Tuesday, November 27, 2012


I'm a bit timid about writing these words...This telling of God's "breaking through" to answer desperate, grief-stricken prayers is not something I take lightly.

But...I keep getting questions about what happened. And, his mama has said, "Yes, please share it." As I told Lynn that very first night...when the unexplainawayable found us...God did it for her...and Marty...and for our Sarah"Belle." But, Lynn's gracious heart wants anyone who needs these words to have them and be comforted by them.

So...I will write about that week...the week that broke our hearts and placed us in quite desperate need to be reminded about the Creator who became Emmanuel--God with us. God with us in our singing...and in our sorrow. God with us by the crib...and by the graveside. God with us when the road is easy...and when the journey is hard-as-nails.

Monday, September 24th, started with words from my son, Garrett, which I never thought I'd hear, "Well, mom, another one's gone." (Garrett had lost a childhood friend a couple of weeks earlier in a senseless car wreck.) Confused, I said, "What are you talking about, babe?" And his next words cut a place open inside me: "Matthew Bates is dead, mom."

The Bates and Bowdles had "grown up together" in our treasured little Bunker Hill neighborhood for the first 10 years of this crazy journey known as parenthood. (That beautiful photo above is of Matthew & Garrett.) We had trick-or-treated, and Christmas-ed and Fourth-of-Julyed through our four kids' most precious, wonder-filled years...with other neighbors who became "family" (and...Matthew's mama and I relish our Alabama-born-and-raised connection). My sweetest memories of Matthew are of this beautiful blond boy with heart-melting eyes and the longest lashes I'd ever seen on a child. 

And, even though most of us had ended up moving from Bunker Hill, whenever Matthew would see me, he would make a point to come give me a hug and sit and talk for awhile...with those same heart-melting eyes and long lashes. 

So...when I accepted that this awful thing was true, I drove to the Bates' home and...just cried and grieved and sobbed and tried to somehow reach in and hug their broken little hearts..'cause they would do that for me...for us. They just would.

Later than night, when I got back to the house, Kev hugged me, and I just broke. I kept saying, "I don't know how to help them...I don't know how...Nothing's enough." And he let me sob. A few minutes later, he made me go get on my pajamas and go to bed. I made it as far as the bathroom before I broke down and fell on my face and begged God, "PLEASE COMFORT MY BROKEN-HEARTED FRIENDS. PLEASE GIVE THEM SOME ASSURANCE THAT THEIR BOY IS WITH YOU." 

After awhile, I got up and went to bed...waking up often with that same prayer on my heart. Over the next couple of days, I prayed it many times--much less intensely...but just as desperately.

And...then came Thursday. On that day, my to-do list was longer than the day. Not only did I have my two largest fundraisers of the year happening over the next several days, with a final committee meeting that evening...but, now, I was also getting ready for Matthew's post-funeral reception at our home, which meant the house had to be cleaned and endless phone calls answered and made. I only tell you how out-of-control that day was to help you understand that going to visit my mama at Shannondale was NOT ON MY RADAR. 

But...when I left my committee meeting that evening, I checked voice mail and heard a nurse's voice saying, "Hi, Karen. Your mama's just missin' her girl; so, we were trying to get you on the phone to let you talk to her." Needless to say...I headed to Shannondale.

One other detail you should know. Alzheimer's has turned mom into a "stuffer"--she stuffs food, laundry, mail...in drawers, closets, pillowcases.... I've learned the hard way to check every nook and cranny of her room each time I visit. 

So, that Thursday night, when I began my usual cleaning "search," I opened the top drawer of mom's bedside table and saw a single sheet of yellow lined notebook paper, with words that were NOT written in my mama's handwriting. Here they are: 

"If you could see me now I'm standing tall and whole
If you could see me now I'm walking streets of gold
If you could see me now you would know I've seen His Face
If you could see me now you'd never want me to leave this perfect place."

For a few seconds I just stood there looking at that piece of yellow paper with those words scribbled across it. Without even thinking, I asked mom, "Where did you get this?" (Of course, she couldn't remember.)
And...then...my heart and mind went back to my desperate prayer:

I tried my best to explain it away. But I couldn't. (Why am I SO prone to explain away God's answers...and His sometimes mysterious and unexplainable ways?) 

But the more I thought about that long, busy day and how God had "engineered" the circumstances of it, I began to open my heart...which ALWAYS requires faith...that "this" was just too unexplainawayable. That "this" was in some odd, mysterious, unexplainable way, His answer to all our desperation prayers.

So, I drove to the Bates' home, where I first pulled aside our friend, Wendy, and told her what I've just "told" you,  because, if she had told me I was crazy, I would have stopped right there and never said another word about that piece of yellow lined notebook paper. But she didn't. And together we told Lynn. And...then Lynn asked me to tell Marty...so I did. 

And then came Saturday...a funeral service that broke our hearts all over again. A service where I watched Matthew's little sister be brave and grow up right in front of our eyes. A service where I watched hundreds of beautiful, young, fresh faces file out of that church with tears flowing. 

After we hugged more old neighbors...we hurried home to finish up last-minute details for the reception. As we were working in the kitchen, Garrett asked, "Mom, what do you want to write on the chalkboard?" So, I stopped and listened to my heart and Maraya wrote the words that came out of my mouth ...words that are still written there...words I can't bring myself to erase:

This past Saturday (the one after Thanksgiving), several of us gathered at Matthew's graveside to celebrate him again, to see the stone and bench his mama and daddy and sister so lovingly picked out and to release balloons. It was a beautiful, blue-sky autumn day, and I told Matthew's friends about that unexplainawayable "thing" that God had done for us. 

Then, I added one more thing--I told them about a plaque I had seen, which said,
"The greatest gift we can give to those who have left us is to live fully in their place." 
I told them that, if Matthew could come back to us and tell us one last thing...I felt it would be pretty similar to words Jesus once spoke when He was summing up the meaning of the Law and the Prophets:
"Love God. Love others." 

I told them I believe Matthew would tell them to live the life and make the choices that take them toward God's amazing hopes and plans for their lives...not away from them.

I reminded them of the God who is with us.

In gratitude to the God who IS with us...even when we don't feel Him...but most need Him...the God Who hears our prayers and, Who, sometimes, answers them in unexplainawayable ways....