Sunday, December 2, 2012

Never Knowing

Life’s curveballs defy our comfort and our beliefs. The trick is in where we end up afterwards. Unwelcome at the time, those traumas can be beneficial in the long run.
I haven’t written to my blog because I haven’t known what to say. My beliefs have been vigorously challenged in the last few months like the ground underneath many shore homes during the storm. I haven’t known enough to say anything. I don’t believe what’s happened. All I have is my heart and I am not sure that I know it anymore either.
I am in disbelief. So much is gone, including many fundamental principles.
• That life is fair. That’s at least a wish, if not false conviction.
• That life won’t change drastically in one moment.
• I still think that God is [or ought to be] just. But drawing conclusions about fairness invites a too-bold supposition that I could understand the ways of God. I am reminded, yet again, that I don’t remotely.
I’ve been in emotional and intellectual disarray for months now. (Post-storm, we all are.) I am angry that, not angry with – which makes for an awkward nebulous ire. I carry a hollow resentment that I don’t know where to direct.
And yet, that anger is just a tiny bit of who I am these days. I’ve had so very many emotions swimming about. I am overwhelmingly thankful for every fantastic day God’s grace has given me.
Papa was an incredible blessing in our lives. I miss him terribly every day. He is with God. For taking Papa, moj Papa, I am pissed. It’s a bit high stakes to be incensed with God. On the other hand, who better to express my anger at? God can take it.

I think that we’ve all been scattered since the storm, physically and emotionally. Loss will do that.
Still, I’ve seen many beautiful things borne of the storm. There have been countless amazing acts of kindness in response. Just as those individual acts add up to an astounding force for healing and recovery, our distinct stories create a shared experience that binds us in compassion. For all except those affected in the very worst way, the losses were relative. No matter what you have been through, you probably know someone who was impacted worse. You could, in the destructive aftermath of the storm - where low tides, electricity and heat were blessings - find much to be thankful for. Our collective losses, have granted us a shared relative outlook.
Perspective often accompanies bad news -an accident, the loss of a loved one, a dire diagnosis. Sandy brought us all that perspective simultaneously. For a time – whether it’ll be weeks or months (we’ll see) – we can consider ourselves fortunate without understanding the why of what was taken away. What a wonderful turn to consider oneself blessed for each godsend, celebrating positives. In the midst of loss, we are reminded that it’s all a bonus and blessing.

As I was finally finishing up this blog entry, I read this wonderful poem by Wendell Berry called “the Slip”. It captures much of what I tried to express above much better than I did. It makes me wonder why I bother. Enjoy. It goes well leading into Advent too.

The river takes the land, and leaves nothing.
Where the great slip gave way in the bank
and an acre disappeared, all human plans
dissolve. An awful clarification occurs
where a place was. Its memory breaks
from what is known now, begins to drift.
Where cattle grazed and trees stood, emptiness
widens the air for birdflight, wind, and rain.
As before the beginning, nothing is there.
Human wrong is in the cause, human
ruin in the effect–but no matter;
all will be lost, no matter the reason.
Nothing, having arrived, will stay.
The earth, even, is like a flower, so soon
passeth it away. And yet this nothing
is the seed of all–the clear eye
of Heaven, where all the worlds appear.
Where the imperfect has departed, the perfect
begins its struggle to return. The good gift
begins again its descent. The maker moves
in the unmade, stirring the water until
it clouds, dark beneath the surface,
stirring and darkening the soul until pain
perceives new possibility. There is nothing
to do but learn and wait, return to work
on what remains. Seed will sprout in the scar.
Though death is in the healing, it will heal.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

"What has happened to us?"

My dad, Bruno, passed on August 9, 2012 - just 7 weeks after he was diagnosed. Pancreatic cancer is a dreadful disease that ravaged him.
This is the eulogy that I was honored to deliver.

