My friend, Abigail Rine, wrote a piece today on her blog, Mama Unabridged. It’s titled The Mother Wound, and it’s beautiful and gut-wrenching. Like parenting. In it, she reflects on her reaction following the explosions at the Boston marathon. What it’s like to be a mama when you realize your super protection powers have limitations. What that means about God. What it means about love. I nodded in agreement through the entire post — oh, how I’ve been there, mama — but it was her question at the end that cut me to the core.
I am only four months in. My son, who hasn’t quite mastered rolling over yet (so close!), is probably safer now than he will ever be. But already I’m wondering: how can I live like this, under the threat of such incomprehensible pain, without it swallowing me whole?
Sometimes in the depth of night, Julian stirs, begins to cry himself awake, and I put my hand on his chest to calm him back into sleep. My hand easily covers his torso, and I can feel his tiny heart against my palm, fluttering like a hummingbird. Not so long ago, this heart was beating inside me; our twin organs shared both body and blood. Now I swear I can feel both hearts there, beneath his matchstick ribs. Mine echoes in the beats between his, a desperate murmur, a plea: don’t stop, don’t stop, don’t stop, don’t stop…
Yes. Oh, yes. How can I live like this? And I’m already consumed.
My oldest baby was 3 years old on September 11, 2001. I sat in our tiny apartment on our sage green, overstuffed, microfiber couch, and I watched the second tower fall while I readied Abby for preschool and questioned whether I should take her at all. I wept for the people killed and the people left behind. I wept for the horror and the loss. But I secretly wept hardest of all for the idea that I might someday lose my own baby and for my impotence to stop that from happening.
I was 13 the first time I lost someone very close to me. Gary died in a plane crash in Irian Jaya, Indonesia, where my family lived at the time. He was a pilot like my father, doing Christian humanitarian aid work in some of the most remote jungles on the planet, and, when I was at boarding school, he and his wife Kathy took me in for weekends and holidays and marathon cookie-dough-eating sessions. They made me laugh and feel welcome, which was a piece of home.
On May 25, 1987, we received word via radio that Gary’s plane had gone down, and we began to pray. The thing is, I knew he would be okay. I mean, I knew with perfect peace that Gary wouldn’t die. My faith was pure and sure, but while I was busy praying, Gary was busy being dead, and it shattered a piece of my soul. I no longer trusted intercessory prayer or the magic wand of God to fix things.
Thus began what I like to call my Death Issues. Which are really Trust Issues and Anger Issues and God, YOU SUCK Issues. Which are really Hurt Issues and Fear Issues and I’m Not Sure I Can Stand Life’s Pain Issues. Which are really, you know, Being Human Issues.
When I became a mother, though…
oh dear God, when I became a mother…
when I became a mother, I learned about fear. And I was paralyzed that Abby would die.
And then it got worse.
Every tragedy was a reminder that God was not trustworthy. That people die without asking me for prior approval.
Each one was a reminder that I’m one step away from losing the people who are my breath and my life.
With every death, a nod of agreement. Yep. Confirmation that God’s crap. Not for causing their deaths — I’ve never believed that, not ever, not ever, which is perhaps the only consistent bright spot in my theology — but for allowing to happen on God’s watch things I’d never tolerate on mine.
When Neil died, I nodded again. Yep. This is crap. Neil, a Christian aid worker and pilot in Irian Jaya, Indonesia… the same place Gary died… the same place Neil and I grew up… Neil died and left behind his wife, toddler daughter and infant son when his helicopter went down.
I attended Neil’s memorial service in Pennsylvania months later, and late one night, I sat with Neil’s wife, my former high school dormmate, to talk. Candidly. Openly. To talk with my friend who found herself alone, with two small kids to raise, and, in my mind, though I was careful not to say so, betrayed by God. I asked, offhand, knowing that people say strange things in the midst of tragedy, “Sandy? What’s one thing people keep saying that you could do without EVER hearing again?”
And she said the most amazing thing.
Sandy said, “I wish people would stop saying that God took Neil too soon, as though God broke some kind of promise when Neil died. It’s a lie we tell ourselves, that all people live to grow old. Some do. Some don’t. That’s not God’s promise, to ensure that we live long lives. God’s promise is to be with us no matter what happens. No more, no less. God is faithful to me.”
I was transported to that conversation at the end of Abigail’s post when she asked, perhaps rhetorically but echoing my own mama heart, “How can I live like this, under the threat of such incomprehensible pain, without it swallowing me whole?”
How can I live like this? Knowing my worst nightmare is a possibility? How can I even breathe?
I know you know these questions. I know you know because you told me so. Christy wrote, “Truly, the question is, how do you keep from being all consumed by the fear?” And Kathryn wrote, “My ‘postpartum depression’ with my first really wasn’t chemical at all. It was wrestling with this question. To love someone so indescribably, and know that you really could lose them or watch them suffer, it’s a hard, hard thing.” And Jennifer wrote, “After I had my first child I asked my mom in complete honesty ‘when do you stop worrying?’ and she just smiled and said ‘you never do.’ It was a great moment and terrible realization all at the same time.”
And I agreed with every single one of you. I live with grief and fear and the agony of the unknown. Every day. Every minute. I cry for what might be. And I wonder, if the worst happens, whether I’ll survive it.
But I will tell you what Sandy taught me that day. What opened up inside me. What gave me hope to hold hands with my fear.
It’s the knowledge that Love goes with me.
Or God. You can call Love God if you like. That’s okay. I often do. But I call God Love, too, on the days when God is too much — too much history, too much baggage, too much misappropriation by too many people over too much time, too many politics, too much yelling — Love brings me back to the core. Back to the heart. Back to the whole point. And here’s the truth of what I believe. The entire thing in a nutshell:
Love never fails. Never ever.
How can I live like this, under the threat of such incomprehensible pain, without it swallowing me whole?
I can live like this, with hope and faith and, yes, with fear, because Love goes with me. Into the abyss. Even into the abyss of right now which holds all of the unknown. Love goes with me. Love goes with my kids. No matter what happens. Love is faithful. And Love never fails.
This is the light in the darkness. This unfailing Love. Not that we don’t know that the dark’s all around. But that we turn our faces to light and warm ourselves at the fire.
How about you? How can you live like this? Tell me what you think. What gets you through tragedies or the possibility of them? What allows you to breathe in spite of the fear?
And P.S. I love this post by my friend, Karen, who lost her son just a few years ago. It’s about Joey and Jesus and protecting our children and hope and Heaven and victory. It makes me cry, and it helps me remember that Love is bigger and better and bolder than I can imagine. Thanks, Karen.