Several days ago I found myself in the middle of a cemetery, weeping. I was still getting over a cold so there was snot everywhere and salty mascara stains were smeared across my cheeks. Wayne was patting my arm, his face contorted with concern.
I was not weeping amongst the headstones for why you might think. I was sitting in the driver's seat of our new car, and despite it being my fourth lesson, I could not get it into first gear without stalling. I was crying because I was failing. I was panicking, really. All I could see before me were years and years of Wayne having to shuttle me around, because I wasn't able to figure out how to get our manual car into gear in the middle of an empty cemetery, never mind the middle of rush hour traffic on the Beltline.
"I just want to skip this part," I warble like a pathetic six-year-old. "I just want to know how to do it right and not have to keep on doing it wrong, over and over again. It's too hard."
Wayne nods in careful understanding, a wry smile creeping onto his face. We all know he's going to use that quote in a sermon somewhere down the line.
I knew I was being utterly ridiculous. Spilled milk, and all that. If someone needs to be told to bite the bullet and get on with it, I'll be the first in line to volunteer for the job. I'm self-aware enough to know that I'm not nearly as compassionate as I ought to be. I like to think about and talk about the importance of the difficult challenges we face in our lives and how formative they are to the shaping of our characters. And yet -- I find myself singing the same refrain whenever something hard comes along. Exactly five years ago today I was standing in a frosty cemetery that shimmered with the reds and golds of autumn, my father at my feet, wishing I could jump ahead and skip life's messy parts and get back to that bit where things are a little more balanced, less challenging, where the hard work is done.
As an aside -- is it crass to compare one's grief over her father's death to learning to drive stick? I'd like to think he'd be honoured -- or at least get a bit of a chuckle out of it. Dig up a terrible pun, or something. "Letting up on the clutch too early was a grave mistake!!" etc.
We didn't get to skip over the last five years. We didn't get to skip the early days that were thick with such deep sorrow that it was hard to catch a breath. We didn't get to skip those days where the scent of the cold fall air broke our hearts because that was exactly how his goodnight hugs smelled in November. We didn't get to skip the days where we thought we had things under control because it had been a couple years but then you walk into a Home Hardware and the sweetish smell of new tire rubber and earthy fertilizer and shining waxed floors will slap you in the face and it will take all you've got to make sure you don't collapse into a sea of tears between the rows of glistening screws because there is so much here that is Dad and he might be around the corner in the next aisle hunched over looking at drill bits except that you know he is not.
Life doesn't let you skip those parts.
We have been shaped and burned and dulled and pinched and stretched by the reality of mortality, and I am without doubt that last five years have changed us. They have certainly been formative to our characters -- though we're still trying to figure out what that exactly means. I have not particularly liked the hard parts, but I am aware that they were necessary for getting us to where we are now -- a couple steps further forward, dwelling a little deeper in the peace of Christ.
Because here is the thing -- there is no other real option but onward. And you fight through those hated hard parts and come out on the other side, often feeling better than you did before, and yes, it was painful, but oh! look at what He has done for us!
Around Thanksgiving of last year I happened to be alone at my childhood home, sitting at the kitchen table and morbidly coming to the realization that the weather and the tilt of the sun was identical to the moment that we received that phone call -- and then I nearly fell out of my seat when the phone actually rang. It was my sister, and there was a new baby boy. I was reminded then and still today that the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning (Lam. 3:22-23).
So yes, there are hard bits. There are parts I would rather have skipped. But there is His faithfulness as well, and it is truly great!