August 6, 2016
As the days crept up to the second anniversary of Steve’s death, I was bracing myself for this season’s inevitable flood of memories, pain and grief. Little did I know that this year would be different, because Steve would be sending me a gift I desperately needed: a get out of jail free card. But here’s the thing. I hadn’t even realized I was in prison.
It was midnight on a clear, chilly evening last week when I was driving across the Richmond/San Rafael Bridge on my way home from a class reunion. I had just spent a few hours reminiscing with my old high school girl gang, and now it was time to drive my partied-out self home. I cranked the music to a full tilt and rolled down the windows in an effort to stay alert. There was an unfamiliar song playing, so I was kind of half-listening. But once I heard the lyric “all my mistakes have been forgiven,” something lit up in me and the entire atmosphere inside the car changed.
It felt almost like a gut punch, as my breath caught and held. Then as it released, I had a sensation of a weight dropping down from my chest and right through the center of me. And in that previously occupied heart space, I now felt a keen sense of healing warmth and opening. Soon after, the torrent of tears began, quickly and efficiently wetting my entire face. Fortunately, this flood was brief, so I didn’t have to pull over for an all-out weep fest!
So what was going on? I don’t know for sure, but my guess is this: God knows my emotional and spiritual topography so intimately. He must have decided there were a few problem areas that needed some reconstruction and knew that music was the best way to get my attention.
He could see that–just under the surface of my awareness–I’d been held captive by a profound sense of guilt and regret ever since Steve went missing. Right on the heels of the music and tears (like a good three-act play), an image of Steve quickly came to mind: he stood in a wide stance, with arms crossed and a disappointed, irritated scowl on his face. He looked like he was ready to lock me up and throw away the key!
I soon came to realize that, ever since that horrible August day two years ago, I have been unconsciously berating myself with a litany of “if only’s” and “you should have’s.” “You should have been a better wife and friend.” “Since you were married SO long, you should have just KNOWN where he was on that mountain!” “You should have stepped up and tried to be a more active part of the official search. Then maybe you would have found him in time.” Not necessarily rational thoughts, though powerful nonetheless.
But with the words “all my mistakes are forgiven” came the realization that the only person judging me was–and is–me. Steve’s arms aren’t folded in disapproval, and his jaw is unclenched. I know his face shows only compassion for the shocked and grieving woman who has been doing the very best she can since the day her world turned upside down. Even though I already believed that Steve was with God, I desperately needed the gift of this vision of Steve fully immersed in His presence, saturated with love.
So I think of them as a team of sorts: Steve and God. I like to picture them collaborating on this “prisoner swap,” shoving my misplaced sense of guilt and responsibility where it belongs (behind bars) and freeing me from this prison of my own making.
“As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.” Psalm 103:2
Ah, freedom…sweet freedom.