Today, I am reminded of a post I wrote on 10/29/20; there were chocolate chip cookies and a few thoughts on suffering, and the story of a song.
To my surprise, it was a post that resonated with many readers.
Come close. I’ll tell you more.
Several people I know were walking through some tough things when I wrote it.
We were too.
It was just a few months after Jon’s diagnosis and a few weeks after completing his first round of chemo & radiation treatment for aggressive brain cancer.
The reflection I wrote was inspired by a beautiful song I heard that week two years ago.
I first heard the song years earlier, just after I had a little fender bender in a parking lot.
A woman backed into my car as I sat in my parking spot. It was dark, and she misjudged the distance from my car in the dark.
Can’t we all see better in the light?
Of course, I was somewhat startled AND irritated that I now had to deal with what I was about to find on the back bumper of my car.
As I got out of my car to check the damages, the younger woman who hit me was already standing at my back bumper. She was shaking and crying and apologizing. Profusely.
Given the minimal damage, she seemed upset about something more than bumping into my car.
I told her all would be okay.
We surveyed the damage, and I sighed under my breath because it was another thing I did not really have time to stop and “deal with” myself. There were already so many interruptions in my life at that time…progressive hearing loss was progressing.
It feels quite similar to my life today.
The young lady shared that she had just had a new baby and lost her husband to a tragic death.
I listened as she shared the terrible events surrounding the loss of her husband.
I listened as she shared all of the ugly, heartbreaking details.
I listened outside my door to this complete stranger.
I took down her insurance info. She also gave me her phone number so I could connect with her after I talked to my husband about the damages before pursuing any insurance claims.
Then I told her I was sure all would be okay with the car (because I already knew she needed a ton of grace) and that I would text her in a bit.
Then we began to move toward our respective car doors, but not before I hugged this total stranger who wept when I wrapped my arms around her.
The arms of a total stranger were a soft place to land.
Then I gently held my hand on her face as she wiped her eyes. I told her I was so sorry she was experiencing this horrible pain.
What else could I or should I even say?
I could not begin to know her pain.
We parted ways.
It was a sacred space with a total stranger.
I got into my car and wept as a song played on the radio. The lyrics filled my space, “I am afraid of the space where you suffer….”
I thought, “Oh the irony of these words.”
Before pulling out of the parking lot, I listened intently to the rest of the song. Words and lyrics are a matter of the heart for me.
The song Come Close Now has achingly beautiful lyrics that took my breath away, as did the timing of first hearing this song.
When I got home, I immediately searched the internet for the song. I also looked up the name of the person I had just met—I learned a bit more about her husband’s untimely death and then spoke to Jon about my encounter.
I got emotional when I shared the story with Jon. He hugged me because he knew that I ached for this woman. I’m definitely known to be a deeply empathetic person. I can quickly feel others’ pain.—a gift and a curse.
But I can never actually know the pain of another.
When I looked up the song, I found a live acoustic version of the artist Christa Wells explaining what inspired her to write the song.
Christa tells of a book she read where the author describes the story of grieving the loss of his child.
The author paints a picture of suffering as sitting alone in a room of a burning house while the world outside is tossing buckets of water and raising ladders to help put out the fire.
Yet, the fire still burns, and no one can stop the flames or the pain of the burn.
After a while, a friend or two slowly walks toward the house. They sit outside the room and “wait with” the friend “who is sitting in the burn.”
They wait outside so the suffering person inside the fire knows they are not alone.
Christa then explains that she wrote a letter to the author, Dan. He told her he wrote this book for the grieving person, not just himself.
She remarked she had not experienced this kind of pain or suffering.
The song Come Close Now was born from Christa reading this book and correspondence with the author. This song was written for someone who doesn’t know how to help a suffering friend.
Here are some lyrics from her song, Come Close Now: “I’m afraid of the space where you suffer/ Where you sit in the smoke and the burn/I can’t handle the choke or the danger Of my own foolish, inadequate words. I’ll be right outside if you need me…”
When people we love suffer, we often feel foolish or unable to express love or concern or even encouraging words.
