Wednesday, October 31, 2007

not much to say

I guess I should apologize. It's what you do when you've been really, really negligent in a relationship and forget to call a friend back or bail on them for dinner. Somehow, I feel like all of "you" out there are friends now, people who know the ins and outs of life for me, at least to some degree, and people who are loving me and lifting me up. So thank you. And I'm sorry.

There seem to be moments - days, weeks - in the midst of grief that can best be described as "emotional pauses." Things just stop and suddenly you feel absolutely zero. They're pauses because, of course, they don't last forever, but while they do, living feels somewhat like standing in the center of a whirling merry-go-round: the world around you moves, rides the tide of joy and laughter and sorrow and sadness and you - you're watching it fly past without a single movement. You are still and yet you are carried by the constant motion around you.

I wish I could elaborate a little more, but as I said: you feel absolutely zero. Someone asked me about sending a birth announcement this morning, whether it would be hard for me to get it in the mail, and I found myself honestly telling her that I just felt like Copeland hadn't been here at all, that it was all a dream. I struggle to even type those words - while one part of me rests in the emotionlessness, the other fights against it, longing to feel, even if just for a moment, what I know I can - what I do - in my harder moments. Sometimes I think this is what keeps Copeland here, what makes her existence a reality. It's foolishness, and I constantly comfort myself with the notion that, were she alive and old enough to do so, she would tell me that my needing to feel nothing right now - my needing to go out and do the silly, trivial things of life and simply to function on some level of normalcy - is okay. That even feeling like her time here was a dream is okay. I believe she'd say these things because I would say them to my own mom.

Tonight was Halloween and it's odd that we've made it this far. Five weeks ago we were handing our daughter's body to strangers and staring out at the landscape ahead with fear in our hearts. Five weeks ago we had no idea how we'd get here. And yet... here we are.

My heart is hopeful. Hopeful for the future, for what God has in store. As we walked from house to house tonight, Sellers giggling in her little princess costume and swinging her bag full of candy, it struck me that maybe, just maybe, we might be spending our last Halloween as a threesome. There's always the hope. Always the thought that perhaps things will be different in time. Someone once said to Conor and I that those who choose to end their own lives don't usually do so because, as we commonly suspect, they "lose all hope." Usually it's because they can't stop hoping. It's strange, thinking about hope that way, like a thorn in the side. The Bible says that "hope deferred makes the heart sick, but [that] a longing fulfilled is a tree of life" (Proverbs 13:12). A hope deferred. Put off. Delayed. I remember finding that verse last year, after my second miscarriage, and holding the Bible up as I prayed, somewhat miffed, "God, Your Word itself says that when things that I long for are unfulfilled, my heart will be sick - broken. It's here, right here, in Scripture." I don't know why I was shocked, but I suppose part of it was that I'd never considered the fact that my sadness over a longing that remained unfulfilled might be validated in the same book that says God works everything out for good if I love Him and commands me to trust in Him, no matter what. It's like learning something new and wonderful about someone you love after years of loving them. Strange, perhaps a little disconcerting - how could I have missed this? - and incredibly refreshing. Suddenly there are even more reasons to love them. And maybe to question and to hurt. If God knows that in prolonging my hope to have more children, my heart will literally ache, and that the hoping will continue, and consequently the aching, then why does He let me hope at all? Why not remove the hope altogether?

When Copeland died, I remember smirking. This is the moment, this is the moment my baby daughter breathed her last, and still, You are nowhere to be seen. Surely You'd show up now! I don't know what I expected, but somehow it felt like a let-down, or a betrayal, or a joke. And yet - that moment was holy. How can God be so there and yet so absent? How can we feel Him moving and yet feel so alone?

Thus is the conflict of faith. I find that much of my life is defined by conflict at this point. The battles that wage between the parts of my heart that believe and disbelieve, cry and laugh, walk forward and stand still. It's a remarkably exhausting place to be. This is why I chose to say that these are the words of a girl struggling to "know the God she loves." How you can love someone without really knowing them, fully, is unbeknownst to me. How you can trust someone without having had every hope and desire fulfilled is another mystery. Is it possible - or even okay? - to love someone and not like them that much? Is it all right to decide you aren't sure you want to spend a lot of time with them for a while? But yet you'd like to know they're still around, still available, for when you do? Is it even fair?

All questions for a later moment, a quieter hour, a time when things in the past appear clearer than they do now.

