Five Years

 

“Some say of temporal suffering, ‘No future bliss can make up for it,’ not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into glory.”
–CS Lewis

Yesterday marked five years since Mom passed away. I do miss her terribly some days, longing to hear her voice or touch her hand, but time has done its work smoothing over the sharp edges of her absence that cut so deeply at first.

But on the anniversary of her passing, I labor to turn my thoughts to happier days with her and to recall her as she was before she got sick. I’ve come to realize that although it’s good to remember Mom, the better way to mark the 18th of March is to fix my thoughts on the present and the future. Mom is present with the Lord now and her future is secure. I will see her again, unencumbered by sickness or the limitations set on us by time and mortality.

I wrote the following piece several months after Mom died in 2013. I post it again now as a way of looking back, but also as a way of looking forward to a better day.

If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.  1 Corinthians 15:19

I love looking at pictures of my mother before she got sick. In those photographs she is how I remember her, happy and surrounded by family. If I had known how much I would miss that part of her life, perhaps I would have paid more attention, taken less for granted. Somehow, these images on paper console me. Bittersweet, yes, but a comfort nonetheless, and some days I need the comfort.

My siblings and I were privileged to be with Mom the last few hours of her life. In waiting, we experienced the most unlikely pairing of impatience and dread. It was hard to watch her suffer, hence the impatience. It was tough knowing she would soon leave this world, hence the dread. This would be the moment we most feared and the moment we’d been waiting for, the moment we would always remember and the moment we would long to forget. A perplexing contradiction of emotions where reality bit hard and we bled pure helplessness.

In a romanticized version of death, the dying patient appears at rest. In her final moments she is able to utter her last words and squeeze her loved one’s hand. In that account, people weep softly and say that dying is just a natural part of life, that one must accept it as such. But I found death to be painful and heart-rending and devastatingly unnatural. Death has claws and fangs and knows no finesse. The scars will not soon heal. Watching your mother die hurts.

I have questions. Mom could not articulate, but she was able to cry out. What was she trying to say? Was she thirsty? In pain? Did she know we were there? (I do think she did know, by the way.) Some questions, I don’t dare ask others because I know they don’t have the answers either. Why burden them with that? Some mysteries are best left for God to unravel, or not, as He sees fit.

There are also certain memories of those last hours that will remain unspoken. It’s as if to do so would somehow cheapen the recollection, devalue the treasure. I will keep them to myself, take them out now and then and examine the facets, scrutinize the details, and relive the most distressing and beautiful hours of my life.

To an outsider, there was nothing about Mom that would have been attractive that night. But we were not outsiders. We had years of history with her. We were her babies. She had labored with us and loved us and kept us safe. She was our mother, our teacher, our confidant and friend. She had agonized with us in our struggles and celebrated with us in our joys. Our being there was inextricably tethered to a specific context and saturated through and through with what our time on this earth together had allowed, a lifetime of memories bound up in the unbreakable bands of maternal love. No, we were not repulsed.

We leaned in.

We drew close to her because we loved her. We tried the best we could to give comfort. (Oh, how she had so often comforted us!) But, One leaned in closer than all the rest. One leaned in because He loved her more and better than all the rest. Jesus was with us that night, as real and as sure as the room we were standing in. Jesus leaned in with a blood-secured love for one of His own and first-hand experience in what it meant for Mom to suffer. His wounds spoke to her wounds, and He leaned in with the power and urgency of a Savior able to save. In dying, Mom let loose of my hand and was plucked away from death to life by sacred Hands that will never let her go.

Death is ugly and raw, but faith implores me to plant my feet and stand. I know that my Redeemer lives. Someday, all sickness and death will be banished forever. The misery and suffering we face on this side of Heaven are temporary, momentary and light compared to what awaits us in Glory. Part of that lightening is that Mom will be there waiting for us.

“And I’ll be waiting on the far side banks of Jordan…
And when I see you coming, I will rise up with a shout,
And come running through the shallow waters reaching for your hand!” *

I miss you terribly, Mom. But, someday I will lean in to where you are and join you in singing praises to our King.

…He will wipe every tear from our eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.  Revelation 21:4

By His Grace and for the Gospel,
Terrie van Baarsel

* Far Side Banks of Jordan, by Terry Smith

Blood Moon Manna

About a week or so ago, as my daughter-in-love and I were leaving with the kids for a trip to the beach, I accidentally backed into her car. Not just any car, their new (to them) car. A beautiful car with nary a scratch nor dent. A car that my son and daughter-in-love were so happy to have purchased. A car that fit and served their family’s needs perfectly.

