect they're also well aware that David has won several victories on Saul's behalf yet Saul now chases David in order to kill him--they have to be aware of this unfairness. I would think that that partly motivates them to side with the underdog. (And they all go off together and kill sheep and stuff.) They're on David's side, they don't like Saul, they know Saul's after their Main Man David, they've witnessed firsthand how David has spared Saul's life. These are all reasons that they should want to destroy Saul, I think. They are specifically aligned with David who is most certainly specifically being pursued by Saul.

Saul dies, commits suicide rather than be killed by the enemy. Along comes some enemy of Saul's who takes his body, cuts off his head, and sticks his body up on some wall for all to see. Accordingly, the pursuit of David is over. Someone comes to David with this report, no doubt wanting to be the bringer of news that would bring some relief to David (and some reward for the messenger?).

I'd be thinking that David and his band of debtors and rebels would let out a huge cheer. David started his flight from Saul alone, I think. Later, folks started coming alongside him. He now has this big group of guys following him around, fighting various tribes, and they have families back home somewhere. Certainly, it's settling in for them that there will a new form of rest (between flock slaughters), that this mean King Saul is no longer pursuing them. What a relief!

Yet what is their response? David goes into mourning. His men go into mourning. At the heart of their mourning: King Saul has been God's annointed, and now he was dead. There isn't mention of parties. The text is about them mourning. ("What...?")

That's been a fascinating thing to ponder. I have Sauls in my life. What can I learn from this? Am I supposed to learn something from this?

King Saul was a fascinating character. Throughout his life, he prayed to God, asked God for direction, praised God for outcomes, etc. Though I wouldn't consider him a godly figure, I still see those earmarks of God awareness, of not forgetting God. I see that in my Sauls as well: folks who go to church, talk to God, do beautiful things in other places. Of course: I'm not fond of any unresolved issues or injustice, any unrelenting opposition, any false claims against me, any withholding of love. Yet, there's an example here via David. Mourning, of all things; mourning that one who God had annointed had died. I guess David's focus was not on the interpersonal nastiness but rather on God--ala, "May YOUR name be set apart as holy. May YOUR will be done, here on earth just like it is in your heavenly dwelling." That's not my natural perspective, not my automatic response. I need reminders like this to correct my course.

I was out for a walk the other day, having just had a Saul nipping at my heels. I took verses with me to steer my thinking, the verses mentioned in the blog post just before this one. Those verses helped me again to strain to look the right direction: to God. I say strain because it is most definitely not a single moment where I just look toward God and am smiley and all's fixed and I've already forgotten what got me out on the walk. No, it's strain because it may only be 30 seconds before I'm back fomenting about whatever grievance and I have to shake my mental head to attempt to regrasp Who it is that I need to be looking to for my help, for my care, for my defense. I am to rest. I am to trust.

I doubt that David and his men mourned that the mean Saul guy was gone. I'm thinking that their mourning was over the tragedy of God's annointed gone bad. This world has gone bad. This isn't the best that God meant for. Mankind screwed it up. It's sad to lose loved ones. It's sad to lose enemies and never see resolution of losses. I don't know what all their mourning was about, but I think that a key part of it was out of respect for God, out of honoring God, out of conveying to God that they understood that things weren't the best that they should've been, and that the ideal was for all to follow God. They were God-centered in that gesture. That suprised me.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011 : 4:37 PM

My Commander, if I choose

I went for a walk today to work on making a much-needed mental shift and effort to connect with God and consider His Word.

Back in 2005, I typed up these verses and have kept them with me at work. I took them on my walk with me.

- Wait for the Lord. Be strong and take heart. I will see the goodness of the Lord.

- The Lord will fight for you. You need only to be still.

- In quietness and trust is your strength.

- The battle belongs to the Lord.

- Blessed is the man who puts his trust in the Lord.

- Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.

- ...until you arrive in the place of rest the Lord will give to you.

- There is a full complete rest still waiting for the people of God.

- (a line from a gospel song) Will you trust me or will you fear?

Things that came to mind on my walk:

- My habit of late has not been to wait, nor to wait for the Lord, not to look to the Lord to fight for me.

- In some cases, I have denied that there is a battle. By my actions, I have aligned with and settled in with the enemy. While I should be viewing the enemy as my enemy and acting according to how God would have me deal with enemies, I have taken wrong sides.

- In recognizing a battle, I need to hold back and look to God. In contrast, I have been entering some battles with weapons of my choosing and with decisions of my own about how to go about the battle and for what ends. By my actions, I convey that I have not considered God as the Lord in this battle but am operating without the Lord. My agitation and fear are reminders that I'm not operating in quietness and trust in the Lord.

I've got work to do.

What's the purpose of observing a low point such as this? My thinking: those who are doing just fine don't need encouragement. Those in a slump sure need it more, sure need that ray of hope, that nudge in the right direction. Reflecting on my own nudge in the right direction--surely there is someone else out there who finds themself in a slump and thoughts like these may be timely. I'll be out of the slump. It's in that expectation that I write and encourage my fellow traveler.

Monday, September 21, 2009 : 12:04 AM

A soul exercised

I have created Google Earth markers for somewhere between 500 and 700 of the locations of photos on (background). There are more than 4000 Phoons, so I have a loooong way to go.

Aha! It occurred to me that I have a file that contains the stories that accompany the photos. Those stories include the city information. What if I could bulk convert the city information into Google Earth markers? Sure, the markers would not be accurate; they'd just be central to each city; but at least I'd be creating markers in the general area and get closer to my goal far faster. And, so, I made a copy of the data file and began whittling it down to city details.