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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

spiritual detox

Conor and I were talking tonight about church. It's been almost five weeks since Copeland's birth - as of tomorrow - and four since her death. I can't believe she's been gone almost four times as long as she lived.

I've had zero desire to walk back into our church since her memorial service was held there that September day. I haven't totally been able to understand why, although I've chalked it up to the fact that the place now has memories for me that I'm simply not ready to revisit. It's different than the place we went before her birth. Now it feels sad and somehow less whole.

But, after our conversation tonight, I think that's not really what it is at all. At least not totally.

Our pastor, as I've said before, challenged me recently on my legalism - my need to earn grace, to work to please God, to do the "right" things. Since that conversation, when he pointed out the fact that I was extremely entrenched in a works-based theology, I've found that a lot of the things I used to do in life make absolute no sense any more. That what used to feel like the "right" choice is no longer so clear. That a lot of the normal, moral things I'd done before as a Christian almost seem ludricous in light of the actual Gospel.

If, in fact, Jesus is it - if there's no way to the Father except by Him - and if, in fact, the Cross, and what He accomplished on it, was sufficient, then what the heck is all my working supposed to mean? Church, for me, is fun. It's social. I see a lot of great people - godly people - who make me smile. I get to wear cute clothes. I enjoy standing in the midst of a crowd of believers I know and care about singing songs that make me happy. But mostly, church is compulsive. It's what you do if you're a Christian. It's normal. It's required. Required. What else makes that list of prerequisites for people who claim to be followers of Christ? Bible study? Scripture memorization? Prayer? How do I reconcile this incredible need in me to do the normal, "right" things Christians do and still believe in the idea that only Jesus' blood makes me, well, a Christian?

John Donne wrote a poem in 1635 called "A Valediction Forbidding Mourning." It's beautiful, and perhaps a whole lot more romantic than religious, but it seems strangely relevant tonight. Donne ascribes the characteristics of a compass to the people mentioned in the lines below:

If they be two, they are two so
As stiff twin compasses are two ;
Thy soul, the fix'd foot, makes no show
To move, but doth, if th' other do.

And though it in the centre sit,
Yet, when the other far doth roam,
It leans, and hearkens after it,
And grows erect, as that comes home.

It seems to me that these lines could just as easily have been written about the way we, as humans, can view our relationship to Christ. He dwells within us, if we receive Him as our Savior, and we are connected to Him, as the two parts of a compass might be - we belong to Him. He is, indeed, a "fix'd foot" that "hearkens after" us when we "roam."

Jesus is our "fix'd foot." He is the only True thing upon which we can lean. He is that stable point upon which all our journeying can rely for safe homecoming. And yet we get it backwards. We try to allow our own notions, our own ideas - even what we would consider our own, good theologies - to be the fixed foot. It doesn't work, anymore than swapping the ends of a compass would. Only one is meant to stand firmly in the center. It's like letting our "rights" and "wrongs" define Jesus, instead of letting Jesus define our "rights" and "wrongs."

Going to church is a good thing. A right thing. Perhaps. But for a girl who's terribly legalistic, maybe it's not that easy. Maybe doing the "right" thing becomes the "wrong" thing when it isn't based entirely on the Person of Christ. Maybe all the 'good' things we Christians do are just as likely to be strongholds in our lives as the bad.

I'm not saying that we aren't sinners. I'm not saying there isn't plenty of black and white in the world - good and evil, truly wrong and truly right. But for me, as I continue to see the grip legalism - doing the "right" things to make God happy - has had on me, it couldn't be more obvious: Jesus is the only lens through which I need to be making my decisions about any of that stuff. Jesus. He is the fixed foot. He is the cornerstone, the solid rock, the way, the truth, the life.

James wrote that "faith without works is dead" (2:26). Hallelujah! But just as Paul's salutation often began, "grace and peace" for a specific reason - peace cannot be attained with grace coming first - faith must begin the equation here.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

thoughts on today

I have walked past my computer about a thousand times in the last week and wondered if I should write anything. Words usually come pretty easily to me, but I find myself stalling out in a lot of ways lately.

