I am always prepared, and yet never really ready, for how this week and this day affect me, for all the emotions I carry around and how they spring up at random and unexpected times.
It's strange, because nothing can be harder than this day 7 years ago, so I don't know why I approach the anniversary with such dread. But I do, every single year.
It's been such a long time that my sister has been in heaven.
It FEELS like a long time most days.
This week it always feels like it just happened yesterday.
I had several new emotions this year, in the days leading up to this one. For example: I was so mad at myself on Wednesday. I kept thinking, "Why didn't you try harder to get there? If you had left on August 16th, 2010, when we all still thought it was dehydration or exhaustion or something, you would have made it before she died. Why were you trying to be optimistic? Why didn't you just GO?"
All week I have been so tired. A bone-deep exhaustion, sapping me of the desire to do anything. I'm used to that feeling, though, as the years pass, and I've gotten decent at letting myself off the hook for just a couple days.
"Yes, kids, I do know that we had frozen pizza for lunch and we are having Little Caesars for supper. I'm sorry. I'll do better next week."
Seven years is a long time to spend walking through grief. But by the time I reach the end of my life, it will have been even longer. It seems like, in my logical brain, that I should be all better by now. That I should have figured out how to compensate, adjust, and keep on moving, without feeding my children the same meal 6 times in a 3 day span, without giving myself a stomach ache from crying.
I told that to the Lord this week, during my prayer time. "I'm sorry I keep bring this to You every year, Lord. I should be getting better at it by now."
I don't know if I can accurately explain what happened next, but I will try.
I pray in my closet. Because it's quiet, and if my kids come looking for me, they will look in my room and bathroom, but seldom come all the way into my closet to search. And usually I pray after my workout, because I'm going to be sitting down and gasping for air for a while anyway, and might as well kill two birds with one stone.
So, picture me in sweaty workout gear, face flushed and soaked in sweat, sitting in the floor of a relatively clean closet.
"Good morning, Lord. I know there are things for me to pray about. I just need to get my head in the game. Help me."
I sat and looked at the list of scriptures and prayer requests in front of me, and even though I WANTED to pray...I had no words.
"I'm tired, Lord. I want to praise You and worship You and pray for my fellow believers...but right now I'm sad. And sadness makes me tired."
And then I had the strangest string of memories and thoughts, flooding my brain in a row, like a reel of a movie.
A baby monkey at the zoo, walking along beside its parents, until it gets too tired and the mom slings the little one up on her back to ride for a few minutes.
A movie where the battle is raging and the soldier is surrounded, and suddenly a friend appears on a horse, his arm reaching out, and jerks his companion up to ride behind him through the fighting.
A toddler who walks and walks, and then suddenly can't anymore, so the daddy hauls them up onto his shoulders for a bit.
A poem about footprints, overused and cliche, but resonating nonetheless.
My 10-year-old with a broken foot, the day before we got him crutches, riding on my back from the car to the house.
My 7-year-old, toe busted and bleeding, being carried in his daddy's arms.
It took several minutes before I realized I had curled up onto the floor, in a ball, as the thoughts rushed over and over through my brain. And I was crying. And the Lord was talking to me.
"It's okay, little girl. Take a break. I'll do the moving forward for a while, and you can ride on my back. Just sit and breathe for a minute."
Relief is a sweet, precious gift this morning.
Because I am NOT advancing today. I'm sitting. I'm remembering my sister. I'm wishing I could tell her one more time that I love her. I'm missing her.
But I'm sitting on the back of a strong, swift, galloping horse. Because the rider reached out His hand and jerked me from the battle, and is carrying me forward for a while, while I catch my breath.
I'm bleeding and broken, but my Daddy has scooped me into His arms and is bandaging my wounds with His presence.
There were two sets of footprints last week, and this week there is one set. And I don't even care that it sounds cheesy.
He doesn't begrudge me the need to rest, and be sad, and need comfort. When my heart's greatest desire is shelter from the storm, relief from the battle, protection during the pain...He scoops me into His arms.
And so, spiritually, I've been curled in a ball, on the floor of my closet, all week. Still going through the days. Still having to face this one, the day my sister died...but not facing it standing up, or laying down, or alone.
He's carrying me.
"Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest..." Matthew 11:28