Life as a wife, mother, teacher, friend. It’s said that people of my personality type (I forget what that is) have a rich inner life, and this is definitely true for me. If I ever have any moments to myself, I am usually lost deep in thought and most times you’d be surprised at what emerges from my mouth if you happen to catch me in that moment and ask what I’m thinking.
Even though I have no time to write (there’s two exam papers which I’ve been trying to set over the past TWO WEEKS with little progress … the baby keeps waking up! ha), today I finally reached the point where things need to be written down before they bubble over and seriously impede my ability to get on with day to day tasks. I guess I’ll write them as vignettes.
This morning, after dropping Noah off, a moment to dawdle behind the school fence and try to catch a glimpse of my son among his friends. I already knew what I wanted to see, what I was desperate to see – a little boy laughing, playing happily with his classmates even as they messily stuffed food into their mouths, hands smeared with jam and milk smudges on the table. Instead, I saw him sitting a little apart from the rest, quietly spooning food into his mouth, his plastic water bottle suddenly looking oversized as it sat next to his slight frame. I tell myself this is a random moment, surely not representative of his overall school life. I know he has friends, we pick him up happy and laughing from school each day. But still my mother’s heart aches. Even before I went up to take a peek, I had already asked myself. Why look if you know there’s nothing that will change regardless of what you see? But still I went. A mother needs to know. Even if all I can do is offer a tighter hug when I finally see him at the end of each long working day. “Mummy, you must get home before sunset, okay?” Noah has taken to reminding me about this each morning as I drop him off at school. I laugh, because it’s rare that I get home after dark, but a little awed by how amidst the daily humdrum of routines, somehow he notices the time I arrive home.
On the way to work, I read heartbreaking narratives. My school librarian recently recommended “When Breath Becomes Air”, a sweeping yet unfinished reflection on life and death by a neurosurgeon struck by cancer just as he reached his prime. It is a dying father’s gift to his baby daughter. What would I say, if I had only just a little time left with this family I have? I read this book and can only hope that I would have something of equal meaning and just as saturated with love and wisdom if ever such a time comes. I follow the Facebook page of Team Brighter Days – a page updated by the mother of a little girl who was living with cancer – and has now passed into the presence of our loving Heavenly Father. My sister-in-law once asked me if reading such things makes me depressed. The complete opposite, in fact. I read these narratives to school myself in hope. To test the boundaries of how much misery and suffering we as children of God can take. To stretch my faith muscles to believe that even in such pain, God is still present, and God is still loving. I look up to these writers as heroes … though they would never have chosen such paths, yet they have done exceedingly well with the lot that has been given them. On the way home after long days at school, I come back to these narratives again. They help me leave the work day behind, and go running back into the arms of my family. They remind me to get up and greet my husband with a kiss and a hug as he arrives at the door while I’m in the middle of eating dinner as fast as I can so I can go play with my toddling daughter who hangs on to my knees under the table. They help me end each day with a prayer of thanksgiving, and the courage to face each new day with a reservoir of peace.
As I write this, a dear friend of mine has just undergone a second major operation, to save her life. This operation causes immense pain, but my strong friend has been through it once, and I am believing she can make it through again. Where is God in her pain? I don’t know the answer, but I’m willing to be a part of it. My friendship and encouragement to her, the gift of my family’s laughter and presence in her life as we meet up on a regular basis – it’s not much, but I want to be part of God’s grace towards her in this painful season.
Why do I read these heartbreaking stories? It’s a way to acknowledge the reality of the pain of dear ones around me. My attempt to understand and feel just a tiny fraction of what they may be going through. Recently, I chanced upon my students’ profiles deep within the school’s database, and was shocked to find that out of 6 classes, about 3-4 students had their parents’ marital status listed as ‘widowed’. Motherless, at the age of 12, 13? Or without the protective presence of a Father to provide? What is it like to go to school each day, face the stress of school, the demands of teachers, all the while not having what so many of your classmates take forgranted? My heart broke for these ones in that moment. Just as it broke for a boy, talking to me after school, tears falling unwonted from his eyes as we both confronted the fact that his project mates wanted nothing to do with him and there wasn’t a friend he could count on in the entire school. In another moment after a particularly moving poignant lesson on the Holocaust, I explained to a student who was close to tears with anger at his classmates’ indifference to the subject – each day, we live suspended in the balance between grief and hope, pain and happiness. Does it mean we don’t embrace the moments of weightless laughter? No, all the more we enjoy the lightness of those moments. But at the same time, we do not let go, we do not forget what it means to be down, to be discouraged, to be desperately clinging on to hope. Because this is what it means to be human.
