i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart) …
e. e. cummings
Thanks to Sarah Thebarge, author of The Invisible Girls, for encouraging me to ask this question: “What stories do I carry with me in my heart today?”
Here’s a story that has been in my heart for a long time. Today I’m writing it down. For the first time.
Beware of Selfishness
There were a lot of tears on my 17th birthday. And my tears were tears of selfishness.
When I was 16, we had a murder in our family. My Uncle Charlie Wasson, my Dad’s only living brother, was murdered in his own home. In his apartment above his business in a suburb of Detroit.
Murders didn’t happen in small-town families like mine. I had no frame of reference for a tragedy like this.
I can still see my Mom as she stood in the kitchen, holding the phone receiver to her ear, then crying and yelling, “No!” Then turning to my sister Barb and me, saying, “Uncle Charlie. He’s dead.”
What did I say? Something selfish. A selfish version of what I thought I’d heard in Sunday School. Without knowing any of the details. “This is God’s will.”
I thought I was being a good Christian girl. A loving daughter. A source of comfort in an unimaginable situation.
My Mom turned to me with angry tears in her eyes. “Uncle Charlie was murdered by some robbers. This isn’t God’s will.”
I didn’t know what to do with that. At age 16.
The next few days unfolded in a blur. Relatives whom we hadn’t seen in a long time came to our home. I overheard my Dad and his sisters making plans for Uncle Charlie’s funeral.
Then the horror of all this struck me. The funeral was going to be on my 17th birthday. My golden birthday.
I proceeded through the next few days as the perfectly behaved Wasson daughter, niece, and cousin. I did my best to stay out of the way of all the grief that pours forth in the wake of a tragic death.
But inside, my selfishness was seething. How could they? Didn’t they know it was my birthday?
I make no excuses for myself. That was definitely the height of self-centeredness in my life. And that was probably when the battle began inside me. The battle between my own needs and everyone else’s needs. The battle to be the perfect whoever, no matter what was happening around me. The battle between submission, omission, and commission.
After an interminable day — the funeral, the graveside service at the cemetery, the weeping relatives in our dining room — everyone was gone. Then my Mom set a birthday cake on our kitchen table. She and my Dad began to sing to me. My sister was crying. I know they meant well, but it was a horrible attempt at celebration. My worst birthday ever, but certainly not my most confusing one.
God intervened, and I didn’t even realize it. My birthday gift from my Mom and Dad was my own hardback copy of The New English Bible. My first Bible in a language I could understand and appreciate. I still have it. I’m holding that Bible right now and reading the inscription in my Mom’s handwriting: “To Laura on her 17th birthday. Love from Mother and Daddy.”
The day ended. The next day dawned. Life went on. The murderers were captured and went to trial. Uncharacteristically for my Dad, he traveled to Detroit and attended the trial. That’s all I really know except for what I read in a newspaper article I later found among my parents’ possessions.
I have a lot of regrets about that time in my life. For years, I tortured myself with the tension between what was, what might have been, and what I wish would have happened.
Lord, please forgive my self-centeredness and selfishness. My relatives had to make plans that worked for them, and I was only one person in the horrible, confusing mix. My parents were doing the best they knew how to do in an unprecedented, life-altering situation. And in the midst of their own grief. I don’t blame them for trying to keep our life as normal as possible. I know they were just trying to show me how much they loved me.
Today, when I remember that whole situation, I no longer feel sorry for myself. Today, I feel most sorry for my kids by marriage. Their dad passed away right before Thanksgiving, and their mom passed away right before Christmas. To have deaths, memorial services, and grief associated with special days of the year is a heavy load to bear.
Each of us has days, times, seasons of the year that we associate with the horrors of life on earth. Take heart, beloved. God is bigger, mightier, stronger, closer on those days than at any other times.
We will always miss those we’ve lost. On some days, we miss them more.
We will always have regrets about how we behaved in certain situations. On some days, those regrets will hurt more.
No matter what you’re bearing, Jesus is there to carry the load for you. If you’ll let him. Please do. Take it from me. That is weight you definitely want to lose. Your journey will be much easier when you do.
There's a song by Josh Garrels that sums up this experience for me so well. Click here to listen to "At the Table" from his "Home" album.
“The Lord always keeps his promises; he is gracious in all he does. The Lord helps the fallen and lifts those bent beneath their loads” (Psalm 145:13-14).
Laura Warfel is a widow, writer, and follower of Jesus Christ. Her greatest joy is to bring others along with her on her faith journey. In 2015, because of the encouragement of the Launch Out Conference and Jon Acuff, she launched More Than A Widow on Facebook and Twitter. Today she blogs, tweets, and posts to help widows (and those who know them) find encouragement, hope, and resources for the journey. Her goal is to help all widows live beyond the label and live as more than a widow.
Copyright © 2017 by Laura Warfel