I have always been a witching hour girl. When the evening lulls, in that silent cradle from 7:30 to 9:00 PM when others read books or idly watch Jeopardy, I am internally at war. I am–always–in a fight. The peaceful early evening is my 2:00 AM, my time to reconsider every life choice I made; instead of staring at my bedroom ceiling, ruminating in the dark–there is open-eyed consideration: this is where I am. This is what I have,
That ninety minutes is hard for me to fill–perhaps I spent my whole life thinking it would be one way because, for all of my childhood, it was. At my paternal grandparents’ house, where I spent every moment possible, there was a definite routine. Dinner, kitchen cleaning, bath. Then, some sort of loose family time, often followed by prayer in the “TV room.”
The upstairs hub, the TV room, featured an upholstered spinning chair that–to the grandchildren’s delight–leaned too far back, an ancient scratchy brown sofa, and two plain recliners. There were, by today’s standards, no toys. For the youngest grandchildren, there was a wooden bowl of plastic oranges. While a grandchild sat on a three-legged stool, Grandpa tossed him oranges, and everyone else watched. Night after night after night. I can recall, even as a child, thinking that everyone’s interest in this was both stupid and special: The baby’s only catching oranges. The baby’s catching oranges. It was the first dichotomy I held.
The second toy was for the older grandchildren–a small flat box in the end table held “The Village,” a miniature wooden playset from Sweden, or maybe The Netherlands. Blue cows, smaller than our fingernails. Christmas trees tinier than matchsticks; “roads” like popsicle sticks and “fences” like shaved carrots; sugar-cube houses with interchangeable triangular roofs. There were a few men and one woman, and I resented her–she was pink and round, while everything else was bright and angular.
My grandmother was the most gracious and lenient of women–every grandchild’s friends also called her “Grandma Williams,” claiming her with the assurance that the young do their favorites. Like most grandmothers, she was the embodiment of love. Soft and kind, she had few rules: never use her sewing scissors on paper; wash your hands (you could gain favor by using the fingernail brush); always blow-dry your hair.
Her largesse did not apply to The Village, which had more rules than there were grandchildren. Some:do not lose pieces of The Village. Do not take The Village home, even for an afternoon. Play with The Village while seated at a desk. Do not get food or drinks near The Village. And, finally, enjoy The Village.
The moment we children declared our boredom, we were told, “Go get the village.”
Even in play, there was powerful predictability at Grandma’s, security in their routine.
Love. A snack. A warm bath. A prayer.
That is what I wanted for my adult self, for my children, for my home–and that is rarely what I got.
It is amazing, isn’t it? A few families get plain lives: healthy families, ordinary children, ample income, regular summer vacations. Predictability and security are theirs,
And I don’t begrudge them this: I love their refreshing joy, their true smiles, their ease.
I am in the other camp–the group that suffers, sometimes experiencing tragedy after tragedy.
The group that stumbles in the dark, that weeps with loss, that presses on, cynically anticipating more sorrow or valiantly battling their own minds, spending their days attempting to expect the good, believe God’s promises, seek the joy.
Here’s the surest truth about tragedy–those who have endured it are quickest to recognize joy. To feel–intensely–that split-second lift in the heart. The unexpected chattering cardinal at the kitchen window, the grasp of a toddler’s hand around your finger, even the cold tomato on a hot Whopper Jr. Days spent in numbness and sorrow amplify the later joys; hours spent in anguish ensure an appreciation of subtle comforts.
Three weeks ago, my family was rattled by another medical crisis. I’ve spent forty-one days in the hospital as a caregiver, and that late May Monday was the first time I’d known the true terror of calamity, felt empty, hopeless horror enter the core of my bones.
All that I was sure of collapsed.
My powerlessness was complete–in the worst moments, there was so much Nothing that I didn’t even have children. (Abby said, days later, “Mom, I could have gone.” I told her, “You did not exist.”)
I did not feel God’s presence in that ER, but He was not absent, either. Too much was happening to feel Him–there was just a cascade of horrors that left even the ER specialist in tears. “This never happens. This shouldn’t have happened.“
For us–and others like us–the Shouldn’ts have always happened.
Sorrow’s unrelenting onslaught has made us paradoxically steadfast, more certain of our faith.
Ten years ago, on a perfect June day, my husband and I hiked through Red Rock Canyon, and I lived my last pain-free moment. In a horrific fall, I broke my leg badly–a compound maisonneuve fracture. I spent months in a hospital bed in our den–and during those months, my husband was diagnosed with his second cancer.
That same year, Laura Story released her song “Blessings.” It was everywhere, and I hated it, dismissing it as so much treacle. “Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops/what if Your healing comes through tears/what if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near. What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise.”
Raindrops bearing blessings? Sleepless nights as assurances?
Casting trials in a positive light was just too much for me–my family was enduring so much. It was our elder daughter’s senior year; our younger was in middle school, and they were once again sacrificing while their parents were suffering–and Laura Story was singing about how special it all was.
I wasn’t like her: I wanted healing, peace, prosperity. I wanted His “mighty hand to ease our suffering.“
Glorifying pain, saying a thousand sleepless nights was worth something–this rainbowy pablum incensed me.
At the opening notes, outraged, I would turn the radio off.
Ten years later, my house has an Alexa in every room; the devices are so close together that if I am standing at the kitchen sink and ask the time, the den Alexa sometimes answers before the one beside the toaster. And there are so many because I need music so much–I need my house to swell with sound, the concrete floors and walls to echo with song, with words of comfort and assurance that feed my soul.
One of the songs I need most? “Blessings.”
I don’t sing it like I do the others on my worship playlist. I absorb it, experience it, remember who I was then–a fool at forty-two. Then, I thought I had experienced sorrow and pain. Miscarriages, failed adoptions, my husband’s leukemia–these were only light etchings. In the decade since, I have been deeply carved and horrifically gouged by loss. My family has, too.
I wanted the “lesser things“: a predictable life–supper, chores, baths, and prayer.
Instead, God gave me his “mercies in disguise” and “ faith to believe.”
Tonight–609 nights after my father’s death, 1, 896 nights after my granddaughter’s stillbirth, 7,690 nights after my husband’s first cancer diagnosis–I know sleep will not come easily. But I have faith that does.
It is solid, absolute confidence, given in His mercy.
Mercy, I see.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255