Saturday would have been our daughter Ruth’s eighteenth birthday. Instead, it marks the ten years she’s been gone. What more is there to say? Except that I am still unable to comprehend her absence. Not a day goes by that I don’t imagine how she might look, what hurdles she might have overcome, what goals she might have held for her future.
Now, that future is a mystery to me. The older I get, the more I realize how short life is. “There wasn’t enough time,” I recently lamented to a family member, reminiscing over the loss of someone we both loved.
“There never is,” she said.
Whether our time on Earth last for less than a decade or for more than ten, it all comes to an end. I am increasingly aware of this as I look in the mirror, noticing the gray tinge of my hair, the drooping flesh around my mouth, the paunch which threatens to overtake my middle. By midday, I am often overwhelmed with fatigue. After returning from school one day this week, I put my feet up on the couch only to wake up one hour later.
One morning, searching for a book to read, I picked up Heaven, Your Real Home, by Joni Eareckson Tada. ‘In honor of Ruth…’ she’d written on the title page and signed her name with a scripture reference: II Corinthians 4:16-18.
“So we do not lose heart,” it says. “Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal” (NRSV).
Joni, a quadriplegic who’d inscribed the book with a pen held between her teeth, mailed it to me in the months after Ruth died unexpectedly from complications related to cerebral palsy. Through Joni’s ministry, Wheels for the World, we’d been able to bring Ruth’s wheelchair to Uganda, the country where she was born, and give it to another child with CP.
This slight momentary affliction. When I read these words, I think of a friend who recently lost her sister, of another fighting cancer, of the rising number of COVID-19 cases, of people fleeing hostile homelands, of the wars and fear and violence engulfing our world. Such temporary suffering can easily be seen. But what is eternal?
The full-bodied delight that rippled through Ruth’s frame when she saw a friend after a long absence. The inexplicable joy of hearing her laugh. The beauty of her smile. And I think of the love which, in the words of an old hymn, “from our birth over and around us lies.”
Day by day, such love renews me.
So I will not lose heart. Loving Ruth was indeed an honor – one I hope to carry with me always.
Meadow Rue Merrill, author of the memoir, Redeeming Ruth, writes from a little house in the big woods of mid-coast Maine. She is also the author of the children’s picture book The Best Birthday and four other books celebrating the holidays in a way that builds children’s faith.