People talk about a successful/rewarding life as one where you leave the world a little better by having been in it. Papa did that on a moment-to-moment, person-to-person basis. If you were lucky enough to cross paths with Bruno, chances are your day was brighter afterwards.
Bruno was always there with a smile - that inviting disarming smile. And eyes that smiled too. His beautiful blue eyes were less piercing than inviting – as full of potential as a sky-blue sky. He managed to create a comfortable space that welcomed you in. His youthful manner and playful charm allowed him to connect so easily with so many of us, children of all ages.
My cousin, Alida, told me recently that “You could always count on Bruno. One time it was just me and your dad driving back to get Vitorio and Bruno was telling me stories about the refugee camp in Italy and what my father was like then and what our families went through to get to America. He was a great story teller and that long drive melted away and seemed to only take minutes. When we pulled in the driveway he turned and smiled at me and said he really enjoyed our conversation and was sorry it had to come to an end. I told him the same and I really meant it. I felt we had really bonded during that car ride.” That is Papa – connecting in whatever small way when given any chance.
It was not at all unusual for my friends or cousins to say at the mention of my Papa, “I love your dad” or something along those lines. I was always pleasantly surprised - not that he wasn’t lovable, but that so many other people so readily saw it too. You know…I love him , and on another level… he’s just my dad.
He was a strong-willed husband and a firm father. I can’t say that I appreciated the strictness when I was young – but I do now. You always knew where he stood. I learned more than I wanted to know about commitment, self-discipline, honesty and honor.
My first driving lessons were sitting on his lap behind the wheel or our rust orange ’67 Fairlane 500. Steering through the parking lot after a super-long fun day at the beach. As a kid, I thought he was the smartest and coolest for considering the number of lights we’d hit on the way home from anyplace when picking his route. I wish that I had more patience when it came to spending time under that Ford, learning how to fix it and so much else. Papa was meticulous and thus, not necessarily the speediest. He was the Super at my house for the last few years – a blessing if ever there was one. Til the end, we’d be waiting for Nono to finish up just one more thing before coming in from the garage for dinner. It was the only time Papa was likely to be “late”.
Like so many in this room, he worked hard his whole life. Between Saturday morning overtime and a second job driving a limo, he wasn’t always around as much as I would have liked. I imagine he felt the same.
If you’ve eaten more than once with my Papa, you know that he liked to grab that end piece from a loaf of Italian bread.
If you can tell anything about a person by the quality of their relationships, then you can’t help but conclude that Papa was exceptional. He was an incredible family man. He was a Milevoj in the very best sense – quiet and strong, respectful and respected, and incredibly devoted to his family. Besides Cio Dario and our much-loved late Cia Nela, he was like a brother to many of his cousins. He was a loving presence during the tragic illnesses of several of our family members in the past 10 years. He was right next to me when I was diagnosed and every day since. Papa is present. His expressions of love and caring went out to so many.
People have commented on how unfair papa’s death is. Even at 75 years of age, it still seems premature. The speed with which this dreadful disease ravaged him – just 50 days from diagnosis to passing - is unbelievable. I know that Papa said that word – “unbelievable” hundreds of times during that period. Still, in the cosmic balance, I’ve feel unfairly blessed to have the most fantastic dad for 45 years. He made me who I am – and…for better or worse, I am more like him than anyone else. From already good, our relationship was getting even better over time. Papa is my go-to guy. After Jacquelyn, he was primary counselor – the person I’d go to for advice on life and how to navigate the stickiest situations in it. I am sad because we had so much more growing together and loving to do.
Jacquelyn has already spoken about the love and life that Ana and Noah share with him. Whereas many kids never know their grandfathers, they were blessed with nearly 6 years of the most devoted, fantastic and loving Nono imaginable. They’d say good bye at the back door looking forward to the next time, “se vidimo Utorak” (see you on Tuesday). They brought that smile to his face until the very end. I will never forget the breathtaking beauty of their last few goodbyes with him. The sadness lies in all of the wonderful lessons and memories which they won’t be able to enjoy.
We treasure every moment that Bruno graced our lives.
He is a special soul who lives on.
He will always have the end piece in our lives.
We love you Papa.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Something to Grab Onto

