Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Goodbye: God as Musical Director

Prelude: This post will be best enjoyed if you read, then listen to each clip (really listening to the lyrics) and then continue on reading until you come to the next musical clip, etc. I put these song clips in here for a reason because this is how I experienced them. I wish you to have a similar soaring experience.
I wish to share a night of intense loss and redeeming hope. Quite ironically, or, perhaps divinely, a series of songs by Casting Crowns' album, "Lifesong" is a perfect background for this night, for this drive to Lauren's house.

Let me first tell you of the miracle of my 7-year-old's empathy. She gave me a card that read, "I hope thte you fell batr." I hope you feel better. Wasn't that what Jesus and his disciples were saying (I'm paraphrasing and imagining)? My brother, my sister, I hope that you feel better. Listen to the Word of God.

I took her card with me and started my thirty-minute drive to Lauren's apartment. I turned on Casting Crowns' "Lifesong" and listened to the first track. It made me feel determined and hopeful.

So may the words I say
And the things I do
Make my lifesong sing
Bring a smile to You

It was a drive through dusk, the sun just beginning to grow weary of holding itself up. I could feel its apologies to me for providing the darkness I would later be enveloped in. Track two came on, "Praise You Through this Storm" and I got a pang in my chest. This was a painful song that transformed me into the song's narrator:

I was sure by now, God,
that You would have reached down

and wiped our tears away,
stepped in and saved the day.
But once again, I say amen
and it's still raining

as the thunder rolls

I barely hear You whisper through the rain,
"I'm with you"
and as Your mercy falls
I raise my hands and praise
the God who gives and takes away.

And I'll praise you in this storm
and I will lift my hands
for You are who You are
no matter where I am
and every tear I've cried
You hold in your hand
You never left my side
and though my heart is torn
I will praise You in this storm

I remember when I stumbled in the wind
You heard my cry to You
and raised me up again
my strength is almost gone how can I carry on
if I can't find You
and as the thunder rolls
I barely hear You whisper through the rain
"I'm with you"
and as Your mercy falls
I raise my hands and praise
the God who gives and takes away


I lift my eyes onto the hills
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth
I lift my eyes onto the hills
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth

I sobbed and cried. I felt the loss. I recognized the desperate feeling from when Mom died. I tried to tell myself that Lauren wasn't dying; I would see her again, but my cellular memory knew this pain too well to listen to reason. I let myself cry while trying to safely drive.

Lauren and I met in January of 2001 at a support group. For what, it does not matter. The facilitator introduced us to each other, specifically, because she knew we were both writers. And sure enough, we bonded over writing. Therapy and writing. We both got jobs at an indie psychology bookstore and frequented the nearby Starbucks and Thai restaurant - both places where we gave each other prompts to write about. We'd have tea at the Thai place and tiny cucumber salads which were spicy and sweet.

That November, Lauren and I had grown close enough to decide to move to Madison together. It was in a different state, away from family. We had become each other's family, though - fast and furious - and we loved it. We were two peas in a nicely decorated pod. We went to open mic's together. I would sing a song (we preferred Tori Amos) and she'd do a "sign language dance" to it. Only she could make sign language into a dance. She got into home health care as a job and I worked at the local, hip, indie bookstore - the literary hub of the town.

I found that I leaned on Lauren to be many roles in my life. Sometimes my parent or my impetuous daughter who brought out the fun in me. Other times she'd be my conscious - warning me I was falling in love with someone too fast.

Soon into that time period, she met her husband-to-be. After I let my fingernails release her arm and my jealousy subsided, the three of us became good friends. Then the time came for Lauren and her love to move in together and I moved in with my then-boyfriend. I entered graduate school, Lauren and her man got married. All through that, though, Lauren and I remained the closest of confidants. I broke up with then-boyfriend and she supported me as only a true sister could.

I never knew the meaning of "best friend" until November 6th, 2006, when, at 1:30am, I called her sobbing, telling her Mom had died. She said she was on her way to me - a forty-minute ride, pregnant belly and all.

Learning to live without my mother, it was tempting to project that neediness onto Lauren and seek my mothering out from her, but she had healthy enough boundaries to prevent this. I was needy, though, and she provided me with great love and comfort.

