It is over twenty years ago now that my friend Carol died tragically in an ambulance accident. She was a paramedic, and was coming back to her ambulance station from a transfer to the city. It was pouring rain, a miserable night in January.
The next evening we gathered at our church, shocked, and grieving. Carol and her husband had four children, all at home. We had walked together and studied together. It was hard to take in; to believe she was actually gone.
And I remember well our Youth Pastor uttering these words that night, “Life is hard, and then you die.”
I have never forgotten those moments. How we all grieved, as we also tried to be the helpers, the comforters. And we also tried to make sense of it.
Sometimes life IS hard. As a chaplain, I see it regularly. And as I seek to bring comfort and hope and faith, I find it is also helpful to just admit it…life can be HARD. It is hard when a person struggles with unbearable pain or depression. It is hard when a young child struggles with a difficult disease. It is hard to sit at the bedside of your parent and know you are saying good-bye.
Life is messy. We see it in the political storms around the globe. We see it in a world rocked by terror. We see it in the youth who I’ve read about recently who experience child-labour and slavery. It is hard for women in the middle East and other places who don’t have a voice, and we were shocked to hear lately that some are still stoned… these things are horrific.
There are days it would be nice just to bury one’s head in the proverbial sand and pretend it isn’t happening. I’m so incredibly proud of my niece Jessie who flew to Africa this week with International Justice Mission to help some of the most marginalized children who have come from slavery.
Recently I read this incredible book The Color of Grace by Bethany Haley Williams, where she chronicles the stories of children who have come from horrific torture in the Congo. She believes their stories need to be told, and she seeks to bring healing to their lives. It is not an easy read, but an important one.
This week my hubby encouraged me to doodle the words, “Life is Beautiful”. I struggled with that at first, as my heart had been full of concern this week for loved ones, with sadness for many I knew who were going through difficult times, with anger at some of the injustices we see and hear about.
And yet… I thought back to the amazing movie “Life is Beautiful” about a Jewish family who become victims of the Holocaust, and their incredible courage and passion for living; you watch it and your life is changed because you realize that even in the hard times… Life is beautiful.
My hubby was also inspired by the life of Etty Hillesum, also a Holocaust survivor who is called a Celebrant of Life. Isn’t that beautiful? Her writings and journals of her positive spirit under horrific circumstances are documented in the book: Etty Hillesum: An Interupted Life and Letters from Westerbork.
I wandered outside the other day, thinking about these things, and was immediately captured by a birdsong. We have one larger tree in our front yard, full of green, but at the top a naked branch reaches out to the sky.
Atop this branch sat the most beautiful little yellow bird, and I was convinced it was singing to me. I stood there, entranced, and the bird sang on…it was one of those mystical moments, personal, comforting and it felt to me that God was singing… or at least sending me the message “I see the bigger picture. I care.”
As I enjoyed the beauty of this song, I was truly grateful. And mindful. That even in the hard times…
…that life truly can be beautiful.
The LORD your God in the middle of you is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over you with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over you with singing.