“Do you think you should pick up Chick-fil-a,” I ask.
He chuckles, “Yeah, I mean – I guess if we’re going to wreck their lives, we can at least do it over their favorite food.” He smiles meagerly, kisses my forehead, and takes the kids’ orders.
I pass out paper plates. We all pop open boxes of chicken nuggets and sauces and dole out sides to their proper places. It’s hot in the dining area. It’s alway so blasted hot in the dining area. Even so, it just might be my favorite room in the house. You can see the pool from the large french doors that don’t open anymore, and the shiplap below the chair rail gives the room a clean, restful feel that is what I’ve always wanted in a kitchen/dining area. And just thinking about how much I love that room and this house sends me tumbling down the tunnel of loss.
We are about to give it all up. We are preparing to tell our kids that we are ripping up their roots again, asking them to try to reroot in Arkansas soil. I try to imagine a way to frame this that doesn’t sound like ripping dreams to shreds. I settle on adventure but know that it won’t do much good.
They weep in a way that I can’t really describe. Josh and I fight back our own tears because it’s too much to watch them hurt this way when there is absolutely nothing we can do to make it better. We can’t change the truth, nor do we think we should. We believe wholeheartedly that this move is exactly what’s best for our family. Even so, I would take away the ache in an instant if I could. Over the days and weeks and months that follow, I watch my kids tumble down that same tunnel of loss. I watch them connect the dots between all the things and people and milestones and events that they will miss. Essentially, I’m watching them watch their dreams die a little bit every day.
The ache – I cannot bear the ache.
I gather them all around me, my little chickies who are coming to know me as well as I know them. “What’s wrong,” one asks as I call them for a team huddle on my unmade bed. “I’m nervous,” declares another, partly because they know that team huddles usually mean bad news, or at the very least, big news and partly because they can read it on my face. They know ME. This is a truth in motherhood that never ceases to surprise me.
I stumble over my words, rolling them over in my head, trying to pat them out into something that will be digestible for us all – or at least for them. “Lucy is not going to make it. We are going to have to take her to the vet today. She’s suffering so much, and there’s nothing else we can do to make her life better.” Ache registers on my eleven year old’s face. Lucy is her cat, kitten really. We’ve had her for less than a year, but she has become a piece of my Adelle. They have an agreement, a connection that the rest of us just don’t have. So, I knew this would be hard in a way that she has never experienced before.
The scene continues to unfold. My youngest – he’s six – doesn’t understand what I mean. So, I try to rephrase, to pluck and rearrange my words so that they communicate truth without breaking his heart. I say, “Buddy, Lucy’s leg is very, very bad. She’s in terrible pain, and the kindest thing we can do for her is take her to the vet where they will give her some medicine to make her go to sleep and then some more medicine that will stop her heart,” I pause and then add, “She won’t be alive anymore.” His whole countenance falls and heartbreak washes over him. He isn’t particularly attached to the cat, but I understand what is happening inside of him. There’s something so, so counter-human about ending an innocent life. He cannot reconcile it. He says through aching tears, “But why would we do that to Lucy? She’s just a little cat!”
I can hardly breathe. It’s too much – to watch real death and real pain enter their worlds. It’s worse than anything I could have imagined. So, if it was up to me, I’d call the the whole thing off. I’d fork up money I don’t have to save a cat that may or may not be saved. I’d cancel the move. All of it.
Instead, I suffer with them. I save a place for their hurt. I am not shocked by their questions or their outbursts or their anger. I let them mourn and cry and doubt God. And it occurs to me one day when I am in the depths of mama despair, sure that we have permanently wounded our children, that THIS is what it looks like to represent Jesus. Loads of people motivate and cheer up and call out potential, but there aren’t a whole lot of safe spaces to go with our mourning, with our insecurities, with our smallness, with our questions, with our sin.
Within the same week, a Category 3 Hurricane rolled through our small, Louisiana town. The short explanation for that goes something like this: It’s like a tornado came and hovered over much of our state for about three hours. Trees and power lines and trampolines and fences and tree houses and roofs were obliterated. Let me circle back around to the power lines – no power in August in Louisiana for days and days on end – in the middle of a heat advisory. The devastation is stunning and depleting and discouraging. It’s as though the whole town has been splashed in grays, the color sapped right out of the trees, the sky, and our faces.
I run to Wal-Mart, and people are weary. We peer at each other from behind masks – because have I not mentioned yet that we are in the middle of a pandemic? Oh, well – there’s that, too. Eyes are tired and edgy and desperate for something better than, “It’s all fine. Everything is fine” followed by hollow laughter. The truth is, everything is NOT fine. I wish someone would just say it. Everything is NOT fine, and like the Hurricane, there is no timeline for relief. The suffering just…is.
Someone told me a few years ago that I needed to use my public words for more “positive” things and less “sad” things. I listened to them. I learned a lot by reorienting my focus, to be sure. There was room for growth there – isn’t that always true? But I’m circling back around because I see you – you are desperate for someone to say, “You know what? That’s legitimately really, really hard. And I don’t know if things will ever be ‘fine’ again, but I do know that Jesus isn’t afraid of your pain, that He is drawn to it, that He came to redeem it, to make it into something lovely. And one more thing: I’m not shocked by your sin or scared of your sadness. I don’t think either makes you crazy or unloveable. In fact, I think we ought to wear our neediness for the goodness of Jesus like a badge of honor. I think THAT’S the most positive thing we’ve got going for us – our brokenness.” I’d like to be the one to say it. Or at least be the one to create a space for you to acknowledge it for yourself.
I’ve looked loss and disappointment and sin in the face over and over again during this little life of mine. Shockingly, it’s when I do not run from them that the abundance, the pleasure, the delight of Jesus floods my heart and my mind and my everydays. Sis, this is the wonder of Easter, of Holy Week, of our Jesus. We sit in the tragedy, the ache, the horror of our own sinfulness and what it cost – and then we tumble wild and free into the arms of the One who paid it. I believe that when you run straight into the lack and the loss – when you feel it and voice it to the One who made you, desperate and knowing that there is no Hope apart from Him – THAT is where you will finally experience the Upside Down Abundance of Jesus.