2/03/2015

A Single Candle

It seems that every time I come to write, all I can think about is how much I miss this space.

And how hard it is to write.

I think about writing a lot. It's how I know I'm a writer, because in my head and heart I'm constantly turning my thoughts and feelings and experiences into prose. They just rarely make it from head-prose to actual written-prose. Written-prose is a phrase redundant and yet not, if you look at the frequency of my posts.

There's a very real reason why. It goes far beyond time constraints--of which there are many--into the recesses of my soul that I see but don't inspect, feel but don't indulge.

I am an eternal optimist. I can't tell you how many conversations with my husband, my beloved pessimistic other half, have some component of, "Babe, I love you so much and it's absolutely ok that we don't see this the same way but...I just feel so bummed out by you right now. I am feeling so weighed down right now because of the actual thing we're talking about and I want to talk with you but...gah! I can't handle the negativity! Your way of seeing this makes it a million times worse! So we have to talk about something else."

[Which, yes, leads to more conversations about how to love one another despite our differences. Me feeling bummed out doesn't make it okay to shut my husband down, and I'm totes aware of that, get to repent of it plenty, mm-kay?]

But what does an optimist--one who always sees the silver lining in the rainclouds, the sun break in the storm--do when it feels like darkness is all there is?

You see, I want to write. But, per human nature and likely because of my incessant optimism, I keep wanting to wait, to only sit and write when I have some good news. Or "right" perspective. Wise words that make it clear that I'm handling everything like a good Christian girl should.

It's not happening.

There have been a whole lot of storms lately and I feel like I can't write until there's that sun break to tell you about. Suffering has been a theme I desperately want to shake off but it seems to be what the Lord has for me, and for so many I love.

My grandparents 58 years ago this month, holding their firstborn, my mom.

In June 2000, me at my high school graduation party with my grandparents, now both passed,
and my aunt and uncle, all of whom surprised me with a computer to take to college.

In December my grandmother died. It was awful. She suffered a massive heart attack, and while miraculously surviving the initial attack there was too much brain damage done. I always thought that someone removed from life support is a person in a completely vegetative state; that braindead means machines make the heart pump and lungs expand; that turning off machines means the family stands around praying and telling the person it's ok to let go and after a little while they slip away.

I found out in the most horrific way possible that sometimes a person survives for a few days without machines. That a woman can get a clear bill of health in her annual physical and then, a few months later, have a heart with only 5% ability to pump blood that went undetected. That the lack of oxygen renders them alive but comatose, and then awake and alert yet not really there. Gone but not entirely. That they can cry and and respond to your presence, that it can be clear that they're trying to tell you something but they are locked away in the prison of a completely broken body. And more soul-shattering details that I'll keep locked away from the internet.

The month meant to be about celebration of hope, a savior born to the world, was filled with pain and travel and stress and regret of the words left unsaid because of the assumption of more time.

I'll be blunt: I was damn excited to say good-bye to 2014. I had quite high hopes that 2015 would be one of plentiful sunbursts.

One month and three days in, it absolutely has not.

January was a month of bad news about my health, frustration leading to despair that I am meant to waste away, alive but never really living in this body that feels like a prison sentence that just keeps having probation pushed back despite my fervent prayers compounded with good behavior.

And then.

And then.

Let me just walk you through the span of about two hours last night, the second day of the second month of 2015, 120 groups of 60 seconds wrought with grief upon grief.

It starts embarrassingly shallow, with my heart heavy from the Seahawks loss in the Super Bowl. As you know, I love this team. I love everything they stand for. It simply felt like...well...destiny that we were meant to repeat as Super Bowl champions. Even though the Patriots are actually my second favorite team (I <3 Boston second only to Seattle, but the Seattle area is home), their legacy of persistent cheating just sickens me and makes it hard to celebrate their success. I will always wonder how different their story would be if they didn't willfully cheat--and that is as a bona-fide Patriots fan. A lady who, pre-Jason, sorta kinda hoped I might somehow maybe marry Tom Brady and be at home in Boston. *cough* Ahneewaaaayyyy.

Despite such high hopes, the Seahawks lost Super Bowl XLIX in the most heartbreaking way possible and it was just soul crushing.

Then, while trying to not feel sick while perusing Facebook due to all of the posts about the Patriots victory and the Seahawks losing (and one person even going on about how glad they were the Seahawks lost, just grinding salt into everyone's open wound then pulling the "it's not like this is about anyone's salvation, so get over it" Jesus-juke, which is just about my least favorite thing ever), I saw something that just put the smallness of sports into perspective.

A beautiful baby girl, only five months older than my beautiful Juliet (the reiteration of "beautiful" intentional here, because same), who has been battling cancer for two years, has been given just a few weeks to live. In two short months it's gone from looking like she's going to beat this to being terminal, unlikely to live to see her third birthday in May. I sobbed so hard I couldn't even tell Jason what was wrong.

