Once in a blue moon, I allow myself to wander the shadowy landscape of What Might Have Been. I briefly revisit so many surreal weeks in hospitals with our girls when they were tiny. Family funerals over the years. Bizarre relationship changes. Job loss and all of the precipitating life evolutions. Near misses on the highway. Injuries and illnesses with our farm animals. The terror of everything that happened in Colorado two years ago. All of the scary parts of life that my mind is mostly trained to not glorify, I will just sometimes glance at again.
I don’t do this often, or for very long, because I have learned that imagining things can bring them to fruition. Our most vibrant emotions have the power to magnify; they can either fuel or fight against our prayers. Those idle moments lost in thought can sharpen unseen possibilities, good and bad. So I am careful.
But I am as susceptible to triggers and as filled with memory as anyone, so sometimes I let it all drizzle over me for a few moments. If I am feeling strong and focused enough, I allow a good, steady gaze straight in the face of all those phantoms. I remember the terror, the grief, the uncertainty, whatever it is. Or whatever it was or could have been. I think that’s key.
Then inevitably I am flooded with visions of reality, for how things actually are, and I am shaken to my core with gratitude. At that point, my indulgence is over. My mental habit is to give thanks for as many true details as I can scoop up. Gratitude is easy for facts like sunsets and gardens. Art and music. Fat horses. Dramatic Oklahoma skies. Life and redemption. Lies burned through with truth. Healing. Financial provision. Relationships strengthened. Children returned home. Addictions dealt with. Breakthroughs. Peace. Unbridled joy in the midst of so much suffering.
I return intentionally to reality, to the present moment. And the beauty of the present moment always outshines the shadowy, phantom past.
A few weeks ago, on a whim, I texted a phone number still programmed in my phone to Jocelyn. It is no longer hers, I knew that, but in the bounce back of one of the indulgences I just described to you, I had to try. The new owner replied and I asked, if they knew Joc, to tell her know that her Mom loves her and misses her so much. This was a silly thing to do. I realize the odds of that person knowing her were ridiculous. But this person responded with compassion and a wish that I find her and that she knows we love her.
Then, just a few days ago, Handsome and I were driving on Northwest Expressway and stopped at a traffic light across from Baptist hospital. This was exactly the last part of town where I last spent time with Joc and her little sister, almost a year ago. Stopped at that light, in the driver’s seat, I spotted a petite young woman with dark hair and slim legs, an oversized coat, backpack on one shoulder. She was waiting to cross the Expressway. It only lasted for a moment, but I thought it was her. My body flooded and tensed with adrenaline, and I very nearly threw the car into park and flung open the door. I was ready to scream her name and sprint to her, but the young woman turned her head and showed me a face that was not Jocelyn’s. I sat there just kind of crumpled, you know that feeling when a flood of adrenaline drains quietly. It’s always such a sickening, nauseous moment. I held my breath, begging silently for the green light. When Handsome saw my face, all I told him was that I thought I had seen Joc. He put his hand on my leg and whispered a few words of prayer. Everything was warm and steady again. That familiar sensation of God being near us dissolved the sick.
I miss her. I miss so much I do not have the words for it. And I am dealing with lots of anger, too, with other adults in her life and her sisters’, in their upbringing, in their adulthood, just the world itself is so violent and treacherous. My beautiful, innocent babies. Yet… Layered with and connected to this ongoing grief is a strong, brilliant assurance that every single prayer is already answered. Reality is both; they seem inseparable.
If we never revisit the old wounds and fears, either near misses or catastrophes that actually did happen and actually did reshape our worlds, I think our gratitude can become dull, theoretical, rote. But laying hold of our darkest feelings and offering them to God is a good way to transform them. It’s that miraculous alchemy again. The gratitude that comes next is textured and colorful, vibrating with life because we know our gifts are real and worth appreciating.
- Admitting our broken relationships and failures then giving thanks for the healing that has come since.
- Looking at where we have been emptied out and scraped bare then giving thanks for the unprecedented ways God has refilled our stores, emotionally, financially, physically.
- Remembering lost loved ones so we can keep their characters alive and also more actively treasure the people still with us.
- Excitement in advance for miracles still brewing.
- Gratitude for the true elasticity of time and for the timeless, omnipresent, unstoppable force that is Love.
Faith cooperates with imagination, but it hardly an imaginary whim. Every one of these moments in life, each choice to redirect our energy and recommit ourselves, counts. And the sharp contrast between Fear and Love is so delicious, such a gift in itself.
Come home, baby. I have so much to tell you.