She said good-bye to her husband ten months ago. Well, that isn’t exactly right. She’d been saying good-bye to him for nine years . . . the slow good-bye of Alzheimer’s. He took his final breath on a blistering day last August, but he’d been slipping away from her, memory by memory, for some time before that.
She misses him. When she walks by his picture, she wags her finger at him. “You stinker!” she says, a small smile tugging at the corners of her mouth. “Why did you leave first?”
We laugh, but we both feel the undertow of grief.
“I’m homesick for heaven,” she says. It’s barely more than a whisper.
“Do you ever ask God why?” I don’t even know which why I mean—why Bob’s memories were stolen from him, why she had to say a long good-bye to her beloved, why the Parkinson’s is now stripping her of the things she loves. But I need to know. It’s a question that burns in my own gut.
Ruth is many things to me—a mentor, the wife of my childhood pastor, a friend. But most of all, she’s a mirror of the woman I want to become someday. There’s a half-century between us, but our friendship is the richer for it. I want her wise wrinkles, her words that ooze grace, her ability to laugh at herself until tears run down her cheeks, her knack for making each guest who enters her home feel like British royalty.
And so I need to know how she does this. How does she wrestle with those prayers that go unanswered—or unanswered in the way she hoped? I’m dabbling in the shallow end of faith, and I need her to tell me how to do this when the shore is no longer in sight.
She smiles at my question—gentle, patient. “The older I get, the less I ask God why,” she says. “More and more, I’m in awe that he would entrust these wounds and difficulties to me.”
I stare at her, dumb. I’m more aware than ever that I have a single toe in the water while she’s out in the deep-blue sea. “You mean God works in spite of the wounds?”
She shakes her head ever so slightly. “The wounds are the gift.”
I’m not even Peter, sinking in the raging waves. I haven’t gotten out of the boat.
“I used to think we would bring our medals to God one day,” she says. “We’d get to heaven and show him all our successes, all the good things we’ve done. But I don’t think so anymore.”
I stare at her, wondering if she notices the waves crashing around her.
“God isn’t impressed by our achievements,” she says. “He wants our wounds. I have a feeling he’d tell us, ‘Look at my Son. He just came to me with his scars.’”
When it’s time to go, I hug her good-bye, surprised that someone so frail could squeeze so tight. As I make my way to the car, soul still reeling, I feel a question bubbling up inside me.
But this time the question is fueled by awe.
Of all the people in the world, why do I get to be her friend?
I don’t know why. But like Ruth, I’m starting to realize that maybe that’s not the most important question. Maybe it’s time to leave the shore behind and follow her into the deep.
You call me out upon the waters
The great unknown where feet may fail
And there I find You in the mystery
In oceans deep My faith will stand.
—From “Oceans” by Hillsong United