Life is messy, isn’t it? Exquisitely so, maybe…but exquisitely messy.
My marriage to your husband, I think, is a classic example.
Even that sentence, sounds odd, doesn’t it?
Let me explain.
At your service, your love of packing shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child was mentioned several times. Your husband said that you imagined that your happiness packing shoe boxes is probably what being a happy drunk feels like. You invested so much in the lives of children you would never meet.
Then, this last November, there was a shoe box packing party at your house–you should have seen the tables overflowing with socks and pencil crayons and notebooks and toothbrushes and such that so many of your people brought. The place was packed with your friends and their kids as they packed shoe box after shoe box full of presents for kids in other countries. It was awesome. Your friends laughed and packed and ate and remembered you in the finest of fashion. You would have loved it.
Your husband hosted it. At the beginning of the evening, he told the group how he remembered how you would pack those shoeboxes for many years, and how, in your last fall on the earth, when you were too sick to shop and not strong enough to pack, your friends had come over with piles of stuff and spent time with you packing shoeboxes for Samaritan’s Purse. He said that the afterglow of that shoe box packing party had lit up your life for weeks. You had loved being together with friends, imagining the faces of the children who would receive them. He was so grateful for your friends and what they had done for you that day.
Sigh…as your passion for Operation Christmas Child suggests, you were pretty incredible, and your memory has sometimes felt a little hard to compete with. I’ve struggled sometimes, with how I will relate to the people closet to you…they lost so much, and I feel so very inadequate. You might know that feeling too, of inadequacy–don’t we all, as humans, struggle with that?
This measuring business where we compare ourselves with others that we are so prone to do, can get so painful.
When your husband and I began walking last fall, talking about how concerned he was for your children, and we realized one night that we clicked in a way that said this was actually going somewhere, I got scared. Not because of who he is, but because of who you were. And how much your friends loved you. And how much you meant to them…and how much they still missed you.
I was convinced that his and your friends wouldn’t accept me, couldn’t accept me in their lives as someone that was dating him. You were a wonderful friend to them…warm, caring and thoughtful. They had sat with you while you were ill–and so many told stories of how you had cared for them in your gentle conversation with them during that time. You asked them about their kids and their concerns when they came to be with you during your last weeks and months. How could anyone walk in the door hand in hand with your husband, and be accepted?
I worried that their loyalty and love for you would mean that they wouldn’t have room to get to know and like me. I was worried that I wouldn’t be good enough for them, that they would judge me harshly, that they would be cool at best, or rude at worst. I remember plaintively wailing to your husband, “They’re gonna hate me.”
Not my proudest moment. Quite possibly one of my most vulnerable ones. I can hardly tell you that now…how scared I was that I would be rejected.
I was wrong.
Your people have been very, very good to me. They have extended grace in ways that take my breath away. They have challenged me to increase my understanding of the capability of healing hearts to be in relationship.
Your friends’ grace-extended hardly makes sense for me.
When J. told your best friend that he had begun dating someone, her first question, and I kid you not, was, “When can we meet her?” Your best friend, the one you hung out with for 25 years, double dated, played cards with, laughed with, and cried with–wanted to meet me. She and her husband were so gracious and kind…somehow they know how to miss you and grieve you and still hold space to get to know (and even seemingly like) me. She emailed me after our first double date to say:
You were her friend for all those years, so maybe you’re not surprised. But I sure was humbled and shocked by her ability to make room for me. One night in January, before we were engaged, when she greeted us at the beginning of a visit, she looked at my finger to see if there was a ring. She looked disappointed that she wouldn’t be able to use the cute little noisemaker she had picked up from the dollar store that day to celebrate a possible engagement. She’s been great, Carolyn. Really wonderful…she’s fully immersed in the exquisite messiness of grieving you and welcoming me. I can see why you loved her so much.
One of the basketball moms spoke with me as we chatted together during a game we were watching together…one of your friends. (When we sit on those bleachers night after night, it’s a chance to visit too, not just watch basketball, eh? I know you were like that too, Carolyn…many have told me about conversations they have had with you at those games where you asked them about their lives–their hurts and their dreams) The basketball mom admitted it took her a bit of to wrap her head around the idea that your husband was dating me…I liked her candidness about the hard in it…but she was lovingly philosophical about it.
She told me that she remembered when she was expecting her second child, how she was concerned about her ability to love this second one as much as she very much loved her first. The love a mother has for her child can take a person’s breath away. While pregnant, she couldn’t imagine loving her second the way she did the first. At the time, she could hardly imagine having enough love left over from loving the first one to love the second. Would she perhaps have to love the first less? Would the first would be cheated of her love as she stretched that love to cover the second as well?
She told me about these fears she had when she was pregnant and acknowledges that they sound irrational now…but she was pregnant then, and hormonal–you know what’s that like, right? Then she said, “And of course, as soon as the second was born, of course, there’s this whole swelling up of love for this new little one. And I realized that my love didn’t have to be divided. I could love them both–differently, but profoundly. There was no competing for a some sort of finite amount of love.”
She went on to tell me that for her, it was a parallel experience as she figured out how to relate to you and I, Carolyn. That she could miss you and be sad for you. And that she could enjoy me and my company. She had figured it out for herself that being friendly with me didn’t mean being disloyal to you. That being friends with me didn’t disrespect your memory. That she could remember and miss you very much, and be welcoming to me. She had figured out this exquisite messiness in a way that extended grace to both you and I.
They have inspired me to embrace the messy-complicated too. This fall, I will help your husband host the Operation Shoe Box packing party together. We’ve already sent out an email to your friends, to start finding things to purchase…Target is closing out and they have school supplies and toys at great prices. I’m looking forward to celebrating with them a project that was important to you, and that celebrates who you were to each of them.
Your friends have taught me there is no competition, no comparisons. The memory of all of your goodness can be celebrated and treasured and grieved. And I get to be me.
I deeply appreciate the friendly welcome that so many of your friends have extended to me…I treasure it and see it as an extension of your warmth and grace that you so often extended to so many others.