Emma Elyse is one today. Her birth and my mother’s death occurred just days apart. When my daughter Shawn married Matt in September 2007, her dad had died just six weeks earlier. I was so worried that my mother would pass away and that Shawn would go into labor at the same time. I was sick thinking about the possibility that a death could cast a shadow on another joyous occasion. If a mother could order times and seasons, I would have done everything in my power to separate those two occasions. But that right belongs to God alone.
Last week Mark and I traveled up to my hometown Blytheville for my niece’s high school graduation, exactly a year from the date of my mother’s passing, May 15. I had not been back since her funeral and had not yet seen her headstone in place at the little cemetery in Manila, Arkansas. At the time she passed away, she was suffering mentally and physically with Alzheimer’s, so it wasn’t hard to give her up and let her go to be with Jesus. I was so focused on getting back to Conway before Emma was born that I don’t think I shed a tear at the funeral!
However, on the trip up last week, traveling the familiar path home, memories came flooding back as we passed through the little towns where so many aunts and uncles lived, all gone now. My thoughts didn’t focus on a very ill mother, but the healthy one who gave me life and did her best to take care of me in the midst of her own burdens and brokenness. I was going to the home of my childhood, but my mother would never be there again. The tears came.
We think we can leave our past behind, but it is always a part of us. When I went off to college, I vowed never to return to my hometown to live, too many childhood and teenage wounds. I wanted to get as far away as I could. My scholarship allowed that to happen, so I went to the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, the other corner of the state. It is obvious that the Lord had planned another path for me, but He never wanted me to forget where I was from. He wanted me to make peace with it. Now, finally, I see all the ways God protected me, keeping me innocent at a time in my life that I was very needy. I clearly see and appreciate the sacrifices my mother made for my brother and me.
How can we have the capacity to feel joy and sorrow, happiness and pain, at the same time? Why does God allow us to be stretched to both extremes? Paul says in Hebrews 12:2 that “for the joy set before Him, Jesus endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” He endured not only the excruciating pain of the cross, but the unimaginable sorrow of being separated from the Father. Why? For the joy set before him. What was the joy? We are, those who call upon Him as Savior. He endured it all so we could be with Him through all eternity. He endured it so we could be healed and have abundant life.
We feel joy and sorrow at the same time because we are made in the image of God. It is Christ in me, the hope of glory. It is a gift. If we can’t feel our pain, our brokenness, the depth of our sin, then how can we know our own need? It is what drives us to seek Him. We are incomplete without Him. We cannot know the joy and the fullness of life until we have tasted of the divine in our relationship with Jesus, that which we will one day partake of fully as meet Him face to face.
Tomorrow there is going to be a one-year-old birthday celebration for Miss Emma. With the birth of every grandchild, my heart stretches and stretches to hold more love. Isn’t that exactly like our God? His love knows no limits. He is love. Jesus, I am overwhelmed by your goodness. Thank you for the gift of life and all it contains. Let us never become numb to the joys and the sorrows of this life, but let them wash over us and bring us closer to you. Holy Spirit, help us to not be afraid to feel, for you have truly created us to be like you and to know you in ways we can’t even fathom right now. Incredible. You are amazing, Lord.
Happy birthday, sweet Emma! Nana loves you.