April 16th, 2012

Invisible Things

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This morning I found myself dazed while attending an all-staff meeting. I sat. I stared. I payed no attention to the conversations going on around me. At one point, I thought how familiar this felt. I felt this way all of last year.

Grief is like pea soup. It’s thick, it’s heavy, and, Israel would say, it tastes like dirt.

A little over a week ago, a friend and BFA colleague passed away unexpectedly. Mari Ellen Reeser had worked at BFA for over 20 years. Most recently, she was BFA’s sole counselor.

Mari Ellen was my friend. We lived in her house last year, and I was terrified of her. That year was incredibly difficult, and I felt so very guilty about the state of our home. It wasn’t clean, and we’d managed to break more things in those few months than I had in my entire life. But Mari Ellen was gracious. She wrote in an email, “PEOPLE are always more important than THINGS!! It’s the invisible things (like souls!) which are eternal. The visible is passing away!!”

When Israel and I finally met Mari Ellen in a local cafe, I was shocked by how very loud she was and by how often she laughed—loudly.

Over the past year, Mari Ellen has been my safe place, my sanity. I’ve had a lot of conversations with girls about things I was required to report. I hate reporting. It feels like a betrayal. But I can’t think of a better person to report to than Mari Ellen. She was ever gracious. She was always loving. She was always patient. She did was what necessary, and she did what was best.

Most of the “reported” girls didn’t like Mari Ellen. They felt threatened by her. She was the bad guy. Apart from their one or two required meetings with Mari Ellen, they usually chose to see me exclusively. But Mari Ellen didn’t seem to mind. She was never jealous, or petty, or unkind. She wanted to work through the avenues that God was using, whether that was me, her, or someone else.

Mari Ellen was the only person I could talk with openly about my girls. With her, I didn’t have to disguise identities, talk around an issue, or be vague. I could express my confusion, and hurt, and heartache about the pain and suffering these girls experienced. She always offered advice on how to proceed. She always encouraged me in the ways that God was working in and through me. She always prayed for me and for our students.

I’ve only really felt the loss of Mari Ellen once so far. It stills seems unreal that she’s not here. I expect that it will begin to seem very real tomorrow, while attending her memorial service. And the next day, when I meet with the students she cared for. And in a few weeks, when someone tells me something I’m required to report.

I am sad that Mari Ellen is no longer here. I am sad that she’s no longer here to care for our students. I’m sad that she’s left a hole in so many of my friends’ lives. I’m sad that she’s no longer just a few steps away, when it seems like all of my questions have meshed into one great knot that I’d like her to help untie.

But I’m not sad for her. She is dancing with the Holy Trinity now (an idea she once told me passionately about). She is holding my Blueberry and Beatrice until I can. She knows the complete healing and wholeness of eternity. As she referenced all those months ago, her visibleness has passed away, but her soul is eternal.


I wrote this poem over Christmas Break. Now seems like a good time to share it. Unfortunately, I couldn’t copy the formatting without hours of work, so you’ll have to read it as is.

 

A Boxing Day Reflection
By Dani Jernigan

There are moments
and days
and years
that are shot through
with such exquisite sadness
that they must be strings to somewhere else.

They must be threads
that tie the shattered and murky
to the solid and clear,
where there are answers to the
why? and
how long? and
how come?

Where every heartache
and teardrop
and bloody heart-spasm
is perfectly reflected as a glorious groan
that sings forth
honor
glory
redemption
love.

For when we are huddled
in masses on the ground,
alone and aching and raw,
there must be a holy reflection on the other side,
that shows someone beside us,
whispering words of comfort,
weeping tears of heartache,
giving embraces that don’t let go
until we awake
to see the arms that have been holding us
all along.

Surely,
each empty seat
twinkling light
hug from father to daughter
and belly swollen with promise
that makes my brittle heart creak
connects me to a pool
of longing
and hope
and expectation
that is millennia old
where ancient souls come
to remember their sadness
and rejoice
at their joy realized.

Surely,
each empty womb
branded cheek
bruised body
and whimpering child
flies to a bottomless pool of compassion
that forever hides in our Father’s heart,
where he comes
to remember his children
and their great cares,
where he weeps tears of
compassion
brokenness
love
that mingle with our own
to form a sadness so rich
it can only be holy
and precious
and meant for a place
where we are loved
and never alone
and always wanted.

May the balm of that place reach us even here.

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