Sunday, August 05, 2012

Hearing the Music

I have very limited experience with death.  I've only really lost grandparents and an aunt, all of whom were quite sick for a long time and for whom it was almost a relief to see their suffering end.  All of those losses were sad, yes, but not at all sudden.  My family was pretty much prepared for all of them.

I wrote back in May that the future was up in the air for my relationship with the amazing young man God brought into my life last year.  At that time, well, I had no idea just how much things would change.

In the past week and a half, though, everything has changed.

First, he was offered a permanent job, which he'd been searching for for months, three hours away in the small town where his parents live.  His father was not well, suffering from an issue that came on very suddenly barely a month ago, so he accepted it to move back home and help his family.  The very next day - the night after his first day at work - his father passed away.

I have never experienced grief like this, and it wasn't even my own father.  Watching my friend, my spiritual partner, the man who, even now, holds so much of my heart, go through this terrible time has been more overwhelming than I could have ever imagined.

Two days ago, I travelled three hours west to that same small town for his father's memorial service.  Out of deference to my "inconvenience," he said I didn't have to come.  He seemed surprised that I would come, actually.  But how could I not?  This is his father.  He is...well, everything he is and will always be to me.

Even so, it was one of the scariest and hardest things I've ever had to do.

I realized in the days leading up to this past Friday that he and I had spent our time together in a bit of a bubble for almost a year.  He had met my family when they visited for Easter and spent four lovely days with them, but I had met none of his yet.  There just hadn't been opportunity.  I sent a card to his mother almost immediately after he called me on his lunch break at his second day of work and told me through halting words that his father had passed.  But I didn't know her.  I didn't know his sisters or his nieces and I was going to roll up in there, a relative stranger, telling them how sorry I was and oh, by the way, here I am, nice to meet you.

Plus, as I said, I have very little experience with death.  I had no idea what really to say, or do, or how to act, or what I should expect from my friend when I saw him.  I wanted to be the best support I could be, but I didn't know how.  Honestly, I still don't.  In one week, everything for us had changed and now he was going through more grief than I could even comprehend.  I wanted to do anything and everything I could, but I didn't know what that was.

I knew, though, that I was going to this memorial service to support him.

I have never been more nervous in my life.

Last week, in the days leading up to Friday, I laid it all out to God.  I cried every single day.  I asked God to give me strength, courage, and peace.  More than anything, I asked God to shine out through me.  Let my presence be a source of comfort and calm because of You, Lord, I begged.  More of You and less of me - all of You and none of me, more like.

Also, I asked God for a sign.  Something from Him to know I was doing the right thing.  I didn't know what I was asking for, really, but I just needed to hear from God somehow.  I read the story of Gideon and the fleece directly from the Bible for the first time.  I didn't really have a fleece, per se, but I wanted a sign that was unmistakable.  I needed one.

The memorial service was lovely.  Beautiful, touching, and I saw my precious friend's work all through it.  He had obviously orchestrated everything.  I watched this young man who is so dear to me be a steady, solid support for his grieving mother, taking care of every detail and stepping up now as the authority in his family.  I listened to people I didn't know praise his father's familial leadership, which, from knowing him, I already knew was based in faith, character, and God's love.

After the service, he hugged me several times and thanked me for coming before going home to be with his family who were spending the night. 

I went back to my hotel room, feeling even more overwhelmed.  I felt clumsy and inelegant, like I'd said all the wrong things after the service and wishing I could do it over.  I didn't know what I wish I would have said, but I wished it was something else.  All I could do was hope and pray that God had spoken through my clunky words and rather awkward presence.

I settled into the king bed in the hotel room, feeling very small and sad and alone.  I watched tv, talked to my little sister on the phone, prayed.  I was emotionally and mentally exhausted.  I tried to sleep, but couldn't.  Finally, I emailed my friend words that were just sort of falling out of me about the service, our relationship, and the future, and eventually fell into a heavy, uncomfortable slumber.  I hadn't heard from God in the way that I'd asked.

