Wonders of the Brokenhearted


The argument over health care is politically-charged and I have nothing much to add to it other than choices matter. They can make the difference between life and death, between a good life or a miserable one. Mama has choices, and for this day I’m grateful for that.

When we sat down as a family to weigh the options, finances was not the determining factor. Mama’s best care was. I am completely aware that for millions around the world that’s not the case, and I am thankful for those of you out there who are working to minister to those families. Your work is heartbreaking. The devastation you see on a daily basis unimaginable.

I think about the story my own father-in-law told me about the young girl he carried in his arms, rushing to get her aboard a flight, hoping to get her transported from a remote mission field of Ecuador to a hospital in large city. Only before he got her aboard that plane, the girl died in his arms. An antibiotic that cost a handful of dimes would have save the child’s life. But her family didn’t have those dimes, didn’t have the option of better health care for their child.  Although decades have passed since he carried a dying child in his arms, my tender-hearted father-in-law can’t tell that story without his heart breaking for that child all over again.

Somewhere in the evolutionary process of this thing we call civilization, we have come to think that having a broken heart is something to be avoided, or altogether denied.

I can’t think of anything less civil than living among a people unwilling, or unable to have their hearts spilled out on behalf of another.  I want to live among the brokenhearted. For it is there that we find our real selves. 

Remember what the Skin Horse said to the Velveteen Rabbit?

“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”

“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”


Nurse J. pulled me and Sister Tater aside and told us that Mama’s decision to transfer to the University of Washington for care was the right one. It’s a teaching hospital, she said. They’ll have more options open for her.

Isn’t it funny how a little affirmation even from a complete stranger can be such an encouragement in moments like these? I know Nurse J.’s words will never leave us. I know in the months and years to come, we will think of that moment in the hallway and remember that even the nurse thought it was a good decision.

Sister Tater just called. She’s with Mama tonight. This is the first night I’ve been away from the hospital since Friday. It’s my first hot shower in three days. And I’m hear on this comfy bed in my nephew’s home, not sleeping, even though I’m bone-weary.

The tape is on rewind. I am trying to remember every single thing about my Mama. “How many times have I done that for you?” she said this morning as I wet her hair down and brushed it into place. “I bet you had a time with it,” I replied. Mama kept my blonde straight hair in a pixie-cut, so there were always cowlicks and bangs to keep up after. “I did,” she said.

You were my number one daughter, she said. I overheard her say the same thing to a granddaughter later in the day.  She wasn’t being insincere. Mama considers each one of us her favorite.

Oh, and how she fussed over Sullivan during her first ever Skype call. “Look at how wide-eyed he is,” she said. I tell myself it’s because Sullivan already recognizes the sound of my voice. Daughter Ashley plays along. “I hope his hair stays dark,” Mama said after Ashley held Sullivan’s crown up to the camera so Mama could study the Mohawk he’s got going on.

Mama knows this child will only come to know her through the stories he hears. Sister Tater is expecting the birth of her own grandson in November. It’s not wrong to pray that Mama be here for that, I assured her. We are a people of prayer. We are a people of faith. We serve the God of miracles. Man studies the body, Sister Tater says, but God knows the body.

The Redhead I wrote about in Will Jesus Buy Me A Doublewide? ended up with lung cancer the result of breast cancer spreading. When the doctors found the cancer in her lungs they asked if she wanted to know how long she had left and she told them no. The Redhead said that her days were all part of God’s Economy. She cherished the treasure that each day held for her.

Will you pray that I have strength for this day? Mama asked as her grandkids gathered around once more to pray. Oh, how I wish you could see them. These children who used to gather at Mama’s house each Christmas for the big dinner and all those presents from Grandma Shelby — the toy trains and the pretty dresses, the handmade dolls and the remote-controlled doggies  — these children stand around her bed holding-hands as one of them reads from Scriptures, and then they pray. We are a praying family. As I said in the book I wrote about Mama, our life circumstances demanded it of us.

The prayers of these grandchildren are the gifts they give their grandmother. It’s like watching Skin Horses and Velveteen Rabbits come to life — For Real. 

It’s far more than magical. It’s something beyond this present moment to the wonders of the Brokenhearted

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