I discovered I'm apparently in desperate need of anti-anxiety drugs. I've never been one to take pills, of any kind, though as I share my dependence on them of late, I'm amazed at how many people out there in the universe are also somewhat addicted to something. My doctor prescribed them for me before we were even out of the hospital and while I resisted in the beginning, I happily pop one pink pill every night before bed and coast the mediocrity of feeling pretty much zilch for the next 24 hours. I hadn't realized that perhaps the numbness I've noted was due to the medicine until I - stupidly - thought I'd ditch it for a couple of days. What resulted was an afternoon spent throwing pottery off my back porch just to watch it break. The sound of the shattering and the great splay of shards was certainly cathartic, but now I've got pieces of mug to go sweep up and there aren't any more dishes just lying around that I'd feel good about chucking. So drugs, it is, for me. Whether mediocrity and broken china are at all equally problematic, I don't know. I often suspect it'd be better for me to break every dish in the house if only to be real, to feel fully what my heart and mind and even my lungs should feel, but for now, I'm halfheartedly accepting the somewhat feigned sense of control and normalcy my medicated life is giving me.

The grieving feels like a battle waged inside: one part of me desperate to do something, hating the elements of loss that look like helplessness, dreading the moments when I want to hold Copeland or kiss her cheek and finding no comfort for my anguish other than to stroke the computer screen where her picture serves as my screensaver. This is the same part of me that's ritualistic: wear this bracelet, listen to that song, fold this piece of paper just-so, only to remain connected to her. But there's another kind of grief, the other part, the part that battles the frantic movement. This is the laziness. I have no motivation for anything. I loaf about the house like someone who's - ironically - in a drug-induced state and wonder what I can possibly be entertained by. It's the me that will sit in front of the television set and flip mindlessly through uninspiring, unintelligent programming and read what by all accounts are "trashy" celebrity gossip magazines just to eliminate the possibility of stumbling across my emotions.

My mom is taking me to Texas in a few weeks and I confess, I dread it. I dread going anywhere that, inevitably, Copeland will not be. It sounds strange - as though I'm half expecting to turn a corner someday and see her face. But to go new places and realize, again, that she's not there is only to be reminded, again, that she's not anywhere. She's gone and I can't get to her, at least not yet. I could be bundling her up in cozy blankets for walks over the freshly-fallen leaves, but no, my baby's being cradled in the arms of God. Should I be happy? Maybe. If my faith - what I believe - is absolutely true (and I must believe this if I believe it at all), then Heaven is as real and solid and irrefutable as a math equation. But life isn't numerical or formulaic in the least. Life is neither black or white, but gray, and the swirling mess of it all means I can no more find absolute comfort in the absolute truth of Heaven than I can find in the absolute truth of the Pythagorean theorem. These absolute truths may themselves be, after all, absolute, but I'm a constantly writhing, conflicted individual with hardly anything solid or irrefutable about me. What about any emotion, on this side of Heaven, is absolute for me? It's ironic that I will never know complete comfort until I am completely comforted - until there is no more need for comforting.

Rob Bell wrote a book called "Velvet Elvis" and from the first few pages, I can tell he's going to be very hung up on the idea that we need to shake off the dust of our thinking about God and Jesus and even salvation and the resurrection and, well, everything that means anything to any of us who call ourselves Christians (and that, too, is another word that needs re-examination). Thank goodness. For the shaking off, I mean. When I was fifteen I knew Jesus. But that Jesus looked different than the Jesus I know at 28. Has He changed? Certainly not. But my capacity to see Him has. I knew Him then. Now I just know Him more. And praise God for that fact! For the Jesus I knew before my trials would not have been a comfort to me. If my ideas about Jesus never change then I'm certainly not worshipping God Almighty, but rather a god - a god I can conform and contort to fit into a mold that looks and feels the way I think religion and faith and church and Bible study should look and feel. No, Jesus does not change - He was and is and is to come - but our need for HIm does, and thus we are compelled, we are forced, to see Him differently. Not for what He's become. But for what He's been all along. If the Jesus I knew at fifteen would not have been a comfort to me in my trials, it was only because He hadn't given me any. The depths to which He will take us will only be matched by the depths of His character He longs to reveal.

