Stand tall, and look up.

Sophia loves everything “big girl.” More than that, though, she loves that she can do (almost) everything “big girl” on her own. Newest to that list is showering all by herself. She loves the water, the glee of spraying the walls and floors, and the simple joy of being able to take care of her own body with minimal assistance from me. Of course, some elements of the “showering” escapade come more easily than others: if there is one thing that Sophia still hates, it’s water in her face. So, we’ve devised a plan for washing her hair, and every time she gets ready, I hear her chant the mantra upon which we agreed: “Stand tall, and look up.”

Simple words, aren’t they? “Stand tall, and look up.” They are a simple reminder that if she does as those words suggest, everything will work out just fine. For her, this little saying brings comfort, peace, and direction: she knows exactly what to do, and no matter where the water squirts or what amount of soap runs down her face, she has a plan that brings her confidence and hope. Tonight, as I was washing my little one’s hair, her little chant resonated with me more than usual — especially as I’ve considered all that waits for me in the new year.

2014 offered challenge after challenge; it has been, without a doubt, the hardest year of my life. We began the year finishing the most intense semester of Joseph’s Masters program. We prayed for and delivered our third son who, like his brothers, didn’t survive his birth. We moved out of the home we’d known for our entire marriage, away from both of our families, and to a state we’d never even laid eyes on. We switched roles: Joseph moved from being the full-time parent/full-time student into being the sole provider. I transitioned from working 2-3 jobs to working from home with our little Sophia.

Thankfully, our struggles were interrupted by moments of joy and peace, but I’d lie if I said that I wasn’t looking to the new year with a certain amount of anxiety: surviving one hard year doesn’t mean I won’t be forced to survive another. I’ve no idea what waits for me as we turn the clock from one year to the next, but I do have a plan.

I’m going to stand tall, and look up.

When everything falls apart and when everything works out perfectly, I am going to stand tall and look up.
When life looks exactly as I feel it should and when my entire world feels strange and foreign, I’m going to stand tall and look up.
When I succeed and when I fail, when I do everything right and when I do everything wrong, I’m going to stand tall and look up.

Because in the end, my fear and anxiety gets me nothing more than more fear and more anxiety. Because I hope these words ring in Sophia’s ears long after “water in the face” is the least of her concerns. Because there is no better monument to this year than the lesson of standing strong when all I wanted to do was curl into a ball.

Maybe you’ll join me.

Instead of swimming and sweating and swearing and swerving, perhaps this year’s resolution could take a more peaceful turn. Perhaps you’ll take more time to stop, to stand, and to look. When life hits you hard in the face — and there will be a moment in 2015 when it will — when everything seems to melt around you and it becomes impossible to see the way, just stop. Stop and stand. Don’t spend your energy trying to squirm your way out of it.

Just stand.
Stand tall.
And look up.

Keep your mind and heart on the promise that, eventually, everything will come together in peace and in hope — because someday, in some small way, it will. Look up towards the light, knowing that “this” too shall pass, and remembering that no matter how good or bad it gets, God is here, in the middle of your pain and acquainted with your grief. He revels in your joy, and weeps in your sorrow.

So working and worrying aside, my plan for this year is simple: to stand tall, and to look up. Please join me.

Death shall be no more….

Life.

We all have one. We talk, write, tweet, and post about them all the time. In fact, I remember as a child yelling the insult “get a life!” to someone who got on my nerves, who needed to butt out of my business, or who was just plain stupid. But this week has taught me that “getting a life” is not as easy or insult-worthy as I once imagined. Tonight, life feels short and small and fragile. Most of our lives feel like whispers in comparison to the roars all around us — roars of busy-ness, irritation, traffic, jobs, screaming kids, annoyances, heartbreaks, dishes, laundry, and days that come and days that go: the constant repeat of living in the world that we created for ourselves.

Yet, as fleeting as it feels, life is so incredibly precious. On one end, there are those who wish that they could breathe for a moment or two longer than they will. On the other hand, there are some who think that are invincible. Teenagers road race, while the elderly struggle to hold back the clock for just a minute more. In some ways, we all live, hoping that we can keep going for a day, a week, or a month more.

And then something happens.

Just this week, I distantly watched a young family suddenly lose their husband and father: one week, he was fine and the next, he was dead. Just last week, I learned that a mother-type to me was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. She will fly from Boise to Seattle for treatment. Just tonight, I heard that a dear former teacher lost her fiancee’ to suicide.

In the middle of living, death knocks on the door and it suddenly feels like death is all around us. Some people console themselves with the “hope of heaven” and the idea that life doesn’t end in death. This isn’t a concept that has settled well with me as so little of it makes sense. But there is still a twinge inside that wonders what happens when we die. Metaphysical poet John Donne seemed to know, and he probably explains this best when he personifies and speaks to death in Holy Sonnet 72.

“Death, be not proud,” he quibbles. “…though some have called thee mighty and dreadful, for, thou art not so.”

I wish I had Donne’s conviction. To me, death is still mighty; it is still dreadful. Because sometimes, when you’re right in the middle of it, death feels like it is everywhere.

But Donne was right. In fact, he speaks to death directly, reminding it that it is “…slave to Fate, Chance, Kings, and desperate men.” Death doesn’t choose its victim; life does: people get hit by buses (fate), people get cancer (chance), people are condemned to die (kings), and sometimes, people kill themselves (desperate men….and women, as it were). Life happens to all of us in the best and the worst of ways, and sometimes, life kills us. Or it kills someone we love. And those moments terrify me.

But Donne didn’t think that they should. “Why swells’t thou, then?” he asks. Why, death, do you think that you are so strong when you dwell among the weakest entities on earth — in poison, disease, and war? When something as simple as a potion can mimic you? Why so cocky, oh death? When in reality, if we truly believe that there may be something more than all of this, you, death, will die along with the rest of us? Doesn’t eternal life actually imply that death is nothing more than a blinking eye?

Donne seemed to think so. He described the process of death as not actually dying at all. It was, as he explained, simply a moving from one life (this one) to the next (the eternal one). It was nothing more than merely closing one’s eyes only to open them in eternity. “One short sleep past,” he said, “we wake eternally, and death shall be no more, death thou shalt die.” Death isn’t to be feared, and truly, neither is life because life never ends.

Sometimes, that is good news. And sometimes, it’s not. Every fiber of my being wishes that there was some way that I could carry the burden that those I earlier described will carry over the next days, months, and years. I do not think that death is nearly as weighty as is the life you have to keep living after death has happened to you. I have no answer for any of the questions. I can’t pretend to know how anyone feels, and I don’t know the moment my life will tip over again.

But I do have hope.

I have hope that this is not the end of life — not for the dead, and not for those who live. Hope reminds me that babies are born, that children laugh, that lovers find each other, that people commit to lives well-spent, that students study and teachers teach, that music plays and dancers move: that ultimately, life is so much more than the moment it ends. Life exists in the moments we choose to actually live rather than to merely survive, in the moments we put down our devices and truly engage, in the moments that we treasure and create memories, and in the relationships that make all of this worth living.

So, answers or not, I will hold on to hope. I hope that you will too.