Ana swings across the monkey bars like my little chimp, bounding across the rungs – proudly reaching the other end. Noah displays an intrinsic technique on a climbing wall, pulling himself up from one hand and foot hold to the next – surprised to find himself tens of feet up in the air.
We are born into a continuous climb called life. So much so that to cease the ascent invites demoralization, if not depression.
All of this becomes intensified – as does every other instant in life – when our existence is threatened. Carefree suddenly turns into precarious. I am seeing this play out yet again, more painfully than ever, in my Papa’s relentless disease progression.
Since the day that he was diagnosed a mere 7 weeks ago, it has been nothing but bad news. That first biopsy result was like a knockout punch that sent him down to the mat. Every time that he has tried to get up, there has been another blow. Sometimes he has barely been up on his knees again before he is pummeled back down.
Yet, it is when we are down – more than ever – that we need something to grab onto, a handhold to clutch. It is the hope that carries us through every day of our lives. It’s why we get up in the morning, why we save, why we have children, why we dream and make plans, why we pray to God, why we love, why we….
Why we live our lives.
Papa has had precious little to grab onto. There hasn’t been much for him to pin his hopes on.
My cancer experience was very different. Most of my news after the shock of the initial pancreatic cancer diagnosis was very good. A successful surgery with clean margins, good responses to chemo and radiation, clean Cat scans, a still efficient digestive system – each a major blessing. Compared to many, it was very easy for me to maintain a positive and hopeful attitude.
My Papa barely ever had a chance. He is now home for hospice care. He is thankfully without major pain but wasting away before our eyes. As he keeps saying – it is unbelievable. Too many of you know this.
We appreciate all of your love, prayers and good thoughts. Grant him peace.

I have been thinking even more about James Taylor’s words (below). Please do.

“Shower the people you love with love
Show them the way that you feel
Things are gonna be much better
If we only will”

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

There was never such a woman

My grandmother, Nona Ana, who I loved so very much, passed away two weeks ago (June 20th). This was the eulogy I was blessed to deliver at her graveside.

Ana Jung, my Nona Ana -
There was never such a woman.

She always gave everything from her heart.
All of you that are here know this.
For her family, it goes without saying.
She gave her children everything.
She was always thinking about and waiting for her grandchildren and then great-grandchildren.
Every time I would come over here to visit, after a long trip, her delicious soup (juha) was waiting for me. She would always say that it was "kako medezija" (like medicine).
She prepared the best potato omelet, fuzi, gnocchi, ravioli, meat sauce, manestra (local stew), etc.
She was always looking out towards the road for someone to come by and chat underneath her shady mulberry.
Her door was open and her espresso pot was always whistling.
We all came because she was kind to us beyond all measure,
She gave whether you deserved it or not.
She offered her love to the people that came to her door every day.
There was never such a woman.

Nona was so strong and sharp. You couldn't fool her.
She knew every date, who was related to who, and what had happened 100 years ago.
I would always ask her to tell me about:
- how it was for her growing up in Plomin,
- how her and my Nono Mate (Matthew) met
- how it was during the war (WWII)
- her giving birth to Maria, Bruno and Elda and how it was when they were kids, etc.
No birthday passed with her picking up the phone.
She ended up alone, without her Mate, fairly young. And then lived another 28 years!
She lived through so much. She certainly cried enough but knew how to laugh too, and to take life as it came.
When I was little, I was fascinated by her hands. They were so rough and scarred – you could see her difficult life history in her hands.
She was so full of courage and the will to live that she consented to have her leg amputated at 91 years of age just so that she could be with us a little longer.
There was never such a woman.

She was religious. Nona Ana would typically watch two Masses on TV on Sunday mornings. There was a calendar of saints hanging in her kitchen ("kucica", literally little house).
She didn't just believe but lived it.
She taught me who I was and where from.
Until the very last day. Thank you Nona.