And so I struggle. I long to see Him, to know Him, to understand this Man who does, in fact, hold my child in His arms. But I also ache for the painless, for the life of ease where there was no need for the knowing. I don't want to be the drug girl. Or the girl who chucks mugs off of porches. And yet I suspect that this is the version of myself that is most real. This is the version which sorrow and suffering has generated. And this is the version of me that Jesus loves. He does not want me to be what I once was or even what I have the potential of becoming. This is the me He wants. And it is all I have to offer.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Saturday, October 13, 2007

the soul and the sinew

I told Conor the other morning that I feel like I'm standing at the edge of the ocean with my feet in the water and, while I can feel the gentle tug of the tide at my ankles, I'm still too shallow to be completely swept away. That's what the first few weeks of grieving have been like for me: standing at the edge of all the immense emotions you know are beckoning you, pulling you, and yet feeling the grit of the sand beneath your toes and determining to stand still, firmly, resolutely, until you're ready for a good, hard swim.

Perhaps part of me doesn't feel like swimming just yet. And perhaps the Father's keeping me here, grounded, until the waves won't get the best of me. I'm not sure. I went into Copeland's nursery this afternoon and held her things for a few minutes - the silver cups friends had sent, her little hospital booties, the pacifier we'd toted around with us those few, short hours - and tried to cry. Sellers was in the next room, playing, and Conor stood only a few feet away downstairs. The sun shone through Copeland's bedroom window. It was 1:00 in the afternoon. It was safe. I could take a dip into the water, if I wanted to, and let myself get pulled out a bit. There was no reason I shouldn't. My heart longed to dive beneath the waves. And yet my feet wouldn't move. And so I stood before her crib and cradled her things and felt absolutely nothing but the my own compulsion to feel.

This, apparently, is common, the emotionlessness. The numbness. I've heard people talk about grief having stages - one of which is shock - but I find it hard to place myself into them, at least not tidily. How can I be shocked? I knew this was coming. It's like watching a loved one with a fatal disease, I suspect. You know the final outcome is on its way. We pray for miracles, but there's a reason we use the phrase, "don't get your hopes up." At our best, we're all realists desperately longing to believe in what our eyes can't see and our minds can't grasp. Wanting to believe and yet not wanting to appear like the village idiot. So do I think I'm in shock? No. I don't know what I am. I suppose people who run into me think I'm almost nonchalant, amiable - downright chatty, even. I try to show myself for what I feel on the inside, mostly, but, like I said, I don't feel much of anything. Part of me wants the feelings back. And part of me knows that today, they'd drown me.

Shortly after Sellers was born, Conor and I went to see Mel Gibson's much-critiqued film, "The Passion." I have to confess I dreaded it. Something in me felt afraid of what it would do to me. How would I possibly handle the graphic scenes everyone was going on and on about? Looking back, I realize the real fear was in not feeling at all. In being jaded and unaffected. Sure, it's a movie. Sure, it's makeup and lighting and a lot of camera men "working an angle." But it might be the closest you and I ever get to watching what happened to Jesus all those thousands of years ago. What happened for us.

Tonight, I came upon the scene where Jesus is being crucified. The cinematography is, ironically, best described as excruciating - gritty and gruesome and incredibly up-close. I had heard people say that watching the Mary character was difficult for mothers. I tried to imagine what she must have felt, watching her only son up there. But when the lens turned its focus to Christ, I saw something I hadn't expected - something I couldn't have recognized three years ago. Copeland. As Jesus hung there, his eyes lifted heavenward, His mouth parted slightly like a man struggling for breath, I saw my daughter in her last moments, as well. How did they know the face of death? How could they capture so accurately something so few witness?

I have found great solace in the thought that many, many mothers have gone before me bereaved. The ground I walk is hallowed. What I saw that night, when Copeland let out her last, sweet breath against my cheek, was something I would never trade. And yet, something I suspect most would choose to never see. I have been changed by it. I will never look at dying the same. Not death. Dying. The lapse of life in the human form, the parting of soul from sinew. Jesus was fully God. But also, fully man. His death would have looked like my precious girl's. Did He think of her as He gasped for breath? In cradling my darling eight day-old baby, in watching her in her own fight, I did not realize I was watching the face of Christ. How precious those final moments are now to me. Neither gruesome or graphic, though somewhat sorrowful and sad - but moreso: beautiful and tender. Truly, "precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints..." (Psalm 116:14-16). His saints... His children.

