I never know quite what to do in this situation. Do I just say that I have a 15-year-old daughter named Bethany, and leave it at that? Or do I risk the gasps of shock and murmurs of sympathy and say that I have two daughters...one of them in Heaven? I hate making people uncomfortable or drawing undue attention to myself, but at the same time, it just doesn't feel honest to tell people that I have only have one child.
I didn't have very long to think about it last night. I was the second one in the circle. About half of the group knew my story anyway. So, I took a deep breath (I've learned that it's easier not to cry when I do that) and said my name, that my husband was a high school principal, that I was a speech pathologist, that I had a 15-year-old daughter named Bethany, and that I had a daughter in Heaven. I was so relieved that I managed to get it all out without choking into awkward silence, that I almost forgot to inhale. It actually took me a couple of minutes to get my breath back. The introductions continued around the circle, with all the ladies sharing about their children and families.
With that task accomplished, the leader spoke a few words to introduce the series, which is about the book of Esther, and for the next hour, we sat in semi-darkness watching the video. For awhile, I had some difficulty focusing on what Beth Moore was saying, because as I sat there in there in that room surrounded by all those very friendly women, I suddenly felt like I was a stranger and an alien. I realized for the first time--well, not really for the first time; I've been aware of it before, but this was the first time I've put words to it--that everything, absolutely everything about me is colored by the fact that I'm a mother who has lost a child. Everything I see, hear, say, and think passes through that filter. I can never take that veil off...it is a part of my very being. I suddenly felt so "different" from all of the other women there, and I felt very alone. Not lonely, mind you, but alone. There's a difference.
But here's the cool thing. That was last night. At this time tomorrow night, I will be in another group. And in this group, I will not be alone. I will be surrounded by people who understand me...and I will understand them. Tomorrow morning, Brad and I are leaving bright and early for Nashville, Tennessee, where we will spend the weekend at a Respite Retreat for bereaved parents, hosted by Nancy & David Guthrie. I've posted a lot about Nancy Guthrie in the past. She and her husband have lost two young children, and she's written several wonderful books about their experiences. There will be 10 or 12 couples there, including the Guthries, and we will be spending the weekend together, sharing our stories and growing together in our faith. I think it's going to be an absolutely amazing experience, and we are so looking forward to it!
You know, there's another very good (actually much more accurate) reason I felt like a stranger and an alien in that room last night. It's because I really am one, and so are you, if you are a child of God. This world is not our home...we're just traveling through it on our way to Heaven. I recently read that Heaven shouldn't be called the "afterlife"...instead, this world should be called the "beforelife." I love that!
In Hebrews 11, the author lists Abel and Enoch and Noah and Abraham, and then says this in verses 13-16:
"All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country--a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them."
How cool is that? He has prepared a city for us...where we will finally, truly be "at home." What an incredible day that will be!!