This grief journey has felt very similar to the adoption journey. Once you start the adoption process, it's like you see adoptive families everywhere - at the grocery store, in restaurants, on magazine covers, in airports, at theme parks. And unfortunately it's like that now with parents who've lost children. I hear their stories all the time now.
There's something very isolating about this journey, too. I can't tell you the number of people who've told me, "I've never known anyone who's been through this." And they look at me with such pity and dread in their eyes. Then, they shrug or cry or walk away because they don't know what else to do. Even great Christian thinkers will say things in passing like, "None of us can imagine the unbearable pain of losing a child," in reference to God sending His son to the cross. Unbearable? I have to bear it. I have to bear it every day.
It's always framed as the "worst thing" that can ever happen to someone. Beth Moore has said the idea of losing her child is worse than her childhood of sexual abuse. Both of the Bible studies I'm in mentioned almost losing their children and grandchildren as the most stressful, upsetting day of their life - a day that choked them with anxiety. What am I supposed to make of that? Because if it's "the worst thing," why should I even bother getting out of bed? (And trust me, the afternoons I can't get out of bed, that's playing on my head in a loop.)
Just as with the adoption journey, it's the hope of being united one day that keeps us going.
1 Thessalonians 2: 17-19: "But, brothers and sisters, when we were orphaned by being separated from you for a short time (in person, not in thought), out of our intense longing we made every effort to see you. For we wanted to come to you—certainly I, Paul, did, again and again—but Satan blocked our way. For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you?"
I feel like such a weak Christian when most of my thoughts of heaven are not of worship. Instead, my first thoughts of heaven are faces of other believers who've gone before me. My grandmother, who will be climbing mountains with her easel to paint the New Jerusalem in just the right light. Alicia, my friend from high school. Carole, my parents' blind friend who had the coolest German Shepherd and the best smile. My great-grandmother, who could play piano better than Billy Joel. And, of course, my sweet energetic little boy. Those faces. The idea of being reunited with them. That seems to preoccupy most of my thoughts of the afterlife.
But this verse liberates me from that. We will glory in other people when Jesus comes. We will glory in their trials and now their ultimate victory. Our God is a God of relationship. He is, first and foremost, a relational God. He wants us to anticipate that reunion.
My apologies to all the farm-idealizing, Ann-Voskamp-types of the world, but the New Jerusalem is a city. There is no pastoral imagery of heaven. Sure, there will be trees and a river, but we'll be working side-by-side in the close communion of a city. I picture colorful Brooklyn brownstones on a Pangea-shaped land mass. That's the point of this whole redemptive journey - to prove that through His love, we can live together in peace.
I have this beautiful image of my son running back and forth between our house and his birthparents' house to make up for all the time he lost with us.
I read A Grief Observed three weeks after my son's death, and this quote has haunted me ever since. Damn that C.S. Lewis. When will I learn that he and I are never simpatico?
“If a mother is mourning not for what she has lost but for what her dead child has lost, it is a comfort to believe that the child has not lost the end for which it was created. And it is a comfort to believe that she herself, in losing her chief or only natural happiness, has not lost a greater thing, that she may still hope to "glorify God and enjoy Him forever." A comfort to the God-aimed, eternal spirit within her. But not to her motherhood. The specifically maternal happiness must be written off. Never, in any place or time, will she have her son on her knees, or bathe him, or tell him a story, or plan for his future, or see her grandchild.” ~ C.S. Lewis
This is my deepest fear - that I will not be his mother in heaven. We'll be together. We'll worship together. We'll work together. But I won't be his mother. And I won't be my living son's mother either. God willing, he will have grown-up on this earth, and I won't expect to be. Our relationship on this earth will have evolved. But in my shallow, clouded earthly mind, my oldest will always be my baby. When I'm 85 years old with great-grandchildren, his picture will still be in my (light, airy, decorated with souvenirs from my recent trip to Zambia, assisted living community in Sedona) room with his dimples, his little red shirt, and his mischievous eyes. He'll always be my baby.
So, for now, as I struggle with "the worst thing" a person can endure, I hope and pray for that reunion. I know that God will fulfill my eternal relationship with my son in ways my limited mind can't imagine. Maybe if there are houses in heaven, we'll live as families in them. A girl can hope.
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