Walking the Sea

Walking the Sea: October 2010

Friday, October 1, 2010

"Broken Blessings" by Christine Elder

"Broken Blessings" by Christine Elder
Art by Jeff Tiner

I once heard Paul Young, author of "The Shack", say that he no longer asked God to bless anything he did but if there was something God was blessing and he could be a part of it, he would be all over that. Today I get to announce to all of you the thing God is blessing that I am honored to be a part of.

My friend, Christine Elder, has been writing a blog this past year about her experiences surrounding her son's attempted suicide and the healing process that followed, a story I have known and followed since that first awful night. She has now turned it into a book and I am pleased to announce Spirit Water Publications will be publishing this book and that it will be ready for release at the end of October, 2010.

Christine's book, I deeply believe in just as I deeply believe in Christine. Her writing is honest, real, and full of the truth of our struggles in the midst of faith. Christine has been very conscious of God's leading as she's written and edited and I am excited to see the fruits of this labor as God uses her hope and love to speak light into the lives of others. The first full night of her son's stay in the hospital's Intensive Care Unit , over 50 of us prayed outside in a circle. We prayed for healing, that Michael would feel himself surrounded by God's love, and that somehow, God would use this tragedy to show his power and love to the world. I believe this book is a partial answer to that prayer.


Book Description

Few things in life could be more terrifying than finding your child hanging lifeless by a rope on the back of a deserted house, yet this is precisely what author Christine Elder encountered one dark fall night. Broken Blessings is the true story of the hope and strength that guided the author and her family through this trauma, and through the aftermath of her teenage son’s massive brain injury and his continuing struggle with drug and alcohol addiction. It is a tale of both tragedy and miracles, and serves as a courageous example of how we can respond to life’s challenges with trust and hope no matter the depth of our pain or loss. Christine’s deep faith and innate spirituality weave through every page of the narrative, offering a beacon to guide others through their own struggles and to help them discover that there is a compass that guides them, and they are never alone.
Christine Elder, the author, is a music professor at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon as well as a classical soprano soloist, wife and mother of two. She is a lifelong Presbyterian and a longtime seeker, student and teacher of mystical traditions and human consciousness. Her musical credits include singing a solo in Carnegie Hall and conducting multiple choirs with orchestra on a nationally televised Christmas Eve special. Described by her college students as being a teacher of “Life Lessons” as much as Voice and Theory, she also teaches Reiki Spiritual Body Building. She lives in Salem with her husband Rob, son Michael, two dogs and one cat.

Jeff Tiner, the artist, is an inmate awaiting execution on death row in Oregon. He has hand-written over 4,000 letters from his cell on behalf of the Bahkita project, a missionary effort he began and which has raised over $100,000 for those left destitute by conflict in the war-torn region of Darfur in the Sudan. He also is a gifted artist who creates mostly sacred, iconic art with the limited supplies available to him in prison. Jeff and Christine met through a chaplain who serves both a local hospital as well as the state penitentiary.

You can read an article about Jeff here.

You can see his artwork here.
Sample from Chapter 8: Safe in the Flood

Our dog Sasha is really bossy sometimes. She mostly bosses Max, our Golden Retriever, bullying him with growls and woofs and forceful nosing. Sasha is a mutt, and our vet thinks she may have some cattle dog in her. This makes sense to us as she herds every moving thing in sight, and the more warm bodies there are in close proximity, the bossier she gets. She was especially hard on Max his past week since we had family visiting, often turning on him in sudden eruptions of snarling and nipping. So this afternoon when I was downstairs putting my body through some exercise paces and Sasha pounced all over Max again, I gave her a piece of my mind. She groveled over to me, tucked her head in penitent submission and gazed up imploringly with big brown eyes. She’s a very cute mutt, after all. Just as she and I were making up, Max let out a “Woof!” right at her and then turned and ran like a rabbit up the stairs. I laughed out loud as she tore after him, realizing how much he wanted her to boss him.

Max led me to a grander observation just then: we can’t save someone that doesn’t want saving, not to mention that our assessment of their peril may be completely erroneous. We may be able to open a person’s eyes to how much they need help (Rob insists Max is enough of an underdog that we do come in handy from time to time), but ultimately everyone chooses the help they do or do not want.

