I’m still practicing the lessons in gratitude I’m learning from Ann Voskamp’s book: One Thousand Gifts by studying it chapter by chapter with some of my family. This week we’re focusing on chapter 5. It’s a sobering chapter, but it’s one of the reasons I love the book. Ann moves fearlessly into the storm of my hard questions…the: where was God when tragedy hammered…Father, can’t you DO something to help …Why God… questions.
Actually, I’ve been thinking about those hard questions a lot since January when I read the book the first time. Is it possible to find God’s gifts in hard times? Is it possible to see God working in the midst of a horrendous tragedy? My Mama’s last four days on this side of eternity were the darkest days of my life…was God there? Was her death simply an accident? Her body reacted to a drug routinely given during surgery. A drug that was recalled 2 months later because it was killing people. So Mama’s death…was it human error? (Or in this case human greed?)
In my morning prayer time last month, thoughts of keeping vigil at Saint Joesph Hospital after Mama’s surgery so crowded my mind that I couldn’t think of anything else…
“Is this one of those situations where I won’t see the gift, the beauty from the ugly…won’t see you at all until I get to the other side of eternity Father?”
I felt pretty certain I wouldn’t be finding any “gifts” from God looking back on that dark time. Too much pain…being in her room when Mama went into cardiac arrest and every nurse and doctor in the CCU ward poured in shoving us out in the process, the loudspeaker blaring CODE-BLUE–CCU –ROOM 423″ …don’t leave us Mama. God save her…please…
No, I couldn’t look back and see God that day…My Daddy’s face so vulnerable and full of…what was it? Fear I think, as a security guard gently took his elbow…”I’m sorry sir. You can’t go back in there.” My sister unable to stand under the weight of panic falling to her knees. All the while the lights mounted up high on the walls blinked fast and that voice on the intercom kept screaming that Mama wasn’t breathing. The horror of those days wouldn’t hold any trace of a gift. After all, this wasn’t the way a saint was supposed to leave this earth. She was supposed to go to be with Jesus in her sleep …peacefully. Sometime after 85th birthday … not at 65…not in the center of a tragedy.
I got up from that prayer time in near hyperventilation …I’ll have to wait for heaven Father, to see you in that nightmare…because right now I can’t find a trace of you there.
But later that day, out of the blue, I had the most vivid memory…along with the memory a dark gaping ache. Just before shutting it down to avoid the dark place, I felt God. Or I thought I did…so I breathed deep and let the memory wash over me and take me back…
It was our last night at the hospital. Daddy, my sister Debra, and I were leaving the Cardiac Care room where Mama was…only she wasn’t really there anymore. We kissed her, said our goodbyes and turned to walk the long corridor into the waiting room full of family to tell them she was gone. My children and Debra’s met us at the door, everyone else stood back giving us space. The children who were grown now, wore on their faces the adult-pain of the past 4 days mixed with just a bit of child-like hope… I leaned into Debra’s ear…”we can’t fall apart right now, we have to be strong for them…” She squeezed my arm and Daddy… our Daddy, who must have been thinking the same thing, bravely proceeded to tell his grandchildren that their Nanny, his wife of nearly 50 years, had gone home to be with Jesus…but one day we would see her again.
All of our children …every single one dropped to the floor sobbing.
As I remembered, it was as if I had a birds-eye view. I could see the children crumpled on the floor, Debra and I on our knees, arms wrapped around shaking shoulders whispering words of hope… And Daddy standing, moved from me to Deb to each child one by one laying his weary hands on our shoulders, comforting us with a touch. Giving to us the strength that God was surely giving him.
And from the birds-eye view, my wounded heart swelled with thanksgiving. God was there. He was giving comfort. Strength. Even a little Peace…and from where I stood 5 years later…I could see the beauty in that horrible moment.
Although I didn’t thank Him at the time, the memory of that moment is on my 1000 Gifts List…
#288- grace and love poured out in my darkest hour…You were there after all.
I can imagine there are people who have hurt so deeply they can never (on this side of eternity ) see God’s hand in their pain…if you’re one of those hurting hearts I’m so deeply deeply sorry. I would never presume I could infuse God into your grief, this is only a snapshot of my own journey.
And if you are there now…in the darkness… I pray God would tenderly hold you Sweet One.
If you have a need and would like to share I’d be so honored to pray with you…