Without fail, any time I spend a significant amount of time with my dad, I end up thinking about my mom. I remember what a difficult transition it was to go from, “these are my parents” to, “this is my dad.” Somehow though, she’s still tied up in his life, not only hanging on the walls of his house, but secured to the walls of his heart too. Over the years, I’ve learned many things about my mom from my dad. The other day he was telling me a story about how one time she won a pig from Publix and named him Snout. It was a dead pig, mind you, so why they named it is beyond me. My mom had a family friend cook the whole pig in an underground fire pit but my dad, being a soft man when it comes to animals, could not bring himself to eat Snout. After he told me that he couldn’t eat it, I asked him, “Did Mom eat it?” and he quickly replied, “Oh yeah! You know your mom didn’t have a heart.” We laughed.
My mom was a very strong willed, type A, get things done kind of person. As a child, I feared her more than anything else. That lady meant business. She ran a tight ship. The house was always, and I mean always, clean. There was a meal on the table every night by 6:00. The rules were followed, or consequences would ensue. Life was structured and orderly and chaos a rarity. Having said all that, despite the really good front my mom put on, she suffered physically throughout her entire life. So, as much as I wish I could separate what I know of her from the suffering she endured, I cannot. Many of my earliest memories, and all of my final ones, are shrouded by sickness. And yet, when my dad uttered those words, “You know your mom didn’t have a heart”, I couldn’t help but think of all the ways her suffering changed her, to the point where that statement became anything but true.
I had just turned 13 when my parents sat us down in the living room to deliver the news; cancer – metastasized breast cancer to be exact. I don’t remember what I felt in that moment, my teenage years are kind of a blur in general, but I do know that the brave woman my mom was that dreadful Wednesday night was only a glimmer of the woman she would morph into in the 7 years of carnage that followed. Her life, though marked by defeat on so many levels, was more beautiful than many could think possible. And her heart? The one my dad claimed she didn’t have? It grew soft, and with it everything else grew softer too.
I’m not here to paint an overly glorified picture of who my mom was. She was a human, like the rest of us, and with that humanity came lots of sin and brokenness but, as I journey on in this life without her, traversing through my own various trials, I find myself continually encouraged by the way she allowed the suffering she endured to melt her, instead of harden her. On this side of eternity, her suffering was with her until she took her last breath, and yet all that suffering did was make her lovelier still.
The same sun that hardens the clay, melts the ice. I heard this quote the other day and haven’t been able to shake it. This Lenten season, I’ve found myself at what feels like a crucible. I’m plagued by questions, doubts, uncertainties, and lack and though this is not unfamiliar territory, I’m at the point where I feel the question, “Will I harden, or will I melt?” begs an answer. Hardening at its best looks like indifference, at its worst, cynicism. Hardening seems like the easier choice but, as I reflect on the beauty that can flow from the melting, it seems I must choose the latter.
In this season of Lent, as I intentionally remember Christ’s life, death, resurrection, and ascension it becomes clear that the grace given my mom to endure her own suffering was only a result of her resting in Jesus’ ability to perfectly suffer, without hardening. As Jesus prepares His disciples for His coming death, He’s found comforting and consoling their anxious hearts. Do you see the melting? After being unjustly arrested in the garden, He puts back on the ear of the one arresting him. What merciful melting! As He hung on that cross, for the sin of all mankind, He cries out for those persecuting him, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” What beautiful melting. Jesus melted perfectly and from that melting came cosmic redemption. What hope! Not only for a future day but a hope right here in the midst of our sufferings. It shouts into the dark, into the emptiness, into the doubt, and into the fear a message of overabundant hope. We are not alone in our suffering, nor is our suffering a waste. Through it we come to behold and be held by the One who knows what it is to suffer and not become hard, confident that what God is doing will ultimately lead to beauty and joy and peace in full. So, when faced with the reality of our own immortality, we melt. When the world around us is marked by injustice and false accusations, we melt. And when we’re drowning in a sea of our own deep sufferings, we melt again. And as we do, we find that letting the sun melt our icy, calloused, rebel hearts is the only way to life overflowing.
I can go to His Word and know it’s true but in His kindness, God allowed me the opportunity to be a recipient of that overflowing life firsthand, right in the midst of suffering. What an undeserved gift. What grace. I’m far from where I want to be and yet I’m closer now than I was yesterday. My heart may be weary, my hands tired but neither of them are clay, and in this moment, that’s grace enough for me.