It’s strange, how happiness awakens grief, as if the heart contains muscle memory of the ways it has been stretched.
I called Barb, my friend from church, a few weeks ago to tell her about Marnell, who, as you know, was still mostly a stranger to me. She thought he was a great idea, and said she had been praying for me to this end.
“So this is your fault,” I told her, and we laughed.
Then, before we hung up, she said, “I wish your mother were here.”
I didn’t absorb her words immediately, until I began to find myself also thinking that Marnell was a great idea. Suddenly, reminders of my mom were everywhere.
For instance, shortly after posting my blog last Saturday afternoon, I began to rearrange my house to distract myself. Why? I don’t know. Somehow it took me a few hours to get up my courage to go back online and evaluate the fallout of the public announcement.
Of course, my sisters were keeping an eye on the situation for me anyway…
It’s not that I didn’t appreciate the comments and the good wishes. I did, a lot. I just couldn’t face it for a second. I grabbed my Windex instead. I decided that the pen and ink artwork my mom had made in high school was in the wrong place in my house.
So I moved it here, to my bathroom where I would see it every day.
I had already shown Marnell the slideshow my sister had made for my mom’s funeral. The flowers from him, now drying, I put in a glass bowl behind the candle with my mom’s picture. It was from the funeral home and I had talked my family into letting me have it.
Then, our Elkhart church group was watching a sermon by Ravi Zacharias, and he began to quote the song by Annie Johnson Flint, “He giveth more grace when the burdens grow greater…. He sendeth more strength when the labors increase.” Suddenly I was back in the white farmhouse on March Rapids Avenue, listening to my mom sing this song while sewing in the little room on the front corner of the house, or while clattering around the kitchen, making supper, or while rocking my baby sister, who now also is dating and unable to introduce her boyfriend to her mom… “To added affliction He addeth His mercy, to multiplied trials, His multiplied peace. His love has no limit! His grace has no measure! His power, no boundary known unto men! For out of his infinite riches in Jesus, He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again.”
“I want you to meet my family,” I told Marnell, as we reviewed our complicated calendars.
Make no mistake, I love my step-mom. She’s been a great friend of mine for many years, and I have no fear about introducing Marnell to her. But, the nagging reality remains: the closest place I can come to physically introducing him to my mother is to take him to her grave.
Further–and I think I’ve alluded to this–my mom’s death coincided with one of the worst times in my life, and I’ve always felt that perhaps that was her final memory of me. It probably doesn’t matter, but still. This is why it was infinitely meaningful to me that in 2013, God answered my prayers for direction on her birthday, October 15. I wondered as I sat crying in the hospital cafeteria that day, tears that reached back across the long months of crying out to God… Could she be aware of this? Is it possible for people to look down from heaven?
“I thought, I wonder if she can see me!” I told Marnell when I recounted the October 15 story, and he didn’t laugh at me, nor did he tell me that such a thing is impossible. Perhaps, as long as we are bound by the constraints of time and mortality, we will never know.
And in the end, I’m glad. I’m glad that my memories of my mom are good ones, awash with sunshine, singing, and Scrabble games on Sunday afternoons. I’m glad she was interesting and funny and creative, but that she loved us more than her paintings, or her books, or her furniture. I’m glad she never pushed us to live a certain life, glad I never felt pressure from her to get married, or meet any certain standard other than following God. I’m glad for that last summer with her, even though she was growing weaker. I’m glad to remember how even in those final days she helped my sister with an art project for vacation Bible school. Despite a failing mind, she held the pencil comfortably in her hand, an artist to the end. I’m glad she fought to stay alive, and I’m glad she died gracefully, peacefully, proving her own song, that “when we’ve reached the end of our hoarded resources, our Father’s full giving is only begun.”
And certainly I’m glad to know that if people can watch from heaven, she is smiling with us, in that place where there are no burdens.
If you have a moment to listen: He Giveth More Grace When the Burdens Grow Greater