And then, while grieving that, just a little bit later I received the text that a dear, dear friend of mine had lost her mother to suicide a few hours earlier. On said friend's son's second birthday. I completely lost it, and I am again now. It's so ugly, so horrific, so heartbreaking, so unfair, so dark.

Those two things are awful. AWFUL. Let's just not even pretend that it makes sense.

A baby girl is enduring constant pain and suffering and her parents will never see her go to school or make a best friend or play a sport or sing a song. Her life is ending.

At least three gorgeous babies 4 and under will grow up not knowing their grandma. My friend will plan birthday parties without her mom there helping like she used to. As she walks through the highs and lows of motherhood, her young and healthy mama is simply gone, leaving this world in the most tragic and feels-preventable-and-completely-unfair way possible. My friend cannot call her mom to ask a question nor cry on her shoulder nor rejoice with her ever again. It's all snuffed away.

My grandma meeting Roger, her second great-grandchild, in March 2011.
It breaks my heart that neither of my children will remember her.

Friends, we cannot pretend this all makes sense.

I know I just said that, but it's the continual refrain in my mind and heart.

Understand me here: God is real. He is all powerful. He is all knowing. He is good.

But he is not to be constrained by human understanding. As I told a friend through heaving sobs late last night, the faith I have to keep believing those absolutely true statements about God's character is faith that comes from the Lord himself.

Yes, I have seen him create beauty from ashes, glory from pain, working all things together for good for those who love Him. I really have seen that, but in the darkness I forget it. My weak and frail human heart has a short memory.

I read something recently (so sorry that I can't remember where!) that has stuck with me:

All the darkness in the world cannot snuff out the light of a single candle.
[attribution unknown] 

How beautiful is that?

I cry just thinking about it. Because there is beauty everywhere.

It's in a simple photo on a Facebook page that raises money that changes the lives of an entire community.

A football quarterback--yes, my beloved Russell Wilson--using his status and fame for playing a game with a ball to shine hope and light into the lives of children battling for their lives, making the thrill of victory and agony of defeat have far greater meaning in this short life we all are privileged to live.

Similarly, it's in a couple of actors making a Super Bowl bet to dress up as the superheroes they portray in movies and visit the hospital so sick kids have something light and bright to break up the pain and darkness.

Or a man who walks 21 miles a day to work being surprised with kindness from strangers who want him to have transportation other than his feet--and a whole lot more.

It's in things the rest of the world doesn't see but that pierce hope and light into my grieving soul, like my son who has autism spontaneously telling me, "I love you, Mama," for the first time when he is just 6 weeks shy of his fourth birthday.

Or the way my friend, the one who just had to say good-bye to her mom in such a painful way, had people voluntarily sign up to bring almost 6 weeks of meals within the first 18 hours of the list's creation. People--some who have never even met her or her family--tangibly saying, "I love you and I am here for you," serving and helping the way Christ's body is meant to do.

My gorgeous daughter at 28 months going on 13 years *sniff*

It's my beautiful daughter, now two years and four months old, also with autism, babbling about "Let's go take picture!" and "Look! It's pretty!" while pulling at her hair accessory and hugging her "Minion! Despiccy Me!" and requesting that I sing "Music! Let go--build snowman--happy?" when just a few short months ago she was completely non-verbal.

And so I cannot stay away from this space. I cannot sit in the ever present darkness and deny the blackness-piercing light. Just writing this out has been cathartic to my grieving soul.

This scripture captured my heart about 6 months ago. I might have even shared it already! But I want to share it again because it's such grace to me.


I always just sat on verses 1-3 and didn't even realize verses 4 and 5 were there.

Something incredible occurred to me. I *think* it's something beautiful from the Spirit, just a tiny glimpse of the miraculous way God works through circumstances that will never make sense to me.

In the spirit of complete honesty, I was jolted along a pendulum of emotions last night regarding the suicide of my friend's mom. Absolute brokenness and grief that a beautiful life of someone so loved by so many people is over. Devastation that she ended her own life. Anger that it was done on her grandson's second birthday. Soul-seizing anguish that my friend, who has endured so much pain in the last year, has more grief added to her heavily burdened soul. Torment that I cannot be there physically for my friend due to my current health struggles, sorrow that my weeping with her is from afar.

I kept coming back to, with grief beyond words, the fact that for the rest of their lives the day commemorating my friend's precious boy's birth will also forever mark the day his grandmother chose to take her own life. I just kept fixating on the ugliness therein.

Then, while pondering the above verse, a whisper settled in over my soul.

What if this being the same day is actually grace?

Grace that, instead of a day being only and always the day of her mother's devastating death, this day is also and wonderfully the day to celebrate the precious gift of life? That, while bittersweet, the anguish of the loss of her mother is tempered with the beauty of gaining her gorgeous son instead of the other way around.

