I try to imagine what it’s like to be a child again as these three older children yell and scream in the living room. They laugh deep from their bellies. They live life on the edge.
They are playing in a shanty house made with boards, chairs, pillows and blankets. Living life in make-believe. They throw balls over it, run around it, and bump into each other, knocking one another down with vigor.
Their conversations are vibrant and illogical. (At least, in the way I’ve been taught to think of logic.) They are full of imagination from morning till night. They are restless. No, not restless. They do know how to rest at times. They are active and full of energy. Gushing forth with words, non-sensical syllables and songs.
And they do not try to capture any of it. They live fully and presently in each moment.
I am sitting next to Vitalia on the floor, in the kitchen. She has pulled herself up, hands on the wall, feet firmly planted beside me. She attempts one timid step to the left, then one to the right, giving me a wide, four teeth smile when done.
She is here, and nowhere else. She is thinking only of her movements in this moment. She does not fear death like her father. She does not have any concept of ending when she is just beginning. She is alive.
I try to be with her. I try to keep my mind from wandering through future or past, to grasp some issue to gripe over, some circumstance to dwell on that is outside of my control.
Their minds are fully tied up in this present play, in hands on the wall and feet on the floor. And I give way, my feet swept out from beneath me in a torrent of anxious thoughts.
* * *
It’s somewhere around one hour into my first sleep cycle. Emeth whimpers from two doors down. I give him time to see if he settles. He doesn’t, and I pull warm covers off tired body and shuffle down the hall. I don’t know what to expect. It’s always the same, but always different. I start my conversation with Jesus.
Me: Jesus, where are you?
Jesus: I’m right here.
J: You don’t see me, but I am here.
Me: Why can’t I see you?
J: Take your eyes off yourself, and you will see me.
Me: Are you near?
J: Yes, very near.
Me: How near?
J: Open the door.
I open Emeth’s door, and kneel beside his bed. I ask, “What do you need?” and “What’s wrong, bud?” but no response. Only suffering. Writhing, but not in pain. Stuffy nose, but doesn’t want his pinky [handkerchief]. Tired, but doesn’t want to lay down. One contradiction after another, so I stop asking and just pull him into the hallway, onto my lap in the rocker. I start singing his favorite song. ‘I hear the Savior say, Thy strength indeed is small…’
Me: Jesus, are you still here?
Me: My strength is small. Help me!
J: Child of weakness, find in me your all in all.
J: Yes, all.
M: Isn’t there anything else? Don’t I need more? I’m a failure. I fall short in everything. I can’t do this! I’m tired.
J: My grace is sufficient for you. Keep going. I will give you what you need.
M: Will you? Emeth asked me earlier why I keep getting older and mommy doesn’t. I said, ‘I don’t know, I just am. I guess mommy’s face keeps getting more angelic, while mine gets more wrinkled and my hair more gray.’ But I thought, ‘Everyday, one step closer to death. I’m dying. That’s why.’ What have I given to this world? What? I’ll die before my work is done!
J: You will accomplish everything you need to. Do not be afraid. Though it will be less glorious than you hope for.
M: Everything? But how do you know? I’m so weak. So scatterbrained. I don’t have the strength for even this.
J: My power is made perfect in your weakness, not in your accomplishments. When you are weak, I am strong. Do not focus on your work. On your accomplishments. Rest your eyes on me.
‘For nothing good have I whereby thy grace to claim.
I’ll wash my garments white in the blood of Calvary’s lamb.’
M: But my eyes are tired. I have nothing good. But you are good. Right?
J: Yes, I am. I am your good Shepherd.
M: You are my Shepherd. I shall not want. Make me lie down in green pastures. Make Emeth lie down in his bed.
J: Keep singing. Be still.
M: But I don’t know what to do to calm him? How can I be still when I’m so confused? Don’t you know everyone believes something different about you? How can I know what to believe when everyone is so divided?
J: You don’t need to figure out what to believe about me. Just believe in me.
Me: You mean, that you exist? That you aren’t Santa? I suppose I can do at least that. Most people are agreed on that point.
J: No, not believe in the sense that you must conjure up faith in my existence. ‘Even the demons believe.’
Me: Right, right. So, what do you mean, then?
J: Be still. Cease striving.
Me: Trust you?
J: Yes, trust me. Trust me in this moment. You cannot control him. You do not know what’s going on inside him. But I do. Rest in my arms. Let go of him and hold on to me.
M: But how can I hold on to you if I don’t know where you are?
J: What you have done to the least of these, you have done to me.