A baby girl was born twenty-two years ago: flawed, imperfect, and desperately wanted. Her little life ended before she was two, and because a Momma never forgets, on this, her birthday, I am feeling twenty-two.
It’s twenty-two years with her, but not. It’s twenty-two years of her here, then gone.
But that’s not all it is.
It’s twenty-two years of hope, through pain.
Intense grief never leaves, not completely. It just shifts. Over and over again, the pain of losing that little girl has readjusted itself around other highs and lows, or perhaps the extremes have adjusted themselves around her. When the dark memory of the day she died makes room for another fearful situation to reside in my being, the survival of losing her speaks into that new situation.
For example, years ago, we owned a cabinet that failed to do its job. This cabinet was holding the china dishware we had received at our wedding. When the cabinet came down, the entire set of lovely white dishes, painted with tiny blue flowers, came crashing to the floor. In horror, I tired to capture the platters and cups, while my husband used one hand to hold the cabinet and the other to shield me from being injured from the falling plates.
Among the reasons this event is seared into my memory (other than the fact that my husband’s heroic act saved me from being flattened or disfigured) is because after the last dish fell, and I plowed my face into my husband’s chest, the first thought sent to rescue me from despair sounded something like this: “Jackie, you survived losing Molly, you will survive losing these dishes.”
For twenty-two years I’ve love this little girl, and for each of those years her life has served as a reminder of God’s faithfulness. I have come to believe there is no circumstance which can flatten or disfigure God’s presence in the life of those who desire Him.
Can I let myself dream of a life where she didn’t die? Sure.
I can imagine a “grown-up” her: wearing a t-shirt from her college Alma mater, car keys dangling in her hand, she’s rushing out the door to see her sister and her niece.
I can picture a “young-woman” her: hiking to a waterfall with her cousin and her friends, she steals a kiss from a boy. I can envision an Instagram profile filled with duck-face selfies.
I can let myself dream of a “still-with-us” her: a story of secrets exchanged with siblings in a land with wedding pictures, game nights, and text messaging threads–and she is included.
Eventually, I wake up. She’s not here, and that’s not what happened. What happened was quick and unforgettable, like an intimate glance in a crowded room.
But this is where I have a choice. Is her birthday a reminder of the toddler that I lost, of the girl I never knew, and of the young woman who never was, or is it something more?
Each of us get to decide how to hold the memory of our own intimate unforgettable glances. Is the memory of a young life that was lost or of grief we survived merely painful? Or, is the memory of that intimate glance part of God’s plan for us to face and conquer oncoming and unknown trials? These intimate glances are severe and merciful reminders of resilience and healing, of promise on the days when we’re feeling twenty-two.
I will declare your name to my people; in the assembly I will praise you. -Psalm 22:22