You will not stretch

Photo slideshow of Mercy Joan Mertes. Photos by the exceptionally talented Mark Epler. Song credit: "The Reckoning" by Andrew Peterson. Slideshow composition by the marvelous Greg Pilcher.

First, please click the above image to see the beautiful slideshow from Mercy’s funeral.

The photos were taken by our dear friend, Mark Epler and they are one of my most cherished possessions. 


The slideshow was composed by the matchless Greg Pilcher.  The accompanying song is called “The Reckoning”, written and performed by an artist named Andrew Peterson.  His lyrics eschew easy answers and find resonance with my own faith journey. 


As he cries, “How long…how long until this burden is lifted?” he articulates a wrestling that I feel in my spirit.  Perhaps you have also cried out, “How long?”.  Perhaps you too have been reduced, laid bare by life.  If so, I hope you have space to embrace the complexity, to release yourself to these days that are joyful and troubling and true.

Last night, I was making Valentine’s Day cards for the family.  I carefully cut hearts out of computer paper, decorating the front and filling the back side with things I loved and appreciated about each person.  Each child is so unique, so delightful in their particularity.  I consider Jemima and her big pink sleeping hat, pulled tight around her ears each night.  I ponder Magnus, his large laugh and sprawling stories.  Then there is Ada, arms churning at the end of a cross-country race.  And Moses…Moses with his fierce expressions of both love and fury. 


And then, sitting there at my kitchen table, I felt a surge of sadness.  I wish I was making a cut-out card for Mercy.  How little I know of her preferences and particularities. 


Five years ago, I wrote this:


Happy birthday, little love; you would have been three today.  We would have thrown you a party:  gifts and candles and family.  I imagine the preparations; there are four upturned faces in the kitchen, mouths smeared with chocolate cake batter.  Ada perches by the mixer, unwrapping sticks of butter in her red apron.  Magnus eagerly awaits guests, face smushed against the front window.  Jemima toddles underfoot, content with the chaos and excitement of a full house. 


And you, my phantom child, who would you be?  I try to stretch you like a resistant piece of putty.  I grasp tightly to your eight days of life and tug on the edges of memory.  Are you long limbed and slender or stout like your brother?  How do you wear your curly hair?  Do you laugh from deep in your belly like Ada?  I pull and imagine what might have been but you stubbornly snap back into shape, forever a baby with tubes and wires and searching eyes. 


You are distant but not forgotten.  Ada brings home pictures from school, stick figure renderings of the family.  In her mind, we are a Crayola community of seven, Moses in my belly and you in my arms.  Magnus speaks of you often, his little sister under the stone.  You daily inhabit my memories. 


As the years lengthen, you grow smaller.  There is not enough of you; you will not stretch.  And so, I wait, longing for the day when you will suddenly loom large.  On that great day, when all things are full and new in their wholeness, I will see you as you are.  I will know the timbre of your laugh and the touch of your fingers.  Until then, I lay yellow roses on a snowy grave and wait.    


The sentiment still feels true today, on the eve of her birthday. 


I feel complicated today.  I am both happy and on edge.  I am content and yearning.