I hate, hate dreams like that. Why do they happen?
It was so surreal. Like watching a movie of my own life but there was nothing I could do to change things or comfort or help.
I don’t remember how or why, but I had died. I think maybe in a car accident? I don’t remember. See, I am getting that sick thud in my stomach just typing about it. We’ve all had these, but it doesn’t make them any less crushing to the soul even though we wake up to a ceiling fan humming quietly and morning light peeking into windows.
The shadow still lurks heavy inside my chest, and I can hardly move because I’m still somehow afraid it might be real or has some meaning that I want to shut out with my tightly closed lids.
But this – this is what I remember. I watched from the sidelines as my babies didn’t understand. They were crying.
Where is mommy??
I see my sister holding both of them because my husband can’t. He is staring. Stricken, holding the baby boy who who is sucking the little finger and doesn’t have a clue what is going on.
My oldest turned to her younger sister peering out from tumbled curls and solemnly said, “mommy isn’t coming home.”
I see my sister choking back tears, her grip tightening.
And I wake up.
* * *
I could tell you about how I had a hard time letting go of this because I have one of those weird over-active imaginations that wonders if dreams are some kind of sign of something to come. When dreams rock me like that, I can’t help but wonder. It kills me a little on the inside, and my husband says I am crazy for putting myself through the meat grinder of thoughts that assail me and I let them sit too long.
And here’s what gets me cold, hard, straight in the gut -
For many, it’s not a dream. It’s a living, labored-breathing nightmare. It’s their thick, suffocating reality, and they are doing good, moment by moment, to shove it far enough away to take just one more step.
Maybe it’s just me, but we’ve been surrounded by death lately. The past year or two, it seems there’s just been an uptick. Not just in the news that breaks my heart at every turn, but here – people in our community, families losing loved ones, accidents stealing life too young. Those who have received the phone call that changed their world forever, the ones who’ve seen the life drain out of a dear one before their very eyes with no ability to stop it, the ones who had life ripped from their hands before they had time to blink.
I wake up to morning streams of light, but others?
Some days they are weary-worn valley walkers fighting of the shrouded shadows of death.
I want to wake up. I want to get back to the sweet life-filled toy-cluttered reality of my little home, my toddlers who tumble out of bed with crazy hair and ready smiles, my husband who gives strong hugs, my baby boy who coos and giggles.
But them? Most days they want to stay asleep to escape the dragging minutes of heartache, the noise that is too quiet, and the quiet that is too loud. To hold on to the fleeting hope in that in-between of sleeping and waking that says, it’s not real.
Each day is a mountain, and while voices encourage that the climb will get easier, it’s still a climb, and some days it would be easier to give up.
There are many, you know. Some we know exactly who they are, and others hide it under a weak smile. We might remember them at first, but soon enough it is all too easy for the rest of us to forget. And yes, I get it, life goes on, and one must keep going with it.
But sometimes, it’s just not that simple. Sometimes time threatens to stand still even though you beg it to be different and get on with it. Sometimes you try, but you can’t. Sometimes, you want, but you can never, ever have.
And to say it’s hard is like saying the ocean is big or that the Holocaust was sad.
Because who can really understand what it’s like to lose a piece of your heart until you’ve lost one, too?
The other day, the kids and I returned from the park and I had a short encounter that snagged me in the heart. I got Ava out of the van first, and she is a shy thing most days, but for some reason, that day, she got brave. She ran to the other side of the van while I was getting the other babies unbuckled, stood at the edge of the driveaway, and waved frantically at the elderly man mowing the neighbor’s lawn while hollering an enthusiastic, “hiiii!!!”, over and over. He happened to look over and grinned wide. He stopped the mower, yanked off his ear protectors, and grunted a bit as he climbed off slowly to come over and say hi. Because, seriously, who can ignore a bouncy little curly-haired, blue-eyed toddler who suddenly appears to be your biggest fan??
I couldn’t believe that she didn’t run away. She chattered to him for a minute in her two-year-old jibberish, then ran up to the porch as I made my way over to say hello, too. He was obviously taken with her. I’ve gotta believe that Jesus made her do that, because if you know Ava Jo (unlike her sister who makes friends with the checkout lady at Wal-Mart), her sphere of influence is about six people wide and she rarely ventures outside of it.
This man, I’ve seen him a hundred times. We live on a cul-de-sac and he mows the yards of several of our neighbors. I often see him park on our street with his mower on the flatbed trailer. He backs it down, does his thing in each yard about once a week, and off he goes to the next job a few streets over. I’ve honestly never given him a second glance, or maybe even a slight wave.
But today, we chat.
Not really about anything earth shaking, just friendly conversation about the kids, the weather, whatnot. He explained where he lived, and somehow it came up that his house had burnt down three years ago, and I say that my husband probably remembers it well because he was a firefighter/policeman at that time. He went on to say that three years before that, his wife had passed away. No big story, no details, but just like that he spilled out a life-altering season in time as he gazed a little misty at my kids, and then he kept talking. It was clear that he wasn’t looking for sympathy, but he seemed grateful for a listening ear. I swallowed hard because as our small talk continued I could feel the Holy Spirit tapping me on the shoulder telling me this was one of those opportunities for me to step into something God had going on that really had nothing to do with me except that I could be obedient.
