From death to life

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged. I’ve been out of sorts and under the weather. Not really at the same time, but it’s definitely been cramping my writing hand. Tonight I’m compelled to write, or at least the meds have worn off enough that I think I can construct a cohesive thought.

Two things are riding on the waves of my thoughts tonight: the anniversary of death of a beloved friend and sister in Christ… and, the stark reality that as much as I didn’t want it to, life has gone on.

It was 9 years ago, today which seems almost impossible. I got the call that she was in serious condition at the hospital and that she wasn’t going to make it. But, what the person who informed me didn’t know is that I already sensed something was seriously wrong. I woke up that morning feeling less. I don’t know how else to describe it. Sure, I’m prone to depression and I was the mother of a five month old, but try as I could, I wasn’t sure what exactly was wrong…only that some light had left my life. The day was black and white…even now reliving it, I was in slow motion. My sister came to my side, and she coaxed me, and offered to keep my baby if I wanted to go to the hospital.

I called to talk to her brother, tell him that I was praying for them, that I love her. I told him I wanted to go and be there and just be…there. Of course I was welcome, but I couldn’t, and I HATE that. I was in a daze the rest of the morning….unfeeling, unseeing, unaffected. I feel like I lost a precious day with my baby…maybe I missed a laugh, or a cry, or a look that I could never have back. But try as I did, to concentrate on her…all I could think about was Aimee. That smile, her laugh, those tears that we cried.
A few days later, I went to her funeral. I listened as one by one they got up to share what Aimee had meant to them. I was in a daze..you mean, I wasn’t the only one? I wasn’t the only soul that was touched and felt special at the gaze of one so wonderful? No. I was one of MANY. And then, at the end of the service we had a worship service…a worship service of praise, offering thanks for a life that was so beautiful. But if the words we were singing were “Amazing Love how can it be that you, my King, would die for me?” My heart was echoing, “Amazing Love, how can it be that you my King would take her away?” My soul was begging, “Amazing Love, how can it be that she has died? Amazing Love, this is not amazing. This is a tragedy!” And tears covered my cheeks and the salt sat on my upper lip, and I tried to make sense of our loss.

I remember lowering my arms. No one would think anything of it. I lowered my arms during a praise song, what’s the big deal? It’s not like I’m Moses and if I lower my arms the praises will cease. But God knew what I was really saying. I was saying, “Nope. Not now. I will not praise you.” I was hurting. I wasn’t in the mood for praise. That’s not a very welcome admission. I can hear the cries of, “But you must praise Him in the storm! You’re faith was too small! Your heart was hardened!” NO. My heart was broken…and my Daddy knew this.

Months went by…my baby became a toddler. Her coos became words. Her crawl became steps. And, I was forgetting. This bothered me to no end. How could I forget? How could I pretend that life goes on? How can I imagine that all is well when Aimee’s parents still grieve and miss and bear the heartache of her death everyday? It didn’t seem fair.

A year went by…then two and another baby…and still…there was a part of me that was bitter about her death. “But, Leslie, did you hear about the way she led her birth mom to accept Christ? Did you hear the many that testified about what her life had meant? Did you understand that she fulfilled her purpose?” No. No, I didn’t. Because when I sat in that funeral there was only one thing going through my heart, “Aimee is gone.” And it was hard to hear testimony after testimony about the power and beauty of Christ in her life, because…well, because there was no one to fill those shoes! It’s like calling off the player that’s scoring the most points…what’s the sense in that?

Years went by. My girls were growing up and as I watched I marveled at the heart of my oldest. The way she was so sensitive to Christ, her deep love for Him at such a tender age, and I thought, “There’s my Aimee.” I’d smile and pull her on my lap and tell her about a sweet friend that had blessed her in my tummy…and, what a moment of blessing that had been. As I retold the story, I’d picture her large slender hands encircling my belly and the sound of her lips moving, and I’d smile…her words had imparted strength and love and divine appointment for my child. I believe this.

More years. And I find myself, upset, depressed, disappointed. That particular summer, I had gone to help with a youth camp because after all that’s where my heart was. I poured myself out and into them until I had nothing left to give. Fulfilling the role of “got it all together counselor” when inside I was falling apart. No one knew. And I wasn’t about to disappoint everyone by telling them. But, Daddy knew. And He had a plan.

Abigail Handy Berry.

She brought back my sunshine that I lost that black and white day in October, and it was all because my Aimee was sunshine for her. Once a precious young girl, convinced that the rest of her days would be filled with pain…now a beautiful, promising woman of God who convinced me that God can make tragedy good.

Yes. It is amazing. Amazing Love that gives and takes away. Amazing Love that lingers and sustains. Amazing Love that will just as surely take a fist as outstretched hand. Amazing Love that is faithful to see you through the pain just to bring you light again. That’s the amazing love of God.

And yes, those shoes of Aimee’s were big…but that just gives us more work to do…and Abbi and I, together and apart, are going to do our part so that the legacy and life of Aimee lives on. I can raise my hands in praise again…Because I know…the One that waits with a twinkle in His eye for the day He pulls her out from behind His back. That awesome day when Abbi and I will wrap our arms around her and get to kiss her sweet face again…He knows we miss her, and we know she lives. 🙂

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Raising Cain

Today while I was reading my Bible, I focused in on Cain. Strange, as Christian children in Sunday School we are told over and over that he is the bad brother and are told to picture the innocent blood of sweet little brother, Abel, seeping into the dust. How dare we focus on the brother that offered wilted greens, when his brother sacrificed a savory choice lamb?!

