for the living, while there is still time

 

Her dying has made me bold. 

The night before, I lie in bed full of scripture and half-formed prayers, tangled in sheets and dreams.  I imagine what I will say, the look on my face, the gentleness with which I will sit beside her hospice bed, take her hand and speak to her of Christ.   In the dark I swell with purpose and become anxious for the daylight. 

In the morning, the sadness finds me again.  I stare in the mirror, wonder what it would be like to come halfway through a life and suddenly find myself at The End.  Tears well up.  

The phone rings.  It is her husband.   It’s a bad day; she is not coherent. No visits.  I cry again as I put the phone down.  I will not hold her hand and share Jesus today.  I may never.  My boldness has come too late. 

 All day long I pray – desperate prayers that God will not forget her, that some remembered story or conversation will point her towards Christ.   I imagine her lying in her living room looking out over the garden, watching the leaves from the trees she’d planted herself fall silently toward the ground.  

Another day passes, 

then one more day.

In the middle of the third night I wake up with words urgent and pressing.   It is 3 AM and a harvest moon has filled our house with milky light.   I sit at my desk and begin to write. 

Dear friend,

I remember you laughing....

I want you to know how you've blessed me, how you are carved into my heart...

This is what I am praying for you as you let go this life and step into another: 

"... that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God."

Though these are the last things I will ever say to her, it is not a long letter.  Urgency compresses my thoughts into sharper focus.  There is space for only love, only grace.

In the morning I slip my words into the mail and pray for just a little more time. 

Her death comes two days later. 

I will not know for a long while if the letter arrived, if anyone took it to her bedside and read it aloud.  I have written my heart onto paper, wrapped it up and sent it into the world for God's use.  I am a scribe, but He is the Redeemer; I have quiet peace.

In the grieving days that follow, I find that death is a mirror for those of us still living.   Staring into it,  I see myself in that bed, strength and purpose slipping away, all the things I was going to do one day lying useless while I am slowly whittled down to the core of who I have been, of who I truly am.   I see it so clearly.  Now I must do the work of survivors and examine myself, carry the sacred gift of life more tenderly.

I allow myself to wonder if I would be able to die with peace or if I would be facing down regrets and loss on the threshold of eternity.   My questions awaken a calling I have been too afraid to claim, a knowledge I have been too timid to admit.  I gently put my hands out to touch it, bring it into the light.  I wait for God's whisper.   Suddenly I am bold.

There is still time.   I write.    

 

 

for further contemplation:  Wendell Berry, from A Timbered Choir