Now she has gone to be with Nono.
For this, she is certainly glad because she loved him so very much and she missed him every day.
We will miss her with that same intensity.
There was never such a woman.

We love you Nona.
We won't find you at Vinez 5 anymore but you will always be there.
You will never be far from us,
I hope that we will see each other again, God willing, on the other side.
Nona Ana will be waiting for us with her delicious soup.

Nona lived a good life.

In the category of life can change in an instant and is not fair…
My dad has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. It has metastasized to his liver. He needs aggressive chemo to live. His symptoms only started at the beginning of June.
The metastasis is already interfering with his liver function. His body can only handle a lesser chemo right now.
We are praying that it helps enough to get him to the next level of treatment.
If you know him, you know what an absolutely wonderful man he is.
Please pray for him too with all your might.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Whipple Effects & Perspectives

I have been working through two separate after-effects of my Whipple procedure in the past few weeks. The Whipple is the surgery that removed my tumor and so, saved my life.

I have always been a little anemic, ever since childhood. Anecdotally, I've been feeling it a little more since my Whipple. I used to give blood and platelets very regularly and only failed for my hemoglobin levels very occasionally. Since being Whippled, I only pass 10-20% of the time. I've also struggled with my running – speed and endurance – since being sick. I reluctantly chalked it up to just getting old. But after waking up exhausted again a full 10 days after doing my first half-marathon in over two years, I knew that something was up. Blood work confirmed my low iron. Scoping my insides since has confirmed that I am not losing blood internally – which is good. It does imply that my iron absorption is extra poor. So I've started weekly iron IV infusions to prop up my counts. Problem experienced, diagnosed and getting remedied – thank God.

I also had a surprise incidence of pancreatitis recently. I went from exceptional to ER in a few hours one Saturday afternoon. Turns out I have a little stone in my pancreatic duct that was causing a back-up in there. An overnight at RWJUH, a CAT scan, 18 hours of IV fluids and time off for my digestive system – and I was fine again. The stone formed because my duct is likely restricted from my tumor having pressing on it. My fine doctors can't get at it because my altered piping increases the risk of a perforation as they snake their way through. Zapping it isn't an option because the pancreas is a soft tissue organ and would cause too much collateral damage. So, I wait for it to pass in its own time. In the meantime, I am forced to avoid the fried and fatty treats (and alcohol) that beckon all around. It was pizza and red wine that irritated my pancreas enough to land me in the ER in the first place. My margin of error is suddenly very slim. Again… problem experienced, diagnosed and getting managed – thank God. Anything short of hearing, "I am sorry Mr. Juricic, there's nothing we can do for you." – I am okay with.

Independent of these health issues (other than having a little bit of horizontal hospital gown time to reconsider life), I have been thinking a lot about perspective lately. It seems to me that perspective is mostly a matter of what we are comparing things to. Satisfaction in life may have more to do with our response to (the nearly-always) when life falls short of some ideal. Because even then, it is nearly-always better than it could have been. [Not to imply that we should strive merely for something better than the worst-case scenario in life.]

A pancreatic stone is far better than any kind of tumor.
My Nona Ana's long and rich 92 years of life and love is far better than most of us will experience.
Running slowly still beats not running at all.

I've noticed some conflicting tendencies amongst us that allow for convenient, and sometimes counter-productive, perspectives. For instance, when we consider our actions – especially in response to the behavior of those around us– our inclination is to compare ourselves to others. "Well…she started it." "He was mean/hit/whatever me." "People cut in all the time." Because this other behaved a certain way (that is wrong in our eyes), we then justify our bad behavior in return. And thus, the situation between the Hatfields and McCoys is perpetuated.

The question is – why do we compare ourselves to the least common denominator in the behavior of others? Why do we allow ourselves to be hurtful back when that person hurts us? We have numerous vey compelling real-life examples of better responses such as Gandhi, MLK, Mother Teresa and, or course the ultimate, Jesus. Why not strive for those bests instead of excusing ourselves to be less than that?

