Saturday, August 24, 2013

Jude McKay

While cleaning up this morning, I came across an odd assortment of papers on the floor in our closet:  a  ballet ticket to Romeo and Juliet, a receipt from my favorite jewelry store in Southpark Mall and an old bulletin from a church service.  I was so struck I sat down on the floor.  August 28, 2007.  Had it really been 6 years?  My mind retreated to memories that seemed way to fresh to be that old.  I could not quit looking at the photo on the front of the bulletin.  Dark curls and sweet dark eyes.  He looked so sweet, just staring up at the camera.  He would have been eight.

Jude came into my life with a torrent of emotion that August in 2007.  I was at my parent's house and Chris was at home.  He called me, relayed the news, and asked me to pray.  A simple request took a grip of my heart in a way that was unusual for me.  Jude's grandfather had found him in their swimming pool.  He was unconscious when he was pulled from the water.  Now at the hospital, in a comatose state, the request was simply for Jude to wake up. 

And so I prayed for Jude to wake up.  I prayed often and fervently.  I wrote in my journal and scribbled a couple of poems about Jude, always pleading for Jude to wake up. I would go for a walk and pray...and pray and walk.  It was often difficult because of other experiences I have had in praying fervently for healing, but I prayed just the same.  It was difficult to have faith, to believe that Jude might wake up, but I prayed with all the faith I had and hoped that God would see the truth of my heart.

Jude never did wake up.

But Jude changed my life.  At the time I could tell that his life and death had a profound impact on me.  How could they not as I wrestled in prayer for him for day after day in August?  But now, six years later, I can say that his impact on me was not just in the moment.  His life and death is a factor that shapes me daily.  I am different because of Jude, a two year old boy who drowned in his grandparent's pool.

I was 40 years old as I prayed for Jude.  As I walked and prayed I would think also about how old forty is... and how young it is.  If I lived to eighty, I'm halfway there.  I began to see that life was more fleeting and precious than I had previously acknowledged.  I began to realize that living from day to day and week to week was not how I wanted to live.  I needed to have a deeper sense of purpose and drive.  I began to hear this line over and over again in my subconscious:  don't waste your life.  It seems like a typical response to such a tragedy, but it was more than that for me.  I read John Piper's book, Don't Waste Your Life.  I listened to Lecrae rap out the line over and over again.

But it was not just emotion for me.  It refined me.  God used it to renew his calling on my life to disciple younger believers.  I became convicted that I needed to steward my physical body better so that I can be here and  be healthy for longer.  I still think about it regularly now; what does God want me to do with my finite life?  Lately it has been a season of care giving and preparation, and still discipling and mentoring.  This spring Chris and I weathered a ten-day period when we thought I might have cancer.  While it was incredibly stressful, I did not have regrets.  No wishful thoughts about how I have chosen to spend my time. I felt affirmed that I'm not wasting my life; I'm living it as God desires and to his glory.

I never knew Jude in person.  He was only two years old, but he changed my life. Isn't that just like the God we worship?

Friday, August 16, 2013

a profound sadness

Thirty eight days ago my sweet mama left this life for one that is far better.  Life has been a whirlwind for me since then, putting over 3000 miles on my car as I have travel the Eastern US making the best of summer happen for my kids.  Between meals on the run and living out of suitcase for about a month, I am ready for school to start and to stay in one place for a while.  I think along the way I have mourned.  I have cried a great deal.  Not loud uncontrollable sobs.  No regrets.  Just a constant stream of sadness that  is undercurrent all day long.  Nothing seems all that different and yet nothing truly satisfies right now either.

After years of fighting disease and a body that refused to work any longer, there is a sense of relief and accomplishment.  She finished the race.  She endured.  She battled and fought to the very end and has now won the reward of being with God forever more.  What was broken and gnarled is no longer.  What was a struggle is no longer.  I'm awed anew at the example she has left for me about how to live and persevere through anything.  I saw her 48 hours before she died and she told me she wasn't ready to give up yet.  I suspect she was in many ways, but for me she did not want to leave.  I have not longed for her to still be here with me. She weighed 70 pounds and every bite she ate was a struggle to get down and keep down.  She could no longer see.  She could not maintain her balance so as to sit  up in a chair.  And yet she persevered on.  So no.  I do not long for her to still be with me. 

It was not surprised when the call came.  I had been awaiting it most of the summer.  Weeks prior I had bought a black dress and a tie for Huck so that we would be ready.  In fact watching her live since early spring had been painful.  I hurt for my dad who watched his bride shrink to just skin and bones and wondered how he had the strength to continue on.  But he did.  Many people encouraged him to place her in a home where she could receive "the care she needed".  My dad knew that what they both needed and desired was to live out what remained together in the house they had shared for most of their marriage. I'm very thankful that she could stay in her home and die there.  She loved their home.

I have been grieving the loss of my mom for years if you want to know the truth.  In many ways I have been losing her slowly for two decades.  With each passing year the illness would take more and I would lose more of her.  So many basic things lost that otherwise might have been taken for granted. Sharing a long phone call or lunch at a favorite diner.  And yet I am shocked at the depth of the grief I now feel.  I didn't expect the final goodbye to be so sad.  I think it is the finality that makes it so.  The recognition that I will not touch her face to mine or hear her voice for many more decades.

  And it is also the recognition of how deep a part of me she is and always will be.  I suspect that is the way it is with all good mothers.  I understand better how someone could tattoo "mother" on their arm.  It is a way of trying to express the depth she has touched and shaped her child.  I am my mother's daughter.  I have her temper and vengeful streak but also her fight and endurance.  She has taught me to sew and to cook and to clean; sometimes I even do these things with the excellence she taught me to.  I long to remember more of our time together and with a crispness that will not fade, to keep her alive to me.  And yet even if and when my memory fades, she has left a deep enough imprint on me; I can rest knowing it will not fade.

I find myself wondering when I will stop crying.  I am tired of crying.  It hits me at unexpected times for the most bizarre or insignificant reason. I suspect Sound of Music to make me tear up; but peanut butter?  Really? It seems like every time I slow down enough to let God see into my heart that my eyes well up.  Sadness is the only emotion.  I don't have regrets. I'm not angry.  I think I walked a lot of that journey earlier.  I'm just sad.  Sad for the mother I have been missing for a lifetime, and sad that I can't just touch her anymore, can't tell her one more story about the kids.  Sad that it will probably be a long time before we are reunited.  Just profoundly sad in ways I can't articulate.  And don't want to because it is too personal. I am keenly aware that many have lost a parent and walked this road before me with wisdom to share, but right now I'm not ready to ask just yet. I feel as if I know nothing about how to grieve and that I am just stumbling down this path in the dark.  But I fear if I knew more of what to expect, that I would run too fast...trying to get to the next stop.  Somehow stumbling in the dark, I think I am more likely to follow my heart as it heals.

I believe that eventually joy will return.  The things I love will once again satisfy, and until then I will keep on keeping on.  That is what she taught me to do.