This world keeps spinning faster into a new disaster. . . so I run to you ~ Lady Antebellum
The first time I remember feeling this . . . and I have felt it many times since, but with a wiser heart . . . was in July of 1991 on the day that my three year old daughter was diagnosed with Leukemia. I was no stranger to calamity at twenty-three years of age. I was a child of divorce -- and not a happy we still love you it's not your fault kind of divorce. The ugly kind with rage and untold abuses and poverty and here take your brother and raise him and growing up too quickly kind of divorce. But none of it was anything that actually growing up couldn't solve. Because we've all been young and naive enough to believe that adulthood means that we get to control things. It's the fleeting hope of everyone. So I remember with vivid clarity that sucker punched, can't breathe, life spun out of control mid July day when I held my baby in my arms and a doctor told me that she was dying. I remember how ridiculous it was that people still talked about the weather and planned their next meal and that the sun was still shining on such a paradoxically glorious beautiful day, and in the ensuing months, how surreal any life outside the walls of a hospital seemed. And on a really, really bad day I remember beseeching God with why her why me why us and the profound shame I felt as the thought was still hanging on my grief. Why not her? Why not me? Why not us? Who were we that life should spare us? And who else would I choose?
That was the day that I truly grew up . . . and the day that my heart grew . . . and the day I looked beyond myself in horrified wonder to acknowledge the ubiquitous, invisible, excruciating pain that the rest of the world had been silently enduring outside my bubble. Amidst the laughter on the playground, there are children with bruised bodies and hearts and broken spirits. That jogger passing by is trying to outrun the grief of a devastating abandonment. The driver in the car in front of us -- the one that cut us off and the one we cursed at -- is on his way to his thirteenth job interview in as many months and his unemployment ran out just before his twelfth. The plane that flew over is bringing back the body of a soldier -- someone's son who won't see his own son grow up.
I read somewhere recently that in pioneering communities, death was so prevalent that the church acknowledged each passing by ringing the church bell one time for each year of the person's life. The people, having a general knowledge of the community, would gauge who it was by the number of chimes that reverberated throughout the woods and over the fields and hollows. They would stop their work long enough to bow their heads in remembrance, gather to pay their respects, help to bury the dead, and then go back to work. Life moved on. There was very little outside of death that could be allowed to interrupt the flow of survival of such a hardscrabble existence. But I would be willing to bet that the hardiest survivors among those people that we're all descended from were the ones that discovered that in the in between of life and death, that kindness didn't cost anything, that grace was never wasted, and forgiveness was as necessary for living as water.
What if you lived your life by the supposition that we are all reduced to an equal playing field? That inevitably, you're in line for tragedy? That the circumstances of your life will be irrevocably changed in a happy heartbeat on a random Tuesday in September? Would you be kinder? Slower to judge, and quicker to love? What if the the very realest difference between us is how we how we react to our circumstances, and how we treat each other as a result? One thing I know for sure (Oprah-esque) is this -- the choices we make in our deepest despair make us who we are. Will we turn inward, bitter and mean, blame others for our misfortunes, project our misery outward to the rest of humanity? You know that hateful, grumpy old man who lives on the corner and calls the police when you cut across his lawn and won't give the kid's ball back when it rolls into his yard? The kind of guy that every neighborhood's got. He's the one haunted by the death of his father when he was twelve, and then saw terrible things in Vietnam. His wife left him, his children won't talk to him, and he's been battling cancer alone for the last three years. But you don't know any of those things, so you hate him right back. And you might even hate your own mother, too . . . or the boss or the doctor who had the power to devastate your life. Maybe it's justifiable. What if our calamities really are a result of someone else's mistake or callous heart, or worst of all, a true malevolence . . . the result of someone else's tragic self-preservation so deep and toxic that you are one in a long line of their string of victims? How is it possible to love then? How is it possible to grow? For sure, it's an extraordinary thing. But I want to be extraordinary. Don't you? Doesn't everybody? I wish I could tell you that there's a way to get there outside of the hard stuff and extraordinary choices. But I don't know it. I only know that I have a choice to become who I want to be. I've come to understand that It's one of the few things that we can truly control in life.
I know a lovely young woman who has been lovely since the day I met her, but who I've had the pleasure of watching grow into one of the most extraordinary people I know. She is a former colleague who teaches inner city kids with a magical combination of a firm hand, grace, and a fierce protectiveness that can only come from a heart of compassion. It's also a heart that has been broken over and over. In January of 2013, three years after the birth of her daughter, her son was born ten weeks prematurely due to complications in her pregnancy. In spite of that, he was remarkably healthy, but she never got to hold him before he was whisked off to an incubator that was simple protocol for preemies. When Nathan was a week old, she was up in the middle of the night pumping breast milk for the baby that she would soon bring home, and she got a phone call from the hospital telling her to come. By the time she and her husband arrived, their son was dead due to hospital error. Four days later, on her birthday, she buried the little boy that she had never held. And shortly after that, her husband, lost in his own grief, left her. A few months later, she came back to work and her tough love for the children in her classroom never wavered. Eventually, her husband came back and they conceived another baby. She was into her second trimester of pregnancy when she lost that baby, too, the day before Thanksgiving 2014. She came back again, and her husband left again. Melissa would be the first one to tell you that on her darkest days, she has been difficult to love. But she keeps coming back, over and over, rising like a phoenix to love her daughter and to love her children year after year, some who have desperate needs and are, themselves, hard to love. She's a tragic hero, and on my darkest days, she has been among my most loyal friends.
And there are more. My father in law, whose first wife died beside him in a car accident over fifty years ago, and who has faithfully loved and trusted Jesus ever since . . . and prayed for his three children, his three stepchildren (my husband being one who lost his biological father when he was eight months old) and his 23 grandchildren every single day since before each of them were born. The heritage he has provided cannot be measured in this life. The friend who was a week into her dream job when her beautiful daughter was horrifically brutalized and whose courage and determination for everything life has to offer never faltered. My husband, whose servant's heart and unfailing love has produced two of the most remarkable young women I have ever known, and who invested nineteen years into a job where he was offered little appreciation and unceremoniously dismissed without explanation. And there are my own girls . . . my very own God given heroes. My tiny, beautiful and irrepressible daughter who regularly runs 26.2 miles at a stretch and who inexplicably experienced a post-partum depression so debilitating that it altered the course of her life, but who chooses to share her experience every day in encouragement to other mothers. And my lovely, strong daughter who survived cancer to travel the world for Jesus, and who loves everyone she meets unconditionally. These are the people that I've been blessed with . . . the people who choose daily to transcend life's painful circumstances and still find the joy in loving others. These are the kind of people who I want to surround myself with in the time it takes to complete my spin on this cruel planet, and the people who inspire me enough to risk my own love every day.
I'll stop the world and melt with you
You've seen the difference
and it's getting better all the time
There's nothing you and I won't do
I'll stop the world and melt with you