“God is greater than any loads we are carrying.”
In the span of a few weeks in September, two chapters of my life closed on me. One was my mom’s passing and the other was when I didn’t get the 1/2 time teaching job I was anticipating.
Both were not entirely unexpected. My mom had been ill with cancer and she was of course almost 90. And I had known the job possibility was tenuous. But still, even when the endings were expected, the closing chapters took some processing and pondering.
It’s the strangest thing to know someone and then they’re just gone; or to experience a lifetime of working with kids and then it’s over. It’s like a bird you see on the water. It seems so permanent but in the blink of an eye, all you see are ripples on the water or hear the last note of birdcall in the distance. My memories of what was are like ripples and distant birdsong.
On the day of my mom’s funeral, the minister provided a helpful ritual as we gathered to say good-bye at the graveside. September was still giving us beautiful weather, with blue skies, geese ambling around, and a warm breeze. The minister held a jar of stones. She invited us to take one or more stones and use them as a symbol to represent gratitude, regret or both. Gratitude for the legacy my mom left, or regrets for words left unspoken or things that caused walls to come up. It may seem strange to some to talk about walls or unspoken words at funerals, but I think most people know exactly what that’s about. It’s the nature of relationships.
We were invited to leave the stones on the soon to be lowered coffin or come back another time to release it when we were ready. One by one, those around the circle chose a stone or two as we said good-bye. I don’t know about everyone else, but the prayer I sent along with those stones has been a huge help for me.
In the three months since that day, I’ve thought often of those stones. I often have a hard time saying good-bye to people, even when I know I’ll see them again. I’ve sometimes wondered if the roots of this lie in when I said good-bye to my sister Hildi the night she died in 1968, and maybe it’s why I’m often the last to leave a gathering. The minister helped this problem I have by giving us this ritual. She was wise to invite us to give it all to God. What made it even more moving were the next words.
“As you release the stones,
remember that whatever we are carrying in our hearts,
it is not too big for God.”
Turned out I had several stones to release in my readjusted work world as well. Like my mom’s life, the time for an ending to teaching seemed right. A new chapter opened up quickly and couldn’t have worked out better as I now work half time for my church, in a job that’s well suited for me as a “Communications Assistant”. It’s a much more sustainable arrangement for me, and I’m grateful beyond words for how life/God has conspired to bring me such a creative solution.
And yet, I got blindsided for a while as some kind of weird sentimentalizing set in. I began to remember only the good parts of teaching (and forget how unsustainable it had become for me). It was as though I had only stones of gratitude, forgetting the walls that had become insurmountable. Just like I had with my mom, I realized I needed to take not just one, but two stones for this good-bye as well. Gratitude for the legacy but also honesty in giving insurmountable walls to God. Being honest with myself helped me say good-bye to the past and enter the new chapter.
I’ve left all these stones with God, knowing that God’s imagination and restorative healing is beyond anything I can dream up. “Casting all your cares on God, for he cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:7
The meaning of all those years in teaching, and the meaning of my mom’s life, will unfold over time. The memories of both are with me everyday, and I know God has used both to shape me and help me grow.