This morning I woke up to facebook giving me this memory. Not exactly the happiest way to start the day.
I don't need to be reminded that we are nearly at the anniversary. Easter's approach has been incredibly difficult. Last year mom was obsessed with Easter, asking almost daily if it was Easter yet. She really wanted to make it to Easter (which because Easter was earlier last year, she did).
Anyway, a rough couple of weeks anyway, and then this from facebook.
School today was hectic, we have one more week before end of school (co-op group) graduation. After running all morning, I was teaching my afternoon class and a friend came to the window of my classroom and motioned for me to understand that she had to talk to me before I left. I assumed it was school business so I said I'd catch her at 3:00, after my class.
At 3:00 I asked Joy to clean up my classroom and pack my supplies so I could go find the lady who needed to talk to me. She was headed outside to let her boys run in the amazing weather we are having so I walked out with her. Once we got out there, instead of the topic being school related, she told me that she had dreamed about me.
We were sitting on the porch of a cabin in the mountains. It was so beautiful. I was in a hammock and you were sitting beside me on the porch and we were just watching the bird feeder. A hummingbird came up (hummingbirds are my special symbol for mom, this friend knows that) and was feeding, It turned to see you, and smiled (because, dream). Then it came over and sat on your shoulder for a bit, then it came over to me, then it flew away. When it left I thought, "Wow, it was really nice for your mom to come see us."
Such a beautiful moment, of course I cried and she hugged me, and then I told her about the FB memory that had popped up this morning and how close we were to the anniversary, and all about how difficult the Easter season is. So then she hugged me some more. No, mom is not a hummingbird; but the picture of her, healed and whole and busy, is so wonderful. And of course her mansion in heaven is a cabin in the mountains, of course it is.
So was her dream because it is spring and hummingbird time (we've seen our first few)? Was it just coincidence? Was it from God? I don't know. I don't need to know. What I do know is that a friend who never met mom dreamed of her- of us- and then took that step to tell me about it when it could have sounded so silly. There is always a risk when you consider sharing things like this. Will the person be offended? Will they be weirded out (why would you dream about me?!)? I'm so glad my friend followed her heart and told me about this, that she took that step and opened up. It was so special to me. The journey of grief can be a very lonely one- even when other people are grieving the same person, we all grieve differently. It can feel like we are the only one still here, still stuck. Little reminders like this, that others are carrying you in their hearts, are just so meaningful.
I want to be more open to taking the risk of sharing my heart when I think of others, even if it feel silly. I truly think that those little nudges to call someone, or send a card, or just tell them, "Hey, I think of you, you are special to me" are important and we can do a lot of good in this world if we listen to them.
“If God is so powerful, why doesn't he ….?” I would venture to guess that each of us has either heard this, said this, or felt this, at some point in our life. The context is usually some sad or terrible circumstance that left the one asking feeling broken and hurt.
I would like to share a story of redemption. I do not pretend that my one story universally proves a point--although I do believe that God's redemptive power is indeed universally possible. When he doesn't remove the circumstance, he can redeem the pain.
My mother died. She lived with us for 7 years. Health up and down, but mostly down and declining. Usually the decline was slow, but she would occasionally have a big drop and then that would become the new normal until the next drop. The last six months she was quite ill, the last four months, on hospice.
5 weeks to the day after mom left, the mother of my dear friend and neighbor went to heaven as well. I was honored to be a part of those final days and hours.
I have a disturbing fluency in skills no one wants to know.
Rolling, turning, changing, adjusting pillows, crushing pills, filling syringes.
Taking minutes to dispense just a few drops, carefully, so as not to choke the throat of one who can no longer swallow.
Swabbing the dry mouth, relieving the cracked lips.
Setting the mood of the room, flowers, music, light levels, even scents.
Tone of voice, gentle touch, stroking the hair. Enough to let you know I'm here, but not enough to disturb or overwhelm.
The relationship with death. It is our enemy, but it is inevitable.
Can I come to a truce?
I cannot control the fact that it comes, but perhaps can control how it takes you?
I will not let you feel fear, or pain, or loneliness, although, we all know that the last step you must indeed take alone.
At least alone from my perspective. I pray not from yours.
Loved ones, angels, God himself? Surely someone is there to take your hand in the moment I must let go. Anything else would be too cruel.
But now what? When life has revolved around care for so long, what does one do with these accumulated proficiencies, this unwanted expertise?
I have my family, they need me, but a different part of me. This part, with its particular set of skills, feels useless now, vestigial.
But then comes a call, “I need help, I cannot.”
It is ok dear friend, because I can.
