The Song Creation Sings

I don’t have to sit still for long before concerns creep into my mind. How will my kids thrive growing up without their dad? Can l be adequate for the task of raising them alone? How will I answer all of their questions? What should I do with the years that now spread out empty before me? Where will I find purpose? Will the deep aloneness always feel so painful?

I’m grateful that the song creation sings is one of gentle and generous provision. A walk in the woods is all the reminder I need. “Don’t you worry cause you’re in the hands of the God who made everything.”

A Deep Well of Comfort

Within minutes of receiving the news of Rob’s death, my brain went into survival mode. I’ve heard it described as “numb” or “brain fog” or “overload.” All good descriptions for how I felt in those first hours, and the days and early weeks that followed. If you’ve ever come out of anesthesia after surgery, you know a little of what that mental discombobulation feels like. My brain would eventually recover, but for now it was working hard to process and cope.

Trauma affects the whole brain, but especially our centers for fear, emotional regulation, and critical thinking. I could feel my brain straining to complete normal life tasks as it attempted to begin processing my loss. Everyday activities were tiring. And tasks that required problem solving, like navigating interpersonal relationships, became overwhelming. My brain was trying to send me an important message — I’m working hard in here, don’t give me anything more! In those early days all that was necessary was eating and drinking, resting, and caring for my children. I literally had no head space for anything else.

Amazingly, in this brain overload, hymns began flowing through my thoughts. Buried in the deep recesses of my brain, far past the regions of conscious thinking, these words were like an aquifer of hope that had been filled long ago. Hymns from my childhood, worship songs from my college years, hymns we’d sung at church and as a family. They all came bubbling up unbidden, washing over my heart with their truth.

Sometimes when I couldn’t sleep at night, I’d sit up and write all of the words down in my journal just to release them from my mind. I have pages and pages of hymns written from those first weeks. Hymns became living water for me as my soul stared out at its new parched landscape of loss. My brain didn’t need to think about the words. They just came. And they brought with them peace, comfort and hope.

Rob talked in his book, What Your Body Knows About God, about the importance of memory in our spiritual life. We do good work for our souls when some of our spiritual practice is dedicated to memory, whether it is Scripture verses, hymns or words the Church has prayed together for centuries. As we bury the treasure of God’s truth in our hearts and minds, we are creating deep wells of spiritual resource that will water our souls when we need it most.

My brain hasn’t returned to its pre-loss state. Some researchers say it won’t; others say it will take years. While my capacity is much greater almost six months later, I still defer to my brain when it signals it’s reaching maximum capacity. I’ve learned my mind has limited energy and space, and I must choose carefully how to use and fill it. The trauma of Rob’s death is indelibly written on my mind. But, alongside my loss, the words of God’s truth are also written there. And the glory of His Gospel is a well that won’t run dry.

The Winter of Grief

The work of grieving is much like waiting out the winter. I can’t rush it. I can’t make it go away. Try as I might, I can’t reinvent it into something more palatable. Escape it? Grief, like winter, will be waiting at my doorstep when I return. In this season of darkness and sadness, when the world outside my window sleeps under a blanket of snow, the only solution is to wait.

When I look outside, I know that beneath the snow, important work is happening. The earth is resting. In winter, waiting is the vital work. As much as I want to hurry the dark days along, winter’s waiting is necessary for spring’s flourishing.

In my days that often seem long and lonely, grief is doing her work too. I am learning to rest, companioning my grief. I am learning to think less about the future and be more present in this day that has been given. Waiting has become my vital work too. As much as I wish I could hurry these dark days along, I am learning that grief’s waiting is necessary for our new life’s flourishing.

The Psalmist writes, “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.” I trust the Psalmist’s words will be true for me too in God’s good time.

Jesus Will Take Care of Me

Sitting vigil with my first feverish child since Rob died, and I’m reminded of how much reassurance and peace he used to bring me when one of the kids was sick. There are so many ways you lose a person when he dies.

We always had a system. I’d manage the sick one, and he’d care for the other three. And, inevitably, when nightfall came and the fever rose and my tiredness set in, he’d tuck the others into bed and come sit vigil with me. We’d marvel together at how our hearts had been utterly undone with loving these four, and he’d tell me that everything would be alright.

Once, after a few nights of family illness, I opened his phone to find that he’d Googled WebMD to check symptoms and read up on what to do. He never seemed to worry about those sorts of things like I did. He had never mentioned doing it, and I hadn’t asked him to. Their wellbeing weighed on him, and he figured research would offer him some reassurance. All I saw was that his steadiness melted away my worry.

