Mercy and devastation don’t seem to be synonymous, do they? Mercy, meaning showing compassion, withholding punishment or harm. Devastation, meaning severe and overwhelming shock and grief. How is grief merciful? How do the two coexist?
My dad and I were sitting in her hospital room on August 18th, 2017. All of her wires and monitors were removed and she was sleeping peacefully. The woman who gave me life, my mother, was now in the last moments of hers.
A lot was running through my head throughout that day and into the night. This is unfair. She never got to say goodbye. Why wasn’t there a warning sign? Can she hear me now? How long will she be in this place of here, but gone?
But I think the hardest, biggest, most looming question was: what are you doing in all of this, God?
My family has often practiced an “it is what it is” mentality because, after all, our situation was what it was and there wasn’t much we could do to change it. We could either live in frustration and anger that my mom’s physical health was deteriorating, or we could accept it as best we could and move forward in a way that would bring about the highest quality of life we could have, given our circumstances and the hand we were dealt.
So sitting in that hospital room the eve of my mom’s passing, my dad and I were very matter of fact. This was inevitable. My mom’s Multiple Sclerosis was progressing far more quickly than most with her disease, and she eventually would have needed 24/7 professional care, care that just wouldn’t be possible from home. We thought we had more time before that would happen, but we also thought that would happen. That we eventually, as a family, would have to make the hard decision about my mother’s long term care. But this? Going to bed one night and never waking up the next day, but rather going into a coma that lasted weeks? This, a sudden illness that would lead to her loss of life?
We never saw this coming.
Her disease was unpredictable. And unrelenting. And unfair. But it was what it was.
My dad and I pulled our first all-nighter together that night. We stayed awake and ate donuts and drank coffee from the mini bar my mom’s hospice team provided for us, and we waited. We held her hand. We spoke to her and let her know we weren’t leaving. We’d been in this storm of life for the long haul, and we weren’t opting out now.
That season of life felt so stormy. I mean, really, really stormy. The atmosphere was heavy, the sky was dark, and the rain just kept on coming. Every now and then we’d receive hard news from her team of doctors that hit like a bolt of lightning or a loud crack of thunder. Her 107.7 degree temp wasn’t breaking, her kidneys were failing, her brain activity wasn’t going to improve. Rumble, pound, crack. What a storm it was.
But the night before her passing, when we were sitting in her room in the midst of one of the hardest storms of life, a literal storm happened outside of the hospital. Pouring rain, cracking thunder, lightning bolts. How appropriate. Then, something happened.
The rain let up and a rainbow appeared.
(The exact rainbow in the cover photo, actually.)
When time passes, I often forget the small moments that had significant meaning or brought great comfort. So as I was reading through Genesis 9 the other morning, I remembered. I remembered the rainbow that spread across the entire sky outside of my mom’s hospital window the eve of her home-going. I also remembered what that rainbow meant.
If you are a bible believer, then when you think rainbow, you think Noah’s Arc.
The flood in Genesis is a really heavy topic. I’ve never thought about its weight much, until this past week. Moral corruption on Earth was heavy and abundant to the point that God was grieved (Genesis 6:6 ESV). It doesn’t say he was angry, it says he was grieved. Anyone can make you angry, it’s easy to be disappointed by the actions of people we don’t have relationship with (politics – we don’t know these people personally, yet we are so upset by those whose opinions differ from ours), but you grieve for things you love. You hurt for those you deeply care about.
When God saw how far creation had fallen from its original design and intention, from the abundant, blessed, purposeful life it was designed to be and originally was, He was moved with such grief and pain that He planned the restart.
Have you ever heard the phrase, “you’ve made your bed, now lie in it”? That comes to mind here. We have free will and make our own choices. That’s great and all, until we make choices that lead to our destruction or personal suffering. We’ve all made those choices, the ones that bite us in our behinds. We knew better; we knew that we shouldn’t have gotten into relationship with that person, shouldn’t have stayed up that late, shouldn’t have said those sharp words, and so on. But because we have free will, we made our beds, and now we lie in them. We made one wrong choice, things already hurt and are uncomfortable, so why not just sink a little deeper? I already had one piece of cake, which was against the plan I had for myself, so what’s one, two, three more this week? And suddenly, our slippery slope has become a hole we can’t pull ourselves out of.
