05

Five years ago today, I watched my mom be carried out of the house by the EMS team. I had already heard her say “I love you,” for the last time. I had already held her hand for the last time. I had seen her for the last time. By the time we got to the hospital, she was gone and the spirit that animated her body had already left.

I still have voicemails from her, so I can still hear her voice. I have notes and letters from her, so I can still remember how she talked and what she said to cheer me up when I needed it. I still have some of her clothes, so I can wear them and feel like I have a part of her. I have some of her jewelry, so I can still hear how they clinked together whenever she moved. I can listen to Amy Grant and Carole King and remember her singing along. I have videos of her, so I can remember how she moved. I have recordings of her singing when she was my age, so I can remember her voice.

What I don’t have is her, and even as I add up those parts, nothing could equal the whole. When people find out that my mom is dead, they often ask if we were close. The truth is, we were just beginning to be friends as well as mother and daughter. We had a pretty good relationship overall, but as I become further removed from May 7th, 2014, it becomes harder to accept that we’ll never be friends. We’ll never get to have a weekend away, a bottle of wine between us as we laugh, ask each other questions, as I learn from her wisdom. We won’t watch Gilmore Girls together ever again. We won’t drink coffee in the morning in our pj’s. We won’t go on walks with the dog. We won’t watch my kids grow up. My kids won’t know her.

This day is confusing. I have hope that I’ll see her again but all of the days between now and then are a shade darker than they should be. Nothing feels as bright as it should. But like I said in my last post about Rachel Held Evans, the only way to move forward when we lose a light so bright is to try to make each of our own shine a little brighter than it always has to make up for the one that’s gone. Maybe the world doesn’t have to be dimmer without the ones we’ve lost. I’ve spent five years trying to figure that out and I still don’t know if it’s true, but part of me really hopes it is.

#becauseofRHE

I’ve spent the better part of this weekend on twitter reading tributes to author, speaker, prophet Rachel Held Evans, who died yesterday morning. I’m a new-ish follower of hers, but the space that she provided to question and wonder aloud about faith has been like a breath of fresh air for me. She wasn’t afraid to state an opinion, apologize when wrong, assert herself when right, and offer words of encouragement to those who needed them. Watching her and learning from her was in itself an inspirational example of a living faith, but reading the #prayforRHE and #becauseofRHE threads on twitter is enough to light your heart on fire.

What’s incredible is the vast array of supporters, students, followers, friends, and cheerleaders she leaves behind, and the depth of impact she had on them all. Do they all agree with her on everything? No. Do they all support the same vision? Not necessarily. But the respect she gained from leaders across the world is a testimony to what can happen when honesty, empathy, humor, challenge, and invitation are employed with holiness and redemption at the center of it all.

As I walked from the car to my apartment tonight, all calm and quiet around me, wading through the softness and stillness of a spring night, I thought about what a bright light RHE was in this world. And I kept thinking about how darkness feels so much a part of grief. A light goes out, and we’re stuck in the absence of it. We’re stuck, until we look at her life, and decide that the only way to move forward is to take a portion of that light, each of us, add it to our own, and shine all the brighter in her honor and in honor of all the saints who have gone before us. When the light of a saint goes out, the world doesn’t have to become darker. We just have to strive alongside the Spirit to make our own lights shine a little brighter, or find others to light up alongside us. That’s Rachel’s legacy to me. She was a woman who wasn’t satisfied with her own light. She wanted everyone around her to harness their own to bring to this dark, dreary world the dawn of Easter morning every day of the year.

I am bound

Five years ago, I got a call while I was at work at the library on campus. My parents were conference calling me and my sister, which was always a red flag. That meant bad news.

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I went to one of the big stairwells with giant windows and sat on a window ledge, shaking, waiting to hear what was wrong. Mom’s cancer had been up and down for two and a half years at this point, but now, apparently, it was an entirely uphill battle. A battle so hopeless, by the time the general is telling the troops, the white flag has already been waved and everybody is starting to pack it in.

Three months, maybe. One month, more likely. A final expiration date, to put it crassly, I guess. What do you say to that news? I don’t remember what else was said. I remember hanging up, quietly sneaking back to my work area to collect my things and leave hopefully unnoticed, and then walking home.

I sat on the couch crying. My roommate/best friend Lexi came home, on the phone, and immediately ended the call. My boyfriend (now husband, bless him) came over. I was all tears and snot while they prayed for me and my mom and my family. I hilariously remember the snot vividly. The three of us walked down the street to get margaritas from the Mexican place just off campus. Then Tucker and I took my hammock to Lake Nicol, one of my favorite spots in Tuscaloosa. We sat there covered by a blanket. I cried. It was cold. My face stung from the cold hitting the tears rolling down my cheeks. It was so quiet.

Either that night or the next, we were at RUF large group, singing “On Jordan’s Stormy Banks.” Bad idea when your mom has limited time left to live. I wept, like actually wept, on the back row, Tucker and Lexi each with an arm around me. I’ve never felt so safe and so alone at the same time.

I cry every time I hear that song.

1. On Jordan’s stormy banks I stand,

And cast a wishful eye

To Canaan’s fair and happy land,

Where my possessions lie.

2. All o’er those wide extended plains,

Shines one eternal day;

There God the Son forever reigns,

And scatters night away.

