And Then He Said Goodbye

“Snatching the eternal out of the desperately fleeting is the great magic trick of human existence.” -Tennessee Williams in The New York Times.

He’s packing his truck again, but this year is different. Rather than living on campus, he and a buddy are renting an apartment for their junior year. All summer he’s been rescuing furniture the neighbors naively left on the curb as garbage, lovingly restoring an old desk and converting a wooden crate into a coffee table. The opportunity to turn trash into treasure appeals to the inborn thriftiness from his father’s side of the family.

I’d like to think that from my side, the crazy side, he hasn’t been saddled with anything, but his curly hair is a dead giveaway. I can only hope my legacy to him is an honesty that keeps him true to himself and mindful of Jesus every moment of every day.

He’s actually been leaving for years; on missions to Europe and Africa and Central America, to school and to life and away from us. This is how it should be. It’s the natural order of things. And yet…and yet. Every time he drives away, it breaks my heart.

“There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven…a time to uproot what is planted.”The Teacher (Ecclesiastes 3:1,2 NAS)

Ten years ago his sister left us by accident, in an instant; perhaps saying a silent goodbye in her last fifteen minutes between heaven and earth. Her brother comes and goes with purpose, increasingly more going than coming. They were, and still are, my treasures; by far the greatest gifts God lent me, with the operative word being ‘lent.’

I hate that. Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate the gifts, the wonder and miracle of raising my children. But I hate the goodbye, or at least the ‘goodbye for now.’ I want the happily ever after. Someday I will get it. But for now, I must live in my fifteen minutes or months or years between heaven and earth; and in the time ahead I will lose more than my children. Already my youth and some of my teeth have hit the road, with more than a few of my marbles rolling merrily along behind them.

So how do I live between here and there? How can I fill the hole where this particular plant was rudely uprooted? This void is a sad, lonely, hollow spot; dark and misshapen, obviously missing its purpose and host. Nothing I own or hope to achieve can replace his presence. The tears dripping from my chin trickle down the sides and pool at the bottom, but even they are absorbed by the dirt and fade from view. As I wallow in the mud at the depths of the pit, I cry out to the Lord: “How do I survive this?”

And He whispers: “Remember.”

“Remember you were slaves in Egypt and the LORD your God redeemed you. That is why I give you this command today.” (Deuteronomy 15:15 NIV)

I remember how the Lord called me out of addiction and gave me the strength to stay clean and sober, for thousands of ‘one day at a times.”

“Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep His commands.” (Deuteronomy 8:2 NIV)

I remember how the Lord helped me recover from the hurts of my past and gives me the grace and strength to live in peace and freedom today.

“Remember the wonders He has done, His miracles, the judgments He pronounced.” (1 Chronicles 16:12 NIV)

I remember countless prayers answered with a ‘yes,’ saving my marriage and providing for our every need.

“Remember to extol His work, which men have praised in song.” (Job 36:24 NIV)

I reflect on the character of my husband, my daughter, and my son. I am grateful beyond measure that they extended the love of Jesus to a hurting world, and I’m thankful for these precious souls He lent me for a time.

“On my bed I remember You; I think of You through the watches of the night. Because You are my help, I sing in the shadow of Your wings.” (Psalm 63:6-7 NIV)

At the very worst time, when Catherine died, the Lord sent provision through His people, promise through His Word, and comfort through His Holy Spirit.

“Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. I say to myself, ‘The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for Him” (Lamentations 3:22-24 NIV)

In our bedroom we keep a small cabinet with the treasures Catherine held dear. Alongside her baseball caps, Miami Dolphins jersey, and her music box are her Bible (dog-eared and underlined), letters sent to us by people whose lives she touched and with whom she shared her faith; and her poetry, hinting that she knew her time here would be short.

The cabinet doesn’t exactly fit the hole she left behind, so I pour in hope around the edges: the promise Jesus gave me in John 14:1-4 that got me through the early years; the gift of twenty-five souls who gave their lives to Christ at her memorial service; the kindnesses she shared that spread out like ripples on a pond.

I still miss her, sometimes so much that I cry even today. But somehow I’ve survived the last ten years, and I’ve come to know Jesus better as a result. So what will fill the hole my son leaves behind?

The Lord says, “My compassions are new every morning. Take one day at a time and trust Me. Remember.”

So he packs his reclaimed furniture into the ancient Ford Bronco, this curly-headed boy/man I love with all my heart. I can’t yet imagine how God will fill the hole, but I trust He will and I cling to Him with all my strength. It’s worked every day so far.

“I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD.” (Psalm 27:13-14 NIV)

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