Every now and then, someone in my life nudges me to write my memoir. I nod and make reasonable excuses for putting it off. I’ve got this children’s series to finish first; my comprehensive workshop notes require all my attention; I’ve got a conference keynote to prepare; my car needs a tune-up; the windows need washing; isn’t it time for a pedicure? Some of these are actually legitimate obligations, of course, but authentic or concocted, they all get in the way of progress on the memoir.
Someday, I’ll get around to crafting a complete memoir, but God keeps telling me that it’s time to share a bit of it, right now. No, I don’t hear voices, except for the occasional character from one of my stories. But God does effectively communicate to me through other people, through my devotionals, through his Word—pretty much any way that he can get my attention. Which, I admit, can require a considerable amount of effort on his part. Sometimes, I can see God banging his head against the wall of heaven, saying, “What is with this chick? Is she deaf?” Of course, we both know that I’m not, and sooner or later, God gets through, and I tell him, like I did this morning, “Okay, Lord. Message received.” He wants me to share, so I’ll share.
Ready? You’ll need to sit down for this one.
I once had a beautiful little girl named Tawfiqa. If you’re a dear and especially old friend, you know that. Otherwise, this may be news to you. I don’t talk about her much, mostly because I don’t want to go there. In 1974, my gorgeous girl drowned in a pool at the babysitter’s. She was just shy of 4 years old. I won’t try to convey the depth of my grief, because it was bottomless. Besides, language is thoroughly inadequate to the task. What I can tell you, though, is that, in all the years since, whenever I learn of the death of a child—anyone’s child—my heart is hurled back to the emotional tsunami of my own loss. What’s more, in those agonizing moments, nothing separates me from the mother of that other child. In that instant, the mother and I are one. As such, the massacre in Connecticut laid me low.
My immediate thoughts were not of the red-flag issues others raised following the massacre—gun control, mental illness, and the pervasive nature of violence in our culture. No. My immediate thoughts were of the mothers, whose hearts had just been ripped from their bodies, just like mine. No past tense was necessary. This kind of pain is present continuous. No language can approach or contain it.
Wrenching as this news was, and continues to be, I know exactly where to go with my grief. I gather the shattered pieces of my heart, and the hearts of all those mothers, and fathers too, and lift them up to God in prayer. I’ve had a bit of practice.
When my daughter died, all those years ago—yesterday?—a sound came out of me that was more animal than human. Then, once I could catch my breath, I began to whisper the most theologically sophisticated prayer I could muster: Help me, God. Please, help me. I followed that with three days of fasting, at the end of which I asked Jesus to come into my life and fill me up. And he did. Best decision ever!
Yeah, yeah, I know. You’ve heard it all before, but I don’t care. I had come to the end of myself, and I needed help to take that next breath. The child, who barely filled that tiny coffin, wasn’t just any human being. This was the precious soul I’d carried in my own body for nine months, the warm, wiggling infant I’d nursed at my breast. This was flesh of my flesh, bone of my bone, and her sudden, horrific, inexplicable absence—from my life, from the world—sucked all the air from my lungs, and left me prone. The death of your child will do that to you. Even the memory clogs my windpipe.
In those dark days, I needed solace, comfort, and strength. I went to the Cross to find it, and I did. But I received something more, in the bargain. I was granted a gift of peace. I’m not talking about some warm fuzzy feeling, or numbness, or the absence of pain. No. I’m talking about an unfathomable, palpable, pure sense of peace about the loss of my child. Did that peace eclipse my grief? Not even for a millisecond. But it did sustain me throughout my mourning, and it gave me the assurance—no, the certainty—that there was both light and life-abundant for me at the end of this unimaginable, pain-painted tunnel. God’s peace made it possible for me to live, heart open and hopeful, going forward. And that, as they say, is worth shouting about.
In this technologically evolved age, many in our culture make light of the Christian faith, but it is no feather on the wind. It is stubborn, and sturdy, and more powerful than some imagine. What happened in and through me in the days following my daughter’s death made that clear to all those around me.
One evening, I got a call from the adult son of the babysitter—we’ll call her Jane. Jane, it seemed, was inconsolable. Since my daughter’s drowning in her family’s pool, Jane had taken to bed, wracked with guilt, swimming in tears, and unable to function. Her worried son asked if I would please agree to see her. I did.
I visited Jane’s home, the house in which my daughter had breathed her last, and I found a woman bereft indeed. She was unable to care for, or even engage, her own children, safe in the next room. It was impossible that I should feel pity for her, but I did. I took her in my arms and I rocked her, and comforted her while she wept. I told her that I held no malice toward her, that I did not blame her for my daughter’s death. I’d leave it to God to sort out blame, I said. As for me, I clung to the belief that I would see my daughter again, some day.
Slowly, Jane calmed down, and I gathered myself to leave. I encouraged her to rally herself. After all, she had a family who desperately needed her. Then I left, never to see Jane again.
I look back on that day, and I shake my head in wonder. Whose arms were those wrapped round the woman who was, at least indirectly, responsible for the death of my child? Those arms were God’s. He loved her through me, spoke words of forgiveness and compassion through me, accomplished something I never could have done on my own. When I talk about the power of faith, and of God’s love, and of God’s peace, that’s what I’m talking about. And when I think of those mothers in Connecticut, it’s the love of Christ, and his healing, and his perfect peace that I pray for—for them. As for that bottomless grief I mentioned? Only God’s reach is long enough to touch it.
Each Christmas, as I the decorate the house and trim the tree, gather with loved ones and sip cider, write my Christmas poem and wrap presents, I remember the gift of peace I received from the Prince of Peace himself. His gift is available to all who seek it, and that’s something worth celebrating, isn’t it?