It is late September.
The sugar maple is tinged with fire, a burning mix of orange and red and yellow, engulfing the green.
Honking Vs of geese fly over the barn.
One yellowed leaf curls on the grass.
Three Sandhill cranes lift off alfalfa field, warbling their way into the air, a trinity created by the holy.
Monarchs en route with the cranes flutter above fields glowing with purple aster and goldenrod.
How is it that dying and leaving can be so beautiful?
How is it that I can feel such joy in the midst of knowing winter’s coming, where temperatures will plunge, freezing fingers and toes.
I swirled my own color palette Monday morning—powders to cover red blotches and brown age spots, signs of the dying, the aging. Then, a touch of pink blush on lined skin. I’ll not be young again.
My daughter, now grown—sort of—saw my raw face that night—the face that can’t fake very well.
Lips didn’t raise cheeks as usual. Eyes were without their sparkle. Brows stayed fixed instead of rising like half-moons, causing forehead to scrunch with expression, exuberance. Sanguine had turned melancholy. Something in me felt a death-touch, an ache, a leaving of something.
We were driving—driving—driving.
On our way to choir practice—praising—praising—praising.
And I praise—praise—praise.
This is the rapid cycle of soul seasons.
Winters break us down. Winters where frozen and dead—and seemingly dead—keep us darn near paralyzed—unless there’s a reason to believe in a spring . . .
“Are you OK, Mom?”
I don’t say I’m fine when I’m not, at least never to her. I mean, in general, I’m fine. You know. I’m alive. I relate with Jesus, intimately, raw. I’m blessed with a rich life full of love, meaning and purpose. When it’s my time to leave this life, I know where I’m going. So really, I’m fine. And always, I’m thankful. Really thankful.
But in the moment, in THAT moment, I wasn’t feeling fine. In fact, I was feeling sorrow—grief over something one of our sons told me about the ways of this world that hurt him (coming soon in the next post—something that God definitely grieves).
My mother heart cried. I wanted to fix the unfixable. Yet, even the unfixable is redeemable . . .
So, in keeping it real as I try best to do, especially with her—the one, like me, prone to depression—I shared my true feeling of sadness about something that had happened. I reassured her that I was alright—that being sad a bit is normal—OK. That sharing your heart with a trusted, loving other is actually good for the both of you because the one sharing receives compassion while modeling humility and vulnerability and transparency—Christianity at its best. (Jesus wept. Openly. In front of people. And he didn’t apologize or feel shame. Did anyone hug him or offer a tissue? Check out John 11:35.)
She listened but didn’t try to rescue—didn’t take on my feeling as hers. Something I’ve been diligent in teaching all our kids . . .
Being empathic does not mean needing to fix or take on another’s problems. Being empathic means reaching deep into yourself and pulling out the best God has grown in you, not to show the one hurting your specifics—not to draw attention to yourself—not to act as better-than, stronger-than, more advanced-than. Remembering how you once hurt—how weak you felt—using that hurt to sensitize you to the hurting—then listening with tender heart so you can touch a soul with your personal knowledge of pain. If we had this, on a regular basis, we would put people like me, with doctoral degrees in clinical psychology being paid really good money, right out of business. O LORD! Let it be!
So, I told her how thankful I was for her concern—concern enough to notice the difference in my countenance. Concern enough to ask if I was OK. Concern enough to ask what happened. Concern enough to say she was sorry—that she could understand why I felt sad, after I told her what had happened to her brother (next post on how the “abled” shame the “dis-abled”). Concern enough to listen and talk about what it’s like to feel sad about the ways of the world that don’t match God’s. Concern enough to say, “I love you, Mom” and “I’ll pray for you—and Nick.”
She is salve for the soul of a mother who has taught her daughter how to connect—like—this. Salve to the soul, this sort of concern for another human being, regardless of relation. I believe this is true love—this sitting with, this listening to, this feeling the feeling without being consumed, this supporting, this praying, this being with one in pain without being ONE with the pain.
Once in church, we sat side-by-side in the soprano section. The music and words did me good. In the middle of Ten Thousand Reasons, I looked over and saw her small, sweet face smiling. At me. Nothing big. Her lips weren’t even parted. It was a smile that said more than her words ever could. I smiled back, easily. The first my cheeks had raised that day.
And that few seconds of connection, sitting next to each other—her smile—our praising God together, knowing we know each other well, feeling the soul care—well, that was just plain rich.
I know she feels the same.
She has told me many times, especially during her darkest days, like last year when she was hospitalized for twelve time-stretched days, trying to stabilize, struggling with mania and psychosis and depression, at times suicidal due to malfunctioning brain chemistry. For such a time as that—and this—I went to grad school and learned about illnesses such as these.
But even more—even better—I’ve learned through life—through suffering—that pain is good. Not because of the pain but because of what can come out of the pain . . .
A larger heart, more open to the ways of Jesus . . .
A tenderized heart for the hurting.
I looked into her eyes, Monday night. Mine teared.
When you can bring your whole self—raw as you might be—into the presence of another and be safe—be embraced—just as you are . . .
I do believe this is how we bring gospel to each other during our days. I do believe it is there, in the pain, we commune in the holy of holies with the Holy.
Now, joy fills my eyes. A different sort of tears. Tears not of sorrow or grief. Tears of joy.
Pain is a great teacher—the best unifier.
Through pain, we learn how to feel what others feel—to give sacrificially. Through pain, we learn to be humble—to accept a loving touch of God through another and, hopefully, one day, return the favor.
How rich I am to have a daughter who is comfortable with feelings other than glad. How thankful I am for this treasure of a daughter who knows that all feelings are fine—that all feelings, submitted to the Father, have holy value in the kingdom of God.
And those feelings that keep us from functioning?
Well, she and I are both healthy now, thanks to medication needed. And we are both stronger souls for having mucked through terrifying trenches.
And she alone is stronger than I from having fallen from her lofty clouds of mania, from riding her waves of scary psychosis. We, her family, could only sit and watch and love, through our tears, as she climbed that chair in the locked ward, out of her mind.
Could it be that one of us with “cognitive disability” and both of us with a diagnosed “mental illness”, have something of value to offer those in our world, in our own “ward”, who don’t yet recognize the extent of our broken?
O LORD, let it be so!
For your glory! For your praise!
P.S. Anna has given me her full, enthusiastic approval of this piece, hoping it will help just one.
P.S.S. In recognition and appreciation of September’s designation as National Suicide Prevention month, suicide being the third leading cause of death for young people.