A few hours later, I was very gently woken up in the darkest part of the night.  At first, I couldn't figure out why I was awake when I was so unbelievably tired.  My head was fuzzy and everything was black and strange.

But then, ever so faintly, I heard it.

Coming from outside, somewhere I couldn't pinpoint, was the sound of a single violin playing.

The fuzziness in my head started to clear a little as I began to realize what I was hearing.  A violin.

Both my friend and I play the violin - it's one of the many things we have in common.  I've watched him play a few times now, and it's been something I absolutely treasure.  For nearly a year, every time I hear a violin, I think of him immediately.

The violin kept playing.  It was faint, but it was definitely there.

I don't know what I was expecting, but I got out of bed, slid into my slippers, and went to the window of the room and looked out.

No one was there, of course.  The violin kept playing.  It was somewhere around 4am.

I got back in bed and laid there, listening to the violin and slowly realizing that it was God giving me the sign I  had asked for.  In the dark stillness of the night, when I felt so alone and sad, here it was.  It didn't come when I expected, it wasn't big or loud or obvious to anyone else, but it was there.  The violin.  The confirmation from God that He was still there and I was in the right place.  The reminder of my precious friend, of how much I care for him, of all that we shared and that God had brought us together.

For the first time in more than a month, a peace washed over me like I had forgotten existed.

The violin only played for about five more minutes, and then it softly faded away.  I drifted back to sleep.

The grief isn't over.  The changes are still and will continue to be hard.  But God is here, and He is in all of it.  And someday, ever so softly at first, we'll hear the music playing again.

Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning. -Psalm 30:5

Saturday, August 04, 2012

One Safe Place

Many a man claims to have unfailing love, but a faithful man who can find? -Proverbs 20:6

On the back of our bulletins every Sunday is a little blurb - a testimony - usually about the Bible verse we're reading in church that week.  A couple of weeks ago, it was about this idea of steadfast love.  The writer described his grandmother's love as "persistent and no-nonsense love," stating that she wasn't sentimental or sweet or over-the-top; instead, the love she gave was, simply, present.  Constant.  Unfailing.

That's how God loves us.  His love for us is persistent and no-nonsense.  It doesn't matter what we do.  We can push Him away, hate Him, curse Him, deny Him, loathe Him.  We can forget about Him for months on end.  We can exclude Him from our lives.  We can not answer Him and not seek Him and not care about Him at all.

But He will never stop loving us, never stop pursuing us, never stop patiently waiting for us to turn around and realize He's been right there with us all along.

As I read that testimony in church, I thought, I want to be like that.

I want to love people the way God loves me.  Isn't that the point?  Love people with a no-nonsense, persistent, unfailing love.  A love that is secure and in which they can be confident.  In which they can rest.  I want the people I love to know that I am there.  I love them, I always will, and that's it.  End of discussion.

It doesn't matter what they do.  They can push me away, ignore me, forget about me, exclude me.  I don't care.  Once I'm in your life, I'm in it, you're stuck with me, and there ain't nothin' you can do about it.  Sorry 'bout your luck.

I want to be that soft place to fall for the people I love.  I want them to know that no matter what they do, they can always come back and receive grace from me.  I want to be their resting place in their time of need, their encourager in their sorrows, their strength in their struggles, their lifeline in the darkest night.  When I go to be with the Lord, I want the people I leave behind to say "She was the most gracious and giving person I knew.  She was where I would turn for love and to feel close to God.  The light of the Holy Spirit just shone out through her."

Marc Cohn sings a song called "One Safe Place" which I think describes perfectly the kind of love I'm talking about.  Here are the lyrics:

How many roads you’ve travelled
How many dreams you’ve chased
Across sand and sky and gravel
Looking for one safe place?

Will you make a smoother landing
When you break your fall from grace?
Into the arms of understanding
Looking for one safe place.

Oh, life is trial by fire
And love’s the sweetest taste
And I pray it lifts us higher
To one safe place.

I get my love from my Lord.  His love is unfailing, so mine can be, too.  That is going to be my starting place from now on.

Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed," says the LORD, who has compassion on you. -Isaiah 54:10