Monday, April 07, 2008

The Legacy of Strawberry Jam - Ann's Story Ch. Two

I remember the process with my mother when I was a little girl—boiling the fruit down in a big pot, stirring in the sugar and the pectin, pouring the hot frothy mixture into clean jars and waiting for the wonderful stuff to cool enough to eat. The color of the jam was vibrant—the deepest of reds, purples, and blues, the taste holding a hint of wildness from the sun-warmed back garden. It was unlike anything that could ever come from a store, one of those things that just represents the very best in life

Last Sunday I was reminded again by a mere wisp of a woman of what is the best in life. She spoke of the joy she experiences when hearing a robin sing. We wondered together if there would be the song of robins in Heaven. We talked about her disappointment that she hasn’t made that strawberry jam she’d been planning on. I was touched by her desire to feed her loved ones in this way. I wrote about her last autumn. Her name is Ann.

This past year Ann has struggled to keep her weight above 115 pounds. A few weeks ago she and her husband made arrangements at a funeral home. A palliative care nurse will come to Ann’s house when needed. The doctor said it might be needed soon.

How could Ann, who is possibly facing the last season of her life on earth, lift me from the despondency I’ve been experiencing this past year? I won’t make light of my issues. By doing so I would only minimize that of others who share similar trials. Pain comes in many different packages, and for some of us that may mean anxiety over loved ones, depression, or even the fear to live life vigorously. That’s the way Ann has always lived her life—vigorously—and how she lives this season of her life. So much so she constantly surprises me.

Last Sunday when I spoke to Ann I couldn’t keep the tears away. They were tears for her and what she’s going through, but facing Ann brought to the forefront that which I’ve been trying to hide. I didn’t want others to know that my hope was holding on by a thread, that my joy in Christ had faded, and that I lived with daily fear. In facing Ann I realized that she has more courage in her little finger than I do in my entire body. It shamed me. Not that Ann would ever want to do that, but she can’t help her life speaking for her, and it does, loudly and beautifully. It’s the way she confronts being sick every day, how she prepares her heart to say goodbye to her loved ones, and the way she wonders if she’ll ever hear a robin herald in a new spring. She does all of this, trusting in a compassionate God. When her strength holds up, Ann encourages others by going to Bible study and reunions of ladies’ groups she’s helped out in past years, right up to last year. She prays for others. She probably prayed for me last Sunday.

When I look at Ann I see the flavor of God. I see zest. I see life. Perhaps what I’m seeing is the beauty of a life condensed, with the impurities gone, so that the mixture of the fruit is congealed with the sweetness of the Holy Spirit.

It’s been my daily prayer this past winter that this season of Ann's life would be filled with sweetness and joy for her and her husband. I expected God to pour it on Ann thick and heavy so that she wouldn't even notice leaving this earth and being swept into His presence. I couldn't stand the thought of her suffering. God is answering my prayers, but as usual, not in the way I expected. It is the sweetness pouring out of Ann that God has fed me with. I suppose that’s the secret. Right up to the very end, it’s what we give out of a selfless and courageous heart that matters most to God--the incredible sweetness of Christ Jesus and His courage. That courage convinced Ann to agree to another round of chemo therapy. Where I would have given up, Ann has not. That's when I hear God's voice.

"Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer." Romans 12:12

I continue to pray that this season of Ann's life will be gentle and full of joy, and no suffering, no matter how valiant Ann is. Perhaps the Lord will give her the small mercy of making that batch of strawberry jam for her loved ones yet. It would be a blessing to me to go to her house and help her stir it up and fill the jars. Perhaps there will even be another spring full of birdsong for her.

But even if God doesn’t answer our prayers in just that way, Ann has reminded me that He is good. Life with Him is vibrant and wild, no matter how short or long, or what we suffer. And Heaven . . . unimaginably wonderful.

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