She asked me months ago, when it was just a feeling in her bones - intuition that something wasn't right. She wanted portraits taken. Live in living color portraits of a woman in her 40s who's overcome just about every kind of suffering a woman could endure. A gift for her boy. Her son reminds me constantly throughout the photo shoot that photographers in Germany used to stop her on the street to ask her to model for them. She still has all that model flair - the perfected far-off half-smile, the statuesque posture, the way to tilt your head just right to seduce someone right through the camera lens.
Years ago, she was a battered wife. Then a homeless divorcée, living in shelters with her little boy and on the run from an abusive past. Somewhere along the line, she found Jesus. And although she is a skeptic among the best of us, when the tests and trials come, it is verses and prayer she murmurs under her breath, a little German lullaby she sings aloud when she is faced with a medical procedure and as scared as a child. She is as stubborn and strong as any German, fire-cracker personality to match her red hair, enough character in her little finger to intrigue people for decades of friendship.
These photos aren't about capturing her beauty. They are a legacy for a son. Just floundering through the speed bumps and detours of his 18th year, he's not afraid to kiss him mam while the camera clicks. You must have gotten it right, I think, for a son to be like this when he's more scared then he's ever been before. He isn't pulling away, insulating himself from fear, laughing life away so he can cope.
He's feeling every heavy moment, soaking up every piece of advice, learning to cook potato soup to care for his mom after a painful biopsy.
She worries she hasn't taught him the important things - where to pay the bills every month, how to get money out of the trust for the property taxes every year. But what she has taught him are the things that remain, even if bills go unpaid and taxes are forgotten and he were to lost all he would inherit, financially speaking. She's taught him faith, hope and love.
She wakes up in the morning wondering, "is this day I'm going to die?" I remember those days...the days of waiting for test results, the uncertainty about surgery, the wondering how many years I had left to feed my babies from my soul, my life experience, all the things I wanted to tell them before my voice went silent forever.
But I also know that a bad day - even a bad season - does not mean you've had a bad life.
I know that there has never been a day I've been alive that I could wake up in the morning and say for absolutely certain that I'd be alive still at bedtime. It is appointed unto us once to die...only He knoweth the hour... (Hebrews 9:27a & Matthew 24:36)
I know that when the cracks of our broken heart grow bigger and wider, He pours of Himself in to fill us up, until we are saturated with such Grace that beauty sparkles from every dank corner of life and, through the worst of life's situations, we are given eyes to behold the majesty and wonder of life, loss, living.
These aren't lessons I can preach. They're only lessons I can live out in broad daylight for her to see. I see her, through my lens, just being a mama. Giving advice to her son. Accepting his love, so freely given when just weeks ago they were at odds. I see the beauty sparkling. I see already the beauty for ashes, though she might not yet. I see her edges growing softer. She is luminous in her softness. A heart bent to submit to whatever plan God has in this worst of times. A mother any son would be blessed to have, for whatever amount of time God allots.
Though the Lord is exalted, He looks kindly on the lowly;
though lofty, He sees them from afar.
May they sing of the ways of the Lord, for the glory of the Lord is great.
With Your right hand you have saved me.
Though I walk in the midst of darkness, You will preserve my life.
Your love, O Lord, endures forever --
Do not abandon the works of your hands!
(from Psalm 138)