When her daughter, A.B., was born, she called her my niece. I was so proud of that title. Here was this beautiful baby that I would get to watch grow up. I beamed at that knowledge.

A few years passed, Lauren lived with husband and baby in a nearby town. I met and married my beloved husband, inheriting three children, and suddenly, we both had families and less time to hang out on Saturday nights and watch "thirtysomething," for example.

This time of separating from each other, like two egg yokes separating into two distinct yellow blobs (not saying we were blobs) happened almost without me knowing. Lauren began to have trouble with her marriage and yet she was pregnant again. I had my own issues with being a new wife and stepmother. We stayed in touch, but roughly.

I began to feel her loss. She retreated to her own anxiety. She had so much to deal with. A failing marriage and a newborn: A.S. A beautiful baby girl, my second niece. Sadly, Lauren's husband walked out on them. He had turned into an unrecognizable man from when I knew him well.

Poor Lauren spiraled into anxiety and burdens beyond her capabilities. She had a household and her young kids to support, plus hold it together for them while her heart shattered. The decision to move to Texas with her girls was not an unexpected one, but it did punch me in the stomach when I thought about it selfishly. My Lauren, states away when she was always just right there.

I cried and cried, but I think it was over our initial friendship and closeness. The fact was, we had been living our own lives for a few years now. I made myself see the reality: Lauren would be going to a place where family could take care of her and her family. She would go back to school and all that was the best decision for her and her newly arranged family.

Still, now and then, I think selfishly. Lauren is a fixture I just always depended on, like a beautiful chandelier in my dining room that was always lit. I never thought the room would go dim.

The car ride seemed to take forever. Beautiful music played. Casting Crowns' "Prodigal" made me feel especially vulnerable. Read lyrics here and then listen to it. I always thought it interesting that the term "Daddy" would be used for God.

Help me get through the next few minutes...
that's just about as far ahead as I can look...

And just as I was crying out to God, as in the song, to "Daddy," I neared Lauren's home. The song, "And Now My Lifesong Sings" came on and I listened to the whole of it before I went inside.

I tried to soak my tears into my sleeve as I remembered the Bible verse from "To Praise You Through this Storm:"

I lift my eyes onto the hills
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth
Psalm 121: 1-2

I went inside and stayed for around two hours while she finished up packing. Friends came and picked up their cats, Francis and Sophia. Three-year-old A.B. cried with such heartache, "I want my Francis" as he was carried out the door (the process was much more well-planned and nurturing than I am writing here). My heart broke as I held A.S. in my arms. This niece who I wouldn't see grow up day by day or week by week. Soon after, I cried again as I told Lauren that I had to say my goodbye. We went into the hallway and hugged.

"I can't do this," I sobbed into her shoulder, my knees buckling.

"Yes, you can," she whispered and hugged me tight.

We clutched onto each other until I tore away, feeling too intense a pain to fully feel in public. I said I just had to go and left, sputtering tears all the way to my car. Once inside, all I felt was every loss I ever experienced. I yearned for my parents, I yearned for Lauren, for her constant constantness, her familiarity, the language that only she and I spoke. I felt the beginning of a meltdown; pieces of my heart started to scatter, pieces of my sanity began to sink.

I turned on the radio and prayed to God to give me a song. Never doubt your prayers, your raw aching calls. This is what I got:

"He Will Carry Me" by Mark Schultz

I took great comfort in that song. I'd loved it already, but it took on new meaning. I drove to a remote spot down the block and parked. I let go of my pain and felt God's arms encircle me and take me up. The song and His embrace reassured me I would be okay. If I doubted, God (as interventional D.J.) played this next:

"Voice of Truth" by Casting Crowns

I drove home listening to any quiet voices in my mind. His echoed the song's: Do not be afraid.

I arrived home much faster, it seemed, than it took to drive in the other direction. My husband was there to hold and comfort me. And I needed him and was grateful he was there for me.
But as we prayed that night, I thanked God, especially, for coming to me in song. In the poetry of lyrics.

I knew I would be okay as long as I kept my faith, as long as I knew who the ultimate best friend was: He who calms fears and eases burdens.

For my yoke is easy and my burden is light
Matthew 11:30

Goodbye for now, Lauren. I love you endlessly and infinitely. I will see you soon. When next I see you, you better have a tan.

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