Today I'm thankful for healing and for growth. I'm thankful that I can use my heart-shaped measuring spoons and smile, thinking of my Mama. I'm thankful I can make her favorite strawberry cake for my husband's birthday (it's his favorite too!) and feel more joy in the remembering than I feel sorrow in the loss.
Let me tell you a little about the birthday boy, the wonderful man I married: last night, in the last hours of his own birthday, he made me a cup of tea and held me as I apologized again for my annual lack of enthusiasm and creativity on his special day. (For no matter how hard I try and how I will myself NOT to think about it, the sadness of this day--even as it mingles with joy--always seems to affect me more than I'd like it to.) Then he got up in the middle of the night to share the twin bed in the other room with two-year-old Penelope, where he slept until 5am when he got up for work. He was so quiet this morning that when I awoke two hours later I was afraid he might still be in there sleeping with the baby and late for work. When I called to check on him, he was already there at his desk, having survived the 1+ hour bus-train-bus commute, but without the single remaining slice of his birthday cake he'd been so looking forward to eating for his breakfast. I discovered it still in the fridge, thought he'd forgotten it. But he said he'd left it for me instead, since he knows gluten-free treats like this are few and far-between for me!
Yesterday marked 8 years. 8 years of celebrating Tobi's birthday as his wife, 8 years since we said goodbye to my Mom, the ultimate party planner, the one with all of the enthusiasm and creativity and the yummiest cakes ever. As I re-read my post from last year, I realized that even though yesterday I was still sad, it was a really good day in comparison to the previous seven years.
Yes, I am thankful for the healing, for the lightness of heart I feel now when I think of my mom. And I am thankful for the man who has loved me through so much. Happy Birthday, Sweetheart! I thought it was worth re-posting this story from the archives--writing it at this time last year was sort of a break-through for me, and reading it today reminded me of how far we've come...
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The Arms that would Hold Me
Gravel sparkled blinding white on the roof outside the window of the tiny ICU cubicle, bright embers in the hot July sun. I thought, “this image will be burned into the back of my eyelids.” This month marks seven years since she’s been gone, but I only just remembered the gravel, as I sit here writing this story for the very first time.
Mama had been planning a star-spangled party for the German boy’s first American birthday celebration; instead, she died on that day.
The seventh year is, in Jewish tradition, the Sabbath year or “Year of Release” (Deut. 15, Exodus 21). Maybe this is why the knot of memories lately has begun working loose.
As I unravel before God, I’m reminded that He uses what sometimes feels to us like a tangled mess to weave a beautiful tapestry: the story of our lives. This year He wants me to tell this hard chapter in my story, to wrestle with it again and perhaps finally find peace in the mystery.
That German boy is now my husband. Mama would tell you that she “picked him out” for me. Once when I was 17 she dreamed of the man I would marry. He was tall and blond, had bright blue eyes, and was very athletic. She knew he was a runner, but something else too…”maybe a thrower,” she said. “But he wasn’t really built like a thrower.”
Fast forward four years to a baseball game in my college town of Shawnee, Oklahoma. My brother was playing centerfield, but all eyes were on the handsome and lean tri-athlete I had brought along–a friend from the track team. I was clueless at that time that he might be anything more than a friend, but Mama told me later that the first time her eyes met his laughing blue ones, she felt “butterflies” and knew he was the one for me.
Mama was always so good at helping me just to be me. And after the funeral she helped me one more time–in a dream, like another glowing ember whose memory would be seared into my heart. Her spirit was only a small spark of light and her message was simple: she perched upon my thumb and said, “I love you,” reminding me that the Lord’s story for my life would be just as unique as my thumbprint.
On the same day that Mama went Home (21 years earlier and on the other side of the globe) God was sending into the world the man He created to never ask anything more of me than just to let him love me for who I am.
After it was all over and we were home from the hospital, safe in our newlywed apartment, he held me in his arms and I told him what he already knew, because he was there gripping my hand and crying with me through it all. ”My Mama died today,” I said. And I fell apart.
I will never forget that night, the way my husband’s arms became the arms of Jesus, the way they anchored my soul in that churning sea of grief.
I have learned how to love and to be loved by my husband, and by my Jesus, along that precious path through The Valley of the Shadow. And I don’t think I would have followed my husband, or my Jesus, as far as I have without the experience of learning to say that first hard “goodbye.”
There will always be trying chapters in our lives, but there will also always be strong arms to hold us: to remind us who we are, to help us gently to test our legs again and to discover that yes, after it all, we can still stand. And may the stories we stand to tell cause comfort to overflow into the lives of every person we touch.
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ” (2 Corinthians 1:3-5).
Who has God sent into your life to hold you up when life gets hard? How has He helped you to stand and tell your story?