Back when we first started dating, it didn’t take Steve long to figure out he was falling in love with a perfectionist…with someone who, more correctly, was obsessed with trying to be Someone Who Follows All The Rules, who often failed to do so, and who would then spend 99% of her time beating herself up about it. At one point in those early days, he turned to me and said, “You can’t be Jesus, Emily. That job is taken!”
Just last year, he gave me this birthday card. Appears I haven’t gotten that whole “you’re-not-Jesus” message yet, because I honestly got kind of giddy over what was on the front, before I opened it.
My wonderful friend Beth P gave me a coffee mug a while back, that says “With just the right cape, she could save the world.”
(How did I get lucky enough to find friends like her, and a man who knows me so well …know that I reel from being insufferably arrogant to wretched, all in one day sometimes…and yet they still love me?)
The internal battles we face – with ourselves and God – are part of grief…they are exacerbated, enhanced by grief. Unless you are the most grounded person in the world, you’re not only going to run smack into your inadequacies, your regrets/past sins, your if-only’s… you’ll also face the truth that your dead person was kind of complicated and not terribly perfect on a lot of days.
On my worst, worst days, when I struggle with the reality of Mark-not-here, when I am at my loneliest-for-him, and most despairing because life just isn’t the same and won’t ever be again, that is when the accusations can, if I am not careful, sneak in: God took Mark because you were doing a crappy job; if only you’d insisted that Mark be a law-abiding bike rider, he wouldn’t have run the stop sign; you let him stay up late too often to play video games…you let that habit perpetuate, and he was tired and that’s why he didn’t see the car coming. Maybe God took Mark because he wasn’t good enough, or he wasn’t living out his purpose, but that’s something his parents were supposed to instill, and so you must have failed.
All of this is YOUR FAULT.
The black birds again, circling, circling.
After enduring several iterations of this, my particular flavor of hell, over the last many months, there was a subtle shift that occurred one morning. It was like Someone sort of strode into the basement, flicked on the light and threw open the windows. I’d had enough…I knew I could not live my life in that darkness…and so had He.
Many months ago, on one of my walks, I had a picture pop into my head that went with this link between myself and my child(ren) – or that between any two people who share a bond of love, familial or not: I pictured that link as two peoples’ hands grasping, like when Steve & I got married, and the pastor wrapped his stole (the scarf he wears around his neck, a symbol of Jesus’ yoke), around our joined hands. God’s grace is like that – it wraps around us as individuals and in the space where we connect; it covers us, it covers our relationships, and all the possible mishaps and hurt feelings and failures.
Another image: when I was a child, my family had a cat named Cheetah who loved lying on top of the radiators in our home in the winter months. She was not particularly thin: her body fat would ooze into between the crenelations of the radiator, like waffle batter into the waffle maker, or the melted butter and syrup you pour over the cooked waffle (…….is it time for lunch yet?!). And that’s grace: oozing into all our nooks and crannies.
Another example (I’m almost done!): I used to worry that I’d done Something Wrong. If someone didn’t write me back, or call me back, I worried; after a social gathering, I would sometimes sift through the minutes of the evening, worrying over whether I had offended someone or said too much or too little. But over the last several years, I came to realize how draining that was; that I needed to learn to trust in the love we express between us – between friends and I, between family and I. That there is so much more peace in offering the same grace God does: there is nothing you can do or say that will change the way I feel about you.
The message for me, that morning, filtered through my own unique weirdness, was this:
You’re not All That.
You’re Not That Powerful.
Where we end…where all of our best, sometimes failing efforts end…where we don’t measure up: Grace Begins.
Anxiety and fear made me want to believe that our human efforts (or lack thereof) are the be-all, the end-all. The truth is: God is bigger than our efforts, than our best intentions, than our failures, than the ways we didn’t and don’t measure up as parents or as people. Certainly we can damage one another, and quite badly; when we attempt to control and manipulate instead of dealing with one another in honesty and love…when we operate out of fear instead of faith, out of insufficiency instead of sufficiency. God knows the number of hairs on your head, on your children’s heads, and He knows you’re HUMAN, that you will never ever be able to measure up, and He wraps you, enfolds you in Grace.
He’s the one wearing the cape.
Thank God, indeed.