In a study I completed recently, I heard it said this way, “Like a rabid dog that needs put out of his misery, God would wipe out mankind, for He was grieved.” OUCH. Were the people of Noah’s time really that far gone that he had to take their lives? That’s painful… it’s painful to watch from the outside but it’s also painful to experience on the inside. Knowing that sometimes I feel like sharp words have flowed so freely from my mouth, maybe this time I’m too far gone.
Put me out of my misery. Cut me off. Tell me I’ve missed the mark so I don’t have to try again and fail again. Sometimes I feel like cutting me off, that wouldn’t be punishment, that would be called mercy. Mercy: showing compassion, withholding punishment or harm. It might seem like a form of discipline, but I think the real punishment is letting people sit in their misery, pain, self-destruction.
How does that relate to the loss of my mom?
Well, let’s see if I can communicate these heavy, loaded thoughts swirling around in my head well enough for you to take hold of the hope I’m feeling.
My mom might not have sinned her way into illness. Her personal shortcomings, her personal sharp words, her personal bad habits didn’t warrant her Multiple Sclerosis diagnosis. We are all sinners in need of saving. We all miss the mark sometimes. My mom, however, was someone in need of mercy. Her body was broken, her spirit was crushed. Even though she celebrated a lot in life, namely her favorite thing to celebrate was her then nine-month-old grandaughter, our sweet Aurora, she mourned her limitations and struggled with knowing the abilities she once had would never return.
Mercy. Showing compassion. Withholding punishment.
Brokenness and disease is part of our fallen world. You can read more about that all over the internet. Or you can grab a copy of my book, whenever I finish it *insert monkey covering his eyes emoji here* (hah), where I explain more about that. With that in mind, what compassion did my mom need? More time here on earth… with more physical deterioration? More limitations? More time being made more and more aware of the fact that she couldn’t pick up and hug her grandaughter on her own, change her diapers, and rock her for naps? Or did she need a compassionate mercy of restoration? I vote for the latter.
As incredibly painful as it is for me to say as the daughter of the woman we are talking about, it’s better this way. Arguably, it’s for the best. Selfishly, I would have kept her. In August of 2017, I begged God for healing and I argued up and down and all around why restoring her physical health was the best thing… for me. For Aurora. But for my mom? She was tired and weary, and even though she had a lot of love in her life, the Lord had mercy on her and took her home. And even though the void I experience without her is painful beyond words, I also have a complete understanding of “peace that transcends understanding” now.
Mercy and grief can coexist. They do.
So when God delivered that rainbow on one of the stormiest, darkest days of my life, He reminded me of his covenant of mercy. “I have placed my rainbow in the clouds. It is a sign of my covenant with you and with all the earth. When I send clouds over the earth, the rainbow will appear in the clouds, and I will remember my covenant with you and with all living creatures.” Genesis 9:13-15. This covenant isn’t merely a promise to never destroy all of life again by water, it is a promise of mercy. A promise to withhold punishment from earth because, though our hearts aren’t white as snow, though we sin, though we struggle, though we think unkind thoughts and make unwise choices, the Lord is merciful. He promises to withhold punishment, give compassion, and ultimately choose to pour out mercy, if we choose Him.
My mom chose Him. She wasn’t perfect. She spoke sharp words. She made poor choices. As do I. As do you. So, in His great covenant of mercy graciously exemplified by a beautiful rainbow, I was reminded the eve of her Home-going, the Lord wasn’t being punitive. He was keeping His promise. His promise of mercy.
And now, my mom is whole, restored, and in paradise with the Creator. She knows no sickness. She knows no pain. She knows perfect peace.
Thank you, Lord, for the rainbow reminder that dark eve of loss. Thank you for healing my mom. And thank you for sustaining my family in the days that followed.
“Do not withhold your mercy from me, Lord; may your love and faithfulness always protect me.” Psalm 40:11
He was merciful then, He is merciful still.