Grandma Penny is not my Grandma. But she is grandmother to several of my dear friends and great-grandmother to baby Lester, who calls me Tia, so that makes me feel as though we are related. On a deeper level, Grandma Penny is also a kind of spiritual grandmother. She and her husband led a Bible study that my parents went to when they were young, and so many of my memories of going to church growing up have her in the background with her hands raised and head bowed. We love so many of the same people, and, for so long, I have watched her love the same God.
Last November we were at baby Lester’s first birthday party, and there were many conversations swirling through the air. I had just come from the kitchen with my plate of food and sat down in a likely, out-of-the-way corner of the room. I was ready to eat quietly and watch all the people for a little bit when Grandma Penny suddenly reached across the inches of blue carpet that separated us and put her hand on my knee.
“How is your family?” She said, “I haven’t seen any of you since everything happened.”
This was an unexpected moment. Sometimes that is how these things seem to go. I am somewhere when a remark, a person or a name suddenly reminds me of my nieces. My breath caught in my throat. I put my plate to one side and folded my hands over each other trying to get my composure back.
I looked up, “It's hard to say really. There are so many of us, processing this in different ways, and it is still very fresh.”
Grandma Penny leaned in close, her earrings swaying forward, and eyes full of emotion. She told me how she had been feeling her prayers for us in her body, and how that heaviness brought her back to prayer for us again and again. She and her husband had been in England immediately after the girls died, but her mind, body and heart were playing that trick that they often do, of leading her back into the sorrow of other people to pray.
I felt like I was choking as I told her that so many people had told us similar stories.
“So many people woke up.” I cried, “They were woken up unexpectedly the night the girls were born. They answered the phone… They were praying immediately. It was like they were physically with us. But then the girls died…
If God could wake so many people, in so many different places, why couldn’t He also heal them?”
That last question came out of me unbidden and unplanned. But it was (and is) one of the questions that burns and hurts in the deepest places. It is this question that whispers to me that my Faith might just be a broken attempt to understand and explain. My heart reasons first one side and then another. So many people woke up, therefore God is good and loving and with us. But, Gwen and Fiona died, therefore we have only been extrapolating patterns and assigning meaning and we know nothing. And I have felt both of these sides before; sitting with hospice families who were weeping for loved ones, working with abandoned children in the pediatric hospital in Peru, and in some of the darkest memories of my childhood. When my heart is most honest it says these two things at once, and these days I find myself saying that I don’t understand more and more often.
That day in November Grandma Penny just sat with me for a long moment and then put her hand to my face. “Sometimes the only thing we can say is ‘Blessed be the name of the Lord.’” And then she kissed my forehead.
I both loved and hated that moment. I hated it because it was not an answer, but instead a benediction and a prayer. My unspoken deepest question was still there. Why. It was raw and screaming. In the same moment, I felt so much Love, the kind that is willing to enter into another persons pain. And this Love was the thing that stuck with me when I drove away and went to bed that night.
It is a Love that has never been fully understood by science but confounds our studies in hormones by being a choice. Love that is the greatest mystery and perhaps the deepest answer. God who is “Love” and then is incarnate again in Jesus, who showed us the raw and bleeding-for-you kind of love. This Love, is that which asks us for open-handed and broken surrender. The thing is that anytime my questions have been unbearable, there has also been Love there. Like Grandma Penny kissing me on the forehead, Love the thing that sticks and stays.
And, I do believe, this Love is enough.
“May God bless us with discomfort at easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships - so that we may live deep within our hearts.” – Franciscan Benediction
“Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things that you do not know.” –Jeremiah 33:3