When my father died, friends said, “Do you feel like an orphan?” I said “No, I have a mother”.
When my mother died, friends said, “Now you are orphaned”. I pushed back with still harsher refusal, “No, I have a sister”.
When my sister died, no one mentioned the orphaned.
I think secretly a part of me wanted someone to ask, but even if they had I doubt I would have succumbed to what I was beginning to suspect as truth. The feelings of being left behind, all alone, with no shared memories of the earliest, sometimes most mundane of our family stories pulling me to own the idea of orphaned with varying degrees of self-care and self-pity.
No longer able to push-down the label as irrelevant, I started wearing it more as an undergarment than badge (or at least this is my hope); yet it threatened to attach and linger along with all the other little horrid words and phrases that haunt me in the night like “no home” or “no family” or “I’m the last of”. It, and these, rattled like marble-filled tin cans if I walked too briskly, or too far away from keeping a watchful eye on this squeaking sequel to the shock of grief.
Orphaned. Then something happened.
I went to a funeral. I didn’t go because I knew them well, or by my own virtue or power. I went because I was struck by God that it was the right thing to do, then given by His power to go where it felt like those glass marbles would shatter in shards beneath bare feet.
I went. And heard familiar words from John 14 with new ears – with the ears of a child, the reality of a middle-aged adult, and the promise of God.
“I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.”
That day I heard all of John 14 as a special message of healing, but “I will not leave you orphaned” came anew. On time. It encapsulated my greatest fear of separation and abandonment as being temporary and surmountable by the promise of God that I am not forgotten. And it feels like this might be my gift of Lent.
I’ll close with more from John 14 as it means so much to me. And if you are feeling orphaned, I understand – and hope, if but for just a second, you might feel your family is near.
And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. -John 14:3
I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. -John 14:18-26