There are maybe a handful of moments I can look back on and remember with perfect clarity. You know the ones. These are the moments that seem to transcend all other things. Time slows down. Your being is filled with emotion. It’s almost unearthly; an “out of body experience” as they say.
I had one of these moments recently. I was sitting in the hospital holding my mom’s hand and watching her take her last breaths. It was unreal. Transcendent. An out of body experience.
It was sudden. One day she was going in for a routine surgery and the next week, she was re-hospitalized after a massive stroke that ultimately resulted in her death. She was 58. I was 26. Both too young for what we were experiencing.
I can remember everything about those last few hours. The sound of Home Alone 2 playing in the background, punctuated by the slow beeping of her heart monitor. The thin white blanket that I wrapped around my body, although the cold inside of me could not seem to get warm. The smell of the pizza we ate by her beside, refusing to leave her even for a few moments. The look of her face, peaceful yet tired.
It is odd how these moments of tragedy bring with them so many emotions. The obvious ones: grief, anger, despair, worry, but also surprising ones: laughter, gratitude, deep love.
I was asked recently to think of a time that I felt deeply loved. This moment, hovered around my mothers bedside, came to mind.
I felt deeply loved by my boyfriend who, although we had not been dating that long, stood by my side throughout the whole process. He got us food, he spoke kind final words to my mother, and he wrapped me in his arms as I cried.
I felt deeply loved by my two sisters who wept with me for the mother we all loved. They held my hands and handed me tissues. They spoke prayers aloud, when I was unable. We linked together like a chain, forever physically and emotionally united by the mother who gave us life.
I felt deeply loved by my two brother-in-laws as I watched them love my family. They supported my sisters without question, jumping to our needs and nursing our broken hearts. They cried with us, for the woman who raised the women that they love.
I felt deeply loved by my mother who loved me unconditionally. And although she would never speak the words again, I never had to doubt that for a second. She had told me she loved me, again and again, through years of care, affirmation, and acts of love.
Somehow, in this small freezing hospital room, I felt more loved than ever before. In my most sad and desperate hour I felt safe, I felt calm, and I felt authentically myself–surrounded by people who loved me at my worst. I realized that in that hospital room, I never had to try and be something that I wasn’t, not even for a second. I grieved in big and ugly tears, I wipe my icky face on my loved ones, I laughed at inappropriate moments, and I prayed my deepest and most earnest prayers aloud.
In Mark 1:11, a voice from heaven calls down to Jesus, “You are my dear son, chosen and marked by my love, pride of my life.” (MSG)
God comes to us in unexpected moments. God calls out and sheds love upon us. As a heavenly parent, God has chosen and marked us with a deep love. It is a love in which we can rest. We can bask in this love, feeling safe, and calm, and fully authentically ourselves.
If the words of a friend or the actions of our church makes us feel anything but this, then that is not love from God. It is something different. It is something dreadfully hateful. We will feel our most worthless, when we let people convince us that these unseemly things are love.
In those moments, however, that transcend. In those moments that you feel truly and deeply loved by the people around you, that is God. That is the embrace of the one of embodies love.
I was challenged in a devotional the other day to “breathe in love and breathe out fear.” It suggested that I sit in silence for several minutes, taking deep breathes. With each breath in, I was meant to breathe in the love of God. With each breath out, release fear.
This breath prayer gave me some rejuvenation after a heavy few weeks. I have so many negative emotions right now, the same grief and despair and anger that filled my heart in the hospital lingers in me now. And yet, I so filled with joy as well. Family. Laughter. Gratitude.
Every day will be hard. Every day will be sad. It will be that way for a while. But I choose, even if only for a few moments, to take time to breathe in love and breathe out fear. And in those breaths, I see God.