Monday, August 24, 2015

The Hallway of Heartbreak

A phone call received, a question posed, and suddenly I found myself seated in a chair in the livestock auction shed on the last day of the local county fair. Livestock buyers had been given tickets to trade for a free box lunch ordered from the deli department in our grocery store; I had been asked to deliver the initial load of lunches and stay to aid in their distribution.

Having stacked the boxes in the cooler, there was little to do until lunchtime arrived and people started coming to trade their tickets in for their meal. My attention drifted to the action happening on the other side of the wall where the auction was in full swing and buyers were responding to the auctioneer's call. I peered over the wooden boards beside me, peeking between people seated on the highest row of bleacher seats, and watched as one by one, first steers, then sheep, then goats were paraded in front of the crowd, each young owner standing at their animal's head, watching as various buyers in the crowd raised their numbered paddles to place a bid. Once sold, the animal was led off to the side of the barn in which I was seated and led back to a holding pen; it was in this narrow hallway that the real drama of the day took place.

The animals had been raised for sale, after all, and all who participated knew well in advance that this moment of separation was coming. It didn't seem to bother the older boys with their steers nor the younger kids with their goats; it was the teenage girls with their sheep who had the hardest time saying goodbye to the lambs they had raised. Despite the nearness of the crowd and the loud and incessant babble of the auctioneer, it was a silent and private moment in which tears flowed freely and broken hearts were comforted by the parents who had guided them for months and now waited to hug and help them over this final hurdle. I felt guilty to be watching and repeatedly turned away, even as my own eyes filled and my throat choked up in response to their sorrow. For them the moment soon ended, but seated where I was, I witnessed the scene over and over again, one animal after another, until I thought I would surely have to move my location to one where my sympathy tears didn't interfere with the job I was there to do.

One image in particular stayed with me out of the many I witnessed that day, that of a crying girl being comforted by her father as he held her close with one arm and held her lamb by the halter with the other. It came back to me a few days later when I was writing a note to somebody struggling with a recent death in the family, and reminded me that however unprepared emotionally we are to deal with such a moment, God stands at the ready to help us through it.

All of us know that our loved ones, like ourselves, are born to eventually die, but we avoid thinking about the far end of the life experience during the earlier days of joyous togetherness. But like the parents of these youngsters at the fair, God knows that the day of parting is coming, and so He deliberately positions Himself to hold and hug and share the tears of those who finally have to say goodbye. And perhaps it's because God's own Lamb was sold to pay for the privilege we have of sobbing our heartache into our Father's shoulder that He holds us especially close in our times of sorrow. He knows and understands the pain of loss and loves us enough to ensure we are not alone in it.

My day at the fair thus ended on a much happier note. When the lunches had all been given away I was told to walk around the grounds for a while and enjoy the sights and sounds (and food!) for a bit before heading back to the store and clocking out for the day. I did so with a comforted heart, knowing that God wants us to live our lives in much the same do the job He sent us to do and enjoy ourselves along the way, knowing that He is with us whatever we face, to laugh with us, to love on us, and eventually to lead us all safely Home.

To everything there is a season, A time for every purpose under heaven”
(Ecclesiastes 3:1 NKJV)

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