A few weeks ago, my father was hospitalized for heart attack symptoms that might have been stroke symptoms that then turned out to be symptoms of something utterly inexplicable. My father, who suffered a massive heart attack in January 2009, and, against all odds and by the grace of God (he flat-lined twice), went on to survive subsequent surgeries and procedures and scares — always against all odds and by God’s grace. Though my father continues to survive and in many ways thrive, every hospitalization is a reminder that life is precious and short and tomorrow is not guaranteed to us.
This development has left me crying out to God, “Why? I know you don’t have to answer that, but … why?” This question reveals my heart: despite having known real and intense suffering in my life, I still live under the illusion that it is not normal. It’s been commonly reported, discussed, and parodied that those of us in the west, particularly in America, have no concept of how to deal with suffering. For many of us, even minor inconveniences — those “first world problems” like slow Internet access or traffic — feel like suffering in a relatively peaceful and easy world.
But as a Christian, I’m confronted by Scripture that reminds me that suffering will be part of our lives. And I’m confronted by the tendency — which I am sure that I share with many of my sisters and brothers — to shun it, preferring Gospels without suffering instead.
“My mother... she is beautiful, softened at the edges and tempered with a spine of steel. I want to grow old and be like her.” ~ Jodi Picoult
When asked to describe my mother, Helen, my usual answer is: Queen Esther in espadrilles and a matching purse.
Esther comes to mind when I think of Mom because she was fiercely loyal, smart, determined, brave and deeply faithful. The sartorial descriptors capture my mother’s somewhat less spiritual side – always put together with a classic sense of style (although these days she leans more toward head-to-toe matching ensembles from Chicos and alligator flats, now that her penchant for wearing pointy-toed heels in the ‘60s and ‘70s have caught up with her poor feet.)
Mom has impeccable style and staggering grace, particularly in the midst of trials and tribulations. She is flinty (think Katharine Hepburn) and has an abiding, deep-in-her-DNA faith [think St. Therese of Liseux.]
Helen is a force with which to be reckoned and woe to you who would make the mistake of messing with anyone she loves.