sunday mourning

Today was the third Sunday in a row I’ve shown up to church with tears in my eyes.

The first Sunday I was crying because of the horrific synagogue shooting.

Last week I was crying because my friend Rachel Held Evans had died the day before. Even though I cried late into the night, I got up early to keep my commitment to help serve communion at church the following morning. My eyes were so puffy, the priest asked, “Did you just roll out of bed?” I shook my head, and said simply and honestly and quietly, “No, I’ve just been crying a lot.”

Today I showed up teary because it’s Mother’s Day, a day that’s been complicated and tricky and unpredictable for me since I was told, after going through intense chemotherapy for breast cancer, that I’ll never be able to have children of my own.

I’m housesitting for a friend this weekend. This morning I took a Lyft from the house to Starbucks to pick up an iced latte before walking three blocks from Starbucks to church, where I was once again helping to lead the service. As I was getting out of the Lyft, the driver said, “Happy Mother’s Day, Sarah!”

And I know he meant well, but all of a sudden, the day I’d not given much thought to came crashing down on me and I walked into Starbucks making a fierce effort to blink back a barrage of tears that threatened to ruin my makeup and give one of my deepest griefs away to a coffee shop full of strangers.

I arrived at church a few minutes later and donned robes and a string of beads with a wooden cross pendant. As I was putting on the vestments, one of the other leaders said, “During the Prayers of the People, we want to make sure that someone says a prayer for all the people for whom Mother’s Day is tortuous, painful and fraught.”

“I will say that prayer,” I said. Not only because it’s a sentiment that deserves to be articulated, but also because I needed that prayer said for me. And because I could ask for that prayer in all earnestness and sincerity.

During the service, in which there was no mention of Mother’s Day at all, I still sat there, blinking back tears, tilting my face up every now and then to avoid the obvious gesture of brushing away tears.

I smiled at the little kids who joined us in the service. When it was time to share communion, I knelt down and put bite-sized pieces of bread in their tiny, perfect hands.

I smiled at them and their moms, and all the while my aching heart was wondering, “Why not me?”

There isn’t an upswing or happy ending to this story.

There isn’t an epiphany where I realize that I’ve started a college fund for five little Somali refugee girls and I advocate for millions of kids in the developing world by being a spokesperson for Compassion International and I love being an aunt to my nephews and niece and so that’s enough.

All of that is true, and it’s absolutely wonderful, but it’s different than having kids of my own.

So I don’t know.

I don’t know the meaning of empty arms and an open lap.

I don’t know what to do with the ache that lives in my chest.

The poet Rumi said,

There is a secret medicine given only to those who hurt so hard they can't hope.

The hopers would feel slighted if they knew.

So for those of us whose hearts are aching today, I guess we wait on the secret medicine. And we show up with and for each other to remind ourselves we’re not alone, even in Sunday mournings.