I don't know how long I will stand in Copeland's room before He will carry me out into the waves. But I do know He will do the carrying. And when I go under, when the fullness of my emotion and the heaviness of my heartache wraps itself around me like the water, I will see His face beside hers. I will see the rise and fall of His chest with hers. Because of His struggle, hers is now over. Because of His suffering, she is free.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

a vision for eternity

"For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength." (1 Corinthians 1:25)

A pastor who prayed over Copeland at one point reminded me - well, to be truthful: told me - that her disease, her sickness, her plight, whatever you care to call it, wasn't God's design. It wasn't His plan. We talk a lot about "God's will" and of course I do believe He has a will, although I'm growing more and more convinced that our sorrows and sufferings have absolutely nothing to do with it. What we see in the midst of great agony and strife is usually a glimpse into both Heaven and Hell - and in the glimpsing, there's a gift. In my broken, four-pound baby, who looked a little different, lived a great deal differently, and ultimately left me here to grieve her loss, I found a sort of joy that I'd never known, a real joy, and my time with her was not only laced but literally steeped in happiness and blessing. And yet, the hour of her departure and certainly the last moments I held her were wracked with a sorrow and heartache that I could not have imagined. There was a bit of Heaven, and a bit of Hell. How I long to fully know the one and fully spurn the other! Therein lies the real gift. Perhaps God's will is more wrapped up in removing the blinders from our eyes than in giving or taking anything away.

Someone asked me recently if I was angry with Him. Interesting question. My mom told me once that as a teenager, she used to sing that old song, "To Know Him Is To Love Him" at church. I think it was by a group called The Teddy Bears. Of course their intention was never to sing those lyrics about God. But, for a bunch of kids who regularly heard it on the radio, it was a fun twist. I can't hear it now and not think about that story. The irony is: the words are true. Even more ironically, they'd probably be even truer if they read, "To know, know, know Him/ Is to be annoyed, annoyed, by Him." Am I mad at Him? You bet I am. I'm mad and frustrated and annoyed and irritated and perplexed, and yes, I love Him, deeply, but, as in all other relationships, if to know Him is to love HIm then it follows that knowing Him might often make you want to give Him a swift kick in the pants, as well. C.S. Lewis writes about the bizarre emotions he experienced regarding God after his wife, Joy, died: "All that stuff [I wrote before] was not so much the expression of thought as of hatred. I was getting it from the only pleasure a man in anguish can get; the pleasure of hitting back. It was really just... mere abuse; telling God what I thought of Him." He later goes on to say that what he felt - that God wasn't fair, that "when He seemed most gracious He was really preparing the next torture" - wasn't true. Of course God is fair. And good. But to express our anger or our outrage or our incense with Him isn't about expressing truth. It's about offending. We long to feel the subtle comfort of 'payback.'

So am I mad? Sometimes. If God didn't ordain Copeland's sickness, if it wasn't His design, why in the world did she have it? Because I live here. It's like asking why I have a Southern accent. It comes free, courtesy of my locale. She wasn't sick because I needed to learn a lesson. She wasn't sick because I didn't do enough things right - or too many things wrong. She was sick because we live in a broken, fallen world and until Jesus comes back, things are just going to keep going wrong. Not all the time - that's when the glimpses of Heaven come in. But quite frequently. Life is truly one long dysfunction. Only by God's grace - getting what we don't deserve - do we ever see any good at all. I bargain with God a lot. I tell Him that this was it, this was my quota of "bad stuff." And I mean it. But the reality is that as long as I'm here, the bad stuff's going to keep on coming. All I can do is pray the packaging looks a little different and that Jesus will hold me up until He takes me home or returns. It sounds like a pretty raw deal. But that's through human eyes. If we could see differently, we'd think differently.

Before Copeland was born, I prayed that God would give me a "vision for eternity." I think I probably uttered those words more in a moment of personal satisfaction - "wow, that sounds good!" - than true desire, but nevertheless, they seemed to have been Spirit-filled. I want a clearer understanding of Heaven, to be sure. I want to know more fully where Copeland is. But my prayer at that point, while I thought it regarded her experiences, was really about my own. If the only vision I have is for right now - she's gone, i'm here, and the world's literally going to Hell in a handbasket - then I'm going to be one bitter girl. The vision I need is one that tells me that what makes sense to my senses isn't necessarily true. Broken bodies often equal whole spirits. Strength can sometimes house itself in weakness. A vision for eternity turns the truths of this world on end. It's the only way an unattractive, unpopular renegade hanging on a cross can possibly mean more than brutality and devastation.

And so I keep praying that prayer. Fix my eyes on You, Lord. Like another old song, "Come Thou Fount," says: "Prone to wander/ Lord, I feel it/ Prone to leave the God I love/ Here's my heart/ Oh take and seal it/ Seal it for Thy courts above."

