Gap-bridging grace

So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.
— Colossians 3:12-14 [The Message]

Usually, my writing time is sacred; it’s something I look forward to all week, time that Aaron helps me protect. But today, I find myself struggling to sit down and calm my thoughts. I took some Motrin for my headache and used Blue Oil on my temples. And sitting here, staring at the screen, I know that to articulate my emotions, I will have to re-experience them; just that thought exhausts me.

Last night, my sister was telling me about her previous 24 hours, which she spent at the bedside of a friend who is on hospice care. My sister is a nurse and spends her days caring for others, but this was different—she wasn’t solely engaging on a clinical level with patients whom she would say goodbye to in a matter of days or hours when they left the hospital. Instead, she was engaging on an emotional level with a friend whom she will soon say goodbye to when she goes Home to see Jesus. Their time together was sweet, but my sister was tired. There is something exhausting about joining someone in their suffering, walking beside them, not just wiping their tears but crying with them.

I had spent the afternoon with our beautiful grandmother, Marmee. Because Mamma died 18 years ago, Marmee and I have an extra special relationship; we’ve been through a lot together. A lot. Last month we moved her out of independent living into assisted living. If you’ve been through this with a loved one, I don’t have to tell you how hard the last month has been.

When Marmee moved, we were thrilled because the facility is just 4 minutes from our house. I was glad for her to be so near in case she needed me but also so we could spend more time with her. I imagined us celebrating birthdays in her tiny living room, watching the children play in the courtyard, and taking strolls around the campus. I didn’t imagine how hard the adjustment would be for her and how discouraging she would find assisted living in general, despite the wonderful care.

Yesterday, my babies and I arrived for our regular visit, eager to go to one of the many activities offered to the residents. But Marmee wasn’t as eager as we were; in fact, she was sad. So sad. Marmee isn’t one to wallow or sit around telling sob stories, so when her beautiful lips began to quiver, my heart immediately started pounding. I was keenly aware of the options before me: I could overlook her sadness and try to cheer her up by prompting her to attend Creative Coloring or I could move toward her sadness.

Friends, I am ashamed to admit that what I really, really wanted to do was pretend like I hadn’t noticed the tears welling up in her eyes. I wanted to gather the children and speak in an energetic, peppy voice. I wanted to usher the three of them to the activities room and forget the grief I had seen on Marmee’s face.

But God’s grace, which has met me in my own dark places so many times, wouldn’t let me do that. God’s grace urged me toward Marmee. I stood up and moved next to her. I listened to her heart, I encouraged her tears. Everything inside of me was uncomfortable and agitated. I couldn’t bear to see her so sad. I just wanted to fix her—I wanted to pick her up in my arms and bring her home and make promises that would comfort her and make the tears go away.

Yet God’s grace bridged that gap between my own struggle and Marmee’s broken heart. The children stopped playing to gather around her, patting her leg and hugging her and offering little kisses and handing her tissue. Blessed children! We sat in her dark lions’ den with her, just hanging out, a reminder that while we can’t fix the situation, we can be with her. That she isn’t alone, even when she’s lonely. That she can cry and it’s okay. That we will be a safe place for her. Just like she has always, always been for me.

We did eventually go to Creative Coloring. It wasn’t great—the cloud of Marmee’s hurting heart hung over us heavily, even as we traded colors and chatted about the benefits of pencils over crayons.

Later that evening, after a good cry with Aaron, I poured my heart out to my sisters, confessing the ugliness of my desire to ignore and overlook, and expressing my gratitude for God’s grace, which didn’t allow me to retreat but helped me to engage our Marmee.

And then my sister told me about her 24 hours with her dying friend.

I don’t know this friend, but she has an interesting story that reflects the Gospel beautifully. A bit older, she never married, and she has lived for many years with an old college friend and her husband. That picture of family really struck me—these friends adopted each other as family, for better or for worse. They have lived in close community with each other for years and years. And now, this woman has cancer. Actually, she’s had it for a long time. The couple didn’t ask her to leave their home or leave their family—no! On the contrary, they have taken over her care and are walking her Home, ushering her into eternal life with Jesus.

I can’t stop thinking about that and how this unlikely family has chosen to love each other.

In a memorable scene of a favorite show, a couple breaks up after years of dating. She asks him if he is still in love with her. He answers, It doesn’t matter because I chose you! He explains how he made the decision to love her, and regardless of what undependable romantic feelings may or may not be doing, he had a commitment of love to her.

That commitment of love is easy when it’s my cute children or my hot husband or my loyal sisters. But what about when that commitment hurts or is uncomfortable or makes me want to run away?

I can’t ignore where this kind of love comes from or how it is expressed to me every day. We know that God chose us to love—that we did nothing to catch his eye or communicate that we were worth loving. Because we weren’t. God doesn’t love us because we are so lovable—he loves us because he is so full of love.

And if we are his children, then we are full of love, too. What does that look like? What does it mean to be so full of love that I can choose to love someone even when my brain says, Abandon ship! Too hard! Too much sacrifice! Run away as fast as you can! ??

It means that God’s grace will meet me in that ugly, shameful place. That he will remind me—kindly and gently—that loving others can be hard and it can be scary, but that it’s worth it. That he can redeem my fear. That entering someone’s lions’ den and shining a bit of light in there might remind a hurting person of the hope that comes from knowing God. That a bit of light can offer warmth and respite and peace, even if just for a moment. That by simply being present, I can engage a hurting person’s heart and remind them that they aren’t alone—sure, I’m here now, but Jesus will never, ever leave their side.

We try to visit Marmee at least every other day. We don’t always make it, and sometimes our visits are shorter than I’d like. But the more I understand God’s love for me and his abundant grace, the more I want to share and the less likely I am to retreat into my own fear and discomfort and exhaustion. Praise God that his grace won’t allow me to be stagnant, but is always transforming me in his love. And that in his grace, I can hold Marmee’s hand in her lions’ den as she has always done for me.

Who is someone who has held your hand in your lions’ den? How did that impact your heart? What did that communicate to you about God’s love for you? Who is someone who is currently in their own lions’ den? How can you enter that darkness with them? How can you shine a light into the darkness? How can you extend God’s grace to them?