Thursday, March 20, 2014

Drowning and Swimming at the Same Time

"I didn't know--" She tried to swallow the overwhelming sadness caught in her throat. "Jonathan dies in battle." 
The world fell still and cold around me. I am David. And who is David without Jonathan?
11/3/12

 taken November 2012 at the Toledo Bend lake house


When our friendship began in August 2012, Jenny was studying the book of 1 Samuel with her women's Bible study group in Houston. I had known her for about two weeks when she declared I was the David to her Jonathan. What an insightful foreshadowing that was.

"[T]he soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David....then Jonathan and David made a covenant because he loved him as his own soul."
1 Samuel 18:1,3

I am hesitant to use adequate language to describe our friendship because I know it may be interpreted incorrectly by some. It makes me tremble to think there are people who might misunderstand what I want to communicate. So I offer this disclaimer: don't fall into the cultural folly of thinking the only love of great strength is romantic love. It isn't. Today's cheap definition of romance could never stand up to what we had. Stated briefly--ours was a covenantal friendship. To borrow David's words in 2 Samuel 1, "[She was] very pleasant to me; [her] love to me was wonderful, surpassing the love of [men]."

Ours was a connection unlike anything I have ever experienced. My friendships are few, long-lasting and miles deep. Normally, I watch a person carefully before I choose them, and I give my heart by inches. But Jenny and I did not choose each other. We were given to each other. Our friendship began fast and furiously--yes, like falling in love--and our souls were irrevocably entwined before I knew what had happened. The kind of love God was calling us to was whole, true, painful, put-your-soul-on-the-line love. 

You cannot protect yourself in that kind of love. No wall you build or shield you bear can stand up to it. And you would not want it to. Not really. It is the kind of love that changes you forever, leaving behind invisible tattoos upon you both with each meeting and conversation. It is the kind of love in which you see the other person's most admirable strengths and gravest sins and love them still--maybe more. You battle her dragons and she battles yours--back to back and swords at the ready. You praise her successes without a hint of jealousy, angst or irony. Without a hint! Even when one of you is dying and the other is beginning to heal. You want to suffer and die in her stead, and would if you could. You can't, but you hurt with her. You pray for her. You offer what little strength you have and hope it helps. You become so connected you melt into her and she melts into you so that you no longer can tell where you begin and she ends. You can boldly tell the truth always because you never doubt how loved you are. You can challenge one another, disagree, say hard things and come out better and stronger on the other side. You don't worry about offending. Pure love cannot be offended. Ever. With the exception of Christ's love for the Church, ours was the purest I have known. I say that because self-service was never a thought, offense never took place and mutual understanding was a reflex--words optional. We were for one another more than we were for ourselves.

And I have lost her.

She passed on March 8, 2014 after two years of intense suffering. It is a great mystery to me that I am standing, walking and talking. Have you ever attempted to tear apart something knit together? It's almost impossible to do and once done, the only thing left behind is a frayed mess of something now unrecognizable. I feel less like myself without her in the world. I am drowning in an ocean of grief. That is what grief is--drowning. When a wave hits you, it takes the breath away. It literally aches and burns in the lungs. Though I have been actively grieving for her for almost a year--for her suffering and in knowing she was slipping away--I haven't gotten any better at the whole "grieving well" thing, whatever that looks like.

Yet I am surviving. (Surviving sucks, by the way.) I stand because the mercies of the Lord hold me up (Psalm 94:18). I am too wounded to walk, so the Lord is carrying me in His arms (Isaiah 40:11). Talking is hard. Writing is harder. But this is a chapter in need of writing, and we all do what we must. Somehow I smile. I smile at the nosegays the kids and I craft from the delicate wildflowers popping up in our yard because "nosegay" was Jenny's favorite word. I smile at my children, my husband and all things happy because she was happy, she is happy and she would want me to be happy. I smile because she is no longer suffering. She is free! She is no longer wearing those "sick rags," but is instead clothed in gleaming white robes of righteousness! I smile because she is in the best place with the best Companion. All the needs, longings and hopes of her soul are entirely fulfilled. That knowledge is precious to me. The loss is sharp and brutal, but I am swimming in a sea of hope because I know I will see her again. And I'm going to be okay--even here and now--because as much as I loved the girl, she wasn't my everything. I was careful about that. Jesus is my everything, and He's not going anywhere. He is actually nearer for the pain.

To my surprise, Jenny was buried about an hour from Jubilee Farm, so Brandon and I were able to attend the burial service. The drive was gorgeous. Life was bursting from the ground in fresh, vibrant blooms. New calves chewed bright green grass near their mothers' knees. Warm sunlight poured from the heavens--a smile of victory from my yellow-souled friend. Wind rushed through the trees, making music in honor of her free spirit. I had prayed for a perfect day. God delivered.

As I hugged her family--each embrace feeling like another difficult goodbye--and gazed at that horrid coffin and that awful hole in the ground, the voice which kept repeating, "It's over, it's over," was drowned out by the Voice of Truth--"It's only beginning. It's going to be more than okay. All this heartache and all this pain will heighten the ecstasy of the reunion to come! Believe Me and rest joyfully in hope!"

 On the way home, budding pear trees reminded me of the reality of the resurrection. When I see her again, my Jenny will not be some ethereal wisp of what she was. She will be a perfected version of herself in physical form. She will laugh, eat and dance. I will recognize not only her spirit, but her face. And she will recognize me. Our dreams will be fully, exponentially realized. We will
"join hands and grin conspiratorially at one another before taking an unbridled, running leap and plunging into the vast, deep waters of endless Jubilee!" (Quote taken from my post "Dreams of Jubilee")
taken 2/10/13 at Juliet's first birthday party
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


On February 19, the day of our final communication on this side of heaven, I wrote the following tribute to my covenant friend:

The only show of light more precious than the first sun rays of the morning caressing the earth in happy greeting is the glow of late afternoon. With a mustering of effort, an aria bursts forth on golden breath before lapsing into lullaby. There is something glorious about the victory of the moment. It is a final act of  rebellion against the gathering darkness before she fades peacefully into her rest. And nothing in creation is more graceful than her farewell painted in fire and roses on the western horizon. Though we are saddened to see her go, we are filled with unspeakable gratitude she came at all, whispering secrets of her Creator only she could tell and leaving life in her wake. We will weep at the loss, but will take comfort in the assurance we will see her again, renewed and more glorious than we can now conceive.



photos taken November 2012 at the Toledo Bend lake house


Though she appears in many posts written between September 2012 and March 2014, the following are my "Jenny posts" in which she is featured:





1 comment:

Talena Winters said...

What a beautiful lady she was, and what a wonderful tribute. I am sorry for your loss--I understand both the beauty of a "covenant friendship" like this, and how hard it is to lose someone so precious. Thank you for sharing Jenny with us.