Transcendent Love

I write this from my mother’s beside in hospice. After Mom was transported to the ER on Wednesday morning, a CAT scan revealed a hemorrhage inside her brain. She suffered hours of extreme pain, but regained movement and seemed to be improving. However, by Thursday morning, it was clear she wouldn’t recover. In the afternoon, she was carried to hospice, where our extended family has taken up vigil.

Janie and Mom at Hospice House
Janie and Mom at Hospice House

When we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, our own, or the shared journey of a loved one, the tyranny of the urgent goes to a corner.

Even breathing takes on a different rhythm.

Like the brilliance of the sun on the snow after a blizzard, true values rise up in our clear vision.

What I see astounds me.

If you’ve read my Glimpses for long, you have journeyed with me through some of the long healing process from the scars of my childhood.

Each person in our family has good reason to nurse their scars and protect the wound.

Instead, this week, love has transcended every decision, conversation, gathering. As voice messages pour in from Switzerland and NJ, emails and text messages from Maryland, Ohio and Texas, and anyone in driving distance joins the vigil, it is clear that our “Mommom” is a magnet for us all.

In spite of failings and her own hidden pain, she has loved us. Given us a sense of our true selves. Helped us to be real. (Read The Velveteen Rabbit.)

Mom has four living children, 10 grandchildren and 22 great-grandchildren who love her, but her greater legacy is the ability to transcend hardships, difficulties, differences, and yet love. To put aside preferences and pride. To seek the good of the other. To laugh in spite of grief, to hug and not retreat. To share the gift of tears.

So we sit by her side, at the moment simply listening to her breaths and watching her chest rise and fall, and savor her presence, her life.

Earlier today, as I wrote out my reflections on her life, I realized that transcendent love sprang from my little brother’s death, sixty years ago, which shook Mom’s world and cleared her vision. She ran to the Savior she’d been ignoring for many years. She’s been running that race ever since.

LOVE in her has become love through her. Reckless, transcendent love.

Do I trust you?

Way back in the 80’s and 90’s, we lived in Honduras for eight years, the last six on Roatan, one of the Bay Islands that divers flock to from all over the world. Vacationing there is fabulous, but living and working in “paradise” was a different scene.

Our house. once a coconut trading post
Our house. once a coconut trading post

Going to "church" at Don Domingo's house in Brick Bay
Going to “church” at Don Domingo’s house in Brick Bay

When we moved there, communication was by marine radio (“Cornerstone” was our call sign) and we traveled over coral rubble by public “chicken bus” or on our used motorcycle with no shocks. Because of ruts from heavy rains, people drove on the smoothest part of the road (“smooth” is euphemistic), no matter which side. Every time we rounded a bend, I clung on the back of the motorcycle, sure we’d meet a car or bus head-on. At the entrance to town, a local carpenter displayed a hand-painted sign: “We make coffins.” I fully expected his services to be required one day, when I was splatted on the road. Nevertheless, I survived the other drivers as well as the bone-grinding bumps.

The first time I went to town to shop I burst into tears at the price of food on the Central American island. I learned to poke my head into any nook where someone might sell something edible, and to wait at the dock for the boat from the mainland with fresh carrots, tomatoes and cabbage.

Basics were available at Casa Warren in Coxen Hole, most of the time. Sugar would disappear about four months before Christmas. (I was told someone hoarded it to drive up prices before Christmas baking. I learned to stock up in September, if I could afford it.)

One year, flour was in such short supply that small bakers went out of business. When flour started trickling into the country, only registered bakers could buy it. Another time, no ketchup or canned tomato products were available for months.

I would drive two “towns” away for eggs. When the chickens molted and didn’t produce eggs, the farmer was forced to sell them as stewing hens. (He couldn’t afford to feed them when they weren’t producing.) We went without eggs until his next generation of chickens were laying again.

There was no fast food or prepared food, so meal prep was a long process, and clean-up seemed just about as long.

It’s been years since we left, but I still smile when I turn on the dishwasher and hear the purr of the machine working for me.

That is leading me to the point of all of this. Though we made wonderful friends (Hondurans are very genial people), witnessed miracles and experienced enough for a life-time of wonderful memories, there were hard times, especially in the last couple of years.

Our EMS service, air ambulance and decompression chamber treating Miskito divers ran us 24/7, our son struggled to learn, and our daughter encountered social stresses that worried me. With growing health problems, I began to sink.

J and Jane loading patient into ambulance
J and Jane loading patient into ambulance
ACW   our Cessna 172
ACW our Cessna 172

Mail call in our clinic
Mail call in our clinic
A visitor gave me a Twila Paris tape, with a song I played song over and over, for weeks, until I could finally say, “Yes. I trust you, Lord.”

