• A Tornado of Sorrow

    Posted on August 28th, 2009 bob.kellemen No comments

    Voices of Healing: African American Women of Faith

    Part IV: Elizabeth Keckley: A Tornado of Sorrow

     

    Note: Taken from Sacred Friendships: Celebrating the Legacy of Women Heroes of the Faith. For more information on this book, please visit: http://bit.ly/YmaM1

     

    Note: For Part I on Elizabeth Keckley, please visit my blog post at: http://bit.ly/FSNIt. For Part II, please visit: bit.ly/ENWjJ. For Part III, please visit: http://bit.ly/gI1H6

     

    A Tornado of Sorrow

     

    Just a few years after the death of young Willie Lincoln, at 11 o’clock at night, Elizabeth awoke to the news that Mr. Lincoln had been shot. In the confusion of the night, she finally learned that the President was dead. Her first thought was of Mrs. Lincoln.

     

    “I wanted to go to Mrs. Lincoln, as I pictured her wild with grief; but then I did not know where to find her. . .”[1]

     

    Mrs. Lincoln was overcome. Mrs. Secretary Wells asked Mrs. Lincoln who could comfort her. “Is there no one, Mrs. Lincoln, that you desire to have with you in this terrible affliction?”

     

    Mrs. Lincoln responded, “Yes, send for Elizabeth Keckley. I want her just as soon as she can be brought here.”[1]

     

    It’s Normal to Hurt

     

    Bringing her in, Mrs. Wells excused herself and Elizabeth was left alone with Mrs. Lincoln. “She was nearly exhausted with grief, and when she became a little quiet, I asked and received permission to go into the Guests’ Room, where the body of the President lay in state.”[1] 

             

    Returning to Mrs. Lincoln’s room, Elizabeth reports, “I found her in a paroxysm of grief. Robert was bending over his mother with tender affection, and little Tad was crouched at the foot of the bed with a world of agony in his young face. I shall never forget the scene—the wails of a broken heart, the unearthly shrieks, the terrible convulsions, the wild, tempestuous outbursts of grief from the soul.”[1]

     

    Shared Sorrow Is Endurable Sorrow

     

    How did Elizabeth respond? “I bathed Mrs. Lincoln’s head with cold water, and soothed the terrible tornado as best I could. Tad’s grief at his father’s death was as great as the grief of his mother, but her terrible outbursts awed the boy into silence.”

     

    In those days, of all people, a formerly enslaved black woman was the one human being on the face of the earth who could comfort the President’s widow. And how? With her empathy. With her silence. With her physical presence. With her loving companionship.

             

    Mrs. Lincoln’s Spiritual Friend

     

    “Every room in the White House was darkened, and every one spoke in subdued tones, and moved about with muffled tread. The very atmosphere breathed of the great sorrow which weighed heavily upon each heart. Mrs. Lincoln never left her room. . . She denied admittance to almost every one, and I was her only companion, except her children, in the days of her great sorrow.”

     

    Mrs. Lincoln’s testimony says it all. “Lizabeth, you are my best and kindest friend, and I love you as my best friend.”[1]

     

    The Rest of the Story

     

    For the rest of the story, please return to this blog for part five . . .

     

    Note: Readers can enjoy the empowering narratives of over two-dozen African American women (and scores of African American men) narrated in Kellemen and Edwards, Beyond the Suffering. For more information, please visit: http://bit.ly/XvsTu

     

     

  • Great Hearts Sorrowing

    Posted on August 26th, 2009 bob.kellemen No comments

    Voices of Healing: African American Women of Faith

    Part III: Elizabeth Keckley: Great Hearts Sorrowing

     

    Note: Taken from Sacred Friendships: Celebrating the Legacy of Women Heroes of the Faith. For more information on this book, please visit: http://bit.ly/YmaM1

     

    Note: For Part I on Elizabeth Keckley, please visit my blog post at: http://bit.ly/FSNIt. For Part II, please visit: bit.ly/ENWjJ.

     

    Great Hearts Sorrowing: Permission to Grieve

     

    Through a series of sovereign appointments, Elizabeth finds herself in the role of dressmaker for the President’s wife. More than that, she finds herself in the relationship of sacred friend to the President’s wife—Mary Todd Lincoln.

     

    Over time, the emotional, turbulent Mary Lincoln came to love and even need “Lizabeth,” as she called her. The need exploded when Mrs. Lincoln’s son, Willie, became ill. “He was very sick,” Elizabeth reports, “and I was summoned to his bedside. It was sad to see the poor boy suffer. Always of a delicate constitution, he could not resist the strong inroads of disease.”

     

    According to Elizabeth, “He was his mother’s favorite child, and she doted on him. It grieved her heart sorely to see him suffer.”

     

    Willie worsened, lingering a few days, and then died. “God called the beautiful spirit home, and the house of joy was turned into the house of mourning.”