I hesitated for a minute. I knew what I was supposed to say, and it was simple, really. Then looked him in the eye, even though the conversation had moved on again and said,
“I just have to tell you, I’m so very sorry about your wife. I know that even though it was six years ago, some days it probably feels like it was just yesterday and can’t imagine how hard that must be. I’m so sorry for your pain.”
I, being me, couldn’t keep the tears out of my eyes but I managed not to let them bust out all over the place.
He smiled a bit, and I could see tears forming. He said she had just retired. They were looking forward to it, but then the news came, that dreaded word. Cancer. Eleven short months later she was taken, and he was heartstricken. He looked out into the yard, not seeing the grass or bushes but the past and memories swirling, and said, “You know, there’s not a single day I don’t miss her. I think about her all the time.”
We didn’t say a lot more, and it was okay.
He looked at me and said, “Sweetheart, you have a good day. And enjoy those babies. And thank you.” I patted him on the arm, we exchanged a few more words, and that was that. He was mowing again, and I was herding children.
But my heart is stretched thin inside my chest as my mind replays that short exchange. I ached for him. I know that God was right there, in our midst, and yes, words were exchanged, and earth was not shaking one bit and he may not remember a single thing uttered or maybe it meant a lot, who knows. And goodness knows, I am a nobody the fact that it was me that stood there with him doesn’t even matter, really. But more than that, what I know did matter?
The unspoken, salty exchange that shoulders the pain silently because sometimes the heart understands what the mind cannot?
It echoes in my heart, again, making a fresh appearance this day and I get it, why Paul says weeping trumps words with those who weep:
“Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” – Romans 12:15
Because isn’t it so true that sometimes it’s the groanings of the heart that fill the cracks of brokenness more than words ever could. A shoulder to lean on, a hand to grip, a warm body on the couch next to you, a nod of understanding when the throat doesn’t allow a single word to pass for the pain. The silent comfort that rains down through the sharing of pain through tears, where there’s no pressure to respond, no words that need uttered. The kind of mourning that says its okay to be where you are, and I’m just going to sit here with you to keep you from drowning, and when you want to be alone, you don’t have to say a word. The kind of love that recognizes when words are just that – words that do nothing but add to the piles of the mind that are already threatening to crumble.
And I remember what Jesus did when those dear to him were suffering immeasurable pain, and unthinkable loss.
He wept, too.
Even though he saw the big picture, He had compassion on Mary, Martha, and their family at the death of their beloved brother Lazarus.
He didn’t try to explain, he just cried with them.
* * *
These silent sufferers? There are many.
Those who take a deep breath and push through walls of stone just to go to work or see lovebirds holding hands or a child run to their mama when there is a gaping hole inside that can’t be filled.
Friends, they are everywhere. They are the neighbor mowing the lawn, the man sitting alone in church, the mom at the baseball field, the boy bagging your groceries, and the woman shuffling out of her house in her slippers to get the newspaper.
You just never know.
In the wake of so many tragedies, the shootings, the tornadoes, Oklahoma, Boston, the cancer, the doctor’s reports that make the heart sink, the babies ripped from mama’s arms, the fresh graves, and the immeasureable pain, and who knows how much more is to come, and how in the world does one even begin to offer comfort? Are there really any words?
Friend, wherever you are today in this journey of shadows, I’m so, so sorry for your pain.
I could try to offer encouragement. I could say that there will be light at the end of the tunnel. I could tell you all of the things that I emphatically believe about my all-powerful God and how He knows, He sees, He hears, He comforts. I could tell you about how He has a plan.
But the truth is? I really don’t have the words. I know I don’t. Because sometimes words just don’t have the ability to reach down into the deep, bleeding wounds of the heart to offer healing for things that don’t have a decent explanation.
Honestly? I don’t understand, either. I don’t have the answers, and I know that even if there was a decent theological answer I could scrounge up, it’s probably not one you want to think about right now. In fact, it might make you kick, and scream and hate so many things about life that you can’t see straight.
Because I have a feeling that some of those words would slip into the fog surrounding you that is your reality right now. Especially on those dreaded days when the shadows overtake the sunshine and you want to bury your head under covers and make it all go away. When the pain is so deep that you can’t eat or sleep and the memories chase you down whether you want them to or not.
We wonder how to be Jesus to the hurting, and goodness knows there are so many ways to do that, and the Holy Spirit leads us, and we follow, and miracles do happen, we give, and we build as His hands and feet, and yes, He has a sovereign plan -
- but now?
I think Jesus would do this:
I think He would weep for the pain of those He loves.
And you, friend, yes, YOU, who still dip your toes in the valley of the shadow of death -
you are mightily, wildly LOVED even though so much about your reality points to the exact oppsosite.
So, for now, though I’ve tumbled out this mess of words as my heart feels so full and still empty as I think of you - -
We are here, and we are weeping with you.