We heard a reading today about Abraham taking his son Isaac to the mountain, obeying God and ready to sacrifice Isaac. I’ve had different reactions to the story, but today I’m struck with Abraham’s age when he finally had the promised son — way beyond child-bearing years for himself and his wife. Did it take that long because Abraham wouldn’t be able to say, “Yes,” until then?

Last week, in “Where do I Go?” I shared my burden of heartache for people I love. I encouraged myself, and you, to draw near to God.

Afterward, I wondered how many readers replied, “How?”

How do I say “Yes” to God? Will the road be as long as Abraham’s waiting for the heir to God’s promises?

I may wail, but then, like David, I remember. I recall what I’ve seen God do in my life in the past, and what I am certain he has promised.

“A white-tailed deer drinks from the creek; I want to drink God, deep draughts of God.
I’m thirsty for God-alive. I wonder, “Will I ever make it—arrive and drink in God’s presence?”
I’m on a diet of tears—tears for breakfast, tears for supper.
These are the things I go over and over, emptying out the pockets of my life. . . .
Why are you down in the dumps, dear soul? Why are you crying the blues?
Fix my eyes on God—soon I’ll be praising again.
He puts a smile on my face. He’s my God.
When my soul is in the dumps, I rehearse everything I know of you.” Psalm 42:1-6 The Message

That leads me to open my eyes to God’s “Yes” all around me. Right now.

“Yes!” because I have clean water, appliances to work for me, air conditioning, a roof that doesn’t leak and screens to keep out mosquitoes, easy to prepare food, and a refrigerator with electricity that will run day and night. I have friends and family that really love me. My broken hand is healing. My brother got a thumbs up from the cancer center. . . .

Every time the sun rises, the cardinal pair calls to each other, an orchid blooms, or cumulus clouds rise in the summer heat to bundle into beautiful rain clouds, God is saying “Yes!” Every time I hear my grandson sing to himself, or my granddaughter giggle with delight as she jumps on the trampoline, every time I connect with my daughter in Switzerland and another in New Jersey on cell phones, and we walk our dogs together, I feel God’s “Yes.” Every time I see my son cradle his daughter in the safety of his arms, or am cradled in the safety of my husband’s arms, I feel God’s “Yes.”

Look around you. Seek God’s “Yes!” for you.

What do you see?

We are held

Today the journeys others are taking dwarf any difficulties in mine. In the past two weeks I’ve added heart-wrenching requests to my prayer list.

• A daughter has gone missing.
• A son has died in Afghanistan.
• A family is split by alcohol and selfishness.
• A mother of a one-month-old learns she has thyroid cancer.
• A young boy is badly injured by his father’s tractor.
• Three friends have fathers in the hospital with serious illnesses.
• Most of the kidnapped girls in Nairobi are still in the hands of their captors, or worse, have already been sold into slavery, or sex-trafficked.
• Another shooting on a college campus robs a life of future and promise.
• A young husband and father of three postpones the family’s annual summer mission work in Haiti to await his treatment for melanoma in lymph nodes. . . .

When I begin to pray, I feel like ranting at God.  Asking, “Why?”

It isn’t fair. It’s a sloppy, ugly world we live in.

For a moment, I sigh words from a poem I was enamored with in the ninth grade, The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám LXXII

And that inverted Bowl they call the Sky,
Whereunder crawling coop’d we live and die,
Lift not your hands to It for help–for It
As impotently moves as you or I.

But I don’t stay there.

When the emotion is spent, I hear the echoes of the words of the psalmist centuries ago.

The enemy hunted me down;
he kicked me and stomped me within an inch of my life.
He put me in a black hole,
buried me like a corpse in that dungeon.
I sat there in despair, my spirit draining away,
my heart heavy, like lead.
I remembered the old days,
went over all you’ve done, pondered the ways you’ve worked,
Stretched out my hands to you,
as thirsty for you as a desert thirsty for rain. Psalm 143:3,4,6 The Message

We have an enemy that seeks to discourage us, beat us down, even kill us if possible. But Jesus came to destroy his power over us.

Keep a cool head. Stay alert. The Devil is poised to pounce, and would like nothing better than to catch you napping. Keep your guard up. You’re not the only ones plunged into these hard times. It’s the same with Christians all over the world. So keep a firm grip on the faith. The suffering won’t last forever. It won’t be long before this generous God who has great plans for us in Christ—eternal and glorious plans they are!—will have you put together and on your feet for good. He gets the last word; yes, he does. I Peter 5:8-11 The Message

I know it’s true.

Because I know the eyes that penetrated me with love when I couldn’t go on.

I know his words of reassurance when I wanted life to end, telling me there isn’t anything he can’t work in, as long as I am alive.

I know how it felt to have Him reach his hands out to me, pull me into a meet-the-needs-of-everything-in-me hug.

And I remind myself that this world, this life, is only a glimpse of the real thing, a tiny moment in all of eternity.

And that sometimes pain is our door.

But we are never alone in our pain.

We are held.