The most stumbling steps


People / Sunday, September 1st, 2013

“I’d like a small iced cappuccino,” I tell the waitress at Timmy’s. “Caramel.”

As I carry it to my vehicle I take my first sip. I’ve never tried a caramel iced cappuccino before, and the sweet coffee flavor explodes upon my senses. Unexpectedly, I begin to cry right there in the Tim Horton’s parking lot, a furrowed face reflected in the windows of my van. I fumble with the keys so I can lose myself within the tinted windows, hide before the world detects my weakness.

I cry.

*

Several months ago my friend Sandy lay in a hospital bed, dizzy and ill and in danger of blood clots, carrying pain around in her body. She’d been coming to our church for six years, maybe… a 50-something-year-old-woman with a dark past and an uncertain present. She loved coming to church. She was drawn to us and frustrated by us, feeling warmed and repulsed in turn. We did not understand her, but we took care of her. We made her food when she was sick and prayed for her needs and invited her over to our homes. She took care of us too. She gave us advice on raising our children and prayed for us in our hard times and created for us elaborate birthday cards that were not to be opened until the day!

She lay there sick in bed, those months ago. I called her hospital extension and said “Sandy, it’s Shari Zook. I’m coming through town; is there anything you’d like to drink that I can buy for you and bring to your room?”

Her voice was gravelly with stress and sleeplessness. “Um, wow! Yes, there is. Tim Horton’s has this wonderful thing, I don’t know what they call it. Um. It has caramel and ice cream and coffee all mixed together and a bunch of whipped cream on the top…”

“I’ll see what I can do,” I told her. “I’d love to bring it to you. I’ll be there in a few minutes.”

Within fifteen I was there at her door, peeping in. She sat half-reclined in her bed, a cooling pack on her tousled gray head. When she tasted the drink, her face lit up. She began nodding, still pulling at the straw. A long drink and then another nod. “This is it! Mmm. It’s so good.”

I never did taste a frozen caramel cappuccino, until today. The incident passed. Sandy was released from the hospital—and readmitted. Released. Readmitted. A plethora of physical and mental issues plagued her, wheeled like vultures above her head. She shook off one to be taken by another, bigger and blacker. I will not tell you of them all.

Three weeks ago, her life came to an end. “Suicide,” everyone says, and it may be. She apparently overdosed on medication and never woke up. Who can say what intent lay behind it? She was troubled enough to do it, had threatened it often enough in those last months of intense pain and darkness, but clung to life as well. Who can say if she determined on making an end of herself, or if, desperate for relief from pain, she induced a sleep from which she intended to wake, a sleep that took hold of her and did not let go?

Sandy is gone.

“Lord, have mercy on her soul,” I prayed often in those first days after hearing. I do not believe in praying for the dead, but I needed to say this, and say it again and again–my way of committing her to His loving and capable hands.

She reached for Jesus even at the end, and we trust her to His mercy. But I hate that darkness won in some way—hate that the evil that pursued her all her life, that blackened her memories and divided her mind, overcame her at last.

Our church family wrestles and doubts and questions, and lets her go. Could we have done more?

Most of us feel guilt in some way or another, feel it though we do not believe in its power and though we release it to Jesus. Could we not have done more? She was not an easy person to live with. She loved us and ranted at us; she lied to us and repented with tears; she begged from us and manipulated us. Some of us did for her all that the Lord asked of us, but we struggle that we didn’t feel like it, that we didn’t feel all the affection and warmth we showed. Some of us did not do all that the Lord asked of us, and we struggle…

We struggle.

*

I sip my iced cappuccino and begin to cry there on the asphalt, because He tells me “This is what you gave to Me that day in the hospital. I give it now to you.”

“But oh, Jesus, oh…

“I do not deserve Your commendation.

“What if I didn’t do enough?

“What about the thing that haunts me?

“What about that time she told me she didn’t want to come for dinner anymore unless we invited her More Often? She said that’s what friends do, they get together Often, and if we didn’t want to be friends she didn’t want to come—She didn’t want this Once-Every-Six-Months stuff. I never had her over for dinner after that. Jesus, what about that I never had her over for dinner after that? I took her a meal when she was sick and I brought her a cold drink and I cried with her when her wrists were bleeding, but I never had her over for a sit-down dinner again…

“Oh, Jesus oh…”

I taste the drink.

I cry.

He says, “I am talking about what you did, not what you didn’t do. This is what you gave to Me that day. Receive it now, my grace for you. Learn of Me. Trust Me.

“I accept the most stumbling steps toward holiness.”

*

This is why caramel iced cappuccino will always taste to me like redemption.

15 Replies to “The most stumbling steps”

  1. beautifully written, dear friend!!! Thanks for articulating what so many of us are feeling. These very thoughts swirl around and around in my head and heart but are not formulated into coherent thoughts.
    I love the way you pour out your heart to those around you. It’s beautiful to me and I can easily imagine the delight it brings to our Father. I love living in community with you!

  2. Lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. I know the wondering of whether I did enough, whether I showed enough love when what I felt was irritation. Thanks for articulating the struggle and His grace.

  3. I had to wait til I wasn’t crying so hard before I could comment…
    This is all so familiar: the sick, desperate grappling with all the pain in the world; the dawning realization of how often I try to pick and choose who I want to love and help; the weariness and wariness of getting burnt again; the doubts and heartache, agonizing over whether or not I did enough… The groanings which cannot be uttered.
    Bless you, girl, for that cappuccino, and may God open our eyes more and more to His perspective and give us the grace to take the baby steps. In the end, no matter how small our work seems to us, only He can know how that “cup of cold water” ministered His grace in the moment of obedience. Hugs!

  4. I have to comment on your post. I don’t often, even though I read it every night after work. l loved your story despite the pain. In my deepest pain and hurt, that is when His comforting words always carry the most truth and love. They are what we remember because they go to the deepest places in our hearts. Those words get us a glimpse of His love for us. And in your story I could almost experience it with you like I was there. I didn’t know Sandy but your story brought tears to my eyes.. Despite the pain, Beautiful story. Beautiful Grace..

  5. Thanks for sharing these words. “He says, ‘I am talking about what you did, not what you didn’t do. This is what you gave to Me that day. Receive it now, my grace for you. Learn of Me. Trust Me.'”

    I needed to hear it. The past weekend I was involved in something difficult, and the enemy wants to hit at me at times the past few days with it. I feel parts of it I didn’t do “perfectly,” but some of it was definitely right. Thanks for the reminder that God sees what we did do as we stumble along in our walk.

  6. I, too, was deeply moved by this story. It gave me the courage to do a thing I desperately didn’t want to do, but I knew Jesus wanted me to and she needed it. I pray that my steps, even though stumbling, will offer grace. Thanks!

  7. My husband has involved himself in helping ‘poor souls’ and a lot of it has taken me out of my comfort zone. A lot of it has been good for me and I could do it but I know there are many times I didn’t do more that I should have. I could SO relate to your story though and you wrote it beautifully. We have had recently recovering addicts live with us and none of it is easy. At the stage our family is we have decided it is best not to have them live in our home but to reach them how ever else we can. We are now raising the daughter of the one. I always need to pray for more love for them because they are so hard to love–especially when they lie to you. That just infuriates me so bad–I can’t decide what to do with all those feelings. Its nice to know there is company in the realm of working with these people.

    1. I’m sorry, Marilyn! The ministry you are living would stretch me as well. When I’m loving messy people, what helps me most of all is remembering that I’m one of them myself, in as desperate need of the mercy and healing of Jesus as anyone I ever met…

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