Fortunately, most of the city/story details in this file are in a very consistent form and I was able to bulk-convert most of the lines to city names in just a few minutes. The rest I'd have to read individually and hand-tweak to the form that I needed before I could convert the whole list to Google Earth markers.

I found I was typing "Portland, Oregon" a lot. I was encountering story after story written by my sister Jan. Her stories, written in a certain span of years, did not fit the pattern that cleaned up easily in the prior bulk conversion. And, so, now, here I was having to read story after story to trim down to city details. And I was being immersed in her journey with cancer: there were nurses and doctors who phooned at her request, fellow chemo patients who phooned (one lady boldly pulled her wig off to phoon with shiny scalp); family members phooned on an overpass between hospital buildings, Matt visited her in the hospital in the days before dating his future bride (Jan's daughter). Story after story. Wham, wham, wham. Jan, Jan, Jan.

There was extra intensity to this because of the month and because of this weekend. It's September. Jan died two years ago this month. And Dan, once her husband, is here this weekend, visiting Mom and me with his new wife Denise. What a wonderful gal; what a fortunate man. Dan reminded me that he and his son A.J. had visited us some time in the last two years. I remember that visit as well as I don't remember most of elementary school, likely fallout from grief. What I remember as his last trip was him and Jan working in Mom's garage to help sort things. On their trip home, Jan's body went goofy and the emergency room folks x-rayed to find a bunch of big brain tumors that had seemed to give her no trouble in her days here. (A few days later, Jan wrote about it in her typical light-hearted, God-trusting style.) What dear people Dan and Denise are. I cried with joy at their wedding, rejoicing in God's provision for each of them. I grieved then and grieved this week at not yet "having my own." I wouldn't be surprised that I will forever have unresolved loss around my sister's life, my sister's dying, and my sister's death. I'm so glad to have had this time with Dan and Denise. The scatteredness of this paragraph is fortunately not representative of how I have handled this weekend. It has been a delight to love when it's time to love. There has been a considerable weight, too, and I have found that I have needed more sleep.

And here's this Phoon story activity that flooded my thinking with Jan and her gifts in the middle of her cancer. Well, I got to the point where I wasn't up for continuing to swim in those thoughts any more at the moment. Blogging seemed like a good outlet in this moment. I'm sure I'll be fine tomorrow.

Sunday, September 06, 2009 : 11:00 PM

Unsettled by Dad

Four years since losing Dad. Last week, he and I walked around my house and talked about the different rooms. He magically pushed through a wall and led me into a room I had never seen before, beautifully furnished with old everything, like from a museum. After a bit, I awoke from the dream.

Whoa, that was powerful. There was a depth to it like I hadn't experienced in a long time. It was good to see him, good to remember that man I valued. Soon after, though, I felt the pain of missing him. The pain outweighed the good feeling in the dream. I was shaken for a couple of days.

Last night, I went to church service. As we made our way through the many songs that kicked off the service, I observed that the African American man directly ahead of me continued to receive hugs and hand grips from those nearby. As is our tradition there, midway into the service, singing continues and folks are invited to slip out of their seats and make their way to the front; some stand, some kneel. While there's nothing magical about the front of the church versus the back or even the inside of the building, it's definitely evidence of something big going on for your heart that you'd leave the comfort and anonymity of your seat, make people shift so you can get out of your aisle, and end up in front with a bunch of other folks. The man ahead of me slipped out to head forward. Two brothers slipped out and hung their hands on his shoulders as they joined him to the front. On his return, he got more hugs. Another guy discretely slipped a handful of tissues into this guy's hand.

I knew that "meet and greet" time was coming in the service when we'd have the chance to say hello to folks around us we don't know. I remember how bizarre and how emotional it was to go to church for the first time after Dad died. No one else feels your particular loss; many of them are just enjoying participating in the joyful-feeling, toe-tapping singing. "This is supposed to be joyful, right?" was part of the storm of thinking on that Sunday long ago. And as we now continued in joyful song, my heart grew heavy from thinking of what this young man was probably going through. What was it like for him to be in the middle of joyous singing? What would "meet and greet" time be like for him?

Meet and greet time arrived and folks rose to their feet to begin the dance of who to connect with first. I dropped my hand on his shoulder from behind, and he rotated around. I used our shaking hands to pull him closer. "People are lovin' on ya like you lost someone," I said with a straight look in his eyes. "Yeah," he said. "Who did you lose?" "My father just passed away," he said.

In hindsight, I'm a little embarrassed at my actions--were they more about me in the moment than about where he might be at?--but I was genuine then and emotionally I meant it for him: I pulled this stranger close, hugging him. I told him I was so sorry, that I understood because I'd lost my father. I tried to express my understanding of the significance. He relaxed into the hug and conveyed this was a huge loss for him.

Yeah, there was a beauty in seeing folks rally around this guy, offering loving words, hugs. And I remember now how beautiful it was to me in the weeks and months after losing Dad how love came from so many people, how people I didn't know very well told me of their love for Dad or of how he had touched their lives. I guess I just wanted to be part of that memory for this guy, to be part of the wave of love that he needs right now, even from strangers. Maybe I got it wrong; maybe I was out of place. But I'm thinking the benefit of my love outweighed any oddity in my reaching out. Hoping.

That was it. The service went on, and I met with other folks after the service.

Last week, before I had that dream, I emailed the church and asked if I could help out in any way in their upcoming Grief Share program for those facing losses of all sorts. Interesting that I had these two events since then. They intensified my awareness that there's loss all around us. Loss goes on. We need to share in the journey. Will that guy be in the group? 'twill be interesting to see.