The Weakness of Strength

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I basically had my life planned in my early twenties. I wanted to have 4 kids. I grew up with only a brother and 2 kids was too few. Seeing a number of families of 3 kids where one got “stuck” in the middle made me lean towards an even number of kids. One of my best church friends had 3 siblings and I thought their family was the best. I was also very specific–I wanted 4 boys. Not 2 boys and 2 girls. Just 4 boys. I believed boys were much easier to raise. They aren’t given to as many hormone-driven outbursts as girls. They might fight but it was usually physical. An all out brawl then almost instant peace. Girls involved much more emotion. Too much drama. Thanks very much, but I would take boys, please.

I don’t remember if most future parents found out their unborn child’s sex when I was pregnant with Karissa. It was a long time ago. 21 years, to be exact. I do know that we didn’t find out. I prayed for a boy. I wanted one desperately. When Karissa was finally born, it was in such hurried circumstances that we didn’t make it to a delivery room. The doctor who delivered her didn’t even tell me that she was a girl. He turned her in such a way that her missing appendage was obvious and then she was whisked away. I lay there, shocked by the whole experience, but repeating “It’s a girl” over and over to myself. If there is one benefit to not finding out a child’s sex before he or she is born it is the absolute reality of the situation while you hold that newborn in your arms. The love and connection were instantaneous for me. I didn’t think about wanting her to be a boy again. Except when I tell this story. Sorry, Karissa.

After a miscarriage when Karissa was under a year old, I was very happy to be pregnant again. I hoped that Arlynne might be twins but after dealing with that disappointment (if I knew then what I know now…), I didn’t really think about whether it was a boy or a girl. When Arlynne was actually born the only people in the delivery room were my mom, my female doctor and a nurse. It seemed appropriate that this new little person should be a girl.

Karissa and Arlynne were less than 2 years apart in age. My parents and I always called them “the girls”. We still do, when we get to reminiscing. At times they were best friends. They were always together. They were shuffled, as one unit, between their father’s house and mine. Even though they had 2 homes, they always had each other. That was a constant.

Life was not always rosy though. They could be best friends but they could also be each other’s worst enemy. I wonder if 2 girls from the same 2 parents could be so different. Karissa is a night-owl. Arlynne liked to “hit-the-hay” early. Karissa would sleep in for hours. Arlynne was up with the birds. Karissa is organizationally challenged. Arlynne liked her things “just so”. It was a recipe for disaster. We were laughing about a story from their childhood the other day with Karissa. We had decided to move them into a room together in the basement of our 3 bedroom war-time house. We had 4 kids by then and we felt like this would be a perfect solution. The room didn’t have a dividing line of tape on the floor but there were definite zones in that room. There was Karissa’s space and then there was Arlynne’s. I don’t recall the start of the fight. I am certain it was loud. What I distinctly remember, though, is a 6 foot tall bookcase being pushed onto the floor and then a quick decision. They were moving again. In the middle of a kitchen renovation. In the middle of December Christmas preparations. We were desperate.

They were fairly happy at our home. They had to share a room but Arlynne shared with Josiah and Karissa shared with Eden. They were definitely not close in age but the personalities seemed to blend better and they stayed that way until we moved to a bigger home after the arrival of the twins. Of course, they had to share a bedroom at their father’s but it was only usually 2 nights every other weekend and they fought but survived. I am not sure what he did that prevented blood-shed but they would come back home in one peace, even if they weren’t talking to each other.

Girls grow, as girls do. They continued to change and grow more different but I believe they started to embrace some of those differences. They may have even liked each other. There is an almost 5 year gap between Arlynne and Josiah and then a 6 year gap between Eden and the twins so Karissa and Arlynne didn’t have as much in common as the other kids. They love(d) them but they definitely weren’t in the same stage of life. Karissa and Arlynne had more in common. They went to separate high schools and didn’t share any friends but I think that was a good thing. They were very different sizes so they didn’t share clothes. Another fight averted. Life was pretty good.IMG_0003_NEW

The summer that Arlynne was away on her missions trip was hard on Karissa, at least from my perspective. She was missing her sister, the one who was closest in age to her. It doesn’t matter how many kids I have, I always mourned when one was away and that summer I not only missed Arlynne but I hurt for Karissa missing her closest sister. I remember standing in my driveway that summer and crying. All I wanted was for all my kids to be back under one roof. That never happened again.