Interestingly, when it comes to how others "should" respond to us, we apply a different
measuring stick. Suddenly we no longer use "others" (or that very person) as a reference point. For the actions that others choose to take towards us, we compare those against what we (claim that we) would have done. Knowing what we need in a given situation, we very readily identify how the other fell short. "I would have…", we think to ourselves. "I would never…", we conclude – conveniently forgetting the times when we are selfish, arrogant or hurtful.

How convenient that we judge ourselves against the worst in others, while others get measured against the best of ourselves. That expedience allows us the maximum latitude, while leaving others minimum room for error. That does not seem like a very loving approach to community with others.

Christianity challenges these errant comparisons. It is not about being Christ-like, exactly. Ours is not so much to try to be Jesus – but, at best, to bring a little bit of Jesus into this world. I can only strive to be the very best Franco that I can be in every situation. That is, obviously, an incredibly tall order. And the best I can do is always better than what I am managing right now. Yet, that is precisely the challenge of Jesus.

A necessary aspect of that perspective is the knowledge that we will all always fall short. I will for sure – and that's okay. Compared to a lesser me, I can only keep trying to choose my best response. You will disappoint me too – and that's okay. I have to believe that you are doing the best that you can manage too. That is were compassion and forgiveness come in - for ourselves and towards others.

A good perspective can start with the reference point that we are all broken and trying our best. There's lots of rewarding places to go in life from there.

P.S. – Thank you all for the amazing love and prayer support that I have felt throughout this recent health issue and always. I am incredibly blessed!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Letting Go of Life

I have seen, in the last few years, demonstrated instances of individuals seeming to will them selves back to good health (if not back to life). I have also seen sad situations where cancer and other diseases have resisted the strongest will, taking a loved one before they were ready to give back any of their precious time here. I increasingly believe in the possibility that life or death is more than just a chance outcome that happens to us. We may not quite definitively choose but we may have a say. Certainly our influence on the outcome may not be equally balanced – choosing to stay may not "take" as easily as deciding to go. When it comes to the elderly especially, there may come a day when the other side with all of its unknowns becomes more appealing than someone's present state here. My 92-year-old grandmother, Ana, has been circling around that reflection point for a couple of years now. She'll say that she's ready to go, yet keeps fighting on. What an ideal place to be! She surprised me by deciding to have her leg amputated about a year ago and was herself surprised to conclude a few months later that it was worth it. Faced with the loss of her other foot now, she is getting ready to move on. She will be dying on her terms. Though it makes me sad, I see an incredible beauty in that too. What must it be like to have lived such a rich and fulfilling life that one would be content enough to "choose" to check out. Nona Ana fought as so many do – out of necessity, to survive. She taught me the wisdom of knowing when not to fight, and that acceptance can sometimes be the best course. How self-assured to trust in what comes next so much that it overwhelms the fear and apprehension inherent in that uncertainty. How beautiful to have that end come so gradually that it allows for heartfelt goodbyes with those you love. I wish that I might know the day when my work here was so complete that I was prepared to step into the next world in peace. I wish that how I die might reflect how I've lived. In Nona Ana's case, I hope that it can be with all of the stubborn strength, love and dignity she has shown throughout her life. Loving people are visiting her in these last days not because of what she can do for them now but based on the care that she has shown them throughout her life. For me that kindness and hospitality is symbolized by the world's best chicken soup that was waiting for me as my first meal after a long trip every time I visited. She is amazing and teaching me so much right up until this end – including this final lesson on trust. May the saints she's worshipped her whole life bring her safely home. And may there be a bowl of the most delicious soup (as she'd say, kako medezija) waiting for her when she gets there.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Revisiting Fairness

