24 August, 2009

Grace in the wilderness

Jer. 31: 2 "The people who survived the sword found grace in the wilderness."

I write from the waiting room of the shock/trauma ward at a hospital in Baltimore. I never expected to find myself here, I must say. At least, I never expected to see my father here. But we can never predict how we will learn life's lessons. Four evenings ago, my father sustained severe injury to his spinal chord after a car hit him while he was riding his bike in our neighborhood. For more than 24 hours he was silent, his left eye only opening a sliver, his oxygen and nutrients being supplied by machines. We spoke into his ear and stroked his hands, but had no certainty that a soul inside could hear or feel that we were there. That first night was the worst of my life. I hope I never again have to watch my bewildered, slender mother standing over the sedated body of her husband of 26 years, wondering if they'll speak again and wondering how to tell him how much he is loved. My father's body, normally impressive and towering, looked so small under that white sheet that is always seen spread over the dead. I didn't like that sheet.

But that night is over, and he is not dead, and he is no longer silent. He is breathing, conversing, and eating. He still has no feeling in his lower body. While there are clouds over us that will remain for some months, I write to you from a wilderness that has been surprisingly flooded with grace. Who knew that in this nightmare we would meet a Savior in a clearer way than ever before? I'm learning so much from the way my family has been constantly upheld by people around the world. I've never been so thankful for the worldwide Church, and for what it means to be a part of it. It means that when one member must drink a bitter cup, they do not have to drink it alone, for indeed this mysterious love binds us together--even when we've never met--and teaches us to bear each others' burdens. I find it comforting, as I lie in bed at night unable to sleep or to pray with much clarity, to know that in that moment there are many others who are praying for us...giving words to my requests when I don't have the power to think of them. I look forward to being able to do the same for someone else someday.

I guess there are many things we will only learn by experience. It is easy to talk about God, to talk about prayer's power, to try to explain away the bad things that happen to good people...but until I was in a tragedy, I never knew what it all really meant. Don't think that this is fluffy, empty "Christianese," but I truly, truly find that I'm simply unable to ask "WHY?" Or at least, I can't ask it in anger. I flinch at the thought that this might all sound very "Pollyanna," and I myself could not believe this peace unless I were living it. If we had no eternal perspective, this would make no sense and we would have no hope. But we can already see many ways that this tragedy (and I do believe it's okay to call it a tragedy---I'm not trying to glaze anything over) is redeeming a lot of relationships, teaching us how to receive generosity, and showing us that even when we can't see the next step there is Someone watching over all the little details that we must sort out. The physical pain of this life is indeed a great burden - but it will end, and beyond it our only burden will be the weight of glory. The Psalmist marvels, "I would have lost heart, unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living." My father still dwells in the land of the living, and we do indeed see the goodness of the unseen God in the visible outpouring of love and care. We're simply unable to lose heart. May these lessons remain in our hearts as we go forward into a very, very unclear future that surely holds a lot of change for our family.

2 comments:

Arathon said...

If 'blogs' last beyond these heady days of Internet craziness, this post will endure in the annals of expressions of great mercy and grace. I know a lot has happened since August 24th, but reading this now is still incredibly encouraging and helpful.

Peter said...

Apparently I knew, at one point, that this blog existed. How very odd to be unable to recall knowing, and yet to have faint memories of the words I wrote.