Remembering Junarita Rachel May Shinn

Eulogy written and read by Kevin Shinn, July 08, 2020.

Today we gather to remember Junarita Rachel May Shinn. 

She had a rather unique first name.

Many, many times, her name was misread or mispelled, and mistakenly pronounced “Juanita.” In my entire life, I never met another JUNARITA.  I doubt many people have. And wasn’t this woman as unique as her name?

Many of you knew her as the MAILADY, the moniker imprinted on her specialized Oklahoma license plate.  (Like this one.) She was the one who gave you a piece of candy if you came out to the mailbox to greet her. Some of you knew what time she would drive by and sat underneath that mailbox waiting for her, didn’t you?

The MAILADY knew which of her senior citizen patrons were shut in, and so instead of leaving the mail in the box, she would take it up to the house, which was against Post Office rules. But to the MAILADY, proper hospitality trumped the rules, as good country folk do.  

It was also common practice if someone wasn’t home to receive it, to leave a package that was too big for the mailbox with a nearby neighbor. And since she was also intuitively aware of which patrons weren’t getting along, she would know not to leave that parcel with a feuding neighbor, lest it end up in the trash.

Some of you knew her as Mama Shinn, the origin of which was a little embarrassing at the time, but I’m all grown up now, so I can tell the story.  I played Little League baseball in Ochelata. I was around 5th grade. I wasn’t very good but tried my best. During one game, as I was at bat, the pitcher threw the ball and hit me square in the left rib cage with a pitch. Immediately, the air was knocked out of me and I fell to the ground in pain. As only a mother could do, my mom rushed out of the stands and ran out to home plate to check on me.  I think it was Eddie Trottingwolf that reassured her, “He’s OK, Mama Shinn. He’s OK.”

To all my teammates, she was Mama Shinn from that day on.

Others know her simply as Miss June, the woman with the smile. I can’t tell you how many times people said to me, “your mama has the sweetest smile.” In her assisted living apartment, some of the staff would take their break in Miss June’s room, because she was an unusually pleasant resident and the staff just liked being around her.  

Sometimes when folk get old, they start losing things, like hair, hearing, memory. (I forget what else) But Miss June never lost her smile. 

I had the good fortune to be by Mom’s bedside in her final days, served by hospice in the home of my sister outside Springfield, MO. I watched her decline steadily. She lost her appetite. She eventually lost her mobility and was bedfast til the end.  But hospice teaches us that hearing is the last sense to go, so talk to her as you would any other person. And I did that.  After receiving the news of her decline, on Friday, I drove the six hours from Nebraska to be with her. As I arrived, I entered her room as she was sleeping. I leaned over the bedside, kissed her on the forehead and whispered, “I’m here, Mom. I’m here to be with you til its time to go.” She raised her eyebrows, squinted her closed eyes and..

She gave me that smile.

“My boy’s here…” she said.

I’ll never forget that moment.

She lost some things as she got old, but she held onto the important things that could never be taken away. Her smile. The kindness that produced it. Her faith that sustained it.

As a son, that is a precious gift. 

In the following days, she gave me an example that I want to emulate in my final days. Though she spent most of the time sleeping and was in obvious pain, she didn’t complain.  As I sat bedside, I felt uncomfortable and helpless as I watched her struggle to breathe. I prayed for her, asking God for mercy on her.

In the Gospel of Luke, when Jesus died, he spoke the words, “It is Finished.”  What is “it?” We are taught that through His dying on the Cross, all of death had been defeated.  So why did He leave it in place? If death is finished, why do we have to experience it? These were the thoughts interwoven in my mind, getting tangled with the sadness of being so close to my mom in her final hours.

Knowing that she could still hear, I played music for her on my phone; old hymns that she would remember.  We also listened to scripture readings, mainly selections in Isaiah and Romans 8.  

I’ve grown to enjoy listening to the Bible, because I take the passage in Hebrews 10 literally, “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” As I listen, I often encounter His Spirit differently than if I were just to read the words on a page.

On one evening, I kept Romans 8 on repeat, listening quietly over and over. On one pass through, as the narrator came to verse 16, the Spirit drew my attention inward:

Therefore, since we are His children, that makes us heirs, beneficiaries set to inherit—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ. It is this relationship that gives us the opportunity to share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

I paused the audio. 

Share in His sufferings? 

In that quiet moment, His Spirit reassured me, “She is sharing in my sufferings.”

Would you care to join us?”

As is common when I sense the presence of the Lord, I began to weep. Not out of sorrow this time, but out of worship and amazement.  

At that moment, I had gained a new perspective on what I was witnessing in my mom’s cancer-ridden body in the back corner bedroom of my sister’s house. More than waiting to get it over with, more than enduring through the passing of my mom, I saw that she was in the midst of a fellowship with Jesus because of that suffering.