Last month (since these blog entries have slogged to being monthly) I wondered and whined a bit about not deserving my cancer given the not-too-bad care that I had taken of my body, diet, etc. I pondered this within the context of considering faith and acts on outcomes.
While I may have trouble understanding how I deserve the "bad" (cancer) that has come to me – I am equally at a loss to justify how it is that I merit the bounty of wonderful good that I have been blessed with in this life. Our perception of what is just in life is so conveniently twisted.
My 5-year-olds invoke fairness all the time. They probably say "that's not fair!" in various situations more than 10 times a day between them. I don't know if an expectation of fairness is something we instilled in them or is "natural" (i.e., in-born). As it turns out, they don't yet (?) really understand what fair is, they just think that they know injustice when they see it. Come to think of it…maybe they got that from their dad. Or is that too, a universal of sorts – human nature? They misapply the notion as often as not. Even cutting a deck of cards to decide who gets to go first – which is a pretty fair way (in the sense of random, anyway) to make such a decision, I think – ends up deemed unfair by the one that ends up second.
There is a childlike longing for a cosmic justice system in all of us. We want to believe that we get rewards for our goodness, that we "earn" something. It's assuring to think that instant karma works both ways and that it's gonna get you a bonus too. Life repeatedly heaps on the evidence that it doesn't work that way. There was never any assurance that life is fair or causative. What is it in us that refuse to allow us to let go of this scales of justice perspective?
We can try to create that justice as much as we can in a world whose circumstances are mostly beyond our control. Or we might choose to develop the spiritual fortitude to weather the inevitable setbacks and tragedies that inexplicably come our way. In this sometimes gray world, the most fruitful truth may be found in a healthy dose of both – actively creating justice and accepting the inescapable. Like "The Serenity Prayer" says: "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference." Ultimately, the trick is having the courage to bring a little relief and justice whenever we can, and the wisdom to hunker down with your God in the faith of a better day tomorrow when you can't.
In the end, life is not fair – which can, in itself, be a good or bad thing. In the same way that we cannot understand how God can "allow" this or that tragedy to befall anyone, we cannot know what lies behind God's grace either. It makes no sense (to us).
Still, on that plus side, I humbly thank God for the fantastic life that I have been blessed with every day. More good than I could have ever earned. It's a personal heaven right here and now.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Faith and Acts

Immediately upon being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer 3+ years ago, I wondered "why me?" of course. Not that I was without vices but I considered myself to have a healthy lifestyle. I exercised regularly and ate mostly vegetarian. I was days away from my 6th marathon. I kicked into a classic faith versus acts debate - asking myself why I qualified to have this disease. What had I done to my physical body in this life to start this tumor off? Or, what had I done against God to deserve this bleak fate. In the old days – B.C. – it was believed that people were stricken with maladies because of some sin of their own. My "bad" acts certainly didn't seem to merit this outcome (as if it ever does for anyone).
Similarly, there has been a controversy, in Christianity, for more than 500 years around the relationship between faith and acts. Put another way, is it strong faith that puts us in God's good graces or do we earn it by our actions. What, if anything, do we have to do to earn God's favor? Will only those who live lives of moral merit be saved (i.e., go to heaven)? Some maintain that we are we automatically in by virtue of being God's children. If it's all faith and good acts are not required, then why even bother to be good? How exclusive is this club and just how does one get in?
Different denominations find themselves on various points along the spectrum between (a) believe and you are in and (b) we will all be judged on how we've lived our lives. Regardless of religious affiliation, each of us falls somewhere along this continuum in our personal attitudes. Maybe you believe that we get what we deserve in life; that you have no one to blame but yourself for your situation. We all believe in something. Those morals, beliefs and acts define us. Faith and acts tell us who we are and it's the mix of the two that will determine who we might be.
In life, we can hope for longevity and/or we can work towards it. I took definitive acts, rather than merely counting on my strong gene pool to carry me into my 80s. Then, once my post-diagnosis reality became clear and my future foggy, my faith versus acts balance tipped a bit. Getting what I deserved became less important since I had no clue what that meant anymore. I'd thought that I had been a good enough guy (in terms of acts) to be allowed to live, but I needed more than that now. I began counting on faith as well as acts (and whatever else I could grab on to) to put me into the exclusive 6% club of five-year survivors. I wanted to will myself into seeing my kids grow up by the sheer force of prayer and optimism. Faith could save me. Just to be sure, I cleaned up my physical and mental act further – reconsidering every input into my body, meditating and sleeping more (hopefully not at the same time) and stressing less. If it's acts that can save me – I'm there. But I am not gonna let faith be my weak point either.
I am not saying that I believe that we can earn one fate over another or that I was lacking in faith before. Maybe it helps if faith precedes acts. Maybe you can't get by on just one or the other. Can good fruit spring from a bad tree; good health from a dark place? I don't remotely understand the relationship between faith and acts. I do know that deference to both is working out well for me so far. Thank God.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Get Ready to Rumble!

