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When your mother dies, especially if she is still quite young, you can feel forsaken and forlorn. And even when your heart embraces the mercy of these true words: “When my mother and father forsake me, the Lord will take me up” — there remains a mother-shaped cavern in your heart that reminds you every day of your loss.

But the Lord has shown me that He wants to fill that hole in my life with the most unexpected, beautiful gifts. I have been wanting to tell my readers about the wondrous gifts that have been coming to me. And I think it is time now. So, with a sense of Heaven’s nearness, a smile of awe, and a few tears, I’ll share the rest of the story….

This week my pastor concluded his sermon with the words, “Filling our imagination with Jesus, we increasingly live in touch with reality, while the whole world is out of touch with reality.” I know this is true. I’ve experienced Jesus working through my imagination to enter and heal the losses and wounds of my life. Our minds can believe all sorts of lies, and our hearts can be oppressed by darkness; but when Jesus steps in to fill a mind and a heart, light shines out the darkness, and loving truth dispels crippling falsehood.

You can read my story — of how Jesus “took me up” and healed my heart — in Journeys to Mother Love. Part of that story is that for many years I have lived with a mother-cavern in my heart since my mother died when I was in my twenties. Since Mother was adopted as a young child out of a large family fallen on hard times (during the Great Depression, her mother died of TB and her father left to find work) … and then, adopted, she was raised as an only child … I have had no relatives on my mother’s side.

Then, 18 months ago, after years of searching, I found my mother’s birth family — living within an hour’s drive of my husband and me! I found a cousin the same age as my mother who had been a toddler in the same home with Mother and always wondered what happened to little Imogene. At 83 she was the last of the generation that remembered my mother, Imogene. So I found her in the nick of time.

This new-found cousin, Mary Lou, was as thrilled to find me as I was to find her. We felt a bond immediately, and the mother-cavern in my heart didn’t feel so empty. And gradually I learned that she was a person of faith who loved the Lord and prayed for her family.

I treasure the times we spent together: visits in my home and in her apartment, sharing lunches together, looking through photo albums, finding so many ways our paths have intersected unbeknown to us, feeling her strong grasp of my hands, her kisses on my cheeks, hearing her heartfelt, “I love you!”

Then this winter she was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Long vigils in the hospital brought my husband and me together with her children and grandchildren. And the heart-cavern of impending loss filled with cousins who enfolded me and I have found myself surrounded by family I never expected to have.

Last Friday night my husband and I stood with 16 of Mary Lou’s family members around her ICU bed as she lay at death’s door. We had each had opportunity to sit with her, express our love, and say good-bye. But the grief and sadness were creating a huge cavern of grief in the room, felt by everyone present.

Then this family, with tears, each at various stages of belief and doubt, gathered round the beloved mother and grandmother who had been their strong, caring, faithful hub and, instead of calling the hospital chaplain, asked one of her sons, who had been a steady church attender, to pray. I doubt the family had ever done that before. But as gentle, simple, real, heartfelt words poured from that brother (one of my new-found cousins, who has had much suffering in his life) grace like rain poured sweetness into the gaping cavern of sadness. Surely every heart, no matter how unaccustomed to praying, was touched. … How can sadness be so sweet?!

Soon after that I read my friend Jasona’s blog in which she writes, “I see loss, difficulty, and uncertainty as cavernous places, and I have hope that when we open them to Jesus he fills them with grace so they can become … like settings for diamonds.” (You can read her entire blog post here.) Jasona’s post came to me as another gracious gift that helped me fill my imagination with Jesus, helped me deal with the grief in a way that was in touch with reality — the realities of Life in the midst of death, Light in the midst of darkness, Heaven in the midst of our earthy lives, and the Wonders of God’s ways.

~ Catherine Lawton