In the 1983 film “Tender Mercies”, Robert Duvall plays a down-on-his luck country singer named Mac Sledge who ultimately finds redemption and yes, true happiness with widow Rosa Lee and her young son. This movie, a quiet and powerful character study, may well be Duvall’s best performance. It was a favorite of my dad’s, and it took me years to really understand why he liked it so much. I get it now. It is Rosa’s faith, never wavering yet never preachy, that finally brings Mac to the point of restoration. Yet there is no pat ending-there still will be struggles, there still will be doubt along the way. That’s how things are.
Like Mac, I don’t always trust happiness. Even now as I write this, my husband and daughters are at the vet with our hedgehog, Annabelle. I’m not holding out much hope, but I am praying. Raina has lost a lot of her pets over the past few years. For some reason,she has had worse luck with her animals than her siblings have. I don’t know why this is so. I do know that, because of His tender mercies, God uses all things. All things serve the will of God, whether they want to or not, whether they know it or not, and whether we see it or not. The small tragedies and misfortunes as well as the ordinary moments of our lives-they mean something. Sometimes the Something is beyond our human comprehension.
Last year when I first learned that my mother’s house was on fire, I was horrified. Within seconds, reassured that she was okay, I was overjoyed. Then when I heard that the animals didn’t make it, and that almost everything was gone, I was heartbroken. When I saw my mother with my own eyes, realized that she was really all right, and thought about what could have happened, I was relieved. That night as I listened to my sister verbally process what she had lost, I was saddened. From moment to moment and hour to hour, my emotions ran the gamut. I grieved with my mom and sister for what they had lost, but there was so often laughter as well.
Now as I sit here, my daughter has just walked in the door. Annabelle is gone. Yesterday we had a hedgehog; now we don’t. I am without words. Things can change so quickly. Pain and sorrow come unexpectedly. But we go on, and the tender mercies of the Lord continue. The mercy in this is that Raina still has her horse. That could have gone very, very differently a couple of weeks ago. The mercy in the fire was that God used a lot of amazing people to rebuild the house, and it is so much better than it was before. In the next couple of weeks, my mom and sister are getting a cat and a dog. The dog they want is one that was rescued from the Purple Hearted Puppies horror in Summerdale. I look at those furry little faces and still cannot believe that people can be so cruel, but at the same time, there are loving people lined up to take those animals. Again, we see the balance. The blessing in the thorn, so to speak.
I think that trying to make sense of everything that happens is normal. I also think that it is not always possible to do so. In the movie “Creator”, in which a scientist tries to re-create his dead wife, there are references made to “The Big Picture.” When I imagine The Big Picture, I see a mosaic, a collage, a collection of seemingly random events that eventually end up making Something. In that film, the scientist at last realizes that he cannot duplicate what was. He cannot bring back the past, and he shouldn’t try. Instead, he finds a new beginning.
In “Because of Winn-Dixie”, a little girl learns that “you gotta love what you got while you’ve got it.” No one lives forever, nothing stays the same. But to not trust happiness is rather a foolish thing, because God will always give us something new. He’s in the miracle business, but he’s also in the business of rebirth and restoration. That’s why we always know that spring is coming, that beauty rises from ashes, and that, while weeping endures for a night, joy comes in the morning. Mac Sledge learns that God’s tender mercies can heal a broken heart, in the person of Rosa Lee. My son is at this moment in the backyard, digging a hole in which to bury Annabelle. Nearby are the graves of other beloved pets who brought us love and laughter and loyalty. They all were cherished. How much better to have the memories than to have never had them at all.
To withhold from ourselves the incredible beauty of loving and living fully because we fear the hurt is to not love or live. The tender mercies of the Lord will see us through the pain that inevitably comes. We can take all to Him and know that there remains, on the other side of the darkness, an unquenchable Light. Today we will thank God for the time we had with Annabelle. We will shed some tears and then we will forge on. We will trust that happiness comes and goes with our circumstances, but that joy is eternal.
God’s tender mercies make us strong.