Saturday, August 20, 2011

Sorry and Glad Together

"As sorrowful, yet always rejoicing..."

"The day is yours, and yours also the night..." ~Psalm 74.16

I've not written much since Olivia's death. I haven't known how. It's as though I've put on a pair of those silly 3D glasses - the contours of the world are different now, unaccountably different; there is a new dimension to existence - the dimension of grief and loss - and no one's told me how to integrate it into what was previously my "normal life." As a result I've been apprehended by the sense that what I have to write is either too weighted down with grief, or too frivolous, and I haven't known how to strike a balance between the two.

Wherever I am - but especially in the presence of Olivia's parents and sisters - there is a hole. Though a ray of hope pierces even our darkest hours - there is a new shadow over every shining moment. Life feels simultaneously as though it cannot go on and like it must go on... Both sensations are impossibly, even imposingly true and real; but any attempt to give vent to one over the other feels like an act of though I am denying one truth in order to express another.

I ask myself: How can I move forward when moving forward feels like leaving her behind? (It isn't.) How can I rejoice in all that's worthy of rejoicing in when the world is so full of sorrow? (Somehow, I must try.)

There is an old Innocence Mission song with lyrics that go, "This flurry of plans is over, over / And I'm sorry and glad together / Our bustling house is sane now, sane / now / And I'm sorry and glad together..." That is how I feel exactly – the whirlwind of activity that so often marked the time we spent together, watching our girls tear up the ground, has been tempered, and all the plans we had have... well, they have been given back to God – and I am sorry and glad together. Like a long, low sigh after an extraordinary book, I am filled with sorrow that Olivia's life on earth is over at the same time that I am glad her story collided with and became part of our stories for a little while.

I see, too, that I must accept that when writing about life - about real life - there is no way to strike the perfect balance, to follow every thread. There are countless running narratives in every story, so many that it's impossible to convey them all. On a basal level, life is always at least two things together - joy and sorrow are like bookends, marking off the boundaries that contain everything in between, and they take turns throwing themselves into center stage.

This blog began as an affirmation of the life God had given me. At a time when I felt most acutely aware of my limitations and failures - certainly as a writer, but also as a mother/wife/daughter/sister/friend - I realized I must make a decisive choice about where I was going to focus my concentration.

I could choose to focus on my seeming "deprivations" and failures - and thus shrink back into a paroxysm of self - self-reproach, paralysis, and despair or I could choose to fix my eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of all things, and to discipline myself to view life through the lenses of His Word.

This required, and requires still, not only a childlike faith, a faith that recklessly says "Yes" to God; it requires the suspension of disbelief, a decision not to disbelieve, not to say "No." That may sound redundant or over-complicated - double-negatives always are! - but I have found both muscles are indispensable and must be flexed on a daily basis if I am to remain "accessible" to God, letting Him write my life story and take me to all the places He wants me to go.

I can choose to say “Yes” to the everyday miracles – like watching the way the light works its way through clouds, and the colors it casts over my horizon. I can choose not to despise "the day of small things," and believe that God has not only initiated a great work in my life, and the life of the world, but that He delights in the work He is doing.

Every time I stoop to snap a photograph, or wriggle wildly out a window, or stop dead in front of a shop display, or weave across scraggly cliffs while Dutch looks down at me, wagging his head, smiling, to capture one-millionth part of the moment, I am saying "yes" to my Creator, to the life He has given me, to the world He has made, and the people He has peopled it with - I am finding Him in even the small moments, and glorying in the "small things," gifts, all of them, which He has created to fill up my days.

And when circumstances arise, like the death of a little girl, our sweet Olivia-Lu, to test my faith – to arrest my “Yes” and press it back against the wall – I am free to lament and mourn and present my complaint to God; but I must refrain from dismissing the plausibility of His goodness in a particular situation before I have grasped His purpose. "Shall we accept good from God, and not evil?" asked Job.

This is very hard; but any teacher will tell you that it's awfully presumptuous to judge an Author before you have really listened to what He has to say - or let Him see His story through.

What would have happened if Christ had rejected the cross because it offended His sense of justice? What would have happened had Jesus turned away from such an arduous calling because, like the scoffers who dismissed Him on the grounds that He came from Galilee, He couldn’t possibly see how anything good could come from one man’s dying on a cross?

We are judgers, all of us. But we forget that we lack perfect knowledge... and all our best estimations are hopelessly one-sided.

On the pendulum of life, the needle still swings back and forth, from joy to pain and back again; these states persist, and are reconcilable only through Christ – "who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising its shame, and is now seated at the right hand of the throne of God" (Hebrews 12:1). His finished work on the cross means that, although we will still weep, our tears "will never be shed again in the way they were before" (Oswald Chambers, A Place of Help). Sorrow remains but with a promise - He will transfigure every tear into a shout of praise, and the blackest holes will swell and bloom into gardens of beauty.

This is the Christ-life; I have tested it, and it is true in the old-fashioned sense of the word. It remains trustworthy where all else is counterfeit.

So I will continue to put up these pictures and words. These words and pictures. Not because they have, in themselves, any particular power or merit. But because they are my gift to Him. My way of strengthening feeble knees, of learning to walk by faith-sight and not mere eye-sight, and to accept what He has given, even the heart-rending thing, glorying in it, and giving it back to Him.

Thank you, Lord, for broken arms, and lungs that struggle to take in air; thank you for Dutch, and all the days he's gone. Thank you for Olivia. Thank you for her life; thank you for her death; and for the good things which have already come as a result of her having lived. Thank you for your magnificent promises - that as Solomon said, 'the end of a matter is better than its beginning.' Thank you that, in Christ, we possess the glorious hope of seeing her again, "in a little while," on that beautiful shore.


allison said...

Oh, Heather...You have brought me to tears, again, and yet I find this post so encouraging. I will be back to re-read. Thank you....

joseph anfuso said...

So honest, so wise, so beautiful. Thank you for continuing to share your gift with us, Heather. We would all choose to avoid the pain of life on this broken earth, but we cannot, and this ultimately is for our own good, and the good of others. Olivia's loss is clearly working a depth, humility and authenticity in you, and many others too, I'm sure, that might not otherwise have been possible.

Shelly said...

You make me think. Beautiful words and wonderfully articulated!


Anonymous said...

i love you. Thank you for writing this down. Thank you for continuing "through" to write all of this. Thank you for the DEEP work you are edging on in my own heart and everyone else's soul who reads this. You writing is a continuous blessing.

KillerB said...

Thank you for sharing, this is lovely.