To sleep: perchance to dream

Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing end them? ...to say we end the heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to, 'tis a consummation devoutly to be wish'd. ~ Hamlet, Act III, Scene I
A few weeks ago, tears sprang to my eyes as I realized that only cat tracks walked up to Echo Woods. Each chapter of suffering is eventually closed, and a new chapter opened. The winter months have brought the realities of suffering with my ill child, first the fury of adaptation to acute illness and now the slow lingering embers that occasionally spark to life and spur us to new realization of what chronic illness means in our home. I had meant to go sit by Teddy's little cairn this winter, process the loss of that babe, try to come to grips with what God has done in my life because of those excruciating moments in November. Instead, the path to that cairn was paved by the kitten, a lonely one way track past the place I meant to pray and learn.

The warming sun brought us out in a flurry of activity when Amelia was better after her latest spinal tap. We tramped through woods, checking sap buckets. We skipped down the road, laid bare by the first warm rays in months. We stomped in mud puddles that were more ice than water. And finally, in the last burst of energy before we headed inside for hot chocolate and long, deep sleep, we walked up to his grave. Laid human footprints in a wide swath to and from that spot we meant to call sacred.

The sun glinted through the frayed ends of the ribbon from the bouquet we laid on top of the stones. Everything about the place felt forgotten. The virgin blanket of snow had turned to ice crystals on which we slipped and fell, as the melting snow from four hills descended upon the little ledge where pets and babies sleep beneath the drifts. I felt something ring hollow as I stepped into the clearing, the three girls tramping past to visit Climbing Maple Tree for the first time in months, Caleb plunking down stolidly on the little stool after the long trek up the hill. I walked over and tried to find the pile of stones we left there last November. Buried deep, it took a few minutes of frantic digging, a few tears falling on my mittened hands.

The flowers were frozen, not a hint of decay. Just as green as when I laid them there. The stones were wet with the spring run-off cascading beneath the snow and down the valley. It was just a brief moment, me on my knees with the snow soaking through. Me on my knees still in consternation, still in pain, still in longing for the home to which this dear babe was called. Soon enough, the children descended again, each plucking a stem of leaves from the bouquet on Teddy's grave. Waving them like banners back down the hill, where we plucked moss off a tree to further interrogate indoors, stuck fingers in wood-pecker wounds on the maples, gathered sawdust. Their voices rang through the clearing, dispelling the grief that hung there, shrouding this place, in my moment of peace.

We walk from one sorrowing place to another, from one grief to the next. I wonder sometimes when all of this - cancer, death, illness, brain damage, bad news upon bad news - will come crashing down. I wonder how strong the beams of this house of faith really are, and know I will soon know in ways I never wanted to. As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. (Joshua 24:15) It was written on the door frames before the walls went up. It is written now in the entryway. We proclaim it now, proclaimed it then - but did we know then what it meant? Did we know it meant this sacrificing, sorrowing, softening, sojourning, sinning, sanctifying, satisfice, scenographic discovery of souls and faith and pain and joy? I remember learning this lesson in miniature as a teenager coming to grips with all that my decision to believe God entailed: as C.S. Lewis wrote in The Problem of Pain,
The great spirit you so lightly invoked, the 'lord of terrible aspect', is present: not a senile benevolence that drowsily wishes you to be happy in your own way, not the cold philanthropy of a conscientious magistrate, nor the care of a host who feels responsible for the comfort of his guests, but the consuming fire Himself, the Love that made the worlds, persistent as the artist's love for his work and despotic as a man's love for a dog, provident and venerable as a father's love for his child; jealous, inexorable, exacting as love between the sexes.
Yes, back then, I came to grips with the fact that I had so "lightly invoked" the Creator of the universe; He was inexorably interested, involved, and inherent in my life from that point forward. Now I come to grips with a new level of consequence to that decision. I learned long ago that I could neither run nor hide from an omnipresent God. I learn now that I can neither run nor hide from His sanctifying hand in the circumstances of my life - that He will offer me my cross, again and again. My reaction to my cross will not erase the heaviness of it's burden on my shoulder. Only by casting the care of it onto His almighty shoulder will my burden be lightened. If I choose instead to cast it on the ground and run into the darkness that is all life where His face does not shine, I trade the million small, shared sufferings of sanctification for the living death that is life without Hope.
Nothing is inexorable but Love. If the man resists the burning of God, the consuming fire of Love, what sick dismay shall then seize upon him! For let a man think and care ever so little about God, he does not therefore exist without God. God is here with him, upholding, warming, delighting, teaching him - making life a good thing to him. God gives him himself, though he knows it not. When the man feels himself abandoned, hanging in a ceaseless vertigo of existence upon the verge of the gulf of his being, without support, without refuge, without aim, without end - for the soul has no weapons wherewith to destroy herself - with no inbreathing of joy, with nothing to make life good. Then will he listen in agony for the faintest sound of life from the closed door; then, if the moan of suffering humanity ever reaches the ear of the outcast of darkness, he will be ready to rush into the very heart of the Consuming Fire to know life once more, to change this terror of sick negation, of unspeakable death, for that region of painful hope. Imagination cannot mislead us into too much horror of being without God - that one living death. Is not this, "to be worse than worst, Of those that lawless and incertain thoughts imagine howling?" ~ George MacDonald, The Consuming Fire
Here I am, in this place of "painful hope". After these thoughts, these images, flooded my consciousness a week and a half ago, I was plunged headlong again into the trial of Amelia's continued illness. I find that the suffering of the loss of my babe is but a wave on an ocean of suffering, and here I am cresting another wave, another grief. It is overwhelming, to see the "whelming flood" of suffering that intervenes between this point of my life and the other shore. Only when I grasp blindly, tightly, His covenant, His blood - then can I wash through these waves without sinking.
His oath, His covenant, His blood
Support me in the whelming flood
When all around my soul gives way
He then is all my Hope and Stay