Standing in my little, unimpressive kitchen with laminate counters I surely thought I'd graduate from by now. Peeling these potatoes and pretending like the eyes don't bother me a bit. Outside, the sound of pouring rain pounding the earth. Inside, the sounds of shrieking toddler, worn out Daddy, loud girl (she got it from her mama), and big boys making deals to share what they both want all to themselves.
Bad weather is coming and in my little Tennessee city that means get ready to hunker. Bad weather here can take your house, your car, your children. Ask us how we know and we will show you the eerie downtown memorial to the lives lost a few years ago on another bad weather day. There’ll be no modern dance or hip-hop class today, no Scout meeting to get to. On top of that, there is no school or work for us tomorrow due to the hotly contested mid-term elections we are all reaching for the antacids and Bibles and mean-spirited memes over.
It’s supposed to be a regular Monday right now, but we won the cancellation policy lottery and all we have to do is stir the soup, try not to over salt it, and watch another movie about a gnome. This is a very good day, a true grey and muddy gift and I, by all that is holy, I will stop and notice it.
I am learning to take note of days like this because as it turns out, good days aren't promised. I am learning from Sister Ann to count the graces when I see them and I am learning to love the Giver.
All around outside my window, just beyond the edge of my smallest circle the pain of humanity finds its way.
A friend in the hallway, catching me off guard with stories of loss I feel in my bones as she speaks. Another in Memphis, watching oxygen levels and infection markers and convincing her sweet baby it's ok to let the nurse touch his toe, it won't hurt this time, his eyes too knowing for me to look at in the little iPhone video she sent. A friend a little down the way making sense of the wilderness and tracing His hand in the dark while little girls flutter around her. Another friend who is more like a sisterdaughtermother tries to rest after another twelve-hour shift laboring alongside other women bringing life and hope and sometimes pain and loss into the world, all while she carries her own third baby. A friend farther from home who has learned more about the treatment of cancer in her short married life than any of us ever want to know. A friend across town who knows well the violence of evil men and is living and breathing and worshiping the Giver of life with every day she gets out of bed and just does the next right thing. Her very life is an act of defiance against the one who meant her harm, her bruised heel crushing his head with each determined step. People I love are walking paths with their children that look very different from the ones they dreamed of when their eyes first met. A dear friend trying to be faithful to the work she knows is hers when not everyone has ears to hear the calling she hears in her heart. Rejection, death, addiction, depression, doubt, loneliness, failure. They are our visitors, if not our companions.
A little further now, beyond the edge of my own people, and there are photos of children suffering the effects of a famine the world hasn’t seen in a generation. A few miles south, a toddler clings to her Daddy’s forehead while he crosses a river. Her eyes scan the horizon frantically for help we know now she isn’t likely to find. The systems that powerful men designed to grab and maintain even more power seem overwhelming and insurmountable. Me, too. Church, too. It’s all just too much. God’s children murdered in worship, precious ones gunned down in the grocery. The list could literally go on, on, on.
Pain is all around us. Loss is unavoidable. The bell tolls for every man.
My tendency has been to avoid all the things I can’t understand. If I don’t know the answers, I certainly will not be asking the question, thank you very much. But something in me has started to change, break loose, get free. I used to look away, even pull away from people in pain if I didn’t think I could take the pain away from the sufferer. No sense feeling all the feelings, they’re not practical. But slowly, over the last couple of years I have experienced a shift in my spirit. I have found that I don’t have to run from pain to have a life of joy and beauty, and if I can stop trying to numb the pain, the actual joy of the Lord Himself will be my strength.
I want to learn how to live my life with open hands, spread wide to hold it all. I want the beauty of a rainy afternoon and the hot tears of my people on my shoulder after worship on Sunday. I know that God is good and Jesus is alive and I know that people are suffering unmentionable horror. The weary world does not need our halfhearted attempts at explaining away the suffering of children. Maybe what the groaning creation needs is the Church, the actual body of Jesus to get a little more comfortable with the hands and knees suffering our neighbors, our members, and even our enemies are living with. We must find a way to stay tender to the sounds of the groaning. The suffering I see around me will either be ignored wholesale or altogether communed with. If God came to us, how can we systemize a theology of pushing away?
I want to live my life wide open now. I don’t want simple anymore, save the pat answers and inspirational, but grossly out of context Bible verses for some other mother. Jesus came to suffer, to be God with us in the cruel world we made. I want to find the yes, the amen to all of it. I have a sneaking suspicion that the real, rich, hidden in Christ life is also the eyes wide open life. The palms spread wide life.
The sun is gone away now, the soup is almost ready. Some of the kids have found pajamas already, another is asking again about the cookies I promised. Jesus is near, he is here with us, our brother, our friend. We will rest in Him tonight and tomorrow be raised up again to find His way and walk our stumbling feet in it.