June 25, 2012

“I can fix anything but a broken heart,” my grandfather, a salesman by trade and tinkerer by talent, often told my mother when she was growing up in West Hartford, Connecticut in the 1950s.

I remember him as tall, smiling, and full of surprises, like the beach stones he polished to shine like gems in the basement of the Maine home where he and my grandmother retired. He died when I was eight, but I still have the stones he polished and the satisfaction of having married a man much like him.

Dana doesn’t own a jewler’s bench, but he can fix anything from computers to washing machines to cars.

“You’d make the perfect missionary!” I often told him in the early years of our marriage when he was stuck under the hood of a car or rewiring a broken appliance.

Typically easygoing, Dana would laugh. Although he’d grown up as a pastor’s son, he had no interest in travelling or sharing the gospel beyond our own small circle of friends. Then we adopted Ruth, who had cerebral palsy and was profoundly deaf, from Uganda. Meeting her needs took most our time for the next six years. When Ruth died, Dana, who’d never been out of the country, boarded a plane and carried her wheelchair back to Uganda to give to another child. End of story, I thought. Now we would go on–limping–with the rest of our lives. Except, when he returned, he said, “I’m going back.”

The group he’d gone with–Wheels for the World–was planning a return trip to distribute wheelchairs in Uganda.

“Do you thing things happen for a reason?” he asked this week, dusting off his suitcase as he prepared to join twenty other team members including our pastor who would help deliver 200 wheelchairs in the northern part of the country–one for every person who needs one in the city of Gulu.

“I don’t know anything anymore.” I shook my head while my heart screamed, This is not how Ruth’s life was supposed to end. 

“Why not?” he asked.

I placed my fisted hands together and pulled them apart to sign, “Broken.” We were her parents. We should have been able to save her. She should still be here.

And that’s when Dana repeated my grandfather’s words. “I may not be able to fix a broken heart,” he finished, “but I know someone who can.”

“God’s too busy,” I said, bitterly. “We fail. He shows us how awful we are, and that’s the end of it.”

“If you actually believe that, then you are denying everything in the Bible over there.” He pointed to the book on my bedside table.

As much as I often want to blame my pain on God, I knew Dana was right. Like the stones my grandfather collected from the beach, God takes rough, ordinary individuals and smooths us through life’s struggles and griefs until our sharp edges and imperfections are worn away and our lives take on new luster. But first we must relinquish our image of how our lives–or the lives of those we love–are meant to go and trust our lives to him.

Being broken is not easy, but I am reminded that Christ was broken too. Each day as I awake to face my grief, I ask for His healing.

“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds,” Psalm 147:3.

This was not my plan for Ruth’s life, but I am amazed at all the people her life continues to touch–including ours.