Friday, July 13, 2012

The Portrait

The other day, I was playing the Moonlight Sonata (mostly because there aren't many pieces of music I still remember) on the piano at Andrew's parents' house, where we are spending the summer. The Moonlight Sonata's notes always unfold a story to me of a man who lost his love and the agony he endures after her departure. As I played, I looked up at the family portrait hanging above the piano. It was a blown up picture of Andrew's parents with Boaz (their dog), Jon (Andrew's brother), Jen and Mike (his sister and her husband), and Andrew and our family as we sat before a glowing white background--blankness behind us.

The portrait was taken at the beginning of January 2007, days before we would fly back to Washington state, where we were living at the time, and Andrew would receive his tongue cancer diagnosis. It was days before our reality would be exploded by pain.

As I played the piano, I stared up at Gracie, sitting on grandma's lap. Gracie was nine months old at the time, in shoe-less white stockings and a dress with a black, velvet bodice and red satin skirt. Her feathery hair had only grown as long as a boy's but a little pink clip accessorized it. What a loud voice she had at the time! I would get frustrated when she'd scream, so persistent, but Andrew would say, "Maybe she'll be a singer one day." She was Andrew's girl. "She's so sweet," Andrew said. And he would hold her, nuzzle her, and she would always surprise him with a peck on his lips. She reserved those pecks on the lips for Andrew alone.

Andrew sat beside his mother. AJ, nearly two years old, stood between Andrew's legs, while Andrew held AJ's little wrist. Andrew smiled, his chin up, his mouth partially open, so characteristic of him, the flash of the camera hitting his arm, casting a glow behind him. Andrew was the only one with that glow, as if the glow would soon overtake him and he would be the only one leaving the picture.

And then I looked below the Mark family portrait at the pictures crowding the top of the upright piano. Framed pictures of AJ and Gracie as babies when our lives were sweet and typical, pictures of them as preschoolers in the frozen months after Andrew's funeral. And beside them were pictures of their little cousin, Ethan, Andrew's sister's son, who is now the same age as AJ was around the time of the family portrait. Ethan's parents call him, "little man," the same nickname we used to call AJ when he was a baby. And Andrew's sister, who looks like like she could be Andrew raised from the dead, only with long hair, smiles with her husband at Ethan like he must be the most amazing, cutest baby on the planet, just as we looked at AJ, and just as most parents look at their babies. The Moonlight Sonata ended with its dark, lonely tones. In moments like those, I see a picture of what we lost--the four of us; a whole family, warm in love with each other.

Most of the time, I find my inner chatter whispering: "Buck up. Don't think about it. It's not that bad (...or is it worse than you'll admit?)" But in moments like those, in inconvenient moments like weddings, where that atmosphere of love and excitement saturate the air, it all rushes at me--all the hope and excitement I had felt only to end in utter disappointment. The Lord uses those times to show me what's really in my heart. And that "Buck up. Don't think about it. It can't be that bad," isn't rejoicing evermore. In fact, it's not Christian at all. But it is very American. And it is very self-reliant. After all, we are a nation that built itself from self-reliant immigrants. People who left behind their parents and cousins and grandparents in the old country to escape harsh governments and trampled economies to provide a better life for their children. America attracts people with incredible determination, who are willing to work for what they want. That is the culture a democracy like America propagates. And we take that self-reliance and apply it to our Christianity.

But in self-reliance, if we aren't honest about what we're really thinking or feeling and what's really going on in our hearts, we can't drop it all at the foot of the cross. We won't cry out to Jesus for rescue from our hopeless situations, if we convince ourselves we aren't hopeless, but can handle it all ourselves. Christianity is not an excuse for ignorance or telling ourselves just to shut up and stop using our brains.

Most of you aren't young widowed, single moms. But in reality, you are in a "hopeless" situation like me. The Lord says, "Be holy for I am holy." And He says, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and with all your strength." And He says, "Love your neighbor as yourself." Well, have you done that perfectly today? No, none of us can even approach infinite perfection. "No one does good. Not even one." That's why we need the cross. Because only Jesus has done that perfectly. So I'm not the only one who has to lay out my hopeless--as far as it depends on ourselves--situations at the cross. We all do.

I'm still struggling. Please pray for me to hang onto what is true. To trust in the Lord with all my heart and lean not on my own understanding.

And that the Lord would continue to meet my children as He promises that He is a Father to the fatherless and a Husband to the Husbandless.

The Questions

Since looking at our 2007 family portrait the other day, questions have been bubbling in my heart--Are you really going to continue to believe this Christianity, no matter what happens to you? No matter how long you hate that your kids don't have a dad? No matter if even more difficulties occur?

And, Do you really believe in hell? Do you really believe that people who reject Christ will experience worse than what you've experienced without even the hope of death to end it?

But then what immediately came to mind was, I could have said 5 years ago that I didn't believe someone would be widowed, while she had two small children that adored their dad--in fact, I think I didn't believe God would allow that to happen to us--but that didn't stop it from happening. Being in denial, doesn't make something untrue. Just because we Americans love our air conditioners, fresh towels, and instant comfort to cushion us from the harshness of outside, doesn't mean that in many areas of the world there aren't orphans kneeling on the dirt eating grass before they starve to death. Just because we choose to be in denial of pain doesn't make pain un-real. Reality does not depend on us to believe in it.

We Americans, so self-absorbed in our comfort, may be afraid to ask difficult questions, may be afraid of reality, but God made reality, He's not afraid of it. He can handle our hard questions. He's the only One who can answer them. And stuffing them down doesn't mean they're not there. Those questions, though unspoken, will still flavor all the choices we make. So why not bring them to the Lord to purify and grow us in our faith?

This morning, during my private worship, I had to confess to the Lord that I felt angry and bitter. The only way for those feelings to change is for us to repent of them, so that the Lord might cleanse, purify, and change our hearts.

I often think of a couple at my old college Bible study, the Clarks, who when pipes were bursting in their home and everything was going wrong one week, they made a list entitled, "Things to Consider All Joy." And underneath they wrote down all the things that were going wrong. I also often think of how the Bible says "Give thanks in everything." So sometimes, when I'm struggling, I will make two lists. Here is mine today:

Things to Consider All Joy/"Everything" to Give Thanks in
- that my kids don't have a dad to love on them and teach them all kinds of things (...This might sound silly but when AJ uses the men's restroom, I worry because I can never go in there and teach him how to use a urinal).

Things to Be Thankful for
- that my kids do have a godly grandfather and uncles that adore them, who do play ball with them, though they're dad cannot
- the gift that Andrew's family is to me
- for the safety that I feel when I'm with them
- for my children. I adore them. They are so wonderful.
- though my feelings may say otherwise, the truth that He promises never to leave nor forsake me
- that Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so


  1. Grace, that was one of the most encouraging, rebuking, and poignant posts I've read. I'll be praying for you and the kids (and for me as well) to consider our situations with all joy.

  2. Just when I am once again in my "hopeless" state, I read this. I have been trying a lot of ways to convince myself or to try to "get there", to the point where I thought I can get out of my "hopelessness"...But often find myself falling harder, hurting more... thanks for reminding me not to cling onto self-reliance but to dump all of my pain and hopeless situations to the foot of the cross.

    Bless you Grace & your family...May God take hold of all that is in your heart and bring you to hope that's only found in Him.

  3. Reminds me of something I've been thinking about. Habakkuk 3:17-18... Though [things may not happen the way I'd like them to], yet will I rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God, my Savior. Thank you for sharing, Grace. :)