The Lent before I became pregnant with Caleb, I was teaching Religion at Bellarmine Prep, my alma mater. I gave up drinking-even on St. Patrick’s day–and felt a new door to heaven open to my understanding. I immersed myself in daily Mass, my studying and teaching Religion, and daily prayer to fill the space a nightly glass of wine had held. God used that time to reveal Himself to me. I made peace with Him concerning my struggle with Bipolar, and began to see myself beyond my diagnosis. It was a beautiful, mountain top season I will always treasure.
The next year, I endured the majority of Lent feeling humongously pregnant and tired. Caleb was stillborn during Holy Week, and we celebrated his life two days after Easter Sunday.
Since then, Lent has become a countdown to Caleb’s memorial. I have pondered giving one thing or another up in keeping with Lenten tradition, but I can never find the conviction to follow through. You see, I have already given my first born son to heaven. I give him up daily, offering this child to God even six years later. I would rather think I have choice in the death of my child, as Jesus said “[He] will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:19).
So that’s what I’m doing every day, in Advent and Lent, on Easter and Christmas mornings. I walk, spirit hands raised in offertory: Take Him, take this hurt. You are the only one who can fill this space . . .” And it feels so much less religious than much of my offertories have been throughout my life, yet so much more real.
In this season of withholding, however, I struggle to give over more of who I am. I resent this religious tradition, as the blurry-eyed days of March stumble through my heart, that I must let go of even more. I would rather have stakes in this world–firm grips–even if they make me chubby or a little hazy-headed the next morning. On days when even picking flowers out becomes a two hour fumble in the craft store, when I cannot help but still feel my eyes crying as if my body mourns its own secret sob, I need to focus on something I can touch just to stay grounded.
But then I asked myself one day, So I will just plan on gaining weight every March, then? And what about February, because the sad often sneaks in even then? Such an idea stopped me in my tracks. I don’t think this mourning needs to take me backwards every year, but there must be room made for a comforting still.
This week, I took the boys to the doctor after keeping vigil with a coughing Sam for several nights. As the boys stared into the fish tank, a little boy about Abraham’s age joined them. They spent quite a bit of time around this tank, talking little boy talk and pointing out fish to each other.
The nurse opened the door, “Caleb, we’re ready for you.” The little boy, now standing between Abraham and Samuel, looked up and followed his Dad and the nurse through the door. My boys continued to play “name that fish,” and I sat on the bench and wept. After six years, there are still days this mama weeps. And shoves a chocolate in her mouth. And counts down to cocktail hour. That was one of those days.
But if the cocktail or the chocolate or the run to TJ Maxx is where I’m turning to satiate my thirst for fullness, I will never be satisfied. I can drink from every well, and will only become more parched. When I drink from my Father’s well, I am filled. Where I crave excesses, where I scramble to bury my grief in those amazing little silver bars of Hershey’s milk chocolate, I need to turn to Jesus. I need excess in the unmitigated access I have to the throne of my Father. I need, during this lenten march, to saturate my spirit with something greater than I can reach on my own.
This Lenten life is desert life, void of space and time for holy show. I need an indwelling; I yearn for healing. I need to figure out how to live broken open and filled up; I need practical get-me-to-the-next-level of living. I am the bleeding woman reaching, stretching for His garment. I am the Samaritan woman under the table shoving scraps in my mouth. I am Mary Magdalene offering up all I possess to wash His feet.
He isn’t practice to me; He isn’t show. He isn’t how much I can do or how much I can give up. I know I am weak and broken clean open and sinful. I know He is Grace and Mercy and Flood of Righteousness. I know He is Ocean crashing Forgiveness on my brittle beach. And I know most of all that when my head buries in the grass atop my sweet son’s grave, He cradles me, broken heart, soul, and chocolate-rimmed, sassy mouth.
Jesus doesn’t love me with a measuring tape, nor does He stand over me in judgement when I’m splitting apart and reach for something physical to ground me. He does whisper, over and over again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life(John 4:14).
I’m running toward the water He promises, asking for eternal quench in this temporal vessel. And He comes–
How beautiful upon the mountains
Are the feet of him who brings good news,
Who proclaims peace,
Who brings glad tidings of good things,
Who proclaims salvation,
Who says to Zion,
“Your God reigns!”
Your watchmen shall lift up their voices,
With their voices they shall sing together;
For they shall see eye to eye
When the Lord brings back Zion.
He comes to this Mama, wine glass full and chocolate in hand, and fills me up. And He reigns over all of me.
Forward to Easter dawn,