I am helping Michael a lot these days. His therapists continually stress the goal of independence, and I am beginning to see why it is so important to keep a tight lead on this objective. Michael often seems less independent rather than more so as time goes by. His friends aren’t calling or coming by much now, so I suggested perhaps he call them. Initiation continues to be a major hurdle whether it involves getting up, eating, practicing therapies, or deciding what to do next. Social contact seemed like a good idea, but he simply wouldn’t do it. He couldn’t articulate why. He said he didn’t feel shy or self-conscious, said yes, he enjoyed time spent with friends and that he would like more of it, and absolutely no, he wouldn’t call. With his newfound awareness of the power of assertiveness, he flat out refused. My mother’s heart aches at his isolation, and in light of his solitary time I realize my fears have shifted. Just a few weeks ago I worried what he might do when he eventually got out more. Now I fear he’ll never go. He spends day after day here with his family when he used to be such a social boy. I am learning there is some help we can give and some we can’t. And I am beginning to make a regular habit of questioning my wisdom regarding another’s happiness.

Of course sometimes I put the parental foot down, as all moms do. I insisted Michael take a walk with us today, since the Willamette gym is closed for the week and we are off our regular fitness routine. We all needed fresh air. He came and kept pace, albeit half a block behind us. His measured distance reminded me very much of a normal teenage boy who might lag behind to avoid embarrassing familial association. He did catch up when Sasha took a business break, and then happily plop-plopped along next to us the remainder of the way.

Questions and decisions regularly arise as we navigate his recovery: Is this essential help I’m giving? Am I projecting my own goals onto him? Is it better to prod him or wait for him to find his own motivation? Can I help him discover that motivation? Is he ready for more responsibility or is it too soon? These are questions every parent faces in one form or another. And then there is that other, overarching question which occasionally insists itself in my psyche: “Why? Why did this have to happen?” Once I dive into the “Why?” vortex I can easily lose sight of the objectives at hand, spinning deeper and deeper. Why would Michael take the beautiful life he had and throw it away? Why would he attempt such terminal harm? This grief cuts deep. As parents we must feel at times that we value our children’s lives more than they do. We incubate them, birth them, tend them, love them, celebrate with them and rear up in indignant rage when someone else hurts them.

I remember when Natalie participated in a school “pageant” and the woman directing the event rigged the results, arranging for her favorite to win. The contest was a fundraiser for a children’s hospital, so bringing in money was part of the competition. Since people would be making donations the night of the event, the result was supposed to be in suspense. But at the dress rehearsal the day before I overheard the director saying to another contestant, “Now when they announce your name I want you to first walk this way, and then turn and go there,” coaching the young girl across the stage. I was incensed! I confronted her about it and she made excuses and denied it, but the next night when the designated young lady won (as well as the director’s son) I felt confirmed and justified in my mama-bear outrage. My anger simmered for a good long while, stoked by repeated mental replays of the injustice, even after Natalie said, “But mom, it really doesn’t matter. The point was to raise money for the hospital, and we did, so it’s all good..” (who made my then middle-school-aged daughter more mature than me?). We know it isn’t OK for someone to hurt our kids. But where do we direct our rage when they hurt themselves?

I put off praying much of the day today. After a productive morning I did other things, all kinds of nothing, and finally, a half hour after announcing I was heading to quiet time, when I found myself snacking on blue corn chips and playing games on Facebook, I knew I was into some serious avoidance behavior. So I buckled down and went. Once there I quickly came face to face with the object of my avoidance: grief. My beautiful boy, my beautiful, sweet Michael fell deep enough into the well of darkness that he lost sight of the light above and felt the only way forward was to hasten going under. Surely one of a parent’s greatest griefs is to see their children hurt. At whom do we rage? I believe the answer is we don’t rage at all, we weep. God holds the wreckage of our hearts and heads in strong, secure hands that do not falter or fail. There we cry and rest, and let healing come.

How interesting and utterly human that I would spend a good part of the day avoiding the one place where I might find sustaining comfort. What is so terrifying about surrender, I wonder? Is it simply the posture of presumed weakness, or the flood of emotion? Neither is such a monster, especially when I consider the behemoths of pride and emotional sterility. And why would hiding from God seem at all secure? It is an irony to think we find strength in maintaining a tight stillness when such rigidity leaves us brittle and ultimately vulnerable. It is only in the soft, supple care of the One who wrote our names in the book of life before we were in our mothers’ wombs that we are safe. I, too, can’t be helped if I don’t want to be. I can hold tight and brace against love, or I can give in to the wave and be safe within its folds.

The book will be available in late October.  Let me know if you would like to preorder a copy.

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