The famous passage of Psalm 23 affirms this appointment, 

He prepares a table for me in the presence of my enemies

I love this picture because I’m a chef by trade. I find my joy in setting a table. For me, preparing a table is more than just putting food on a plate. Preparing a table means anticipating my guests that will sit at that table. It means knowing what will bring them delight. It means preparing to surprise them.  It means going above and beyond their expectations with an experience they did not envision.

Even as death was waiting for the Number of Her days to be complete, Death does not get to disturb fellowship with Jesus. And Jesus doesn’t get up and leave until we’re finished. He prepares the table and even stays to clean up afterward.

At that very instant, I saw I was invited to His table. I was included to join in, to share in Jesus’ sufferings. He was welcoming me into fellowship and a union with Him amid the pain of sorrow. Because He, too, had experienced death, the worst death of all by carrying the sins of the world.  Which means He knows what it means to hurt.  He understands what I am feeling, and asks if I would like to join Him.

I know from recent experience the importance of grieving loss.  I lost my wife of nearly 30 years to cancer last November.  Death is painful. We hurt today because we lost a mother, a grandmother, a sister, a dear friend.  I would encourage you, don’t bypass the pain too quickly.  Jesus wants to fellowship with you. He knows that our loss of Mom, Ms June, Mama Shinn, hurts because her life mattered to us. We honor it by sitting at Jesus’ table, not by hurrying to get over it. He knows that our tears are not just expected. They are necessary.

We need not fear grief because it is temporary.  Sorrow comes to pass. Joy comes to stay.

Where the Words of the Prophets Are Written

As a writer, I enjoy seeing how others use words to communicate.  I’ve finally learned to stop comparing my writing to someone else who I admire or appreciate. There is no reason for me to try and sound like Seth Godin or Tyler Huckabee. The world already has their voice. I need to figure out how to sound more like me and try to keep getting better at it. 

One place where I find the writing fascinating is on the bathroom wall.  I don’t write on them myself, but I read with interest the messages and always ponder why they chose to write what they did.

I imagine some dude, his junk in one hand, a sharpie in the other, mustering up the drunken courage to pen his main message for all who come behind him to read. Here is his chance to communicate to a captive audience. What nugget of truth does he choose in the 30 seconds he has?

F**K TRUMP

C’mon dude. That’s all you got? That’s the best you can do? That’s what you want to tell the world?

Yeah, I thought so.

I sure hope it stops there in the bathroom stall.

Any message that begins with the F-word should be received with caution.  Anger won’t produce Hope. Rage only leads to more destruction.  Don’t become like the one you despise.

Here we are, on the cusp of some very historic events that could lead to some profound social changes. And many people, especially young people, all over the world, feel a message boiling in their soul. Now is your time to write it for all to read. And I sure hope it’s more than “F**K TRUMP.”

There will be a lot of that out there, but that message isn’t worthy of anyone’s time. Any message other than one of Hope will eventually fade. Anything preached out of anger will burn out quickly. Cynicism be damned. Write a better word. Tell a better story. Create a better future.

Make room. And don’t hold back.

A Message From Weeds

As any gardener knows, leave a patch of ground bare and you’ve just sent out an invitation for weeds to grow there.

Mother Earth is a modest lady.  She doesn’t like to be uncovered for very long. Her favorite color is green.

But she doesn’t pick out her own clothes. Nature will pick them for her.

But so can I.

The prophet Isaiah spoke of the nettle and the thornbush as her covering.  Effective in shading Mother Earth from the sun, but not desirable to dwell among or look at. He also referred to the two plants giving way to the myrtle and cypress.  The latter are both beautiful and beneficial for everyone involved.

I want to plant a garden with myrtle and cypress.  But if I leave my ground alone and don’t tend to it, I’ll end up with nettle and thorns.

As I watch these exciting days unfold, count me as one of the hopeful. I believe I am witnessing something new, as was told to Isaiah.  It was also assumed that many would not be aware of it. There are many looking for something familiar. I feel like I am watching the start of a river beginning to flow in the desert. Something brand new.

In the bourgeoning call for the ground to be stripped of the entangled weeds of injustice, inequality and ineffective social systems, I see a good thing, but with an important mandate. Just like tearing out an overgrown vine that has a grip on the entire fenceline, it will be crucial to plant something desirable in its place. If we don’t, something else will creep in and take over by default. 

It’s not enough to rely on just the vote to make change. You can vote out the one you despise, but what will the replacement look like? Holding the “anyone will be better than the one we have now” position is not driven by wisdom. 

Amid all the cacophony and chaos, I hear the heart behind the calls for actions like defunding the police. It’s one thing to clear the ground. But that’s not enough. it’s even more important to move in and plant according to a plan, tended and watered by passionate leaders that aren’t fueled by rage and motivated by merely tearing out the old.