Saturday, October 6, 2007

not by might

I am sitting in my living room, my husband has taken my daughter to run some errands, and the only noise is the dull drone of football commentary coming from the television. The image is one of quiet - serenity, even - and I have to confess: I feel it.

We are okay. It's strange to write those words, strange that they are, in fact, true. I don't think I ever sincerely believed they would be. It makes sense. I believed more in my own belief than in God Himself, so of course I doubted. I believed in belief and faith and hope and love and all the other things. These are my deities. These are the golden calves - the things I stupidly worship. Who wouldn't? Tragedy, suffering, sorrow, heartache - all the evidence the world needs to prove that God doesn't exist. Where is this God of ours now? And yet, we must hang onto something - it's how we're made. We can't do it alone.

I saw a woman yesterday on Oprah selling a book called, "Eat, Pray, Love." Perhaps that's the answer, or at least one we can all practically approach: eat a little, pray a little (we're not sure to whom), and of course - of course - love. Love, love, love. But is love enough? Certainly food doesn't fill me up, at least not for long. And if I'm supposed to be praying - well, give me some kind of guideline. If we're all going to go ahead and throw up our hands and admit there's something - someone? - out there who might hear us praying (even, as the author said, it's a "universal power"), then perhaps we shouldn't eschew the idea that there's a god? Maybe even just One?

I am convinced there is no god, there is no deity - there is no good thing or good idea or good concept or GOOD at all - apart from Jesus Christ. Conor and I are reading a book called "Heaven" by a writer named Randy Alcorn and while I love it - I love it - it's strange: he's actually talking like heaven is a real place. He's capitalizing it. Heaven. It's no different than New York or Milan to him. It's a place. But where? I don't know. Neither does he. Conor and I look at each other on occasion and it's like a mutual resignation to partial insanity - "Okay, so... do you believe this? Whew... me, too." And thus, we keep reading. Perhaps it's for comfort. Perhaps it's because I've never had much of an interest in heaven - Heaven - before. And now I think about it almost constantly. I believe it's real, physical, tangible, that there are angels and people - though they're not the same - and that God dwells with them there. God dwells with them. I don't know a lot. I don't suspect most of us do. But I can tell you: I believe it. I believe in the whole thing. And I don't think I'm entirely responsible for that belief. It's a choice - of course - on some level, but the choice is more in the not-rejecting of it than in the accepting. If I believe any of this, if I have a faith in Jesus, in the person of Christ, if I can truly rest on what He's saying to me, even today, even while I miss my baby daughter more than I can ever, ever express, it's because He gave it to me. My faith, my hope, my love - these are all copies. The real ones must be placed within me. If I believe, it's because He gave me the belief in the first place. If I rest, it's because He quieted me.

There's a story in Mark of a father whose child is possessed. When he asks Jesus to heal his son, he uses the word "if" - "If you can do anything, take pity on us and heal him!" Jesus, taken aback, says bluntly: "If I can? Everything is possible for those who believe." And the man, in a moment that will forever define the conflict in the human heart, responds frantically, "I do believe! Help me overcome my unbelief!" We are a mixture of our own dreadful attempts to believe and our desperate, desperate need to have that belief fastened within us. Part of us must do the confessing - and part, the receiving.

Love is not enough. Faith and hope and joy and determination and perserverance and commitment and peace and patience and goodness - they're not enough. They're just pretty words for pretty books that perhaps we'll buy to make ourselves feel better - for a time. But ultimately, the richness and fullness of these things cannot be tapped into unless and until something - Someone - allows it. As humans, we're entirely devoid of and entirely barred access to them all - if not for the cross of Christ.

"Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit..." Pitch the book. Pitch them all. Don't go running toward something that, at the end of the day, will leave you feeling empty and alone. There is no person, there is no answer, there is no trick or tactic that will ever, ever be to you what He will. Do not be deceived.