     

    Elizabeth was there when President Lincoln arrived. “I never saw a man so bowed down with grief. He came to the bed, lifted the cover from the face of his child, gazed at it long and earnestly, murmuring, ‘My poor boy, he was too good for this earth. God has called him home. I know that he is much better off in heaven, but then we loved him so. It is hard, hard to have him die!’”

     

    The scene continues.

     

    “Great sobs choked his utterance. He buried his head in his hands, and his tall frame was convulsed with emotion. I stood at the foot of the bed, my eyes full of tears, looking at the man in silent, awe-stricken wonder. His grief unnerved him, and made him a weak, passive child. I did not dream that his rugged nature could be so moved. I shall never forget those solemn moments—genius and greatness weeping over love’s idol lost. There is a grandeur as well as a simplicity about the picture that will never fade.”

     

    Mrs. Lincoln’s grief was inconsolable.

     

    “The pale face of her dead boy threw her into convulsions. Around him love’s tendrils had been twined, and now that he was dressed for the tomb, it was like tearing the tendrils out of the heart by their roots. Willie, she often said, if spared by Providence, would be the hope and stay of her old age. But Providence had not spared him. The light faded from his eyes, and the death-dew had gathered on his brow.”

     

    Mrs. Lincoln was so completely overwhelmed with sorrow that she did not attend her son’s funeral.

     

    Elizabeth could empathize with a grieving mother’s broken heart.

     

    “Previous to this I had lost my son. Leaving Wilberforce, he went to the battle-field with the three months troops, and was killed in Missouri—found his grave on the battlefield where the gallant General Lyon fell. It was a sad blow to me, and the kind womanly letter that Mrs. Lincoln wrote to me when she heard of my bereavement was full of golden words of comfort.”

     

    Clearly, all were given permission to grieve. Speaking of President Lincoln and all the President’s men, Elizabeth describes the funeral scene.

     

    “And there sat the man, with a burden on his brain at which the world marvels—bent now with the load at both heart and brain—staggering under a blow like the taking from him of his child! His men of power sat around him—McClellan, with a moist eye when he bowed to the prayer, as I could see from where I stood; and Chase and Seward, with their austere features at work; and senators, and ambassadors, and soldiers, all struggling with their tears—great hearts sorrowing with the President as a stricken man and a brother.”

     

    The permission to grieve extended over time, as it should. “For two years after Willie’s death the White House was the scene of no fashionable display. The memory of the dead boy was duly respected. In some things Mrs. Lincoln was an altered woman.”

     

    From Elizabeth’s perspective, President Lincoln grieved as one who had found Christian hope.

     

    “Mr. Lincoln was reading that divine comforter, Job. He read with Christian eagerness, and the courage and hope that he derived from the inspired pages made him a new man.”

     

    Here Elizabeth records a profound Presidential example of scriptural exploration bringing hope to the hurting. In her words, “What a sublime picture was this! A ruler of a mighty nation going to the pages of the Bible with simple Christian earnestness for comfort and courage, and finding both in the darkest hours of a nation’s calamity. Ponder it, O ye scoffers at God’s Holy Word, and then hang your heads for very shame!”

     

    The Rest of the Story

     

    For the rest of the story, please return to this blog for part four . . .

     

    Note: Readers can enjoy the empowering narratives of over two-dozen African American women (and scores of African American men) narrated in Kellemen and Edwards, Beyond the Suffering. For more information, please visit: http://bit.ly/XvsTu

     

     

  • Book Review: Dance in the Rain

    Posted on August 21st, 2009 bob.kellemen No comments

    Dance in the Rain:

    His Joy Comes in the Mourning

     

    Book Review Details

     

    *Title:  Dance in the Rain

    *Author: Angela A. Dockter-Harris 

    *Publisher: Tate Publishing (2008)

    *Category: Christian Living, Grieving

     

    Reviewed By: Bob Kellemen, Ph.D., LCPC, Author of Soul Physicians, Spiritual Friends, Beyond the Suffering, Sacred Friendships, and God’s Healing for Life’s Losses.

     

    Recommended: Dance in the Rain is a unique book that offers beneficial and practical biblical grief tools for healing and hope in Christ.

     

    Review: A Journal for Your Journey

     

    Angela Dockter-Harris has compiled a very practical and moving grief manual written from a Christian perspective. Rather than providing a theology of suffering, Harris offers a remarkable workbook for the person experiencing grief.

     

    Part One: Journaling

     

    Dance in the Rain is in two companion sections. Part one is simply and appropriately entitled “Journaling.” Three brief, focused chapters entail this section: “Remembering the Person I Love,” “This Gift I Leave You,” and “The Loss.” Harris introduces each chapter with four helpful overviews: what the chapter is about, what the reader can expect to find, to whom the chapter applies, and the goal of the chapter.

