Tuesday, May 1, 2012

I'm Sorry That Happened to You

My Grandma Jeanne turned ninety this Spring. I didn’t think I could manage the mid-semester trip but my mom made it clear that the only cousin not coming was having a baby, something I was not willing to do. So we went. And I am so glad we did. The family all met in the redwood grove where we had mixed my grandpa’s ashes into the soil some 24 years ago. The grove, a favorite picnicking spot before his unexpected death, has become sacred. My sister chose to spend her sixteenth birthday there. That day my grandma shared some of her toasting cider with the soil and laughed from her belly, a hard-earned moment of joy, eight years into widowhood.

Grandma Jeanne lives with my parent’s, has Alzheimer’s, has to be reminded every night that there is a bed for her. At some point she announced that she wanted a family reunion so it was arranged, bringing four extended families from four different states together to celebrate her ninety years. When we got to the grove, Grandma Jeanne asked from the backseat, “Why are we here?”

Its hard to know, at any moment, what she knows. Sometimes she cries with frustration about wanting to go home. Sometimes that home is in Iowa. Sometimes she means she wants to go to heaven. Sometimes she packs a bag and walks out the door without a plan or jacket. But in the grove she seemed satisfied. Quiet. Peaceful. Full. Even if she did not know our names, she seemed happy to be with us.

My aunt gathered everyone around and said a few words of honor. When she acknowledged that my grandma had been abandoned by her parents before she could tie her shoes, living with aunts, grandparents and friends until she was married, my grandma tipped her chin up, closed her eyes and let a little tear roll down her cheek.

My aunt praised her for her bravery, her fortitude, her quiet reliance on Jesus. My aunt thanked her for giving her children something altogether other than what she had been given. We sang into the damp, green stillness, mixing the chords of a favorite hymn with tears and smiling. I bit my lip and took pictures.

A friend of mine recently welcomed some foster children into her home. She says they talk about things that kids should not have to know about. They speak, without flinching, about things I can’t imagine. She says it’s hard to hear. She says it breaks her heart. And she told me what she tells them when they share with her: “I am sorry that happened to you. That must have been scary. You didn’t deserve that.”

I keep thinking about those simple sentences. No false pretense of understanding. No Band-Aid. No clichés or empty promises. Just a few words that say, “I hear you. I see you. You have worth.” Simple, beautiful sentences that speak the heart of a God who tells us that he has engraved our names into the palm of his hand. I know he knows the names of children whose homes are not places of safety. I know he knows the names of children whose parents pack up and drive away. He cries when they cry and listens when they pray. And sometimes he sees them all the way to ninety, to be sung over by three generations of grateful hearts in a grove of redwoods.

“Can a mother forget her nursing child? Can she feel no love for the child she has borne? But even if that were possible, I would not forget you! See, I have written your name on the palms of my hands.” Isaiah 49:15-16

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