Notes from the Wayside - October 2022

Wayside Shrine in Heverlee, Belgium
My uncle, Andrew Jude Aber, recently died of pancreatic cancer. It was Uncle Andrew who, 45 years ago, sang in a rock band called Knowhere and introduced his bass player (my dad) to his little sister (my mom) who fell immediately in love, thus beginning the story of their long journey together. So without the gift of Andrew's life, my life, and the lives of my children, would never have come to be.

Andrew himself was not married and had no children, so when he entered his dying time it was my parents who stepped forward to provide his hospice care. They left mid-July in their RV, with doggies in tow, to pick up my grandma (Andrew's mom) in Florida, and traveled together to upstate New York to be with Andrew and see the thing through. Uncle Andrew had a good, peaceful death in his own home, just as he wished, surrounded by the people that knew and loved him best.

My parents arrived home to Oregon this week after three months away, and they are undoubtedly changed by all that they have experienced. They are bewildered by both the beauty and the sorrow of seeing death so up close, in awe of all that they have accomplished together, as well as physically and mentally exhausted from their efforts. If you have ever cared for a dying person, you know that it is, undoubtedly, a tremendous work; a 24/7 labor that is often ugly and unglamorous, calling out our love in the most gritty and concrete of ways.

As I listen to my parents process all that they’ve been through, I’ve noticed a common thread in their experience: an inexplicable strength, a superhuman courage and love, that seemed to come exactly when they needed it, in order to do things that before would have been deemed impossible. And I hear both of them asking the same question: how on earth did we do this?

Well, in the Christian faith we have given that hidden fount of mysterious power the name “God”. For we believe that it is God who gives us strength when we are running on empty; God who grants us courage when we are afraid; God who fills our hearts with love when we thought we had none to spare. The phenomenon my parents experienced during their care for Andrew unites them with people from all across the world and all throughout history, who have given of themselves in ways they never thought possible, because they were rooted in the source of all Love and Goodness. We hear in Psalm 73:26, “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever,” and in the Book of Habakkuk, “The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights” (Habakkuk 3:19). Indeed, it is only through God that we are able to do the un-doable.

But that isn’t to say that the feats we accomplish with and through God come easily. We are probably all familiar with this common adage: “God doesn’t give you anything that you aren’t strong enough to handle.”

Well, hooey.

Life has given me plenty that I wasn’t strong enough to handle, plenty that has snapped and shattered and crippled me in ways that were beyond mending. I’ve had experiences—we have all had experiences—that broke us into pieces, and when we tried to pick ourselves up and put the pieces back together we found that they just didn’t fit anymore. We couldn’t get back to who we were, couldn’t re-form our old selves because we were too different. We have been changed, forever.

But while I think it is untrue (not to mention harmful and damaging) to say that “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle,” I do believe that perhaps God doesn’t give us more than He can handle. Because when life wrecks us and leaves us in a little pile of broken pieces on the floor, God doesn’t throw us out, and he doesn’t try to fix us. He picks up our broken pieces and rearranges them to create something new, something even stronger, wiser, and more beautiful than it ever was before.

Mom and Dad, I see that you have been changed; and you are even stronger, wiser, and more radiantly beautiful than you were before. And I am so, so proud of you.

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