I was driving down the highway after having coffee with my sister-in-law and trying to sum up the emotions I was struggling with when I saw the perfect illustration-clouds. It wasn’t so much the clouds that caught my eye but rather the visible shadows they were casting. The clouds were the beautiful fluffy, cotton candy kind of clouds I can remember lying under with my children and spotting elephants, or rabbits, or faces. Today I was acutely aware of the angled shadows they were casting and how I felt so much a part of that transparent darkness.
Some of you may know that I have a child in the Army who is being deployed to Afghanistan, almost any day now. I am pretty sure that I haven’t shared with you that my sister-in-law recently found out that her son has been deployed as well. He will be leaving in September. I will never forget when she called to tell me because one of her first reactions was to tell me that now she knew, she understood, the hollowness inside where comfort has been swept away that I had told her about. Tonight she was telling me that she was going down to see her son and his wife for his birthday before he leaves. Now, I am not ashamed to admit that I wear my heart on my sleeve and that my face betrays my every emotion. As much as I try to disguise my innermost thoughts-one would have to be blind not to know what I was thinking! So, no matter how hard I tried to suck down my green tea latte and listen to her tell the emotional impact of this visit-the potential of it being the last time she ever sees her son-I couldn’t sit there and pretend this latte was the best thing ever. I was instantly there. Enveloped in the shared emotions of overwhelming love and pride that resides so closely to the aching fear of a mother’s heart having to say good-bye.
These are hard words, in fact,very hard words to write-to think and even to admit. I know I want to bury my fears in platitudes and niceties-to say that I trust God enough to let my child go knowing full well that it is His will that will be done and I am confident my son will come home. That both our sons will come home. Well, the truth is I have faith that the Lord’s will is perfect, that it will be done but I also understand, and fear, that his will might be that one, or both of our sons may be lost and this knowledge terrifies me. I think others know this as well and it makes them uncomfortable-so much so that they think it is better to say nothing than to take the chance that they might see real emotions surface.
I think when you have illness happen, or tragedy strike, or even situations where folks are treading on unfamiliar or uncomfortable territory that it is easier, for them not you, to tiptoe around it, avoid it, pretend it doesn’t exist and instead to offer trite treacle covered Christian platitudes that are useless. I am an advocate of reality or maybe just truth. I often think of how ridiculous it would be to read in scripture that when Christ spoke to the lepers he talked about the weather, or asked them how their gardens were doing. For example, the Lord spoke “So, what do you think the chance of rain is?” or perhaps “What is the best treatment for wilt?” I am so grateful that I can have faith in a God who got dirt under his nails, who called people out and who met them in their grief and struggles-on their level-and didn’t avoid the tough discussions. This is what I hope for.
To avoid those discussions is to vilify my feelings, to make them an enemy-something wrong, indecent, shameful. To put me in the position of pretending nothing is bothering me so that you don’t have to be uncomfortable is selfish. If this is harsh then it is what it is. I am not going to run around looking for people to feel sorry for me-that isn’t the point here. The point is that once in a while I need to be met where I am, that there are those of us who would like to know that you are strong enough to bear our truth so we don’t have to feel so alone-so that we don’t have to be responsible for your fears too. We are well aware that we have a God whose strength is unshakable, who we can always turn to no matter where we are and what we are feeling. This is awesome-it really is. But, sometimes, every far once in a while to feel the strength of flesh and blood arms-to look directly into the welling eyes of another delivers an immediate dose of HIS compassion-a mainline to the heart. Uncomfortable? Yes, it can be. Real? Certainly. Undeniably God? You betcha. If you ever feel the prompting to ask the awkward question-to risk a tearful, truthful reaction it is up to you to what you decide to do. Me? I will ask because I may be called to be the comforting arms of God and can only pray that there is someone there for me, who answers that call should I ever need to feel those arms for myself.
Back to the clouds. There are portions of creation that can fill me with such a sense of His presence-it is a long list but mountains, snow and clouds are way up at the top. Clouds possess that strange and magical quality appearing solid while remaining completely penetrable. To fly through a cloud always makes me hold my breath for a second. It isn’t what it seems-it looks like it could stop you on a dime but the plane just glides right through. They block the light, can manifest rain and snow yet dematerialize in an instant. Amazing. Today they cast a shadow-one that was palpable in my life but the beauty of these clouds was that I could see (feel) the shadow AND I was also very aware of the sun shining on their cumulus tops. So much so that I had to wear my sunglasses.
Yeah, there will always be shadows, always be fear, but I am so glad to know that the Son always shines above the clouds.