The Titillating Invitation of Anger

As an intuitive person who has easy access to read his emotions, I have to purposefully limit the amount of news and social media that wants to invade my space.  It’s primarily due to the escalating level of anger that is dark, pervasive, and yet so inviting.

Anger is a necessary, primal emotion.  But if one isn’t careful, the heart can gravitate toward the seductive invitation that anger offers. For some, anger is the easiest and safest emotion to experience and express.  Peace and Joy require Vulnerability, which is not necessary with anger.

Anger is like fire.  It needs fuel to keep it burning.  Add enough propellant and the flames of anger roar into a raging inferno. And rage will consume anything in its path.

Your friend on Facebook knows this. You know the one, daily posting links that invite you into their rage.  It doesn’t have to be about race.  It can be social, political or religious.  They are always upset about something. If you agree, you like their posts and find place and solace in the anger.  But eventually their anger might wear you down, and you click “unfriend.”

The fires of anger need to be constantly stoked. And social media is a perfect place to easily find firewood. But Justice will never prevail under an angry flame.

Anger might start the fire, but all Good Works will eventually need a different fuel to burn long.

That’s where Love needs to be piled on. Love will burn long, steady and hot without destroying all in its path. Love doesn’t flare up into an uncontrollable blaze like rage.

Love has a noble outcome. But rage can easily burn it down.

There is no need to judge what is fueling the current protests.  This movement to address racial injustice will eventually judge itself.  If it is driven by anger, the energy will eventually wear off as the participants vent their rage in destruction and wait for another crisis to stoke the fire. Love will burn long after the all angry protesters have given up.

Watch. Engage. Listen. Understand. March. Protest. Give. Speak. Do all in Love, not anger.

True Justice will prevail when Love gets ignited and starts to burn.  

Understanding My Grief And The Enneagram – Part III

Here is Part III of my reflections on grief and how the Enneagram is helping me process the loss of my wife of nearly 30 years. Recording is so different than writing. I’m still getting accustomed to hearing my own voice through the speakers. Thanks for listening.

Understanding my Grief through the lens of the Enneagram – Part III
Audio by Kevin Shinn, June 2020

Understanding My Grief And The Enneagram – Part II

Here is Part II in my reflections on my marriage and the passing of my wife seven months ago. I tell about how the Enneagram has allowed me to walk back through the major events of life during my nearly 30 years of marriage and how it has given me insight into the issues we struggled with.

Understanding my Grief through the lens of the Enneagram
Audio by Kevin Shinn, June 2020

Understanding my Grief and the Enneagram – Part I

Today’s post is in audio form. It’s about 20 minutes long. I wanted to communicate some new things I am learning about myself as I walk through the loss of my wife and how the Enneagram has helped bring understanding for me.

Make room.

Understanding my Grief through the lens of the Enneagram
Audio by Kevin Shinn, May 2020

Pay Attention To Anger

I watched the video of mistreatment of George Floyd that led to his death.  Afterward, I sat quietly. I pondered this question:

What can I do?

I felt so powerless sitting in my sadness, as I am sure many others felt. What can I do to stop this kind of treatment of fellow human beings?

I turn to the one thing I understand: My Voice.

It is always my desire to use My Voice to help you hear Someone Else.  I continually hope that by writing my story from my perspective, it might give my reader the words to understand their own. 

How can this apply to matters of race? I’m white. Where I grew up, I didn’t know an African-American until I went to college. In my rural upbringing, there were no neighbors, no classmates of color. What can I possibly say that might be of some consolation or bring legitimate hope?

There is much I don’t understand about race. But there is one thing I feel makes the most sense to me, and this is the issue toward which I choose to direct my words. 

Anger has gotten the best of us.

Racism is fueled by anger. And so is every other kind of judgement against another person that puts one in the role of superiority over another. 

Watching the video of the mistreatment of George Floyd produces anger.  It should make anyone mad. George Floyd was a fellow human being. No one deserves that treatment. Anger is the right initial response.

But it can’t be the motive for seeking justice.

Nearly every book on parenting advised me as a young father to never discipline in anger.  It was advice I wish I had heeded more often.  If my anger was not productive in coaxing a 3 year old to change behavior, how much less effective in changing a grown adult?

Anger is like a warning light on the dashboard of a car.  It signals when something is wrong. To ignore it is not helpful. I need to pay attention to anger.

Anger is a soldier in my personal Army of Action. I should never allow it to be in command. I listen to its briefing. I take into consideration what it feels. But Love needs to always be in charge. There is no greater commandment.

George Floyd’s death makes me mad.  But if I am not wise, it will also make me just like the cop that stood on his neck.

Anger killed a man. Let’s don’t let it kill another because it was left unmitigated.

There is a better way forward.

