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Good Letters

 

The phone rang. My newborn must have been asleep—I have no recollection of her at that moment—but my two preschoolers were with me, and I realized later that I had repeated the horrific news aloud. Thus, for months, my kids sat together at their play table to reenact the conversation.

“What do you mean, shot?”

“She’s dead?”

That evening my husband called from the hospital to say he would be home late, and I foolishly unloaded the news right before he had to perform emergency surgery on an infant. He sucked it down and operated anyway. All night long he bore it while tenuously holding the life of another in his hands.

I didn’t want to be alone so I called my neighbor to come sit with me. Unable to cry, I told her about Emily, who was both thoughtful and smart. Emily who loved the unlovely with compassion. Emily with young children of her own.

As I spoke I realized her youngest child would never remember her.

I was just a few weeks postpartum when she died. My newborn hardly slept and wouldn’t take a bottle. Meanwhile, my sweet but needy preschoolers clamored constantly for attention. Utterly sleep-deprived and with no safe place to cry, I stopped enjoying what I ate, yet frequently snuck into my pantry to sob, grip onto the mounted shelves for support, and stuff chips or chocolate into my mouth. I’d pull it together when one of my kids wandered in to ask for a snack, but I gained weight rather than losing it.

That spring when people saw my baggy eyes and milk-stained shirt they probably thought they saw a woman adjusting to life with three children. But I wasn’t struggling as a new mother of three, I was struggling to persevere in the face of my grief.

And I was barely making it.

In the mornings I woke, put on sweats or sometimes stayed in pajamas, nursed the baby, fed and dressed the kids, buckled them into their car seats, and sobbed for seventeen minutes on the way to preschool. When my son’s teacher finally asked me if I was okay, I broke down and told her the whole story right in the doorway of the classroom.

“Do you believe in God?” she asked.

“Yes,” I answered.

“Well, give it to Him,” she said.

And I knew that was the correct answer. I knew God was in control. I even knew that I was waiting for Jesus to return and renew all things. I simply didn’t know if I could last that long.

As it happened, three days before my friend died, I had purchased Bifrost Arts’ album Lamentations, their musical interpretation of an ancient biblical practice. I started listening to it every day, often during my drive to school.

How long will you turn your face away?
How long?
Do you hear us when we pray?
On and on, still we walk this pilgrim way…
How long?

Listening to Lamentations, I learned that my tears had names: shock, injustice, darkness, and fear. The lyrics gave me a safe place to ask God why, when, and how long? The singers’ soulful voices guided me to question, and rather than judging my need for help, the songs led me to ask for it repeatedly. Thus, just as Biblical figures wore sackcloth and ashes and cried out to God in the streets; I wore pajamas and dirty sweats while I cried the words of Lamentations in my car.

Till you wipe away the tears from every eye.
Till we see our home descending from on high.
Do we wait in vain?
Jesus, give us hope again.

Don’t get me wrong: listening to Lamentations was not enough. I saw a therapist, and the time spent in that chair was invaluable to my healing.

But this will not be the only tragedy I grieve in my life. The already is now, and the not yet seems to be taking forever. So, unless Jesus returns in the next five minutes, I will have to do this again.

I cannot skip lightly over the pain of this world to the doors of heaven. Rather, I traverse the distance as a pilgrim, one footfall after the next. There are times on my path when I think I know this God whom we are allowed to call Papa.

But then I ask, what kind of parent practices the tough love that runs rampant on this earth? How much more do we need to understand our need for salvation before it finally comes?

I have never lived in the garden. I was born broken, and into brokenness. So I war against God. I question the truth. I ask him why he left me here. Then I beg him to come back. He permits this because glossing over the truth of sin, destruction, and the true need for grace builds only a surface-level relationship.

God waits for my call so that he can answer. Finally, my relenting cry sounds during the heat of the argument.

I am allowed to need help with hope.

How long? Sweet the dawn that ends the race.
How long? Weak our hearts but strong our legs.
Looking on—great that cloud of witnesses! How long?

Amen! Jesus Come!
Amen! Jesus Come!
Amen! Jesus Come!
Amen! Jesus Come!


The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Written by: Jessica Eddings-Roeser

Jessica Eddings-Roeser is a writer and mother who currently resides in Charlottesville, Virginia with her husband and three children. Jessica has an MFA in Creative Writing from Seattle Pacific University and a background in education. She writes while her family sleeps. 

  • Colin JE

    I loved this Jessica, thank you

  • Elisabeth Hedrick Moser

    Beautiful work, Jessica. I really appreciate the honesty in this piece and your evocation of the experience of struggling to hold onto faith while being inundated with grief.

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