I think, at least I am hoping this is true, that when I have some distance from this particular season of our lives I'll look back and think, "Wow. That was really hard." I mean, I hope I don't look back and think, "I had no idea how easy that was in comparison to now." Because things have been difficult lately. This has been a rough year on a lot of fronts. One of the things about a blog is that, while you share stuff about your life, if you're smart and wise and value privacy, you actually won't share all that much. So when I tell you about some hard things we've had, maybe you're thinking, "That's IT? That's what you're groaning about? What a panty-waist. You've never seen trouble," but rest assured, I'm probably giving you only the tip of the iceberg.
Here are just a few things. I'm struggling a bit emotionally with the whole issue of my parents. I consider it a joy and a privilege to do anything I can to help them as they get older, and in my mom's case of course, die. But when you have great parents like mine, it's frightening to watch and daunting because they're my security. They take care of me, not the other way around. As I said to my brother, "I don't think I'm ready for this elder care stuff. You may not realize it, but I'm actually only 22 years old." He just laughed at me and said something along the lines of, "Suck it up," which is a good word for me to hear.
Here's another thing--the huge financial crash our country has gone through has not left our family unscathed. Did you ever read that short story by D.H. Lawrence called "The Rocking Horse Winner" about the house that kept whispering, "There must be more money, there must be more money"? Yeah. Sometimes I just stand and think, "You know what will be great about heaven? No money worries."
Another problem we've been having is Elaine. She's been having both emotional and physical difficulties, and I kind of think that one's causing the other but I don't know which, and it's all just a vicious cycle. Her latest issue that took us to urgent care this week is a UTI. I looked up some of the symptoms in children, and it said, "Irrational, uncontrollable behavior and a refusal to listen." And that's different from every other recent day how...?
I know part of her problem too was that she was scared about my dad. One morning on the way to church, she asked, out of nowhere, "Is Packa going to die?"
"I'm pretty sure he's not going to die right now, hon," I told her. "He's in the hospital, getting better."
"But we took Manga to the hospital, and then she died," she said softly.
All these things and more have been pressing down on us as a family. Our tempers are frayed, our patience is thin, our graciousness toward each other is non-existent at times. We find ourselves yelling at our kids and having gritted-teeth conversations with each other. It's all so discouraging.
I was in the basement recently and came across some CDs I haven't played in awhile--by Rich Mullins. I don't have words for how much I've been impacted by that man's life and music (but you know I'll try to find some, don't you?) I don't know how many times I've read An Arrow Pointing to Heaven. Rich Mullins, if you're not familiar with him, was a poet/songwriter and musician. At one point, he was one of the most commercially successful Christian musicians in Nashville, along with people such as Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith. His album, "A Liturgy, A Legacy, and a Ragamuffin Band," was listed #3 in The 100 Greatest Albums in Christian Music.
Despite this, Rich Mullins chose to live in financial poverty. An accountant handled all of Rich's money, giving him a stipend to live on (in the '90s he was living on 23,000 a year). He lived in a hogan (yup, with a dirt floor) in Kansas where he taught music to Native American kids. He would run across someone who needed help, call up his accountant, tell him about the situation, and ask, "Do I have $3,000 I can give?" upon which his accountant would say, "Yes. Yes, you do have $3,000!"
I got the CDs out and began playing them again because it's been awhile, and his music has always helped me during times of trouble and here's another time of trouble so let's give it a whirl. When most people think of Rich, they think of "Awesome God," but that was actually one of his lesser favorite songs. In an interview, someone asked him which of his songs he thought was good, and he said "Bound to Come Some Trouble," one of my personal favorites.
But Darren and I have been listening to one in particular about which Darren said, "We should just start every single morning by listening to this song." Here are a few of the words:
"Everybody I know says they need just one thing
And what they really mean is that they need just one thing more
And everybody seems to think they've got it coming
Well I know that I don't deserve You
Still I want to love and serve You more and more
You're my one thing.
Who have I in Heaven but You, Jesus?
And what better could I hope to find down here on earth?
I could cross the most distant reaches
Of this world, but I'd just be wasting my time
'Cause I'm certain already, I'm sure I'd find
You're my one thing."
Listening to that song makes me ashamed. Ashamed of how I've been acting and thinking lately. Ashamed of how ungrateful and grasping for a better life I've been. Ashamed of how I've continually just wanted that one more thing that I think will make me happy and content.
Elaine and I were in the car, listening to the music the other day, and she asked me, "When I die, do I get to come back to Rockford?" She's been praying lately that God will help my mom to get better soon and send her back from heaven so she can live with us again.
We're used to having these kinds of conversations with Lucy. She's been wondering about death and God and heaven since before she was two. Elaine's never seem particularly interested until lately and is much more inclined to break in at any serious moment with, "CAN'T WE HAVE POPSICLES NOW?"
"No," I told her. "You won't come back to Rockford. You won't even want to. Heaven is the most wonderful place there is. It's so beautiful and fun and happy. Jesus is there, and Manga's there, too. She's not going to come back to us, Elaine, she's not. We're going to go to her. We don't know when, but we do know it's true."
We talked for a little bit about what heaven might be like--if there will be animals and candy there. If we can touch Jesus when we get there. And if Manga will be waiting for us to arrive.
"She is waiting for you," I promised her. "She can't wait to see her Sweet Pea again."
"I'm gonna wear my shirt that says, 'Sweet Pea' on it so I'm all ready for her!" Elaine told me.
She was quiet for a little bit, and then she said, "Mom?"
I caught her eye in the mirror and saw her little face, that's been so frustrated and frightened and irrational and angry lately--wreathed with smiles. Then she said something that even when I'm an old, old lady I'll always remember, and it's something I'm going to hang on to throughout all these days here now.
"What?" I replied.
"Mom, when I die, I don't want Rockford," she said. "I want Jesus."