I have been in this place, not knowing what to say, so I carefully offer words to keep my words from bringing more hurt or pain to an already difficult situation.
Sometimes, we say too much.
Sometimes, we say nothing at all.
Sometimes someone simply “sitting outside the door” is what the suffering friend or loved one needs—nothing more.
Often words, thoughts, advice, and expertise is different from what is needed.
Suffering and grief are both unique to every individual. Every challenging situation, even when it looks the same, is unique to each person experiencing it.
Circumstances are usually unique too.
It’s been a tough week around here.
There are a few words I will offer to explain all of the reasons why. Not all things are meant to be shared beyond the limit of our four walls, even when others think they may know.
We’ve been praying for some big things here, holding tight to hope while experiencing worry and a few ragged patches from the noise that strives to disturb our peace as we walk this tightrope of joy and pain, grief and hope.
I know a few others who are suffering tremendous losses and hardships too.
These beautiful people have incredible faith, too. We know that having faith allows us to travel down this bumpy road with a bit more strength.
This week Jon will start more treatment to attack this progressing tumor.
It’s impossible to predict how things will pan out. Jon and I have done the research and made the best decision possible for our moment in time. These decisions never come lightly, but they come with some consolation in the way things lined up for us—must be of God.
In some ways, the potential side effects match the effects of doing nothing.
We are leaning into trust and God.
And holding onto hope. Whatever God wants.
People ask me a lot about what they can do to help.
Honestly, There isn’t much we can tell you to do besides pray.
Don’t we always feel like we need to be doing more to be doing something meaningful?
Sometimes the buckets of water we are offered can barely touch the fire, let alone extinguish it.
Suffering is part of life. But prayer helps brings consolation.
Truthfully, prayer is the best way for you to put out our flames as we sit in this burn.
I’ve said it before—prayers bring us peace and maybe douse the fire just a bit.
We are doing our best to keep our space and home in a state of peace for Jon as his body works hard to withstand the burn.
And If you are suffering today, too, know I am praying for you.
You are never alone; there is always a friend outside the door just waiting to hold your hand, listen to your worries, give you space, and help douse the fire when you are ready.
And why the cookies?
Today (as I write this), Jon made chocolate chip cookies—did I ever tell you how much he loves to bake and cook?
The words from the song have been in my head all week. It’s no surprise we are in a burn of our own these days as we prepare for another daunting few weeks.
Today, after I saw the cookies Jon was baking, I remembered my post from October 29, 2020. There was a photo of a batch of chocolate chip cookies for that post.
Today I remembered the grieving woman who bumped my car several years ago when I first heard the song Come Close Now.
She was in a burn—suffering unimaginable grief.
She was suffering from an experience that was unfamiliar to me.
But none of it was about me.
I could offer her a space to cry, grieve, and sit in her burn. But no words could cure her pain.
It doesn’t mean we ignore people who are suffering. We just can’t cure their pain with wonky, inadequate words.
It is no coincidence that the post I shared two years ago today included a cookie picture—it reminded me of our journey these last two years. There’s nothing more to the story about cookies except that baking a batch can sometimes help us ease the pain or douse the fire for a brief moment because baking brings us joy.
When I hugged that stranger, I knew I could NOT possibly say anything to take away her grief or pain.
I knew I couldn’t give her advice or tell her how to reframe her thinking, and I would never have tried to compare what I thought I knew to make myself heard and understood.
I just hugged this young, newly widowed woman and allowed her tears to stain and collect on my shirt. They were my humble offering of water to help fill a bucket that could, for a moment, will allow her to know someone was sitting with her in the burn.
I learned a lot that day.
I learned a lot in the last several years about grief (including anticipatory grief), loss, suffering and pain, hope, faith, unconditional love, and support from those who understand the importance of simply sitting outside the door while we sit in our burn.
May we know sometimes we have to wait while others walk through their fire.
May we know when we need to give our suffering friend/loved one abundant grace and forgiveness.
May we let them know they are not alone.
May we sit together in the burn.
May we know when it’s time to give space
May we know when it’s time to come close.