Having the choice of Communion made it clear to me that I wanted it. After months of reading the Bible, of trying to find what I was looking for anywhere other than in the church, I had to admit what I had fought so long to resist: I was hungry for Jesus. For the Jesus who hung out with whores, who wept when his friend died, and who claimed to be the Way, the Truth, and the Life. In the end, all of my searching for something in which to place my faith didn't lead to a well-reasoned decision to choose Jesus over other gods. Instead, God offered me himself in the form of Jesus. I didn't have to find him or explain him or even make sense out of him; I just had to say yes.
After that first Communion, I returned to school to study childhood bereavement. I met and married a wonderful man, and we bore two beautiful sons. Three years ago, I became a mother to a teenager whose own mother had died, a teenager who is the same age my daughter would have been.
After getting married, I worked for two years with middle-school students whose parents had died. I facilitated a support group for surviving parents whose spouse had died, and taught a class at Harvard on bereavement. I often find myself the repository for stories of loss, told in lowered voices at cocktail parties and grocery stores.
I try to listen deeply as people share those stories, nodding in agreement with how awful it is. I bear their story and, in so doing, remind them that they are not alone.
In addition to solidarity, I offer my prayers. As I try to take in the magnitude of what they are telling me, I pray. Sometimes I pray for healing words. Often, I pray for the grace to be quiet.
When I am with someone whose losses ring of Job, I pray my faith would withstand another occasion of what appears senseless and unbearable. I try to remember that, despite my inability to discern otherwise, God's ways are never senseless. And I tell myself the story of what God was doing while I was in New Jersey, watching my life fall apart.
Piecing It All Together
After Scott and Sarah died, a woman from Massachusetts named Liz stood up at her church for several weeks on end and asked people to pray for me. Liz lived with my friend Ora, and Ora had told her about me. A man named Jeff went to Liz's church. He prayed with the congregation that God would take care of my body and heart.
Liz moved to England, and I never met her or heard about her efforts to solicit prayer on my behalf. Several years later, she asked Ora how I was doing. Ora told her that I had met a nice guy, a chaplain at Harvard. She mentioned Jeff's name. Liz said incredulously, "Jeff Barneson?" Liz told Ora about the times she had solicited prayer on my behalf, realizing that Jeff would have been praying as well. Ora called to tell us, and we were struck that, without knowing it, Jeff, my husband, had been praying for me before we met.
One afternoon six years ago, after I finished telling this story to my friend Kathy, she said, "So was I!"
"I was praying for you too. Liz was in my prayer group. She came to our group so distraught by your story that she asked us to pray for you. We prayed for weeks, and then I forgot about that story. When I met you, it never occurred to me that you were the same woman. In fact, Jean and Julie would have been there at church as well, so they were also praying for you back then."