On Fundamental Sadness and the Deeper Magic {A Life Overseas}

albaz-alba-291970c

by Jonathan

Some call it pessimism. Unspiritual. A sickness best treated with peppy music and cliché-riddled Christianese. They caution and guard against sadness, considering it a rabbit hole (or a worm hole) leading nowhere good. Others call it holy. Jeremiah-ish. Defending it with the label of realism – open eyes that see things as they truly are.

It is Fundamental Sadness.

Do you know what it feels like, this fundamental sadness? The sadness that seems to be part of all things?

Sometimes the sadness is very personal; it’s the loss of a sister or a father or a good friend. Sometimes it’s the loss of a country or long-treasured plans.

Sometimes the sadness is more global. It’s the emotional darkness that comes after you hear about Las Vegas, Mogadishu, the Yazidis, Paris, the Rohingya, or Raqqa. Sometimes its triggered by hashtags like #MeToo or #BringBackOurGirls.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

It is the blazing sunset that sears, not because of who’s present, but because of who’s absent.

It is the baby’s cry in a mother’s arms that taunts your empty ones.

It is the background sadness, fundamental, and seemingly underneath all things.

It’s the threat of miscarriage behind every pregnancy.

It’s the one who sees the beauty of the dawn, but feels deep in his gut that the dawn comes before the dusk – that sunrise precedes sunset.

It is the lover who knows, at the beginning of a beautiful kiss, that it will end.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“…of all conceivable things the most acutely dangerous thing is to be alive.”

— G.K. Chesterton

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

For me, this foundational sadness is not necessarily depressing, but it is always pressing: exerting force, demanding to be heard, demanding to be observed.

Do you know this feeling?

People get scared when I talk like this. I sort of do too. What will people think? This doesn’t sound right. Or mature. Or Holy.

And yet Jesus wept.

“And yet.” A powerful reminder, hinting at the deeper magic.

Jesus knew Jerusalem would destroy the prophets, and he knew Rome would destroy Jerusalem.

And yet.

Though the sadness feels fundamental, the deeper magic is there, waiting, pulsing. It absorbs the sadness, bearing it, transforming it, then re-birthing it.

Continue reading at A Life Overseas.

Children’s caskets are the worst

by Jonathan

A tiny casket.

White lace.

Autumn sun.

Tearful community.

Perhaps more than any of my other siblings, Laura Beth’s short life and early death changed mine.

The death of a little one changes things. It always changes things.

It’s a giant slap in the face, wakening those near that things are not as they should be.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

When I slow down long enough, I begin to feel the undercurrent of real sadness. It’s there. It’s always there.

Sweet Laura Beth. I love you.

I miss you.

Yes, there is joy, there is laughter, and there is hope. There is also a deep — almost foundational — sadness.

Unanswered questions. Gaps. Unfulfilled longings. Dissipated relationships.

And sometimes the Psalm just ends.

18951418_10158739381615621_2264291614879827454_na

the soundtrack of sorrow

sountrack of sorrow

There’s a mysterious power in tones and rhythms; a sort of shortcut to the soul.

Sometimes, music can take us to places that words alone never could.

Often, I need a Soundtrack of Sorrow to more fully feel. Grief and loss can stay bound up behind to-dos and busyness and noise. But music suspends the shoulds and lets me grieve. It gives a whole rest.

The Bible itself contains these types of soundtracks: Psalms of Sorrow and expressive Laments. They are powerful, emotive, and not to be dismissed.

Mourning is a deeply human, soul-level response to The Fall and its repercussions: death, separation, loneliness. And sometimes, to deal with all that, I need music.

What’s on your Soundtrack of Sorrow? Here are a few of the tracks on mine…

These choices might  not make sense to you. That’s ok, ’cause they’re on my Soundtrack of Sorrow, not yours. These songs remind me of my mother, and when I listen to these tracks, I see her at the piano, or sitting on the couch with her worn-out guitar. I see her crying in the kitchen after the death of her third baby.

These tracks remind me of my dad. Of happy times long since gone, and lazy Saturdays with grass and baseball; they remind me of Casey’s cookies and how he always bought a Butterfinger and a Diet Coke.

pics_0028

Over time, I’ve added songs to the list. Songs unknown to my parents but deeply known to me:

This last one was sort of my mom’s cancer anthem. As I drove her back and forth from oncology appointments, we listened to Fernando Ortega. My dying mother in the front seat next to me, my baby brother in his car seat in the back. Not your normal teen experience, but it was mine.

Do you have a Soundtrack of Sorrow? What’s on it?

A-41: Essays on life and ministry abroad

Purchase the Kindle version of A-41 here.

Purchase the print edition here.

Here’s what Elizabeth has to say about the print edition:

“What I like about the paper copy is that it’s in 8 1/2 X 11 inch format, so it has lots of white space and (ahem) margin to make your own notes, to sort of journal through it, as it were. A lot of our posts really are like journal entries of what God is taking us through, so having a hard copy allows you to journal through those issues on your own, too. Hopefully that’s a blessing to someone!”

If you want to save a couple bucks and you don’t mind clicking a ton of links, most of the content can be read by clicking the various links below. Merry Christmas!

