Friday, April 03, 2015

Because He is Good: Thoughts on a Crippled Lent

Every Lent, for almost seven years, we've laid out the wreath.  And then nightly during the forty days we've lit the candle, read the Word, sung repentance, and prayed forgiveness.

{image and wreath found here}

This Lent, though, it seemed grief was too near.

I laid out the wreath; fit the pieces together, set a candle in the first hole, and placed the carved wooden figure of Jesus carrying His cross right next to it.

But truthfully, I only lit the candle once, and that was just to take it from clean wick to burnt... you know, so it wouldn't look like it had never been lit.  Every few days, in walking by, I remember.  And I count, move the candle, slide Jesus a few steps closer to Golgotha, my heart a swirling storm of grief.  And silence.

Like Zechariah, who didn't believe the promise that foretold God With Us, my mouth was closed, and I, who always seem to have the words (if not the time to write them...) was suddenly struck wordless.

Because she slipped into our home in December, and flew away to His in January.

My husband's sister, fifteen years his senior, was put on hospice in November for gastroparesis, a complication from chemotherapy treatments she received for breast cancer almost ten years ago; in short, her stomach was paralyzed, and gradually, while in our home, her small intestine failed as well.

She starved to death.

Four breathtaking weeks.  That's how long she was with us- and yet it seemed like months.  From the relentless heights of her need to the howling depths of her pain time moved as if anchored, the sea drag of suffering slowing the minutes to an agonizing crawl.

One morning she forgot reality altogether and nearly crawled up her bedroom wall to escape the police who were coming to arrest her for trying to "break in"; they would not be stopped, and she could not be convinced otherwise.  It began at 4:30 on a morning my husband had wakened with a fever.  For hours, he lay weakly on the floor and prayed as I gently pressed her shoulders back to the pillow every time she gathered her five-foot-eight, sixty pound frame to leap from the bed.  We wept with her, reassured her, sang hymns and quoted scripture, but it wasn't until I told her that her baby brother was right then talking to the Authorities that she quieted.  And when he stood and braced himself on the bed rails and leaned to whisper, Someone has taken your place.  You don't have to be afraid anymore!  And you don't have to break in... just walk. He'll meet you there, she asked, Are you sure? How do you know?  And we told her we were sure, and because He said so, and then she fell asleep.

A week and a half later, she slipped into a coma and at 3:30 the next morning, she walked with Jesus into her rest.

The only part of this story that I've felt freed to speak of has been in the sharing of God's goodness to us in that time.  How I'd never completely understood that our portion is lovingly given to us by Him, not merely allowed, until this sister came to live and die with us.  Through her time with us she came to know this fellow sufferer, Jesus, in a way she never had, and the pain of a lifetime of illness, abuse, loneliness and fear melted away to reveal a beautiful, hopeful smile that rejoiced in His goodness to her in bringing her Home.  It is a beautiful, cyclical reminder, this, that He is good; so although this portion is ugly, and trying, and I am tested beyond what I think I can bear, I will open my hands to take it, because He is good.
My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (Psalm 73:26)
I find it perfectly fitting that today of all days, His Good Friday, He's opened my mouth to finally let the words flow and tell the rest of the story.

And although I've only had the strength this Lent to move the candle another few spaces and slide the figurine of our suffering Savior closer to His death, I am reminded through even these spare actions that the glorious announcement of His birth and the ultimate good news of His resurrection were still tempered with the sobering event of His death.

In the aftermath of Janet's passing, I had thought perhaps I shouldn't be mourning so, when He has conquered death and we have a promise of New Life.

But death is still, and always will be, tragic. Because it just wasn't meant to be.

So I've let the tears fall.  When I come across one of her belongings that was left behind, I am grieved, for I know how much she loved life. I allow the sadness of being witness to her final days of agonizing struggle to wash over me more often, because her death was tragic and painful and I know it grieves Him, too.

But there is Hope.

And as I kneaded the dough for Hot Cross Buns this morning with Eliana nearby, her hands plunged deep in soapy dishwater, she said, I mean really, Mama, Good Friday?  Why do we call it that, when it's the day that Jesus died?

And I felt a breaking in my heart as I answered, Because, if He hadn't...

So on this Good Friday I bear witness to the goodness of the Lord in my life, and now I will bear witness for Janet's life, as well.  The grief is near, but He is nearer.

And limping to the finish line of Lent? It's kind of the point.

May the blessing of a sorrowful Lent that breaks against a victorious Easter be upon you, kind friends!

7 fellow travelers shared:

Joy said...

Oh dear heart! You all have been in my prayers. Limping to the finish line with you. Xoxo

-J said...

Thank you for speaking Truth. So glad He opened your mouth. May His goodness be your ever-present comfort. I miss your words, but know you are ministering to children with eternal souls and they need your words more than we do right now. {hugs}

Sandi said...

Words are hard to put together. Thanks for yours though. They come to me in the perfect moment. I grieve with you. My niece who suffered in many ways her whole life, died 2 years ago today at age 12. She is free and whole but we miss her so. Thanks for leading my heart upward today. ((((hugs)))) to you and yours as you remember and grieve your precious sister. I love what you said about death. It hurts so bad because it really wasnt meant to be.

Stacy said...

Beautiful, Elise.
(((Much love))). And praise God that Janet is now in His presence. No more tears, no more pain.

And you, dear one, still shedding the tears and feeling the pain? May He meet you right there and bring you comfort.

Love to you, friend.

Linda said...

This is so achingly beautiful, Elise. Thank you for sharing your heart. Our sufferings, shared, bring hope and encouragement.
Praying His peace will just fill your heart and that you will know the sweet joy of His presence enfolding you in His great arms of love.
Have a blessed Easter dear heart. xoxo

Laura said...

Oh, Elise. I am so sorry for what you all endured with Janet's last days. For the horrible illness. For death-for as you said, it wasn't meant to be. I've often thought that one of the saddest verses in the Bible is Genesis 5:5 "Adam lived 930 years, and then he died. Because he wasn't supposed to die. Janet wasn't supposed to. But the Hope. The hope that because of the "sobering event of His death" and his glorious resurrection she still lives. Thank you for letting the words flow. I've missed them. Love and prayers for you, dear friend.

Queenheroical said...

Oh Elise, Do you travel this way a little lighter, though the stone still weighs heavy at times. Missed your voice.

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