We could hear the woman wailing before we saw her. Chad and I were wandering around the store, browsing while Emerald was in dance class down the street. We had had an easy, leisurely morning, enjoying Chad’s day off. Emerald had looked adorable in her little dance leotard, with unreasonably long braids hanging down her back, skipping into her class just a few moments earlier. The older kids had smiled in spite of themselves on a Monday morning before they left for school. And, Chad and I were happily chatting about whatever came to mind while we roamed the aisles of the grocery store.
Then we heard the unmistakable sound of human anguish.
We walked over a few aisles and saw her sitting there, surrounded by a small crowd. Her weathered hands covered her face, and beneath her fingers, twisted with age, she cried out. A tall man came toward us, pushing his cart. He could see that we were concerned. I think she just got a phone call, he said. Someone has died. She’s okay. He smiled at us wearily and continued with his shopping. Still she moaned there on the bench, rocking back and forth like a mama trying to soothe an inconsolable child.
Chad walked over and sat down beside her. She was shaking her head in disbelief. She sobbed, He can’t be dead! He can’t be dead! Her grief poured out. Her eighteen year old grandson had been found dead in his home. Oh, I can’t believe it! she groaned, and Chad patted her arm. I’m a pastor, he said, Would you mind if I pray with you?
She begged him to pray. And, right there in the grocery store, a broken old woman, a pastor and his wife, some store employees, and a couple more strangers circled up and cried out to the God of all Life in this moment of unspeakable pain. The grieving woman nodded in agreement while Chad spoke, yet every few seconds she would stop and cover her face, shaking her head no, willing her own tired mind to realize that this was really happening. She had outlived her precious grandson.
The prayer ended, and the store employees ushered her to a back office where she could wait for her daughter to come and take her home. She never did stop sobbing. But, when Chad said amen, she looked up at him and said through her tears, I know God will get me through it somehow.
Chad and I picked up the few little items that we had been carrying in our arms when we heard her cries, and we walked away, back to a good day. Back to a reality that is all cute kids and funny stories and dance leotards. But, I couldn’t get the wounded grandmother off my mind. I kept wondering how many times in her long life that God has already proven that He will get her through this. Somehow.
In the next few days, she will comfort her grieving son. She will cook for her family. She will think of things that no one else has thought of yet. Things that need to be done. She will care for her frail husband. She will stand beside her grandson’s casket, and she will mourn. Deeply. With a pain that is only known by those who have wailed next to the gaping grave of a child.
I will be playing Chutes and Ladders with Emerald. Picking up the kids from school. I’ll be looking for new crockpot recipes and waiting with anticipation for Chad to come home from work. God willing. But, there is a certain privilege that God grants us sometimes: the privilege of being there during someone’s worst moment. Of witnessing what it looks like when Christian people face trials of all kinds—the very worst kinds—and choose to trust God through it all. It’s an honor and a wonder to be present when someone’s faith is forced to grow and stretch beyond what we think it’s capable of. Yet, today we saw it, on a cold metal bench in the back of the grocery store, in the trembling voice of a terribly distraught white-haired grandmother: I know God will get me through it. I doubt that her mind really believed that in the moment. The brain inside her head, that little white head that kept shaking no in disbelief, couldn’t know for sure that she is going to survive this. But, her soul knows it well. Because the Holy Spirit was already whispering this truth to her in ways that only He can. And, she chose to believe it, soul-deep. God will get me through it.
I doubt she will ever know how much it meant to this naive little pastor’s wife today, watching an old woman’s faith grow. And, I doubt she will ever see how being there caused my faith to grow, too. One more leaf sprouted on a still small and tender tree. I thank God for the privilege of being there. And, for the ways that He never fails to show me how good it is to know Him, on our best days and on our worst.