Endure hardship. These two plain words reverberated within me. What? Yet I knew where they came from, the gentle but unyielding press of the Holy Spirit, the Lover of my soul. The words seemed…a little harsh maybe. It had been less than a year since I lost my son. The trees were most likely a magnificent palette of color, as they are now, but I was disengaged. The world looked like an old faded photograph to me. And I was exhausted. I really just wanted out.
Not suicide. I never seriously considered it an option. But death was an appealing escape. It was right through that door and I begged God to let me in…to see my son again, and Jesus and I really liked the No More Tears part also. I was becoming very alone. Most of those who had rallied around me in the early months were wearing out as well and falling behind. I couldn’t blame them; it was a tough road. I had no interest in pumpkin muffins and apple picking. As the days grew shorter and the first Christmas displays appeared, I was reminded all over again of a life I now lived which would never be the same, an unfamiliar nightmare marching on.
Endure hardship. I knew the text. These words were spoken by the apostle Paul to Timothy, as the young pastor watched his church run and flee before his eyes, his life and love coming undone under the terrible reign of Nero. He was like a son to Paul, and here Paul might have offered words a little more comforting. But he said not only to endure hardship but to do it “like a good soldier.” And now this same advice was being handed to me. I remember chuckling when I heard it, sort of with a “seriously?”kind of attitude. But endure hardship I did, and those two words helped me accept a life that for whatever reason, was meant to be hard then, and like a good soldier I would not run. I resigned myself to being on this side of the door and strangely peace began to settle my anxious heart. But more than that, God showed me I was not alone.
I took Rosie for a long walk in the woods today, near the cemetery. We hadn’t been along that path in a while, but she remembered where to turn as she ran ahead of me. The sun lit up the leaves on the trees and a soft wind carried many to the ground. I know this sounds strange but I’m grateful to God that I can notice things like that now. I imagine it’s a little like getting your sight returned but it’s more than just sight. It’s the ability to love life, even when it is hard and far from perfect. It’s a gift He gave to me and I want to finish well now.
We came out of the woods and turned up the hill towards the old part of the cemetery where several large oak and elm trees were ablaze in gold and red. I like to read the old names chiseled into the tombstones, husbands and wives and some children with such short lives and small stones they could only write the day they died. Endure hardship.
Earlier I had called my son, Miles and asked to speak to my granddaughters. I just wanted to hear their voices, sweet as the first song-bird of the morning, lifting up above the ordinary day, the harshness of the adult world. I wanted to hear the way they say my grandma name, “Ama! Ama!” so I could reconnect to God’s beautiful provision in this wilderness. I heard Miles laughing as Olive tried to hold up a picture she drew to the phone. I could feel my heart unfolding, yielding to the simplicity of their world and being refreshed at the fountain of Grace.
As Rosie ran ahead through the thick carpet of dry leaves I inhaled deeply, remembering the joy of a leaf-pile. I looked up to the sky through the huge elm reaching over me and noticed the bare black limbs now visible through the last of the small yellow leaves that still clung to the branches, signaling winter. I thanked God that I am still never alone, tired maybe, but not alone. And as a gentle breeze came up over the hill, running through the last of the leaves I did something I have never done before. I let the leaves fall across my face, like golden feathers, so soft, drifting down once again to cover the old stones.