This morning as I sat in my home church, listening to a wonderful sermon preached by one of our elders (because we have this cool tradition in which three or four members of the congregation preach each summer), it suddenly occurred to me that, oddly enough: I am flourishing.
I have begun to recognize that new reality in part because, despite the horrific reality of Josh's death, there's a lot going on right that feels as if I am caught up in a wave leading to an ordination that might really happen. Last night I wrote most of the sermon I'll preach next Sunday for the congregation which will vote on whether to call me, and I'm beginning to think about the Presbytery meeting the following week, at which I hope to be the subject of the last vote ever in this process. (There have been session votes, committee on preparation for ministry votes, presbytery votes, and ordination exam "votes" ~ I'm a bit worn out by the democratic processes employed by the Holy Spirit in our church!)
This morning I read a 9/11 article about parents who lost their daughter, their only child, on that day, and about the lethargy and sense of hopelessness that have marked their lives for the past ten years. No kidding. Those things mark my life as well ~ but so do a lot of other things.
Another reason for my newfound recognition came up in a recent conversation with Gregarious Son. "Mom, I think we've made it," he said to me. "I think we're going to be ok. Dad is back to Ten Thousand Villages and soccer, I've stayed in law school and done fine and hung onto my scholarship, LD is halfway to her master's in social work, and you're going to be a minister. We've come through this."
We've spent the week-end very quietly. The weather is much the same as it was three years ago: intense and humid heat, with a cool spell predicted to arrive almost any minute. (The night after Josh died, the house was sweltering; for the funeral a week later, we all needed jackets and sweaters.) Our home is much emptier, and not just metaphorically so. (That year, we had to take a carload of food to a homeless shelter after everyone finally left.) The words and images so unfathomable and unbearable during that awful week have become manageable; they are simply the backdrop of my life. Unwelcome, but tolerable.
And I find that, as I begin to plan for the ordination that three years ago seemed all but impossible, and survey the family that might have disintegrated as well as survived, I have much to be grateful for. Ten things, in no particular order:
This family of mine, all of whom keep trying and keep moving forward and keep supporting one another as a family and in our individual endeavors. And our extended families, most especially my brother and his wife, who have offered unwavering support and love.
The friends who took care of every single thing that week. From toilet paper to music and eulogies. And who are still here, still trying to figure it all out, too.
The seminary friends who hung in there with me, who offered friendship and suggestions about how to navigate a much changed landscape, and the one in particular who was always right there next to me, especially when an offhand remark or painful topic sent me fleeing a classroom in tears.
The seminary professors and administrators who tried to make things a little easier, and those in particular who listened to some of my anger and despair and general insanity, and offered me work to do that provided pathways through the morass of bewildered confusion that had become my life.
New RevGal friends and old MomsOnline friends and other journaling and blogging friends, women (and men) who read and commented and embraced me without criticism or judgment across the realm of cyberspace.
Carmelite sisters who welcomed me to their masses at a time when I needed to be among people who were sure to be in prayer when prayer was beyond me. Pastors and friends at my own church, who welcomed me back when I was ready to be there again, and invited and expected me to participate, apparently believing that I was still capable of doing so.
The same for teachers and friends and colleagues in spiritual direction. And for those who have shared their own lives with me. Some know about Josh; some don't. Most astonishing to me have been people who have known about my struggle and have nevertheless approached me to ask whether they might meet with me for spiritual direction. I am so grateful for their confidence in what was my very shaky self.
My own spiritual directors, three Jesuits who, at different times and in different places and for reasons inexplicable to me, have been my companions and guides and counselors and friends, from the joys of the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises six years ago through the beginnings of seminary, into the darkest months of grief and turmoil, and then along the erratic path of renewal, and now toward this brink of new beginnings.
The mothers I have met along the way who have endured similar losses, who are all, every one of them, models of grace and courage, and who all welcome one another so graciously into the community we would prefer did not exist. They are also the ones who best understand the dichotomy revealed by this week's blogging posts: the unpredictable lurching between the anguish of grief and the optimism of hope.
And: the God who supports and sustains all of this. I don't pretend to know why Josh, who was himself showered with a lifetime of generous gifts, became so ill that he lost the capacity for grateful response and let it all slip away. I don't know why I should have retained it, the capacity that has enabled me, even in the bleakest of times, to move toward God by reaching out to others. It is surely a literally amazing grace in my life, that when I have needed help, I have been able to look around, to see that someone is there, and to ask. The grace of the ability to see and to as has brought me the most wonderful of experiences and relationships. It has surely been solely a gift from God.
"Could we join your neighborhood church group?" A question asked 24 years ago which brought us into community with friends for a lifetime.
"Will you help me do the Spiritual Exercises?" A question asked six years ago which changed almost everything about my life.
There have been a lot of such questions, but those two are the big ones.
And now there is another question, this one posed to me. Now a church is saying to me, "Will you be our pastor?"
I hope that, somehow, I can pass it all on, it all being the conviction that, in spite of everything, God is there . . . here . . . laboring on our behalf and drawing us ever closer, even in the pitch black of utter darkness.