Karissa was visiting her father’s family when we found out that Arlynne died. I tried to call her cellphone and she didn’t answer so I called her father. He then called his mom’s house, where Karissa was staying, and she told Karissa about Arlynne. Of all the things that I regret of that night it is that I didn’t tell Karissa myself. I have apologized to her but it still hurts to think about. I should have told her myself.

When Karissa found out that her sister was gone, she wanted to come home. Immediately. None of her father’s family wanted to make the 1 1/2 hour drive that night but she was determined. We spent time brainstorming about how much a taxi would cost. Her best friend and future roommate’s parents were ready to jump in their car and get her when her uncle agreed to drive her back. She needed to be home.

She was as involved in the plans that week as anyone else. More so. She had a friend over on Sunday and they spent the whole day in the basement but when we needed to start making decisions, she was there. She and Eden chose Arlynne’s burial plot. She had the final say on Arlynne’s treasure chest (casket–see blog “3 Year Old Grief and a Treasure Chest”). She also served as an important liaison between her father and me. It did not always go well that week and we needed to be able to say that Karissa had made decisions in order to smooth the way. And she did. The day we spent going from location to location, making arrangements, she was while we were there. We got the job done. Then she would get in the car with us and cry all the way to the next spot. It was a rough day.

That week she did what she needed to do during the day while hiding away with friends in the evening. She was getting through. Her future no longer looked the same as it could have but her plan was the same. She was going to university in 5 weeks. That had not changed.

I asked her to get help. I told her that she could get free counselling at university. She would pay a lot for it if she went to a private therapist. I tried to appeal to her pocketbook. Her best friend offered to go with her. She didn’t. I told her that if she didn’t deal with this now then something else in the future could upset her more than it should in the future. She didn’t bite.

She was happy to go to school. I cried when we dropped her off. I couldn’t help it. She stopped wearing the same perfume as Arlynne when that scent made me weep. She came home pretty often but I think she was also happy to be away from the grief at home.

I still remember her birthday that year. It was a Saturday and she was home for the weekend. She was baking when I got a phone call. A well-meaning person had decided to call me and disclose some very painful information about Arlynne and her accident to me. I had stepped outside with the phone because I was getting upset and I didn’t want Karissa to hear me crying. It got so bad, though, that I finally came back in in order to avoid making a scene for the neighbours. Instead I sobbed, lying in the fetal position on the floor behind the front door. It was an ugly picture. And Karissa was there.

As a mom, I want to spare my kids from pain. Who wouldn’t? But this was a tough one. How do you protect your kids from the pain of losing a loved one? It wasn’t like losing a grandparent. My kids have been spared from that, so far, but it is expected. No one expects that a teen will die. It is against the natural order of things. They are supposed to grow up and raise their kids together. Be friends. Bury their parents together. It is not supposed to be this way.

But Karissa is strong. She comes from strong stock. We come from a family where you just don’t talk as much about things. No dirty laundry is aired. Emotions are kept in check. It is more dignified to appear cool and aloof than to break down in front of anyone. In being strong, though we could miss the point of God. We forget that He has promised to be there when things are ugly and painful and seemingly unfair. We forget Him in the midst of it. Our strength becomes our greatest weakness.

People sometimes say that I am strong. They are wrong. The only thing that gets me through is God. He is the only thing that keeps me going. When the pain becomes unbearable I can call out to Him. And He gets it. He had to sacrifice His own beloved Son for all the wrong I’ve done. He couldn’t even look at Jesus when He died because of all my sin. Mine. If He can’t understand then no one can. And He does.

I suppose it would look good to appear strong. Strength can be good. But when it keeps me from the only true comfort, then strength is deceiving.

The apostle Paul may have been considered strong by many people. His strength was illustrated in his persecution of the first century church. Christians feared him. He had the power to execute them. Then Jesus revealed Himself to Paul and he became a changed man. Power like Paul’s wouldn’t just disappear. It was more likely redirected. He did reveal, though, that he had a problem that he asked God to remove. Some say it was a physical disability. Epilepsy, maybe. It doesn’t really matter. It was a weakness. Paul wanted it gone. It says in 2 Corinthians 12:8-10, “Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”(NKJV) Paul learned that God was the source of strength. And it was perfect.

I worry about Karissa. I worry that she is too strong. I worry that her strength has kept her from pouring her heart out to God. I am afraid that she doesn’t know that she can. I am afraid that I have failed her. That I haven’t shown her that my weakness has been replaced by my Father God’s strength. And that hers can too.

Strong people may appear to have it all together. In this case, if I appear strong, it is because of all that God does for me. My weakness makes me the perfect candidate for His strength.

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