I step up and say, “wait, I know this one!”
I will hold her, touch her, love her like my own.
I perform the tasks so you are free to hold her hand.
And in this way, I find redemption.
My pain becomes a blessing.
My grief is assuaged.
I have a lifetime's worth of skill but only one mother to spend it on.
God in his wisdom, in his grace, mercifully gave me another.
Her face was pretty, and so young that I wondered at the age of the man beside her. A couple, new to the area, attending our church for the first time. When I introduced myself after the service, I saw that her face and her eyes did not match. Expressionless eyes, numb, windows to a soul that was absolutely shattered. She fumbled for a silver key chain frame that was attached to her purse. “This is my baby boy. He is gone.” The “older” man was her husband, his visage and bearing bore the ravages of the loss of his son and the burden of worrying for his wife.
As time went by I learned the story, and realized that both of them were still in their 20's. That she, a happy and hopeful girl, had been changed into a broken woman. A year and a half of uncertainty, a year and a half of mother-love and determination to sustain her medically fragile child, ended in crushing grief. That his demeanor was from the shell-shock he was trying to function through.
Grief, anxiety, depression, these loads rode heavy on this couple. Still reeling from their grief, came the pain of secondary infertility. Then pregnancy loss. Outwardly I hugged and comforted them; inside I screamed, “Lord, how much can someone bear? "
Fast forward and there are two other beautiful children now. He grows younger as the years go by, humor and wit in his eyes, a grin on his face, a spring in his step that befits a young man. And yet, a depth, a wisdom that comes only from having spent so very long in such a very dark place. She can laugh again; there is life again in her, adoration in her eyes as she holds her treasures close.
Still, there are days when the waves of anxiety come. I may get a text or a call. I tell her I love her and to hold her breath, to come up for air on the other side, this wave will pass.
There is no “fix” for this. No miracle that will turn her back to that young woman who assumed that life and family was neatly laid out, full of dreams, confident in the future. That girl died when her child did.
But I have been privileged to see over the past 7 years this broken woman turn into something else, something deeper, richer. A woman who can see pain, whose heart can break with others. I have seen her grief go full circle, and where I have held her in her brokenness, she has, in turn, held me in mine. She has a capacity for compassion that can only be born of being crushed.
She has not been “delivered” from the grief, from the emotional trauma; but has allowed (and is still learning to allow) that trauma to be the very place from which her redemption comes.
“God, I've given you this over and over.”
“God, why haven't you delivered me yet?”
“God what am I missing? Am I supposed to be learning something?”
“God, did I do something wrong? This still isn't fixed.”
What if the answer isn't ever going to be what we want or wish for, or even what we have been taught to expect?
What if the miracle is not rescue, but it is redemption?
We so enjoy a good rescue story. We thrill to a testimony where God changed a person and then returned all that was lost. We term that situation, “success.” We seek that, strive for it, and when it doesn't happen, wonder why God did not move. But striving for this version of healing tends to make us focus backwards, trying to get back to where we were, who we were, instead of forward to where we are going.
My friend lives with anxiety and depression. She suffered a significant loss that changed her.
A false understanding of redemption could lead us to believe that without a “full” reversal - no more anxiety or depression- that this woman is not a success story, that she has not been restored.
We are shaped, sometimes irreversibly , by what happens to us, but that does not make us unusable. Redemption is not reversal, but it is restoration.
You might say, “but my pain was self-inflicted, my damage is from sin, from bad choices.” To that I say that the redemption is there for you too. Scarred, misshapen, it does not matter. Forgiveness and restoration does not always reverse consequences or negate the law of reaping what is sown. Reaping and sowing is a universal principle, both natural and spiritual, but redemption is far more powerful. Redemption is the idea that all of this can be used for good.
There are amazing stories and testimonies that can happen, and sometimes do. They should be honored, but they should not be elevated as the expectation. Because not every baby is healed, not every straying spouse comes home, not every bankrupt family finds a check in the mailbox, not every addict is instantly delivered. We rejoice in those stories, absolutely. But I suggest that the healing of a shattered mother is also a miracle; that the divorcee who remains faithful to God though their world has been rocked is also cause for praising the Lord; that the family who continues on, day after day, in the midst of financial crisis is also worthy of noting; that the addict who gets up, and gets up, and gets up, is reason for celebration.
God may, sometimes, write our story as a reversal, but he always, always writes it as restoration and redemption. Let us live and prosper where we are, instead of feeling like we have not yet arrived. Embrace the redemption that God has for you, focus not on the scars that remain, but the healing that they represent.