Chorus: I am bound (I am bound)

I am bound (I am bound)

I am bound for promised land,

I am bound (I am bound)

I am bound (I am bound)

I am bound for promised land.

3. No chilling winds nor poisonous breath

Can reach that healthful shore;

Sickness, sorrow, pain and death,

Are felt and feared no more.

4. When shall I reach that happy place,

And be forever blessed?

When shall I see my Father’s face,

And in His bosom rest?

I don’t have any sort of resolution to this day. Mom died six weeks later. She got to see His face, sure. But I still have to cry every time I think about it. So that’s March 18th.

04 | let us be good to one another

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My mom died on May 7th, 2014. Monday marked four years. I often get the urge to go visit her grave, but being that it is 40 minutes away, I usually talk myself out of it. Traffic, you know? But yesterday, we went. Dad, Grandmama, and I went to see Mom. And just like every time since the burial, I expected to feel something, but I just... didn't. It feels so detached. It's just her name on the ground. I might as well be looking at any of the other hundreds surrounding hers. I did, actually. And felt about the same looking at their names. I spent a few minutes judging headstones like outfits. Any excuse to feel superior, I guess. Don't get me wrong, it hurts. But knowing that her body is down below my feet just doesn't seem real. It could just as easily be the bones of King Tut himself in my mind. 

I ate two macarons from the French restaurant Mom loved and imagined sharing them with her. Well, I imagined her having two as well, so we didn't have to share. That's usually how it went with things like macarons or donuts. I think she'd really like the lavender one that's my favorite. I think she'd speak with a little French accent to me after the woman behind the counter said "Merci, au revoir." We'd have a good little giggle. If she had been with us at the gravesite (I know, I know, bear with me), she probably would've said something about the humidity and definitely would have been sneezing the whole time due to allergies. She'd pull out one of hundreds of half-used tissues from her purse or pockets. She'd have big sunglasses on, a red-orange sleeveless shirt, white pleated shorts, a festive, colorful belt, and some sandals. Lots of clinking bracelets and bangles, a watch, dangley earrings. Maybe a big necklace. Big rings. Always with the big rings. She'd stand beside me and put one arm around me and hug me real tight while telling me she loves me. I'd probably make a joke that would make her look at me with her patented "I shouldn't be laughing because that was inappropriate but it was pretty funny" look, like when I (JOKINGLY) asked for a margarita at home one time before I turned 21. If it weren't a gravesite, she probably would have made us all take a picture together. She and Grandmama would've talked about "the monument" in small-town Alabama where a lot of my family is from. We would've talked about old relatives who have now passed on. All the funny stories, all the sad ones, all the tales that would rival a Faulkner novel with their southern gothic, twisted darkness. Those kind of stories exist, boys and girls.

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But she didn't do any of that. She's still down below in a casket covered by a concrete slab and dirt and grass. So we stood there, Dad, Grandmama, and I, looking at the headstone. Dad made a joke about the HEADstone. We cleared off branches and dirt so you could see her name and the marble trim. We looked into the woods behind the gravesite. We sat on someone else's memorial bench, just as Mom suggested. We looked at all of the Bible verses on the headstone and Dad talked about the significance of each one and their placement. I thought about her drinking coffee on the back porch, reading her Bible every morning. I thought about the voicemails I still have saved so I can hear her voice again. Grandmama said, "It's not too long before the rest of us will be up there with you, Laura. We'll see you soon. Have a place ready for us." We talked about how time seems so slow and agonizing here between her death and now and when we can finally join her, and how she's in a place that's free of time. All of this looks different to her. She's not waiting around for us like we're waiting to join her. For her it will feel like no time at all. For us it feels, ironically, like an eternity before we'll see her bright, beautiful, shining face in front of us again. 

I found a picture this morning that she had taken on her phone not long before she died. It was a picture of herself, smiling, with no hair. Calling it a selfie seems so wrong on so many levels, so we'll go with self-portrait. She looks out of proportion. She looks not right. Because she wasn't right. May 7th told us that.

I've heard of people who have dreams of their deceased loved ones where they come back long enough to leave them with some peace and comfort, some final words that couldn't be breathed in their lifetime. In all the dreams I've had of her since she died, she's disappointed in me, or annoyed with me, or angry at me. I won't get into the psychology of that right now. But Monday night before I went to sleep I begged God for a dream like that. I pleaded with Him that He would send my mama down to me one more time to love on me and say something to me. Anything. But that dream, that reach from the beyond, didn't happen. I woke up yesterday, and today, stuck in the same pattern I carry out each day.

It would be hard to reckon with that, with God's seeming distance, his holding me away at arm's length, except for C.S. Lewis. Most days I remember this little passage from The Magician's Nephew from The Chronicles of Narnia

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Up till then he had been looking at the Lion's great front feet and the huge claws on them; now, in his despair, he looked up at its face. What he saw surprised him as much as anything in his whole life. For the tawny face was bent down near his own and (wonder of wonders) great shining tears stood in the Lion's eyes. They were such big, bright tears compared with Digory's own that for a moment he felt as if the Lion must really be sorrier about his Mother than he was himself. "My son, my son," said Aslan. "I know. Grief is great. Only you and I in this land know that yet. Let us be good to one another.”

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I'm reminded by that and recently by a friend that God cries with us. Our pain is His pain. I can't say why He allows things to happen, but I take comfort in knowing that as much as I ache, He does even more.