An afternoon at the park
Sunday, February 26, 2012
I confess that the question that most reflected my posture towards God this Ash Wednesday was, “What more do you want from me?” It seemed an innocent question in the morning, but by evening I could no longer ignore that it dripped bitterness. While others bowed low and kneeled deep, respecting the holiness of this Lenten season, my knees had not touched the ground for the puddle of bitterness had frozen and I was not to be moved. My forehead bore no sign of the cross, no mark of the ashes. The only calendar I respected was the one that marked four months since Webb’s death. Surely I get a pass this season. Is it not enough that I’d been shaken to the core by my own son’s death? Would God really have the gall to ask me to shatter for the death of His? I had become all too familiar with ashes and death, and I assumed that a merciful God would recognize my limits and allow me to sit this one out, to not think much about it. Yet sitting at my son’s grave on this Ash Wednesday evening and on this four -month anniversary, I can think of nothing else.
Try as I may to amputate Jesus’ walk in the wilderness from my own walk this season, I am unable to ignore my soul’s stirring that pulls me deeper into the wild. My attempts to sacrifice chocolate in lieu of suffering prove futile and again, I am drawn further into the darkness. As I lay on the ground next to Webb’s grave, my face pressed into the soil and dampness from the dew soaking into my jeans, I realize that I can no more ignore Lent than I can ignore my own grief. The earth’s imprint on my forehead is my sign of the cross, and the grass stains on my knees are my mark of ashes. It is on the ground next to the grave that I bow lower than perhaps I ever have. Though it is death that brings me to my knees, it is mercy that pulls my face to the earth. The deeper I break and the lower I bow in the darkness, the greater my understanding and the more powerful my appreciation of the light of the Resurrection. And though I drag my heels this Ash Wednesday, God in his mercy pulls me into the pain and the power of Lent. For this wilderness is not a destination, but a path to the cross. As my lips kiss the grass and my mind is fixed on the cross, my question for God shifts from, “What more do you want from me?” to “What more do you want for me?” Mercy thaws bitterness and I press deeper into the wild.
Sunday, February 19, 2012
I have found that one of the great gifts of grief is a true undoing of self. Stitch by stitch grief gently pulls me apart and I am left undone, completely exposed but oddly relieved. For this unraveling feels a little bit like torture, but a lot more like freedom. And just when I try to muster the will to knit and pearl myself back together, grief comes and drops a stitch, reminding me that this “so put together” sweater will fade with one rinse cycle in the wash. It will last a season or two at most, but never sustain in the end. Grief takes the wooden needles from my hands, gently sets them down and encourages me to embrace the pile of yarn that I am. And when my critical voice begins its refrain of, “Oh, I am such a mess,” and "What will others think?", I don't even hear its tune, for freedom rings louder in my ears.
Tuesday, February 14, 2012
I cut red and I glue hearts. I smile sad and happy knowing that this mama was the only Valentine he ever had. I write this verse on his Valentine’s card. These words I write not because Webb needs to hear them today or ever again, but because I made a vow. When God first breathed life into Webb, I vowed that as his mother, I would breathe Truth into him. At the time I did not know that these exhales of love meant to give life to my son would instead resuscitate me. As I write the verse on his card, I whisper these words, “This is Truth, my son. His love is real.” Whispers grow loud as I sense my own heart’s deafness. But turning up the volume does not cure the condition, so I continue my whispered chant. Yes I know that Webb now lives in complete truth and love and that he no longer needs his mama’s teaching. But today, as I pen a Valentine to my son in heaven, I realize that it is God’s love letter to me. I read His words that I have written down on this pink card. My voice sleeps as my heart awakens to the sound of a holy whisper, faint and distant, but surprisingly strong, “This is Truth, my daughter. My love is real.”