Conor, Sellers and I are making it... we are walking. We miss our girl. I go into her closet twenty-five times a day and smell the clothes she wore, the clothes that are soaked in her sweet scent. I wonder what she's doing, if she's sleeping - do they sleep in Heaven? - or eating, or if she's even still an infant. I hope she is. I pray she is. My heart aches with the grief of what could have been. But were it not for the cross - for that moment in history where my eternity was secured - I would despair. I rejoice that He offers it. Yes, somehow, we are making it. But it's not by our might. Or by any power. Or by faith or hope or love. It's by His Spirit. May it fall afresh upon us.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

sitting in the sorrow

"Then Job's friends sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was." (Job 2:13)

It's hard to believe it's almost been a week since Copeland left us. We've moved back home... we're trying to settle into life as best as we can without her. It sounds strange, I'm sure, to some degree, the idea that there's much to adjust to in her absence, considering her time with us was so short. But I assure you: something happens when a breath is taken, a soul is present, even for a moment, and we are changed. Nothing will feel the same again. Her void will always be. Even in the grocery store, choosing foods for Sellers's lunchbox, I wondered: what would Copeland have liked to eat? What would she have been persistently "fussy" about? I long to know the silly details of my daughter's being that, had she lived, I'm sure I would have thought nothing about.

I sat at the top of the stairs this weekend, after Copeland's memorial, and felt a pressure on my chest I confess all the months prior to this hadn't handed me. The grief I feel now is different than the grief from back then; in fact, their separateness is so immense I find it hard to understand myself from a few months ago. I cannot connect them, despite the fact that they are, of course, inextricably linked. One spawned the other. Everything in my sense of space and time for now has the mark of Copeland on it: was she alive when such-and-such happened? Or had she not been yet born? When I heard that song last week on the radio, she was in my car... Yet how is that even possible? I know she was here and yet I find it difficult to believe. Her memory is almost ethereal, like a vapor or a mist. Not to sound cliche or supernatural. I, for one, don't believe we become floating spirits in heaven. The Bible seems to support the idea that we'll get new bodies. So I envision Copeland in the same precious little body she was in, tiny arms and pink cheeks, but healed and whole. No, it's just the thought of her that's ethereal, like a dream or even deja vu.

I find it's hard to preserve the sensation of her presence. All of her things are cluttered about the house. I can't put them away. It's not really because I'm sad, although, of course, I am. It's just that I fear in "cleaning up," organizing everything and tucking it all into neat little spaces that won't permit me to see them as consistently, I'll forget her. Everything in life beckons me to move forward, to step out into the sunlight and embrace the reality of her death as an event that not only occurred but that I knew was going to occur. And yet I can't.

Back to the stairs. When I sat there that afternoon, my husband was outside playing soccer in the front yard. At first I was mad: what does this mean, that he can play a stupid sport when our child is gone? I realized then, when the Lord spoke to my heart, that we'll grieve Copeland's loss in much the same way, but often at different junctures along the path. Sometimes grief looks like moving. Sometimes it looks like sitting still. Life requires both of us. Sanity requires both of us. For now, I, like Job, am sitting in my sorrow.

I've thought a lot about the Old Testament, how it describes the Israelites in times of suffering. They ripped their robes and rubbed ashes on their faces. It's a strange, graphic way to grieve, a way we don't totally embrace anymore. A friend told Conor and I about his trip to Africa once. He mentioned the death of an older woman, and how, amongst her people, there was great wailing. I thought of the Biblical phrase, "gnashing of teeth." I've read it a thousand times, but I suppose this would be the first season in my life that it feels relevant. The images are uncomfortable - ashes and ripped clothing and screaming aloud. And yet, from where I sit. there's a solace in them. The physical manifestation of a broken heart.

And so I sit. And it's extraordinarily difficult. I find a compulsive need to do something, to fix the pain - to rise above it, to hash it out, to move forward, move on, get some closure. The Lord knew that when He said, "Be still and know that I am God," we'd struggle with both commands - the being still and the knowing. When your baby daughter dies after eight days and there's nothing you can do to even touch her hand for a moment longer, the knowing He's God isn't necessarily the tough part. Being still is. Sitting in the sorrow means embracing all the emotions, all the incredibly painful stabs of disappointment and anger and frustration and agony that jab at the heart almost every single second of the day. Sitting in the sorrow means refusing to self-medicate. It means finally, finally, embracing the fact that He has created nothing that will give us as much joy and peace and fulfillment as Himself.

I've been to Target. I'll go again. I'll go to the mall and to the post office and I'll take Sellers to school and externally, my life will look nothing like the stillness I'm choosing in my soul. I don't know why I share all of this other than to tell you that there's freedom in it. Freedom in telling people you aren't doing great or that you can't make it for a night out on the town. Perhaps there's healing in the authenticity of the ashes.