The thick fog of lives cut short by cancer is stifling the hope-filled sunshine that typically sustains me. My friend Michel's recent passing is the latest unbelievable loss. I am stunned by the suddenness of it even though he'd been battling cancer for some two years. My heart breaks at the pain most assuredly felt by those closest to him which I know dwarfs my own. I am angry with this outcome - though I am not sure who to direct it at. God seems like an appropriate target. Yet, I hesitate (which could probably be the topic of another day).

Besides Michel's tragic end, cancer seems to be all over my world. I just learned of the passing of a pancreatic cancer brother that I had been talking to by phone throughout the first half of 2011. A cousin was diagnosed with colon cancer and a work colleague with pancreatic cancer over the holidays. I am struggling to not drown in the overwhelming sadness, futility and sorrow of these injustices. I am struggling to see God very readily right now. Too little of it is making sense or seems fair to me – as if it ought to. As if there was any such guarantee. ("That's not fair" is one of my kids most used phrases. As if we are born with that expectation.) I feel fooled, like the rug was pulled out, while recognizing that there was never any promise. Life is not just. We can work to make it so with all that which is in our control. And then there's all that we can't. There's a line somewhere.

As usual it is the expectation of something different unrealized that creates the negative emotions. But, how to expect any different? Can we really go through life not expecting to see each person again that we say good-bye to when parting? How do we avoid expecting that we will each live to a ripe, old age, etc? The best we can do may be to sort through these emotions when the unthinkable does happen.
Although it is not quite wrestling with God ala Jacob, it is grappling with tornado events that blow apart our fundamental beliefs and the resultant tattered emotions left in their wake.
The reality is that these natural events do and will happen. Sometimes rarely, sometimes barely, but always eventually. By getting dirty with them in our lives, the struggle itself offers an opportunity to grow. By sorting through our pain and loss we mature emotionally and possibly spiritually too. We do have the option available to stay "clean" – to avoid or ignore the foundational challenges and emotional toll. That may be the path of lesser resistance and work for us for a while. That avoidance is not transferable though – neither interpersonally nor in time. It does not put us in a better position to help a neighbor when a tornado hits their lives. Nor does it better equip us to handle the inevitable next disaster in ours. And don't we want to be in the best possible position to help a loved one during their time of need? Is not our emotional fitness, like our physical, maximized by the very process of tearing down and rebuilding the muscles with which we respond?

In those many instances when I cannot change the external environment, what is happening to me or how someone else is behaving – I sometimes remember that I can always change my own perspective on the situation. Often, that's all we do control.

Yet we have a self-preserving/correcting momentum towards the most stable point. We want life settled, somewhat predictable and complete with an answer key. On a day-to-day basis, that perspective does not recognize that death could come at any moment either for us or someone we love. It would require much more energy to live with that awareness in every now. So, we emotionally conserve – by denying.

I have been reminded lately of the strength that can come out of brokenness. It is broken bread that nourishes us. God can come to us most (pointedly) in our brokenness. It may be that our greatest opportunity comes at that very moment - when we most want to turn away. Let's wrestle.