Sunday our pastor preached on Psalm 77, a psalm of both lament and praise. At the end of his sermon he had a couple, the Shepherd's, come to the front to share about their experience walking through their son Colin's cancer diagnosis and treatment. Psalm 77 was the epitome of what they have felt over the past several months.
I didn't expect tears to come. This was the Shepherd's story, not mine. But my own feelings of fear, desperation, and confusion rushed in like an olympic sprinter. Some of the darkest days of Colin's cancer coincided with the scariest weeks of my sister McKenzie's heart attack and subsequent hospitalization. As I watched Mark and Jen share, the heaviness still evident on their foreheads, the tension still obvious in their posture and words, the emotions of walking through my sister's sickness shot up like geyser from somewhere deep within.
It's been a little over six months since McKenzie had her heart attack. She still is struggling to get back into normal life, or her "new normal," as I like to call it. But she has improved so much. But just as the heart needs well more than six months to regain its function after myocardial infarction, our souls heal slowly from trauma.
And so I found myself sobbing in the back of the church, wordless, hurting. It was as though my body and heart were remembering the pain of December and January. Mark Shepherd had shared how on one specific day he had to "release" Colin to God, to give him over to God to care for and do His will, knowing Colin's health and life were entirely out of his control. That might have been where the tears started, remembering giving McKenzie over to Jesus that dark, long night in December when we thought she was dying. It's not the same. I'm not her parent; I'm just her sister. But the spiritual act of placing Kenzie in Jesus' hands and in my heart saying goodbye was the hardest thing I have ever had to do in my life.
Even now, I'm sobbing. I was fine when I started writing, and now my face is covered with tears.
Sunday poignantly reminded me of the well of emotion stored deep in me after McKenzie's health crisis. Towards the end of January we were all moving on, out of the hospital, and back to the demands of everyday life. I went back to school, focused on my own frustrating health issues, and resumed the responsibilities of church and work. There wasn't time to sit and cry, to sleep and reflect. Sure, we sat and cried, analyzed and hoped, for weeks in my sister's hospital room. But those were weeks of waiting and crying out for her very life. What we didn't have time for in the aftermath of it all was space to break and recover. Instead the breaking has happened slowly in quiet, unexpected moments. It's not often, but when it happens I'm reminded how deeply my sister's trauma affected me.
And this is how life works. There really isn't time to cry away all of the tears stored deep in my heart so that I don't break the next time I hear about a family facing a crisis like ours did.
But when my heart breaks and the now-familiar tears emerge, I let them come, even if briefly. And I let my heart "remember the deeds of the Lord," to remember that my God is "the God who works wonders." (Ps. 77: 11, 14) And in the broken hearts of others, like the Shepherd's, I can see afresh that "The Lord is the strength of his people; he is the saving refuge of his anointed." (Psalm 28:8, ESV) While Colin is doing so much better, his future health remains uncertain, much like McKenzie's (as much as we all don't want to think about it). In our remaining tears and tension, we have to let the Lord be our strength, to let his love soothe our lingering fears. Sunday that looked like letting my tears flow, even if briefly, knowing God was present holding me. He's my strength, he's my family's strength. And it's beautiful to see he is the Shepherd's strength too.