A Lesson From Hank

My dad could fix anything, and I am so grateful he had me right alongside to hold the flashlight on every occasion. In the crawlspace under the house repairing the plumbing, or under the hood of the pickup adjusting the timing, or in the garage changing out the flywheel pin on the lawn mower engine. On the latter, he taught me what a governor was and what it did and why it’s a useful feature to a small 2-cycle engine. He explained, “Yes you could take that off and it would run faster, but It keeps you from burning out your motor.”

As a widower living in an empty nest, I lack a governor. My partner and children provided boundaries and structure that was very essential. I don’t have that now, so I have to come up with a new plan. Hank was the one that taught me this.

There are lots of things I do now that I would have never done prior to her passing. One of which is how I feed Hank.  I toss him the bones from the ribs or the pork butt after braising.  While I cook, I might flick a scrap of meat in his direction. Never thinking twice about it. Until my son came over for dinner.

As we sat enjoying our steaks, Hank stood at attention between us, and in literal Pavolvian response, began drooling profusely, his slobber puddling on the patio concrete. If there was a stare-down contest, Hank would do very well. My son gave me a good observation.

“You trained him to do that.”

He was right.  Hank’s been conditioned to look for food and knows the tell-tale signs that the Boss has something tasty. Even though it was inadvertent and unintentional, I trained him to do that.

I am in the process of untraining Hank, and it’s a slow process. My actions were ungoverned, and now I have to slow things down and change my behavior.

Despite living alone, there are some habits I’ve maintained because I don’t want to have to retrain myself at a later time.  I don’t want to be annoying like Hank drooling on the floor.  I still eat my meals at a table, not in front of the TV. That’s how it was done for years when the family was home. That’s the way I’ll keep doing it.  I shower and shave everyday, like I would do if I went off to work, even though I’ve been unemployed for longer than I would like. I go to bed at the same time each night.  There will come a day when life gets back to normal and I’m not stuck at home all day every day. So I seek to create stability wherever possible.

These are the choices that have helped me accept my new status in life. I now see that my Facebook page reads Widowed in my profile. I have to get used to that. And the choice is mine to make.

When Words Become Names

As a writer, I need words to communicate.  And there are many times (like this morning) when I sit down to write and I don’t know where to begin.  I have an idea, a thought or emotion that I want to convey, but I’m not sure from which garden to go out and gather words sufficient for the plate I am preparing.  I can’t draw a picture for you, or play a song.  Words are all I have to use.

I’ve shared the quote by Irish poet David Whyte a few times on this blog. “The language we possess is woefully inadequate for the vastness of the territory into which we have just entered.”  It is a brilliant statement that has guided me since discovering it while traveling in Ireland.  My experience of loss and grief requires a language with which I am not fluent.  I must learn it as I go along.

This is why I’ve chosen to write about my grief journey as it happens.  I’m learning a new language, and I’m using this forum as a means to display my homework. And you get to study and grade it with me.

For the last three months, I have been working with a counselor that understands my sense of shortcoming when it comes to identifying where I felt stuck in grief. I described my dilemma as a jigsaw puzzle.  Most of the pieces are in place. The border is intact, but there are some gaps in the picture and I don’t have the lid to show me what the finished image is supposed to look like. For a long while, I’ve been searching for those missing pieces. And two weeks ago my counselor handed me a fistful of them and said, “I think these will fit.”

And they did.

We had significant conflict that went unresolved when she died.  And those of you who have lost a spouse can bear witness, the feeling of never being able to resolve those issues is hard to manage.  All that I’m left with are questions that will never end up in a conversation in hope that understanding will be met.

My counselor intuitively knows that one of her roles is to comprehend this dilemma, and sit in it with me. While we sit together, she can lead me to know how to turn my insufficient words into powerful names.

My name is Kevin Shinn, but all my life I’m known as Shinn to most of my friends.  When one of my good buddies calls me Kevin, it doesn’t sound right. In that context, my real name is Shinn. That’s the name I respond to.

I’m learning to call my pain by the name it recognizes.

All counselors are not created equal, but the role of counsel is unequivocal. On my own, I am incapable of seeing everything in my heart. Sometimes I need another set of eyes to describe to me what I can’t see, to speak what I cannot say, in order for Truth to set me free. In my case, I need someone to hand me some missing pieces that make the picture on the jigsaw puzzle more complete

Being in this position doesn’t make me weak or somehow insufficient. No one is an island. To think I can figure out this mess of grief all by myself, that’s the thinking that is insufficient. With the help of counsel, I have gone from describing to naming my pain. Despite the unresolved conflict that will never get worked through, I have new power in my hands because I hold new Truth. And Truth will always set me free.

If you are feeling stuck in pain, of grief or otherwise, consider finding a voice that will help you put a name to it. Describing the feeling is the first step. Naming it gives it an identity and makes it much more real. And in the revealing light of reality, pain is far easier to deal with than something hidden in the shadows.