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?
Story and Artwork by Sadee Schilling@ A Picturebook LifeLeave a Comment