Friday, February 10, 2012
I thought it would be different, this business of God restoring joy to my life. I thought He would deliver it in a package. I’d run to the door as the brown truck pulled away to find a sparkling present labeled “Joy for Settle”. “It’s here! It’s here!” I would squeal as I ripped through the cardboard. Or maybe joy would come pouring through the roof while I played trains quietly on the floor with Jack and Duncan. I imagined sitting on the couch with Jeff at the end of another long, hard day and that mid-conversation my face would light up and Jeff would be blown away by joy’s powerful presence in me once again. I didn't know how God would bring joy back, but I knew its arrival would be grand and I would definitely be surprised. I guess I assumed that because it had been wiped away so suddenly, without warning, without preparation, that He would bring it back with the same vengeance. I expected Him to knock me over with joy the same way I’d been knocked over with pain. And until that great arrival, I would sit and wait.
But today I’m not so sure. Today I’m wondering if perhaps the return of joy looks more like water dripping down from a broken faucet. I’m finding that joy’s drips are smaller and less consistent than I had expected. And wouldn’t it be nice if God fixed that faucet and instantly water came rushing into my glass, filling it without the waiting and without the thirst? Yesterday I would have answered “yes”. But today I’m not sure that there isn’t profound beauty in the thirst born of this waiting. That drip by slow, painful drip, God is filling this cup. And perhaps that is what this business of restoring joy is all about, the waiting and the thirst. Could it be that the only time God knocks us over with true joy is when He calls us home? Today this is what I believe. For when we are home, He promises that our cups will not just be filled, but will overflow (Psalm 23). And until that day or that night when God does call me home, may He bring joy back in, drip by slow, painful, beautiful drip.
Jack and his buddy Chesson- drip
My baby Duncan- drip
Sunday, February 5, 2012
It took me by surprise. Though I had planned the haircut appointment for weeks, I hadn’t thought about the park that stood in front of the salon doors. It’s a park that we know well. Webb climbed its ladders and soared down its slides. It is where we spent our last Sunday evening as a complete family, stretching out the hours of a perfect fall day with a picnic in the park.
Although I am running late for the appointment, I feel memory’s wave gaining steam and I pull the car to the side of the road, hoping I may duck underwater to ride this one out. Lord, let this wave be gentle to me, sliding over my shoulders as I crouch underwater. But its power is quicker than my defense, and I am swept away.
“Hi little kitty. Come to me kitty.” His knees are bent and his hands are on his thighs. His crouching levels his eyes with the cat. It is the first time I’ve heard him refer to a cat as a “kitty” and I take note of the new word. These new words, they’ve been popping up all over the place. He’s threading them together to form sentences and this blossoming swells me proud. “Time to head home, Webb. Say goodbye and come hop in the car.” He doesn’t dispute. “Goodbye kitty,” he whispers as he whips his head around and runs, focused and controlled, to the car. It’s a simple memory, but it hits me hard. Realizing that it is too late to duck, I find my footing and stand firm to meet it head on.
My head finds the steering wheel, and I grip its rubber hard. Memories of this Sunday evening flood the car and fresh tears swim in their salty waters. My eyes close as my mind kicks into gear, reminding me to breathe. In and out, up and down, breath returns and I float in these waters.
Drenched with sadness, I walk into the salon to have my son-touched hair cut to the ground. Locks that Webb mangled and tangled now pile on the floor to be swept away. New hair grows that he will never curl around his small, dimply finger. The stylist chits and chats while I smile and nod, but I still drip sad.
A sister-friend walks in the door. She’s been called in to be a life vest. My heart feels lighter at the sight of her. She offers no trite answers or neatly packaged remedies to help me shake off the sad. She’s comfortable with wet because she’s been swimming in these seas with me for months. While she sits and hears and prays, she is unaware that she pats me dry. I pay the bill and we walk out the door. As I drive home I realize that my seat is no longer damp from despair’s drowning, but from the healing waters of a friend. Once again, I find myself baptized by a sister’s presence. I am stilled and silenced knowing that this has been a holy soaking.