But the truth is: We can relate to Cain. Honestly, Abel is a bit of a pansy. Sure he was a shepherd so the conjured image of pretty boy with beautifully manicured nails has to slide away, but really…I don’t see any gumption in him. Instead we watch this amazing story unfold of bitter anger and jealousy and revenge, at the hands of Cain.

Anyone who has siblings can relate. There is a part of Cain in all of us. There is a Cain in every family. Matter of a fact, when I hear the story of the prodigal son, isn’t Cain the picture of the worldly womanizing sibling, and Abel is more accurately the jealous son that feels slighted by his father’s treatment of the stupid brother that didn’t have any more sense than to squander his inheritance? And, there is always an Abel. The sibling that does everything right, that gets all the good grades, everyone sees as the “good son.” Maybe if we’d seen more of Abel, we wouldn’t be so darn quick to sneer at Cain.

God didn’t.

At the moment that Cain is caught, almighty God, Creator of heaven and earth, confronts him. “Where is your brother?” Cain cockily rattles off, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Wow. Can you imagine? I mean, I’ll be the first to admit that I have had my mouthy moments with God, but in front of His face? I wouldn’t dare to be so bold! Then they chatter a bit and God tells him that he has to leave. “But where will I go? They’ll kill me!” God doesn’t rub His hands together and with a maniacal laugh say, “Precisely.” NO. He assures Cain, “No. They won’t. I will put a mark on you and anyone that touches you will have ME to deal with!” (Okay, that might have been a little loosely translated.)

But, I find that beautiful. I find that fully in keeping with the character of God. You see, He didn’t despise Cain, look at him in disgust and wonder why He had ever created him. He didn’t feed him to the dogs to suffer payment for his sin. He didn’t do anything of the sort. He offered him protection. He marked him as His own, moments after his sin, while Abel’s blood still cried out from the ground. Marked – as God’s own.

This hit me today as I was reading. These short few verses of interaction spoke volumes about the love of God. And yet, it’s not a point that is brought up very often. We glance over this story of love and forgiveness for Cain and reach right into the prodigal son’s tale. We look over the heart of God for a murderer because somehow it feels more correct that He would forgive and take in a swindler and an irresponsible pig feeder. Or maybe it’s the influence of the Speaker that moves us to relate to the parable over the history lesson? No matter. Christ who spoke the object lesson of the wayward son witnessed the moment. He knew the love and compassion of the Father because He’d seen the first time it had played out, with Cain.

It plays out now.

I listened earlier in the week as someone spoke of the horrible fate of the young man that killed his parents a month ago. It’s since been announced that he will be tried as an adult, and that his sentence (though not deliberated yet) will most likely be life in prison with no chance for parole. It was said in an almost “He’ll get his” type voice. Almost approvingly, she announced that for the rest of his life this young man would be jail bait. Oh how my heart ached. This is not the heart of God, the plan of God, the desire of God for this young man! Oh that He could speak to the heart of this boy and assure him of His protection like he did the heart of Cain! He would. Maybe He is. We don’t know.

But we do know that God’s heart was compassionate toward Cain; His affection didn’t end with Abel. He reached past the blood of sin and offered assurance to a scared convict…a murderer…a liar…and a punk. And, more than that, He marked Him as His own and sent him with a promise. That gives me comfort…because I have played the part of the liar and the punk and but for the grace of God, and for the love of Pete…I have yet to commit a murder…and after my last blog, I don‘t think anyone will tempt me. 🙂

Watch out, she bites.

It’s true. As much as I hate it and try to keep it from happening, I bite – with my tongue.

Just say the wrong thing at the wrong time in the wrong tone, and it is on.

Catch me on the morning that I didn’t get all 8,777 z’s that I need, and I’m likely to pounce first.

Speak to me in a voice that I only interpret as condescending to another precious soul that I love, and watch me hiss.

Or, walk headlong into danger after I’ve begged you to turn around, and he who was once brother becomes enemy of the state.

It happens. More often than I care to admit. It happens. And those that walk headlong into it, because apparently I don’t keep my flashers on long enough, know it all too well.

It’s where I’m not like Jesus.

Truth is, right before it happens, there is this voice that tries to speak up. I’ve heard it before. It tells me kindly to hold my tongue, step back, and count to ten, sometimes ten thousand if I’m particularly riled. But, sometimes, I choose to ignore it. Because selfishly there is great satisfaction in the bite.

I find myself salivating at just the right barb to land the sink and bring it all home…isn’t that disgusting? I don’t play games, I end them. I don’t set people up with juicy innuendo hoping they get what point I’m trying to make, I stab them with the razors edge of truth driving the point home, powerfully and with a crushing blow.

Didn’t know this about me? It’s because you haven’t crossed my path.

Most the time I’m loving and giving and kind. Most of the time I’m funny and passionate and graceful. Most of the time I’m understanding and sympathetic and good hearted. But, there are times like I mentioned above when my flesh rips through it’s cage of self control, and I attack.

It’s disturbing to admit….and yet, I feel the need to let it all out. Post it in a blog that a few people will read because I’m tired of the lie…the pedestal…the thought that I’m somehow not capable of these human tendencies. I assure you I am.

I can be ugly and mean, resentful and unkind.

I can make rude comments about people I don’t know and who don’t know me.

I can ignore someone who obviously just needs someone to listen.

I can turn my nose up at people who turn their noses up at me.

I can hurt people deeply, intentionally or unintentionally, and have no way to undo that pain.

I can forget that the life I live is not my own. I don’t want to. It isn’t how or who or what I want to be. But, I can…and I do.

It’s selfish and it’s cruel and it’s unkind and pretty much diabolical.

And, this is a warning of sorts, wrapped up in a confession: Don’t get on the wrong side of my teeth. You might not recover.