     

    In “Remembering the Person I Love,” Harris offers seventeen journaling suggestions for the loss of a parent, spouse, adult, child, grandparent, sibling, or friend. She then provides twenty-seven distinct journaling topics for the loss of an unborn child, infant, toddler, or young child. The chapter concludes with eleven journaling topics to compose a special tribute to the person who has passed away.

     

    Having just experienced the loss of my father-in-law within a week of reviewing these questions, I could easily apply them to his life and his death. The questions were moving, appropriate, and healing. For example, some of the tribute questions included, “The most important lesson I ever learned from the person I love is…” “What I most admired about this person is…” “The most precious gift I ever received from this person was…”

     

    The only “negative” in this section relates to the lack of space allotted for responses. A few brief lines would hardly allow someone to record “The funniest story I remember about this person…” I did not find any suggestion in the book recommending that the questions be typed out so that lengthier responses could be given. Perhaps even a supplemental e-document or e-book or CD could be included in future editions. I understand that the idea of the book is for it to be given as a gift—written in and completed—which is a beautiful thought. Perhaps I’m just too wordy!

     

    Chapter two, “This Gift I Leave You” is created uniquely for the person facing death. Dozens of thought-provoking questions lead the reader to opening up about his or her life to those who will be left behind. Harris shares sixty-one topics to probe and ponder, many with sub-topics. Taken together, this would be an amazing gift of healing—both for the dying person and for those left behind.

     

    The questions are candid, like, “I want to share with you my stages of emotions: When I was angry and why…” “Some things I have really struggled with in my life…” They are also moving, such as, “My life’s legacy. I want to be remembered for…” “My favorite memory of us…” They can also be used to pass on a legacy. “Things I hope you try/do before you die.” “Things I hope you never do, ever, never…” Such compiled responses would truly be an awesome gift.

     

    Topic sixty-one has many sub-points, all related to “Thoughts about my funeral.” So many people wait far too long (or never share/plan) to discuss their wishes for their funeral. Harris guides readers in how to map out one’s own funeral plans. Rather than macabre, her suggestions are touching, relevant, and practical.

     

    Even after all of these questions, Harris lists thirty-two additional topics to write about. They include such gems as, “My/our wedding day.” “Don’t be angry that I am gone.” “My advice on relationships.” The author then leaves ten blank, lined pages so that the book could be written in and given as a gift.

     

    Chapter three addresses, “The Loss.” This section helps the reader to move from shock and denial to candor. As the reader faces the reality of the loss, the healing process can begin. This section is brief—two pages and eight questions, which was a tad surprising after the depth of the preceding two chapters.

     

    Part Two: Bible Study User’s Guide

     

    Part two (“Bible Study User’s Guide”) is actually repeated twice. The first section is to be completed by the person grieving. The second section is to be completed by the person to whom the book is being left as a journal.

     

    The first chapter in this second section addresses “When a Loved One Isn’t Saved.” This is a common question that Christians have, and, unfortunately, one ignored or minimized all-too-often in Christian circles. Harris faces the issue, the pain, the confusion, and the potential guilt and shame, head on.

     

    Overall, her Bible study questions and Scriptures are theologically sound. However, readers, especially Reformed, Calvinistic readers, and/or all those who highlight the sovereign will of God, will likely take issue with some of Harris’ choice of words. “If your loved one died not knowing the Lord Jesus Christ, I want to assure you that He [God] did everything possible in the lifetime of your loved one to give them every opportunity to know Him” (p. 94). “God gives each and every one of us as many opportunities to know Him and to choose Him as He [God] can” (p 95).

     

    Obviously, the whole “God’s sovereignty/human responsibility debate” is age-old. And death-and-dying issues elevate the emotional heat in those discussions. I’m not suggesting that a work-book like this needed a theological tome on the topic. However, the aforementioned wording might appear to diminish the all-powerful, all-wise, sovereign work and will of God. This is something that I am confident the author never intended to convey.

     

    Harris includes additional Bible study chapters on “Anger,” “Sorrow,” and “Acceptance.” Each chapter provides verses to read and space to respond to pertinent questions. These chapters assist the reader to “work through” the stereotypical stages of grieving: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance—all from a biblical perspective.

     

    A Very Valuable Resource Tool

     

    Dance in the Rain is a unique book that offers beneficial and practical biblical grief counseling tools. As a pastor-counselor-professor, and as an author of a forthcoming book on grief (God’s Healing for Life’s Losses: How to Find Hope When You’re Hurting), I absolutely recommend this workbook. I see it as extremely valuable for parishioners, counselees, and spiritual friends. Frankly, every pastor and Christian counselor who deals with grief issues should have a dozen copies on hand.

     

    http://bit.ly/18QrNP