Sometimes I am overwhelmed by the reality that Rob’s death has left me to care for these four children on my own. Parenting alone is such a daunting task. I care for them, but who will care for me? Who will settle my worried heart and steady me on nights like tonight and all the other nights and days ahead?

In these moments, I understand Peter’s fear as he stepped out onto the water to meet Jesus. Jesus is calling me to step out and meet Him in a new way, and it is so scary for me. I look down, and the uncertainty and challenge of my new role feel like dark water rising around my ankles. Tonight, as I sit vigil for the first time alone, I am remembering that, like Peter, I only need raise my eyes to see the One who cares for me, for all of us. To find the peace I crave in deep waters and always. Jesus is with me. Jesus will take care of me.

Bent But Not Crushed

Along the edges of alpine meadows stand these sorts of trees. At elevations of 6000+ feet, they are weighed down with snow for many months of the year, and they grow very slowly. A tree this size might be close to 30 years old but barely shoulder high.

But God designed them for resilience. Despite the snow that threatens to snuff them out, these amazing little things continue to seek the sun. They bow under the weight of the snow, but they also bend toward the light. And they survive — and thrive. This one shows this year’s new green growth on its tips!

I am amazed at the strength and perseverance of these little trees, and I love them. They give me hope that I too can survive and thrive as I bend, under the weight of sorrow, toward the Light of Christ. .

It’s been almost six months, and I still wake up many mornings and cry when I realize afresh he’s not beside me. But I am praying fiercely that I will be like these little trees. Bent but not crushed. Indelibly marked with my sorrow, but firmly planted in God’s faithful love. Finding new life as I turn my face toward the warm and nourishing Light of Christ. “I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.” (Psalm 16:8)

Looking to the Future

Sometimes Rob and I used to look at our kids laughing and having a great time together, and we’d talk about how someday they’d be the core and we’d be on the edges. The generational shift happens in every family (or at least it should). The years pass, and the parents recede into their roles as the patriarchs and matriarchs. The children grow into their roles as family leaders. We always believed that the best gift we could give our kids relationally was the space to develop emotionally close relationships with each other that would stand the test of time and survive that shift.

I love to see moments of deep love between my children. His death has bonded them together in ways that only adversity can. Now, though, when I think about the generational shift that’s sure to come, I feel deeply lonely. It’s easy to envision the potential in their young lives, harder to envision a future for myself in this life I now live alone.

In grief, even the good times are tinged with sorrow. When I see my kids happy together, I think of all the years — Lord willing — they have ahead together. Standing in each other’s weddings. Bouncing each other’s babies on their knees. Sharing work struggles and family vacation ideas. Shouldering burdens together. And all of this I will watch and celebrate without him beside me.

I know my steps are ordered by God. I believe that my future is in His good hands. Even so, there’s so much that will be missing from the days ahead.

Lasts and Firsts

The day this picture was taken, I hadn’t showered in about a week. I’d washed my hair in a bucket at our campsite, and that was all I needed to feel fresh and so clean clean. No makeup, just the warm brown of summer skin. And about five layers of clothing because I’m a paranoid cold person! No matter how I looked, my favorite place to be was always tucked right into his arm. Rob died six days after this picture was taken. It’s the last photograph taken of the two of us together.

2019 has been full of treasured “lasts.” The hardest year of my life has become the most precious, and I wish it didn’t have to end. 2019 is the last time I stood tucked into his arm. It’s the last time I heard his voice. It’s the last time he told me that he loved me. This most difficult year now has taken on sacred dimension. It’s the year that I saw time give way to eternity. My beloved and I now stand on two different sides of that veil.

I can hang on to lots of things, but time isn’t one of them. In saying goodbye to the old year, I have to say goodbye again to Rob. His death stills feels like “now” to me. But the new year’s beginning signals that Rob’s life and death are part of what has passed. The days draw on, each one separating me further from him and from the me I used to be.

Tonight as part of our family New Year’s Eve ritual, we wrote letters to our December 31, 2020 selves. We put them away where they’ll wait out the year till delivery on the next New Year’s Eve. I’m not the same person I was in this picture, and I know I won’t be the same person who reads the letter I open a year from now. I hope as she looks back at what is now my new year, she will see a year of treasured “firsts” beautifully designed for her by the One who is the Author of all good things, the First and Last, the End and Beginning. 

