Like a Rose

I spent a long time trying to think of a fancy way to write this, but it won’t come out that way, so here goes.

This morning, my church did not have a sunrise service. Indiana went to daylight savings time this year, and our pastor thought that our usual 7:45 service was early enough. Maybe.

Church started with a silent skit by some of the older youth. Two boys. They came in with Easter baskets, going on an Easter egg hunt. They jostled each other as they each went for the same egg. You know, the way boys will do. In the course of their search, on the altar, they found…a cross. First they looked sort of puzzled and then, smiling, they walked down the aisle and left the church. All without words.

Now, I had been thinking about Easter and the way it has changed for me over the years since yesterday. When I was a teenager, my Florida cousins took me to a sunrise service at a graveyard and, although I am ashamed to say it now, the symbolism did not dawn on me right away.

Then my mom died. (Well, not really RIGHT then. I was forty.) And I began to think of Easter in a whole new way. Mostly, I think, because I knew the hopelessness of being without her. And the hope of seeing her again because I am sure that she is in heaven. So yesterday, my husband and I went and put flowers on her grave. We don’t live in the city where she is buried, so we don’t do that very often. And even though I could hear my mom saying, “What are you doing spending money on flowers? I’m dead!”– I felt good about the flowers. Really, you know, it wasn’t the grave thing. Paying her tribute. It was sort of a thank offering to God because I know that I will see her again.

Then we went on to the family Easter gathering, which was nice. I will write more about that later. Part of it, though, involved my going with my younger sister to see our oldest sister, who was hospitalized in a psychiatric ward last week.

My sister has been sick for a long time. Officially, her first hospitalization was six years ago, but I think she was sick long before then. Her illness has been a series of downs, really, because my brother-in-law wasn’t consistent with her medications and I don’t know that there was ever an official diagnosis, although schizophrenia was mentioned. Six years ago, she was not quite fifty three, so she was old for a diagnosis of that sort. Unless we are right and she had been ill for quite a while.

She has gone downhill in the past six months, not recognizing her husband or her daughter. I didn’t see her all that often because the family only brought her to gatherings when they thought she could handle it. She can be violent at times, and she says things that are out of place and don’t make sense.

My poor husband was worried about my going to see her. He thought it would be upsetting. So did I, but I thought it needed doing. Even if my sister did not know I was there, I would know that I had been. My best friend was concerned, too. She had been a visitor in a locked ward before.

So off I went with my younger sister. We accompanied our older sister’s husband and her son and daughter-in-law. My brother-in-law is not big on sharing, so we got a little more information from his daughter-in-law en route, but not a lot. Mostly, we knew that the week since my sister has been hospitalized has been a sort of hell for them all.

Until we got older, I never thought I looked much like my sister. She is 5’4”; I am 6’1”. Her skin is lily white, and mine has a yellow to it. Her hair is dark brown; mine is auburn. But since we are both now middle aged, I see a lot of my face in hers.

Her husband had warned us that she lost a lot of weight, but what I really wasn’t prepared for was the lack of responsiveness. There was just nobody there for most of our visit. That’s not like my sister. She is really the only one of our family who was social, not shy. She went to both her proms and boys called our house for her all the time. By the time she was nineteen and did actually get married, several boys had already proposed.

At first, though five people had entered her room, she did not respond at all. Then, when she did, she responded to her husband, and her response was violent, not nice at all. I see why he looks tired and sort of lost. The only thing she really accepted from him was tea that he had brought from home. She drank it eagerly, but then she hid the cup under her covers.

We kept talking about things we had done together, experiences that the family had shared. My nephew says such conversations rouse her sometimes, as if she is responding to the social pressure to be alert. During one of those periods, she recognized me and smiled as she said my name. I saw my sister at that moment, the sis I had grown up with! Just as quickly, though, she was gone. There was an instant in which she recognized my nephew as well, but again, by the time he answered her, she was gone.

I have had autistic students before, and this is sort of the way they act. They are in their own little world, and if you harass them long enough, they will come out of it. But only to do what you ask so that you will go away. I think that must be sort of what it is like for my sister. She hears voices. Maybe sometimes, when she hears familiar ones, she can fight her way out of the world that she is in.

My younger sister and I left after about a twenty minute visit. We didn’t talk too much. She wanted to know if I was OK; I assured her that I was. I felt sort of bad, actually, that I wasn’t upset and didn’t cry. Like I didn’t love my sister enough.

During the three hour ride home, I talked to my husband some about what I had seen. We talked about how long my sister had been ill, what my brother-in-law had or hadn’t done. All the while, I kept thinking that the thing that was the worst was that my sister has no peace. I know that she is a Christian. How could such a thing happen to her?

That’s where I was in my thinking when we went to church this morning. When I watched the skit. What I thought about the smile on the faces of those boys when they carried that empty cross out of the church this morning. It was an EMPTY cross. Jesus lives. That’s how we even greet one another at church: “He is risen!” The response to that is “He is risen indeed!”

I chewed on that through the church service and then, much to my dismay, when we were singing some hymns, the tears started to flow. Tears of grief for my sister. Tears of sorrow because she has no peace. The song that started it all was “Above All” by Paul Baloche and Lenny LeBlanc. It is about the crucifixion and there’s a line in it that describes what happened to Christ. He was “like a rose, trampled on the ground.” Like my sister.

Now I go to a Lutheran church, but it’s not your typical Lutheran church. It’s sort of a Baptist Lutheran church. Not in doctrine, really, but in atmosphere. And my pastor is not a typical Lutheran pastor. Even the charismatics around town tell me that. I think that, if he thought he could get away with it, our pastor would give an altar call. Maybe he has.

This morning he gave an invitation for people to pray the prayer of salvation. Then he said, “I usually greet people at the back of the church. But I am sensing in my spirit that someone needs to come to the altar for prayer, so I am going to stay up here.”

The elders usually stay up front, but not the pastor. And all I wanted was prayer for my sister. But how did he know?

As soon as the church service was over, with tears still streaming down my face, my husband accompanied me to the altar. Our pastor asked what was on my heart, and then he and one of the elders began to pray. They asked for healing for my sister. They asked for a hedge to be placed around her. They asked that, since she is a child of God, her oppression might end. They called upon the God who is big enough to have raised his Son from the dead to have mercy on my sister. And then they thanked Him for having heard.

I know that a lot of people have already prayed for my sister. And still, she has been sick for a long time. But that intercessory prayer this morning took a burden that was too heavy for me to bear and lifted it. It became much lighter when I wasn’t carrying it alone. When the tears weren’t mine alone. When two men who don’t even know my sister and might be appalled by the aspects of her illness that are NOT my sister, loved her enough to pray for peace for her anyway. For healing. They reminded me that there is hope.

That’s what Easter means to me. Hope. My God is big enough to defeat death, so how could a little mental illness stop Him? In John 16:33, Jesus says, “In this world you will have trouble but take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Yeah. This world is not all there is for me, or my sister, or you either. Jesus has overcome this world.

He is risen. He is risen indeed.

Hallelujah! And Happy Easter.

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