I hadn’t driven down the Claytons’ * long gravel driveway since I had graduated from high school almost 20 years before. Kerri Clayton and I had been best friends then. Now, knowing that we would both be in town to visit our families at Easter, we had arranged to get together at Kerri’s house.
As I walked to the door, I thought of the heavy burdens the Clayton family was bearing at this time. With three children, Kerri was going through a painful divorce. Her father had recently suffered a stroke, and her mother was struggling to care for her husband and meet the family’s financial obligations.
It’s too much pain for one family, I thought as I rang the doorbell.
Kerri opened the door and threw her arms around me. Though five years had passed since we’d seen each other, I immediately noticed the toll that my friend’s emotional traumas had taken on her. She was too thin, and I could sense desperation in her hug. In contrast with the smiling eyes of her girlhood portrait on the wall, my friend’s eyes were filled with pain.
Kerri’s mother came to greet me, and Kerri called her three beautiful children, two girls and a boy. I recognized their father’s features in each face and felt again the hurt and pain of the divorce. I wondered how the family would survive.
Kerri mentioned that her father was in an upstairs bedroom. I offered to go up to visit with him, but Kerri told me that he wanted to come down on his own. “It will take him some time, so let’s sit and visit,” she said.
We sat across from each other in the living room where we had often laughed together as schoolgirls. We did not laugh today. As Kerri told me about her struggles with finances and facing the future alone, I could only listen. She had so many questions, and I had no answers.
After a while, I heard a rustling on the stairs. I turned to watch Kerri’s father begin his shaky journey down. Grasping the handrail, he inched his feet forward on each stair. His wife stood beside him, but he refused her help. When he finally reached me, he grasped my hand and said, with effort, “So good to see you, Annette.”
After her parents went into the kitchen, Kerri asked, “Did you ever think life would be this hard? Did you ever think you’d be sitting here listening to my terrible divorce story and watching my dad suffer? Why do things like this happen?”
In the silence that followed, I could hear Kerri’s mother counting slowly in the kitchen as she exercised her husband’s arms and legs. Wondering what she felt as she cared for him, I began to cry.
“I’m sorry,” Kerri said. “Here you come home for Easter, and you get all this.”
“It’s okay,” I sniffled. “That’s what friends are for. I’m just trying to think of something to say that could give you some help, some hope.”
Just then, Kerri’s mother began to sing. Kerri and I stopped speaking and listened to her angelic voice coming from the kitchen. The hymn was perfect for that Easter weekend and perfect for that moment:
(Hymns, 1985, number 200)
As she sang all the verses and her alleluias rang through the house, I thought about Christ’s suffering, his victory over death, and his resurrection. I felt light and hope replacing the day’s darkness and despair. I knew that this family was loved and watched over by the most tender of shepherds.
“You’re not alone,” I said gently to Kerri. “You are in Heavenly Father’s hands, and so is your father.”
“I know,” Kerri said. Our tears flowed freely as our hopes rose heavenward with the hymn.