Goodbye, Old Year

As 2019 comes to a close, we’re wrapping up All the Small Poems and Fourteen More, our 89th family read aloud since we began keeping track five years ago and our 6th since Rob died. Ritual has provided refuge in our loss, and bedtime read alouds are among the most precious rituals we engage in together.

His voice is woven into so many of the great books we read together. We can still hear his Gandalf, his Homer Price, his Harry Potter. We all remember his voice as he read The Birthday Ball, our last read aloud together before he died. Nobody read comic novels with as much gusto. And even though we no longer feel his arms around us, we can feel his presence each night as we snuggle in and open a book together.

O Gracious Light

This week we completed our journey to Bethlehem. What a beautiful glow, all of the candles lit together! We couldn’t quite leave the candles behind, so we’ve continued lighting them into Christmastide (or until they grow too tiny for our Advent spiral). In our family prayer time on Christmas night, we prayed the “earliest known Christian hymn recorded outside of the Bible that is still used today.” In Koine Greek, the language the New Testament was written in, it’s called Phos Hilaron. When the kids were little, we prayed this prayer together every night for family devotions. We all know it by heart. When we could form no other words, we prayed it together the night we learned Rob had died. Since then, we’ve prayed Phos Hilaron on all of our monthly memorial dates.

On Christmas Day, the culmination of our Advent waiting, it felt right to use this prayer again. I am grateful for these ancient words that have been our guide and comfort these last five months.

O gracious Light,

pure brightness of the everliving Father in heaven,

O Jesus Christ, holy and blessed!

Now as we come to the setting of the sun,

and our eyes behold the vesper light,

we sing your praises, O God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

You are worthy at all times to be praised by happy voices,

O Son of God, O Giver of life,

and to be glorified through all the worlds.

Guide us waking, O Lord, and guard us sleeping.

That awake we may watch with Christ, and asleep we may rest in peace. —

Jesus is Here

On the two month date since Rob’s death, the assigned reading for my day was from the Gospel of John, chapter 20 — the resurrection of Jesus. As I read the passage, my heart was drawn to the experience of Mary Magdalene. “Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying” (11). Sounds awfully familiar.

This sweet woman who carried the scars of her own challenging story is lost in sorrow. The Man who has transformed her life is gone. Could it be that all of the love and acceptance that He offered her has died with Him? Would her life return to how it had been before they’d ever met — scared, wounded, protective? How could she go on, having watched Him — and a piece of her heart — die on that cross? Surely Mary Magdalene felt this was like death for her too.

Her love for Him is so strong that even in her debilitating grief she is willing to seek Him out herself, to somehow try to undo what has been done. “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him” (15). Even if she cannot undo His death, Mary is desperate to do everything she can to honor His life, to bring Him back, if only in memory.

But can she? She can’t carry his body back from wherever the gardener has taken it, despite her bold assertion. She can’t roll the stone back to close the tomb. She’s not strong enough to do anything to right what has been wronged. Beneath her desperate request lies a deeper heart cry — “Give Him back to me, alive.” A request the gardener cannot ever fulfill. Or can he?

If he were any ordinary gardener, Mary’s cause would be lost. She would stand bereft, simply left to accept the horrible finality of death. The tomb gapes its dreadful message — this is the end and there is nowhere you can go to find Him.

But this is no ordinary gardener, and Mary is no ordinary mourner. Though she does not recognize Him present with her, Mary’s heart is still attuned to His. And when the gardener calls her name, she knows. Like a sheep that has heard her shepherd’s voice. Like Lazarus who has risen at the sound of his name. Mary experiences her own resurrection that morning when Jesus says to her, “Mary.” There is hope, possibility, a future. Jesus is here.

Two months ago today Rob died, and I still feel like Mary, standing before the tomb. The disbelief, the horror and the sorrow still compel me to question if this could really be happening. Like Mary, I want to make grandiose claims. “Tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” I know the finality of death that Mary knew. It feels like death to me too sometimes.

But today, in the shadow of death, I also am offered life. Beside the tomb, Jesus speaks my name. He offers me a foretaste of resurrection as I find my life in Him. There is hope, possibility, a future. Jesus is here.

At the end of the passage, John tells us, “[Mary] turned toward him and cried out …. ‘Rabboni’” (16). In her powerlessness and grief, she turns to Him and speaks His name also. If she is honest with herself, there is nothing more she has the strength to do. Grief is exhausting work. And yet, nothing more is needed. In the midst of Mary’s grief and ours, Jesus calls us. Our work is simple: turn to Him and call on His name. In His name is life both now and forevermore. There is hope, possibility, a future. Jesus is here.