A special gift

But God turns mourning into dancing

Psalm 30:11-12 You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing. You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy, that I might sing praises to you and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever!

I wrote what I wanted to share with you today a couple days early because I wanted to find out from James whether he would be OK with me posting it. I didn’t know our beloved friend Jim Franzen would die last night, the third in a row from our church. Another dear one is in the ICU on a respirator. Carol, Bill, and now Jim. How we’ll miss his kind heart, his wit, his patient, sweet spirit.

So, I am mourning today. Not dancing, as I was when I wrote what follows. But the two are intertwined, aren’t they. Sometimes one takes prominence, sometimes the other. Both will be part of our reality until finally, God wipes away all our tears. Meanwhile, Lord, please enlarge my soul. It feels too small to embrace all the grief. And all the joy.

Here then is what I wrote before Jim died, about another beloved James:

God gave me an amazing gift last Sunday, one I’ve been, like Mary, “pondering in my heart.” It seemed too precious to share. But I think, somehow, it’s meant for you, too.

A young man in our church, James, is autistic. Karis and I met him as a very bright but nonverbal preschooler in 2004. In the last year, God has given James the ability to communicate with words, through a spelling board. For eighteen years his parents have not known what their son was thinking and feeling, his aspirations and joys and sorrows. Imagine then, suddenly having his inner world opened up to them. It’s so huge it feels indescribable.

Sunday after church I went to our church’s columbarium to touch Karis’s name on her niche, to tell her how much I miss her in this Advent and Christmas season. And to ask God for some small sign that he “saw” me, that he understood how much the grief of losing her still touches me even though it’s been almost eight years since she died.

The image went through my mind of my granddaughter Talita who last Tuesday fell while running through her house and hit her hands and knees quite hard. I watched her struggle not to cry, and then she held out her little hands one at a time and raised her knees to be kissed. A brief snuggle, and she was ready to play again. That’s what I need, Lord. Just a little bit of comfort from you.

Talita last summer

James and his mother were sitting near the columbarium. I sat down with them to catch up a bit, since with Covid and grandchildren I haven’t seen them much in the last couple of years and I’ve missed them. Neither Anna nor I mentioned Karis. Anna asked James whether he wanted to say anything to me. He nodded yes and she pulled his spelling board from her purse.

James rapidly spelled for me: I miss you, Debbie. And I miss Karis. I see her in my dreams. She is dancing and joyful. She is happy, so you can be happy too, Debbie.

I’m writing this with tears. I was stunned. This was the first time I personally experienced James’s ability to communicate, though Anna had shared with me before by email. I had no idea before he could speak in this way that James remembered Karis (much less how to spell her name) or that he connected me with her. It’s been almost eight years since she died. I’m not aware that other young people in our church think about Karis. It’s precious to me that James does.

But of course, the impact of his message to me was greater because of my prayer, asking God for a sign that he saw me, that he understood my need for what my sister Shari would call a “God kiss” on this “owie” in my heart.

Thank you, Lord. Thank you, James and Anna, for this precious, unexpected gift.

This week my sister-in-law Elaine sent me a link to an article by author Tish Harrison Warren (Liturgy of the Ordinary; Prayer in the Night) which exactly fits the theme of joy and pain mixed together. Tish was part of our church for several years, so I often read what she writes, but I had missed this one. I know it will bless you.

And I wish for you a God kiss, wherever you are hurting.