I recognize this may be the insufferable optimist in me speaking.

Therein lies God's grace to me, because I don't want to stay away from this space, this corner of the world where words spill out of me, from the joy to my soul that is writing, because I'm just waiting to have the right perspective. It's been nagging at me for weeks--possibly months if I could track it back--that what speaks most powerfully to people is not the idioms spit from the mouth of a sage who knows all and thus tells all instructions on how to live; rather, real inspiration comes from the honest and vulnerable and pain-filled cries of a soul whose only hope is the One who is their all-in-all. I know this truth, that me writing here gives others hope, not from hypothesis but from the countless times it has been said to me, mostly because God is both gracious and stubborn.

Like a broken record, the Lord continually reminds me that what brings me the most joy and what has given the best gifts to other people has been me speaking honestly through my brokenness. We are all broken. We all feel that anguish deep in our soul, see that corner of darkness that threatens to overtake any and all light. We don't want to hear a pep talk or be told to pull ourselves up by our spiritual-bootstraps when our willpower-arms have been amputated at the elbow by sin and suffering.

So no matter what you feel today, know that I am not here to Jesus-juke you. I am not trying to minimize your pain with these "worse than your problems" things of suicide and baby cancer. I mean, I cried about a football game (and it *still* hurts when I stop avoiding it, lest you ever forget my estate) just moments before all of the heaviness of actual life and death, weighing eternal things, settled in.

Back in December, as we stood over my grandma, after the machines were shut off, someone tried to temper the heaviness of the moment, to break up the sounds of choked sobs and sniffling noses, by saying this is how it goes, that we all have to accept that this is what life comes to for everyone--an end. An ugly, unsettling, wretched end with a wrecked body wasting away in a hospital bed. That it is normal and we have to figure out how to be okay with it and keep moving along, because it will happen to everyone we love and even us eventually.

Death.

Broken bodies, the unspeakable agony of seeing a loved one in a completely undignified estate.

Sights and sounds and emotions that I want to lock away, to bury deeeeep under the memories of my grandma alive and vivacious.

I didn't say it then, but one truth shouted throughout my soul:

Jesus wept.

He wept, friends.

His friend Lazarus died and he saw the complete agony and devastation of death, and his soul was so grieved and moved in spirit that he wept.

This same man who was here to conquer sin and death, he who put to shame the effects of sin on this broken world and gave the gift of eternal life free from all pain and suffering, wept when faced with how the death of a normal, sinful, beloved, average man named Lazarus utterly shredded the souls of all who loved him, including the one who was with God since the beginning and who knew the entirety of the goodness of God.

Can you for one moment imagine the scene? Open sobbing. Cries that chill your soul.

Despair. Agony. Death.

And Jesus wept.

He saw us, our suffering in this weakened estate of pain and sorrow, our frail bodies and tepid faith, our inability to escape the effects of suffering, and he didn't chide us for our lack of faith. He didn't him-juke us into obeying the Bible and summoning the faith to believe that God has a plan. He didn't say we need to be fine-just-fine with babies dying of cancer nor a beloved mama and grandmama taking her own life nor any other completely incomprehensible sorrow under the sun. He didn't tell us to get used to it.

No. Not my Jesus.

He was filled with grace. As is evidenced in the story of Lazarus, he saw us and then he identified with us, felt all that we feel when faced with the ugliest, most pain-filled parts of this life. He was deeply moved for us. And he wept with us.

Then, he revived that man, his friend Lazarus, to live this temporal life for a few more years under the sun with his friends and family. It was not because this world is the end-all; rather, it was to point to the grace that is ours today, to enjoy this day but not forgetting that today is lived in light of eternity.

Therein lies our hope. Not that we can have perfect faith to understand this darkness, of the many painful things referenced throughout this post and beyond, but rather to cleave to the grace that is the One who is the light of men and can never be overcome by the darkness.

Jesus is the single light which the darkness can never overcome, never snuff out.

Shine, Jesus, shine.

You know how Jesus shines? He shines as a burst of light through tons of tiny candles. The candles are us--YOU and ME--admitting that we actually really do desperately need him and then living like that's true, repenting when we pretend otherwise. And his light of faithfulness to us and those around us shines into the darkness.

This is me, no longer staying away from this blog, and admitting right before you that I can't do this life, believe and live and obey the right things. I just can't. I try and I fail. I get angry and give into the despair and the idea that I deserve anything other than what God has already given me.

But I admit that to you and point toward Jesus, who is faithful to me through it all and is sweet and merciful despite me never deserving it.

Oh, I pray, reader, that in reading this you think nothing other than, "Yes. I need Jesus just as much as Tami does." Which is all you ever need to know. And that he is shining through me not because of my faithfulness, but his.

So, again:

Shine, Jesus, shine.

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