And hope springs eternal, more so when we are children of God. Because God sees, He remembers, He doesn’t forget:
Isaiah 49New International Version (NIV)
The Servant of the Lord
49 Listen to me, you islands;
hear this, you distant nations:
Before I was born the Lord called me;
from my mother’s womb he has spoken my name.
2 He made my mouth like a sharpened sword,
in the shadow of his hand he hid me;
he made me into a polished arrow
and concealed me in his quiver.
3 He said to me, “You are my servant,
Israel, in whom I will display my splendor.”
4 But I said, “I have labored in vain;
I have spent my strength for nothing at all.
Yet what is due me is in the Lord’s hand,
and my reward is with my God.”
5 And now the Lord says—
he who formed me in the womb to be his servant
to bring Jacob back to him
and gather Israel to himself,
for I am[a] honored in the eyes of the Lord
and my God has been my strength—
6 he says:
“It is too small a thing for you to be my servant
to restore the tribes of Jacob
and bring back those of Israel I have kept.
I will also make you a light for the Gentiles,
that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”
7 This is what the Lord says—
the Redeemer and Holy One of Israel—
to him who was despised and abhorred by the nation,
to the servant of rulers:
“Kings will see you and stand up,
princes will see and bow down,
because of the Lord, who is faithful,
the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.”
Restoration of Israel
8 This is what the Lord says:
“In the time of my favor I will answer you,
and in the day of salvation I will help you;
I will keep you and will make you
to be a covenant for the people,
to restore the land
and to reassign its desolate inheritances,
9 to say to the captives, ‘Come out,’
and to those in darkness, ‘Be free!’
“They will feed beside the roads
and find pasture on every barren hill.
10 They will neither hunger nor thirst,
nor will the desert heat or the sun beat down on them.
He who has compassion on them will guide them
and lead them beside springs of water.
11 I will turn all my mountains into roads,
and my highways will be raised up.
12 See, they will come from afar—
some from the north, some from the west,
some from the region of Aswan.[b]”
13 Shout for joy, you heavens;
rejoice, you earth;
burst into song, you mountains!
For the Lord comforts his people
and will have compassion on his afflicted ones.
14 But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me,
the Lord has forgotten me.”
15 “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast
and have no compassion on the child she has borne?
Though she may forget,
I will not forget you!
16 See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands;
your walls are ever before me.
17 Your children hasten back,
and those who laid you waste depart from you.
18 Lift up your eyes and look around;
all your children gather and come to you.
As surely as I live,” declares the Lord,
“you will wear them all as ornaments;
you will put them on, like a bride.
19 “Though you were ruined and made desolate
and your land laid waste,
now you will be too small for your people,
and those who devoured you will be far away.
20 The children born during your bereavement
will yet say in your hearing,
‘This place is too small for us;
give us more space to live in.’
21 Then you will say in your heart,
‘Who bore me these?
I was bereaved and barren;
I was exiled and rejected.
Who brought these up?
I was left all alone,
but these—where have they come from?’”
22 This is what the Sovereign Lord says:
“See, I will beckon to the nations,
I will lift up my banner to the peoples;
they will bring your sons in their arms
and carry your daughters on their hips.
23 Kings will be your foster fathers,
and their queens your nursing mothers.
They will bow down before you with their faces to the ground;
they will lick the dust at your feet.
Then you will know that I am the Lord;
those who hope in me will not be disappointed.”
24 Can plunder be taken from warriors,
or captives be rescued from the fierce[c]?
25 But this is what the Lord says:
“Yes, captives will be taken from warriors,
and plunder retrieved from the fierce;
I will contend with those who contend with you,
and your children I will save.
26 I will make your oppressors eat their own flesh;
they will be drunk on their own blood, as with wine.
Then all mankind will know
that I, the Lord, am your Savior,
your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob.”