(A number of years ago, I learned from my priest the beautiful practice of writing a letter on Thanksgiving Day to thank someone. Today, I write my letter here to one of my most faithful readers who passed away yesterday, leaving this life so as to enter the heart of God.)
My dear one,
I'm sure if you were here you would be protesting me writing a letter to thank you. You were always so humble and grateful to me for walking with you, for the time and words I shared with you. Toward the end, I think you began to truly understand that I was but an emissary for the living God who loved you immeasurably. And I'm sure that now you understand it more completely than I do.
I need to thank you, however, and probably should have thanked you long ago. You have taught me so much. From you, I have learned a great deal about suffering and fear and pain and doubt. But more importantly, I learned even more from you about courage and love and faith.
I can hear you protesting, even from heaven. You say that you learned from me, not I from you. You say that you were none of these things. But you were. And you bore witness in a way that I never could.
Over the years, you shared with me some of the deepest pains I have ever heard come from the mouth of another person. I remember, years ago, when you first revealed them, you disappeared from my life for about 2-3 years because that first opening had been so very frightening.
But you came back. Little by little, you told me more, telling me things you had never told anyone before. You entrusted to me your deepest secrets, climbing over mountains of fear and shame.
If that is not courage, I do not know what is.
In the midst of relating the horrible abuses and abandonments of your childhood, you would often tell me that you were sure that there were millions of people who had had it much worse than you. I could not imagine who these poor souls were than could have had it "much worse". One day I asked you. You were thinking of all of the suffering people the world over who did not even have food to eat or roofs over their heads...
In addition to your profound emotional pain, you also suffered serious medical conditions that would scare most of us half to death. And then there was the physical pain, so severe at times that you could only lie in bed, trying to hang on until it eased up.
I know that there were many, many times when you wanted to give up, when you wanted simply to end your life to be free of all of this suffering. Yet for years you fought these demons of despair with the only weapon you had: love. You loved your family (and most undeservedly, me) so much that you endured your suffering so as not to hurt us by your suicide.
You chose the right weapon. And you won the battle. I am so proud of you.
And now, faith. On this one, I can really hear you protesting. You wanted faith, you wanted to believe in a loving God but...
All of us find it hard at times to believe in the One we cannot see or comprehend. But you had more reasons to question than most of us. How could a loving God have taken so many loved ones from you so early in life? How could a loving God have permitted the abuses you endured? Why didn't this loving God take away your pain when you begged Him to?
I could never really answer these questions for you, of course. But I kept writing about them. Did you know that you were the "little one" in the story of The broken wing? (Most especially in the recent sequel?) Of course, there were others, including myself, incorporated into the formation of that character but they were written for you.
These stories, I believe, were given to me by the Holy One Himself to help you - and others like you - with these questions. (By the way, we are all "like you" when it comes to these questions.)
Despite your struggles with faith, you hungered for it like no one else. Even during the times when you could not believe, you returned again and again to this blog to read about the God you didn't believe in. You began to tell me, "I want what you have," and you came to believe that I would help you find it.
I reminded you many times that it was not me but Him who would bring you to that place - but I understood too that perhaps it was in my unworthy self that you felt safest encountering Him.
You asked me to share books with you and you devoured them, everything from Anthony Bloom's Beginning to Pray to C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia. Some of them you read 2-3 times before returning them to me. I started running out of things to recommend.
Two years ago, you shared with me a premonition that you would not live much longer. I took this seriously but didn't quite know what to do with it. We talked about it now and then and you didn't seem to feel that your life was going to end in suicide. But you knew you weren't going to be here much longer.
You didn't want to leave behind the ones you loved but it was as though what was coming was as inevitable as the sunrise.
Just in the last few weeks, you practically begged me for any spiritual reading I could recommend for you. I could not think of anything and was in the process of telling you that I'd think about it, when two titles popped into my head: Proof of Heaven, by Dr. Eban Alexander, and Heaven is for Real, by Todd Burpo. (They are both stories of near death experiences, the first related by a neurosurgeon, the second related by a father sharing his 4 year old son's experience.)
Two weeks later, you had read them both. And liked them. Did you know that you were making last minute preparations to go there yourself? I didn't - but I do now.
You indeed had faith. Perhaps not the kind of faith that has answers to all the questions or that can recite dogmas and doctrines. But you longed for God as truly as any saint.
You were always quick to tell me that you knew you were no saint. And that's true. None of us are saints - until God makes us so. And I believe now, at last, He has made you part of the Community of Eternal Love, bringing you back to Himself, back to your true Home. Please pray for us.
And, by the way, thank you.
(I was blessed to be talking on the phone with this lovely person when cardiac arrest occurred. At the time, it was a frightening experience because there was no warning and I could not tell what was happening. EMS arrived and, through emergency medical care, they were able to restart the body's heart for a time so that family could say goodbye. Then, mercifully, God took His loved one to Himself.)