I think part of the reason this concept of Full and Broken came to the front of my mind last year related to the changes our family had undergone. We had moved to Winston-Salem just before Christmas in 2014. After six weeks of helping us, my mom had gone home at the end of January. David had begun his new job and was going in to an office daily instead of working at home. We hadn’t found a church yet. Daniel’s adjustment to his new school was rocky at best, and I didn’t know anyone. I was feeling the stress of our situation acutely and struggling to help both of my children get the services and into the therapies they needed. I often felt the pain of my children’s needs and limitations, but was also experiencing the regular joy of their sweet and silly personalities and just the joy of the very existence of our family. I started thinking of this concept a lot, and I began to consider situations where I know other people who are balancing the joys and great pains of life.
I thought of my friend Beth who lived with such abandon, loving her husband and her son fully, laughing hard and often – and who died last summer after a year long fight against cancer. Her husband and son were left behind with utter brokenness of grief yet full of wonderful memories of dear Beth (which do little to relieve the brokenness, at least for now.)
I thought of my friend Dianne who bravely and openly shared on CaringBridge a few years ago as her precious and only son walked through the valley of the shadow of teenage cancer and death. (In fact, it was four years ago last week that Tyler died, and Dianne wrote on Tyler’s website beautifully and instructively about living with her grief. It is worth reading at www.liveliketyler.com.) Her brokenness cannot be denied as anniversaries pass and she courageously shares the pain. But a while back I watched a video with gleeful tears as she opened a birthday gift of a positive pregnancy test announcing she would be a grandmother and I have loved seeing her FaceBook posts about her adorable new little grandson who is cute as a button and hitting his milestones in spite of Down Syndrome. I’m so thrilled for the joy in her life, but I know she carries deep brokenness with her every day.
In September I met Emily Colson (www.emilycolson.com) who has a grown son with autism who drains and challenges her, but who also encourages her with his own joy and enthusiasm. She has written a book about Max (Dancing with Max) and shared a video of Max at church dancing as only Max does while the congregation sang “I can do all things!” Max was singing “I can do all things, three things, a million things!” and his joy was contagious. We have taken up Max’s chant, and often when the phrase “all things” enters our conversation, we call out “three things, a million things!” and we think of Emily and Max on their journey. Emily lives with their struggles and but also with their joys.
Last fall we attended a Sunday School class at our new church on the Compassionate Life, which included much about sharing the griefs of others and being able to share your own. It was often led by a couple of physicians, one an oncologist who shared about caring for people as a doctor when the prognosis is very poor. One week we stepped in a little bit late and one woman was reading from the front a portion of a book she has written about her experience giving birth to a daughter with Down Syndrome who only lived for five months. Two rows in front of me sat a couple who have three children with a progressive metabolic disorder that could take their lives before they reach adulthood. Behind us sat a couple who lost their teenage son to cancer about three years ago. Next to them was a man who lost his wife of many years last Christmas after pancreatic cancer quickly took her life. I was overwhelmed by the pain and brokenness represented in that room and just began to quietly weep. I knew my grief was different, as my dear children are still living, but I felt a kinship with these suffering saints who bear the pain of these losses daily. I know that in very significant ways this is a club I don’t belong to. My children live, breathe, make me laugh and delight me all the time. That joy is lost for these other friends in the daily experience of their lives, and precious memories are met with painful silence and the absence of their dear ones.
When Daniel was around two he attended a summer music therapy class with two other little guys, Pierce and Noah. All three boys have cerebral palsy, but Pierce and Noah were micro-preemies and their families have traveled a terrifying and painful journey as their boys struggled for their very lives in the months after their too-early births. Even in this situation I know my grief is slightly different since Daniel had a much less traumatic start, but I think of their families as most similar to ours in terms of the daily struggles with our little boys. Pierce’s mom recently wrote a blog post that so directly addresses the grief of a parent of a child with special needs. Please read it here. Lindsay is so right – part of the different sort of brokenness that I feel is the repeated nature of the hurt and how it creeps in right in the midst of the most mundane things, like saying “no” to playing on the playground because it is so physically difficult to help my son even marginally enjoy the equipment. And on the days when I feel strong enough to say “yes” I then experience the pangs of other children asking innocently and so directly, “Why can’t he walk?” or perhaps worse, Daniel pre-empting this question by speaking first – “I can’t walk. I have cerebral palsy.” I don’t resent the questions and I want to explain as well as I can so others can understand and see Daniel as another little boy who likes to play, but the need for the interaction is painful and repeatedly breaks my heart.
I am not alone, but as an old gospel song goes, “You must walk this lonesome valley, you’ve got to walk it by yourself. No one else can walk it for you, you’ve got to walk it by yourself.” Many, if not most, people carry some burden of grief, some measure of brokenness, but even in a room full of people who are hurting, each person has their own personal journey. We need to be understood, long to be known, and as compassionate people we reach out to carry one another’s burdens, but even as we do, we know the brokenness in our own life and experience. There is really only one place where we can be fully known, fully understood and fully accepted and that is in the heart and arms of God. He is real. He reaches for us, even before we reach for Him, but as we do, we find in Him a depth of love and joy and pain and brokenheartedness that reflects our own. Amazingly this is true for every person’s situation. He is a God who sees, a God who knows, a God who feels, and a God who understands. He is also a God who heals and a God who carries when healing is still far off. There is no other place to go – no support group, no church, no counselor (though I recommend all of those, for we do surely need one another on this journey!) – where our own unique pain and brokenness can be met and known. There is comfort there, even as waves repeatedly crash over our souls and we go again and again with fresh pain, fresh reminders of loss, fresh brokenness. Friends tire of hearing the same stories, counselors try to help you move past the trauma (which is useful and necessary in time), support group members come and go, but God never tires of receiving his precious children in his arms and hearing their sadness and their joys and offering His supernatural understanding and comfort.
Sometimes it doesn’t seem like enough, and like the frightened little child during a nighttime storm, encouraged by his mother that God loves and cares for him, we respond, “That’s all well and good, but I need someone with skin on!” From time to time I am comforted and encouraged by a friend who listens and really does their best to understand. Often I just long for that understanding and listening ear. Instead of letting that longing turn to loneliness or resentment, I need to remind myself to go to my heavenly Father who has outstretched arms and a fully understanding heart. This is the place of peace. This is the place where fullness and brokenness reside together without seeming like the other doesn’t belong.