Thanks for stopping by!

all for ONE,
Jonathan T.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Motherhood
Missionary Mommy Wars
The Church: On Not Being the Casserole Lady
I’m a Proverbs 31 Failure

Fatherhood
Failing at Fatherhood (how moving abroad ruined my parenting)

Parenthood & Third Culture Kids
On Your High School Graduation: A Letter to My Third Culture Kid
What I Want to Give My TCKs
A Prayer for My Third Culture Kids
3 Ways to Care for the Heart of Your Third Culture Kid
3 Ways to Care for the Heart of Your Missionary Kid
The Little Word That Frees Us
Particle Physics Finally Explains Third Culture Kids!

Spousehood
The Purpose of Marriage is NOT to Make You Holy
Our Journey to Finding Joy in Marriage (and the things we lost along the way)
Open letter to trailing spouses (and the people they’re married to)
Trailing Spouse: He Heard, “Go!” and I Said, “No!”
3 Ways to Care for the Heart of Your Wife

Singlehood
A Letter to Singles

On Grief, Loss, and Being Really Sad
Outlawed Grief, a Curse Disguised
Grief on a Spindle (a poem)
Don’t be afraid of me, please (and other lessons from the valley)
A Lonely Birthday
For the times when you hold back the tears
Worthless
When Grief Bleeds
When Friends Do the Next Right Thing
A Sorrow Sandwich
Heaven and Human Trafficking

Deeper Musings on Missions and “The Call”
Why Are We Here?
The Idolatry of Missions
Before You Cry “Demon!”
Demon and Divine
What If I Fall Apart on the Mission Field?
How Do You Write Your Name in the Land?

Lists (because they’re fun)
– 10 Reasons You Should Be a Missionary
10 Things Flying Taught Me About Missions
6 Reasons Furloughs are Awesome (sort of)
10 Ways to Survive Your First Year Overseas

On making decisions with your head and your heart and Him
Navigating the Night (3 things to do when you have no idea what to do)
When the Straight & Narrow Isn’t
To the ones who think they’ve failed
Distractions and the Voice of Jesus

Conflict and Anger
– Run Away! Run Away! (And Other Conflict Styles)
Anger Abroad
Angry, Mean, and Redeemed

Things you should probably be aware of if you’re even slightly interested in missions, serving somewhere in the Church, or just living in general
Four Tools of Spiritual Manipulators
How to Communicate so People Will Care
Facebook lies and other truths
margin: the wasted space we desperately need
Please Stop Running
I’m Not Supposed to Have Needs
How to Transition to the Foreign Field and not Croak: Six Essential Steps
Women are Scary (and other lessons modesty culture teaches men)
What To Do About Women’s Roles
Jesus Loves Me This I Sometimes Know
The Journey To Feel Starts Small

photo-1432821596592-e2c18b78144f

A Lonely Birthday

by Jonathan

I swim in the abyss of memories. People and places I cannot return to, and few know.

It is a morass I voluntarily enter, knowing it will hurt, but needing it still. Someone should remember these things.

Birthdays used to be happy occasions, full of cake and memories of years gone by. Now, birthdays are just full of memories of years gone. And places gone. And people gone.

Home, once lost, can never be regained. Another home can be built, to be sure, but what has been cannot be again. It is gone.

There is hope. But hope for the future does not remove loss from the past.

When does one grow up and forget their childhood? Thirty-five? Eighty-five? I think never. Something deep and strange happens when the heart goes back. When pictures show you things you remember feeling more than seeing. Like the faded painting on the wall – of water fowl and cattails — that I haven’t thought of in decades. My mom loved that painting. It feels peaceful, silently overwatching a family grow up, and then leave.

Another picture shows my late mom and dad in the kitchen, but what I see is the blue metal bowl with white speckles. It was part of the country kitchen I grew up in, the one with glass doors looking out upon green, or brown, or white, depending on the season. I see that bowl and hear the clank of metal spoon upon metal bowl, and I feel at home. No one else had metal bowls.

Oh how mysterious is the snapshot that elicits such emotions!

I look at the photos slowly, seeing the details. Looking for the background. The memories swarm, and I let them. Something deep within is washed by these shadows of what was. I need this cleansing. I need to remember my moorings.

I won’t be getting a call from my mom on my birthday. She won’t be telling me she’s proud of me, or asking about the grandkids. I won’t hear about how her journey with God is growing and changing.

My dad won’t ask about my work or ministry. We won’t talk about books or hawks or how tall the grass is.

A Pacific separates me from siblings. Time separates me from everything else.

For now.

photo-1455839717798-e304c6b75fee1

For the time being, I am time’s subject. Moving at its pace, regardless. But time is God’s subject, and at the end of all things, time itself will be changed, and we will reign with him “forever and ever.” Time’s thermodynamic authority will be renounced, along with its painful propensity to separate. No longer will time rob and decay, slowly pulling like gravity on the soul.

God will finally do something I never could, although I was told to often enough. He will redeem time.

And he will relocate.

In a physical, undeniably earthly way, he will come home.

“Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them.” (Revelation 21:3)

And when he gets here, He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” (Revelation 21:4)

He’s longing for home too.

So, in my drownings and darkness, perhaps I am brushing up against the heart of God. Perhaps I am tasting his tears too.

I will never go home again. Until I do.

And that home will last forever, and not just in snapshots and pixels. It will last forever, in three-dimensional space, because of him. And all those longings, elicited by memories of home, will in turn be satisfied.

I will belong, with my own place at the table.

I will be at peace.

I will be wanted. There will be a mutual desire for presence. I will desire to be with God, and he will desire to be with me.

And then I’ll find my mom and dad and a blue metal bowl, and we’ll sit and talk forever about work, and grandkids, and maybe even grass.

And we will be,

Home.