To say that I reacted poorly would certainly be an understatement. I was mad at myself for being so careless. I felt sad that I had damaged their car. Oh, that sickening CRUNCH! When the reality of what you’ve done is solidified.

My struggles with sin and failure over the previous few days welled up and spilled out, a mixture of anger, frustration, helplessness, and tears.

Of course, my son and daughter-in-love responded graciously. My husband (as always) reacted calmly. But I was not about to let myself get off so easily. I beat myself up pretty good over it.

About 5:30 the following morning, I received a short text from my son: “Blood Moon now if you’re up.” In this case, it was a super blue blood moon, a total lunar eclipse. Yes, I was up and soon positioned myself outside on the balcony to watch.

The morning air was not uncomfortably cold. It was still dark, but I could hear the world around me beginning to stir. I thought about the people starting their work day. How many of them would completely miss the astronomical wonder unfolding above them?

I thought about the kindness of my son’s reminder. I thanked the Lord for him and my daughter-in-love, for my husband, my other two children, all my grandchildren, and for the undeserved Grace and privilege of being a wife, mother, and grandmother.

I remembered what I had been reading earlier that morning about how the children of Israel complained to Moses, “…you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” I thought about God’s gracious and miraculous provision for them, Manna. I thought of my own grumbling heart and how the LORD had always  provided for me in spite of it.

I tried to imagine our solar system, the planets, sun, moon and stars all following their appointed course. My imagination wondered at the immensity of the universe and marveled at the power and wisdom of the One who created it.

I thought about the grandiosity of the Great Artist’s rendering unfurled above me, His canvas the dark morning sky, His subject the moon, His brush dipped into the richest of purples and reds to paint a celestial masterpiece no mortal could ever hope to duplicate.

…all things were created through Him and by Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.
(Col 1:16,17)

I felt small sitting on my little balcony, my life a tiny speck in the grand order of things. I realized I had come outside hungry of heart, but how long can a soul go unfed in the glorious presence of such a God as this?

When I look at Your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? (Ps 8:3,4)

And so it came to be that my soul was put at ease. I rested then, my hunger satisfied and my heart warmed by peace that passes understanding.

This, my bread from Heaven. Blood Moon Manna.

An Appeal to Eve


(Photo shows Eva (bottom) and her mother, Minnie.)

An Appeal to Eve is a poem written about my grandfather’s sister, Eva. Unmarried and pregnant in 1923, Eva would leave home and go live with her maternal grandparents. As a result, she took her own life at only 16 years old.

Eva was never spoken of while I was growing up. I only learned of her existence well into my adulthood. I cannot imagine the grief this situation would have caused to both Eva and her family.

My aunt discovered one of Eva’s dolls last year and asked if I would like to have it. For me, Eva’s doll is a poignant reminder of Eva as a young girl and of the crisis she faced as a young woman who felt hopeless in her brokenness. I pray that although her story is sad that my poem conveys the possibility of hope even in the most desperate of circumstances.

This is the text of the note Eva left for her mother:

Tulsa Oklahoma
April 26, 1923

 Dear Sweet Little Mother,
You have been the sweetest of all mothers and have done everything in your power for me and don’t think I don’t love you for I do but am so tired of being away from you and mother dear please forgive me for all the things you didn’t want me to do and for all the cross things I have said to you. And please be good to the *little boys and always remember me as your sweet little daughter.
                                                        –Eva
*The “little boys” Eva mentions here are my grandfather and his two brothers.

AN APPEAL TO EVE
     -by Terrie van Baarsel

eve’s doll,
what stories can you tell
of a girl who lost her way
buffeted by guilt
over the life she carried
and fatally bruised by shame?

eve’s doll,
please tell me her stories
of anguish fierce and grief sharp
of spiraling disgrace
snaking upward
crashing earthward
heavy as stones
unrelenting to the crushing of her soul.

eve’s doll,
look at me
do you see her weakness as mine?
can you perceive the human condition
that binds us together?
and like the first Eve
we hide
and every woman hides and waits.

eve’s doll,
your silence bears witness to judgment and pain
but the question still remains
can human hearts once broken
be made whole again?
and how many eves do I meet on my way
and fail to offer up even a morsel of hope?

eve’s doll,
please tell her for me
and in the telling tell all eves
there is respite at the cross
where consequences to sin are limited by Grace
and mercy points boldly to the Gospel store.

(I hope she heard the sound of Him walking
in the garden
in the cool of the day…
I hope she heard His voice calling
“eve, where are you?”)

eve’s doll, you have not been forgotten and neither has she.