grace.

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“To be alive is to be broken. And to be broken is to stand in need of grace.” ~Brennan Manning

I’ve been doing a lot of grace seeking these days. It’s become a full-time job. It’s an awful upside down full-time endeavor. The edges of things have begun to fray, a frightening concept if I didn’t have such a deep need to discover what is at the center of all of this. I’m hoping for the impossible. I’m seeking a reason for all of this. I’m not asking WHY Carl died, only God knows the answer to that one, but I am steadfast in wanting my love for Carl, his love of everyone around him, and the pain we all feel in losing him to hold meaning in our lives from here on out. Something real. Something that, someday, I will look up from this vast ocean of grief and realize how it’s brought us all somewhere that we could not have arrived at otherwise. I speak in terms of everyone whose Carl’s life and death has affected, but there is a very deep seed of desire for *something* that is also completely personal. Yet even in this private need I sense a ripple effect that craves to travel well beyond my own self-seeking needs. Whether I want to or not, I keep breathing into this mystery. Or perhaps this mystery keeps breathing into me. I am choosing to not have lost so much for nothing.

Over and over, I travel away and towards this “choosing” on an almost constant basis. I’m unwavering and thoroughly floundering in this commitment, all at once. To find purpose in the unthinkable. I am not at all certain that I’m made of the right material for what this life is asking of me. The details are still too unknown, the pain too palpable, turning these moments of optimism, so easily on its head.

But this strange conviction keeps returning. I fumble with a sense of faith that won’t seem to leave me alone.

Yesterday I went to church with Carl’s sister-in-law, Carmita. I have not gone to a real church since I was in high school, and even that was at the demands of my parents. But when Carl’s new-born niece recently passed away, just two hours old, something shifted inside of me. Carl and I went to the funeral service only two weeks before his own passing. It was beautiful and utterly heartbreaking. Anna Claire’s death gifted me with a knowing that I had found a home in my spirituality, a place within myself that I could count on for comfort, a place to hold me when nothing else made any sense or things seemed to be falling apart. It was the first time in over 30 years that I attended a religious service and was able to find exactly what I needed in it. The pastor read the most beautiful scriptures and then admitted that he didn’t have all the answers. For this reason, I immediately liked him. I told Carl that I wanted to go to that church and he whole-heartedly agreed that I should go with Ervin and Carmita sometime soon. I was (and am) awe-struck that such a tiny person, who had barely breathed into this world, could change the lives of so many, so completely.

Carl and I talked ALL the time. But what I loved most were the spiritual conversations that were weaved into everything we lived or did or tried to plan, everything we experienced or attempted to understand. I can’t even tell you how many times a challenge would arise, making life difficult or causing impatience (a truck would break down, or we would be delayed in seeing each other, or an issue with business or another person would come up, or our plans to move to Alaska would be postponed, or we wouldn’t be able to live together as soon as we wanted to, or…) and every single time, instead of getting hung up on the problem or set-backs, we would both genuinely be amazed and find ourselves saying: “WOW! Isn’t it cool how [something good] happened because [something else] went wrong?!” We got good at seeing how the rearrangements of life’s details kept leading us somewhere better than we could have gotten to if things had gone the way we planned. With each challenge we became closer. With our whole hearts, we trusted that we were being divinely guided–and we let ourselves be guided by that trust, wholly.

I have never fit into a spiritual box of any sort and yet somehow, together, we created this beautiful bridge to a space of shared faith. Carl was a constant source of fresh perspective for me and my spirituality expanded in ways that I find difficult to explain or summarize. We learned so much from each other.

Yesterday, when I went to the church that I had wanted to visit since Anna Claire’s passing. The service began with song after song of good music. I immediately felt Carl’s presence with me. There were guitars and a stand-up bass, a big hand drum and several gorgeous singers. I NEVER sing along (ugh, I hate sing-alongs!), but wow, that music invited breath. I found myself a part of that music in a way that I wasn’t really expecting. I felt Carl standing beside me, holding my hand. In my mind’s eye, we looked at each other and smiled. I felt him thoroughly enjoying the service, too.

The music was wonderful, but the part that really floored me was the scripture. It was the exact same scripture that was read at Carl’s funeral. A synchronistic fluke. I cried. Not for the words, but for the knowledge that, all along, it was meant for me to be there. How could a two hour old baby lead me to such a gift? Somehow these strange synchronicities give me comfort in my own loss. Carmita and I both experienced the service, each in our own way, and I was glad for her presence in my life. If we had known when we first met, nearly a year ago, how deeply we would need to lean on each other, I’m quite certain that we both would have ran for the hills in opposite directions. But instead, there we were, sharing a package of kleenex, somehow helping each other to remember to breath.

In this life, I have given my greatest offering. And that is Carl. I am letting him go (an offering) from my heart to God and, in doing so, I find myself in need of the deepest kind of grace. I am broken.

In writing this, I struggle to bridge that gap between the myriad of beliefs that make up this world and even this circle of readers. This is not about church or religion. It’s about something much more beautiful and profound than any of that.

But, yes, yesterday I went to church. I cried; I found meaning in the music; I felt Carl’s presence and held his hand; I sat next to the woman who, in heart, is now my sister, too; I met beautiful people. And whether in church or outside of it, I find myself pulled over and over and over again by a desire to keep living this life as fully as I had planned to do with Carl.

I do believe that this was always meant to be. Right now I just pray for the strength, confidence, trust and energy to make myself available to whatever it is I’m here for. There’s really not a whole lot of room for doubt or complacency if I’m going to live this out the way I feel I’m intended to.

I love you, Carl Bratlien. I love you, sweet baby, Anna Claire. Thank you for leading me to this view. May grace be with us all.

{originally published Dec 1, 2014}

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