When my parents died, I remember asking when it would stop hurting. I would wake myself up in the middle of the night crying. My tears mingled with the water in the shower. My cheeks would be wet without my realizing tears were flowing. Several people told me that it took a year or two to heal from grief. Desperate to escape the pain, I believed them and then was shocked when my grief was still very present a year later, 2 years later, 10 years later. I had expected the grief to go away so I could get on with living my normal life.
What I’ve discovered is that my life since then IS normal. Parents die, friends get cancer, babies are stillborn, relationships break, husbands and fathers lose their jobs. In this broken world, I can’t expect to live free of heartbreak. I’ve often dreamed of running off somewhere—let’s sell our house and our belongings, I’ll say to Aaron, let’s move to the mountains and live in a yurt and we’ll work menial jobs just to make enough, and we’ll enjoy our babies and we’ll stay warm in the winter by cuddling next to a fire. So often I long to escape the hurts of this world and try to fool myself into thinking I can.
When we tell people we live downtown, many respond by saying they would LOVE to live downtown but… or they ask if we feel safe or if the schools are okay. I feel like a lot of people don’t understand—we live downtown so we can take a cup of coffee to the woman passed out drunk in our front yard and engage the pot-smokers across the alley (not that there’s anything wrong with that…). Friends truly loved coming over to the last house we lived in—it was in an isolated area, and we had the best porch for the best parties, or soirees, as my Polly would say. But living apart from the world became exhausting. A textbook introvert, I started to forget how to interact with others, and I became really good at avoiding eye contact with anyone and everyone I met at the store or church or even work. I started to become consumed with our little life in our little home, and my world got smaller and smaller.
We live downtown to engage this broken world with its broken people. Like our neighbor to our right whom we suspect is a hoarder. She is an older, disabled, slightly crazy lady who is lonely. When I see her outside, I have to work up to saying hello, because it will turn into a 30-minute conversation. And while I might roll my eyes as I walk back toward the house, I’m always glad I talked to her. I can tell it lifts her spirits, and guess what? It lifts mine, too. We have a family behind us whose husband/father has terminal lung cancer. I send Aaron and Von over with food sometimes and we try to talk to their four teenagers when we see them. We’re trying to learn to love them in ways that make sense to a hurting family, and we find that they are the blessing to us—watching the boys sword fight with sticks in the backyard, seeing the parents take painstaking walks together with her half carrying him as they limp along, shaking our arms in triumph when we see him drive away to work on good days. There is always Grace in the pain, always some kind of joy in the hurt.
In June we went on our annual anniversary camping trip. As we pulled into the campsite, my phone rang. It was the sister of a dear friend. She knew I was out of town, so I knew she was calling with purpose. And I suspected what that purpose might be. I didn’t want to answer, I didn’t want to hear her news, but I didn’t want her to have to leave her news on voicemail or delay telling me. I answered. Her pregnant sister—MY sister—had lost her twin baby girls. They had gone Home to Jesus and Meredith was left with the unbearable task of giving birth to them.
All weekend while we were celebrating 7 years and two babies, we thought about and prayed for Meredith and Nate. I came close to asking Aaron several times if we could pack the car up and drive home just so I could be near to Meredith, but I couldn’t take away his vacation. The Lord was gracious in his timing and the babies were born the night we got home so I could see them before Meredith and her husband laid them to rest. All those hours of crying and praying about her labor, and what I discovered blew me away—what I assumed would be a terrible, heartbreaking experience was the opposite; Meredith cherishes giving birth, experiencing that entrance as a family. Seeing the perfection in the stillness of her daughters. Having a day to spend with them. She was sustained by Grace, finding joy in the pain.
As I type, as I cry over news we received earlier this afternoon about someone I love dearly, Aaron is in the next room singing In Christ Alone. That was the song Meredith chose for her daughters’ funeral. The truths of the lyrics carried her through that misery. The Grace the cross offers us will carry me through this night as I cry for the hurting people in my life.
What is that Grace? The Grace that we are not in this alone, that God our Father carries us and holds us closely. The Grace that what we experience on Earth in our lifetimes is not the end—that Jesus has prepared places for us in Heaven and we will see Meredith’s babies and my parents again. That all of our pain will be redeemed, even if we never see a glimpse of that redemption this side of Heaven. That there is purpose in our sufferings. That there is meaning beyond what our minds can imagine. That when we come out of this experience, we will be closer to God and understand his love for us that much better. Friends, there is so much Grace. The Grace of the hug of a friend whose arms will hold you up for the five seconds the hug lasts but whose faith will stand in the gap when your own faith fails. The grace of my 2-year old wiping my tears and saying, “Mama, sad?” His kisses heal my heart because I know that they represent an eternity of kisses I will receive after my tears have been wiped away, never to return.