Loss was remembered and I would soon rather it be long forgotten, so I wouldn’t have to be reminded of the what that was and what cannot be.
I’ve surrendered many things associated to my new life, large and nuanced, but feelings of what was surrendered has sprung up over the past months in ways I cannot flee from. It’s like a slide show on repeat, and I have to engage with the characters, but I’m refusing to because it’s too raw.
I have believed life’s lie—time: erasure.
And I’d soon rather turn loss into a permanent past tense: lost.
But loss is ongoing.
The Shepherd and His Sheep
One night I was alone in our house that did not feel like home, and I was brought to The True Shepherd’s passage where God, The True Shepherd, seeks His sheep (Ezekiel 34).
It’s a familiar story. One that I have grown up seeing. My dad, uncle, and grandfather raised sheep on my family’s farm in Colorado when I was a child, so I watched my father tend to the sheep. He still tends a small flock.
Some falls and winters hundreds of sheep grazed the open fields of the farm: I marveled at the visiting shepherd from New Zealand, who lived in a tiny silver round-top home on wheels, and who, with Great Pyrenees guard dogs, protected the large herd from wolves, coyotes, foxes, and neighboring dogs.
If the Lord is The True Shepherd, and He is my Lord, there must be an acknowledgment of my identity: I am a sheep.
I am a sheep: I am either following the Shepherd, or I am lost, prone to getting lost, and prone to being lost. I am prone to follow the wrong shepherd and prone to follow the wrong herd when I don’t tune my ear and heart to hear the Shepherd’s sure voice.
In fall my dad moved the small remnant of sheep he still keeps on the farm to a different pasture, and in the commotion one of the lambs grew so distressed, she broke her leg.
Jerod and I, too, have been moved from pasture to pasture, and how distressing to move away from a Colorado pasture of treasures: the comfort and the familiar—to a new, unknown pasture.
My dad kept the lamb with a broken leg in the corral away from the herd, yet when he tried to bind the lamb’s broken leg, she didn’t want her wound bound.
She didn’t know broken or healing when my dad, who previously tried to move her to a different pasture, came to bind the wound and help her in the pain.
We can say that sheep are foolish animals, but really they have a stubborn heart for the familiar and the comfortable. I have this heart.
As I read the passage in Ezekiel, I imagine God cradling a curled lamb, and I remember recent nights when pain and darkness rolled in and me scattered.
My husband drapes the blanket of white wool-like fuzz my mother-in-law and sister-in-law made over me—my nerves love all things soft. Under this blanket I am a lamb seeking its wounds be bound and its broken heart be healed.
These nights are a faint yell of Colorado and the noise grew louder and louder. Our once comfortable and familiar pasture for over 30 years, which had become an environment of affliction because of my sudden health decline, had followed us to Florida.
Since July we have been studying a steady decline in my health—my husband more so than me. For those who live with chronic anything, the daily-ness causes you to take life hour by hour. But it’s apparent my decline was from leaking cerebrospinal fluid again.
We based my possible leaking on my past five years of pain, for there is not an easy test to verify my leaking nor is there a doctor nearby to help me, a “leaker.” Our closest “emergency room” is at Duke Hospital in North Carolina. In February Jerod contacted the doctor who patched my dura surrounding my spine two and half years ago. After a particularly bad night, we pleaded for friends and family to intercede for a response from her. At 3:45 pm she emailed saying she would be delighted to help again.
I remember this path of suffering from the past five years: darkness, pain, noise, migraines, pain, wheelchairs, pain, loss. This was to be my 5th patching procedure, and what would be gained?
On April 10th I underwent a series of tests to detect possible leaks, and on April 11th the doctor patched three more areas. Today I am three months post-patched and taking my days hour by hour.
Yet, I am still prone to an anxious heart when I don’t trust the Shepherd and rest when He tells me to wait because I am worried about the walk ahead. All signs point to this—leaking, patching, aching—being our life, but I need a long-range perspective: heaven.
I text my mom that I am discouraged, yet I wonder if these afflictions keep me close to the Lord. For me my weakness has kept me from wandering to an other voice: to the comfortable, the familiar, the material. These things are attempts to numb the pain, but God has promised to be near amidst the pain and even give life during the pain—a paradox of beautiful grace.
Jerod and I celebrate 11 years of marriage this month, and at our wedding ceremony we sang the hymn “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing” with all of our family and friends standing behind us and singing along with us. The most well-known section of the 3-stanza hymn, where hymnist Robert Robertson (1758) writes what many of us feel in times of pain, grief, loss, and loneliness: Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, / prone to leave the God I love; / here’s my heart, O take and seal it; / seal it for thy courts above.
It’s those fleeting moments that can turn into days, weeks, months, or even years where we shake our fist at God, our First Love and our True Shepherd. But, we finally render our heart and hurt to the One who truly binds our heart to Thee.
This beloved hymn, Jerod and I learned, has a fourth stanza that has been slowly omitted over the past 250 years. The third stanza ends with a short plea for heaven, but this heart needs more.
The fourth stanza gives a profound image to fix my eyes on: the sheep meeting her Shepherd. And a melody to tune my heart, to rest my heart upon, and to remember:
O that Day when freed from sinning,
I shall see thy lovely Face;
Clothed then in blood-washed Linnen [sic]
How I’ll sing thy sovereign grace;
Come, my Lord, no longer tarry,
Take my ransom’d Soul away;
Send thine Angels now to carry
Me to realms of endless Day.
Picture 1, Amanda Pfannenstiel Photography
Picture 2, my dad, the shepherd