One year ago today my beloved husband made a giant leap into Heaven. Light streamed wildly through the blinds of our bedroom window. His hazel eyes moved toward the light. He saw something none of us could see. He clapped his hands together in his signature way, and left his broken body behind for a new one in Glory.
When I spoke my wedding vows, I never dreamed those words – “in sickness and health until death do us part” – would mean burying him 11 years later. I imagined babies and ministry and challenges and adventure awaited us.
I never imagined the word cancer would one day separate us.
I never dreamed I would kneel by his grave when my girls were still so young, and we would all have to whisper our goodbyes.
This is a story I never would have written for myself. Never.
I have written a lot this year about this unpredictable road trip called grief. I keep trying to write about other topics. I keep longing for a different story. I see happy family pictures on Instagram and celebrations of wedding anniversaries on Facebook, and it still stings. I walk into our favorite grocery store or a party with my kids, and his absence looms large. My heart aches for what was and what my girls will face in this life without their daddy.
Give Yourself Permission
Maybe you haven’t lost a spouse but you have experienced loss in another way. Maybe you have lost a child or buried a brother. Maybe you have left a job or a church. Maybe you have experienced a miscarriage or struggled through infertility. Maybe you have been hurt by a family member or a close friend. Maybe your marriage is broken or you have endured some other medical trauma. This is for you.
Give yourself permission to grieve.
Too often in our culture I believe we get obsessed with getting over it. We are afraid to pause and give ourselves space to lament the hard things. We stuff down our emotions. We are too eager to avoid the memories and get on to the next thing.
I love the Psalms because David gives us a beautiful model for lament. He is not afraid to cry and question. Psalm 13:1-2 says, “O LORD, how long will you forget me? Forever? How long will you look the other way? How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul, with sorrow in my heart every day?” (NLT) This Psalm of lament concludes, “I will sing to the LORD because he is good to me” (verse 6). David expresses his pain, but he still recognizes God’s goodness.
After my husband died, I started saying no to a lot of commitments, a lot of invitations. I stepped down from most of my ministry and leadership roles so I had margin to grieve. I knew this was an important part of caring for myself and creating necessary space for my three daughters to grieve the loss of their daddy.
Every Grief Journey Is Unique
If you or someone you love is grieving, know this: every journey is unique. Cover yourself or that loved one with a blanket of grace. Be patient. Grief is like a tangled ball of yarn. We must unravel it in our own time. It’s not linear. No step by step plan, no stage of grief, no support group will make it all better. Sometimes what we really need is permission.
I need permission to travel, to attend my girls’ soccer games, to order dinner, to stay up late reading. I need friends to sit with me and weep after that one movie. I need people to hug me and say they don’t know what to say. I need permission to sing, to run, to write, to eat, and to cry. I need permission to lean into the hard memories and forge new ones with my girls.
I need permission to experience grief my way – not at all the ways my mama or mother-in-law or best friend or that other widow grieved. My grief is personal and different, and yours will be too.
Grieving With Hope
I have always loved the story of Ruth. She takes refuge under the wings of God (Ruth 2:12), and He provides miraculously for her. When her husband dies, she remains loyal to her mother-in-law and accompanies her to a new home. She breaks loose from the chains of poverty by humbly asking permission to glean extra grain from the fields that were already harvested. Through her hard work and integrity, she gains not just food but also the attention of Boaz.
It’s a story of redemption. A story of beauty from ashes. An unexpected love story.
Not by accident I found myself back in the book of Ruth last fall when I was learning to navigate my own grief. Although I had studied the book before, it gained new meaning for me as a widow.
As I read the story with fresh eyes, I discovered something distinct: Ruth grieves with hope. She believes she has a future. She takes a risk to uncover God’s plan for that future. I began to pray that God would help me to live like Ruth.
Hope is what sets us apart as believers. My grief is different from someone who does not have faith because I grieve with hope. I grieve believing I will see my Ericlee in the future. When my 3-year-old cries for her daddy at night, I tell her we will hug him again one day in Heaven. If we commit our lives to following Jesus Christ and share Him with others, we will get to spend all eternity with our people. Our separation from loved ones on earth through death will only be temporary.
I challenge you with these questions: Do you need to give yourself permission to grieve? How can you create margin to remember? Do you grieve with hope?
Our God Redeems
After a year, I have learned to embrace my story. I am reminded that no journey is meant to be wasted. I have pressed in with trembling lips like Moses in Exodus 33:18 who whispered to God: “Show me your Glory.”
Every. Single. Day. He has.
A year ago today I was planning a funeral. Today – by God’s wild grace and glory – I am planning a wedding. As I was grieving this year, my God was weaving together a new love story for me. He was unfolding a plan to bring my own Boaz.
Shawn and I met 15 years ago on the same mission trip to Haiti where I became close friends with Ericlee. Our goal for that trip was to put on a track and field camp for Haitian kids who lived in rural Haiti. Yet, God had much bigger plans than I could imagine.
Shawn was my prayer partner. He was my teammate as we taught the kids how to jump hurdles. We laughed together as we struggled through the language barrier. My mother-in-law adopted Shawn as her honorary second son on that trip.
Shawn was instrumental in bringing Ericlee and me together. He was a groomsman in our wedding. He celebrated the births of our children with us. He supported our non-profit in Haiti both prayerfully and financially through the years.
While we were serving in Haiti and living in California, Shawn lived in Maryland for 9 years. During that time, God grew his heart for justice – for widows, orphans, refugees and the poor. God was calling him to take bigger and bigger steps of faith. In November, he took a big step of faith leaving a great job and community to move back to California to be closer to his widowed mother and family. That obedience to God’s prompting brought us together.
Shawn has grieved with me. He has taken time to pray with me. In these months, he has leaned into the memories of Ericlee with our family and loved on my girls when they were longing for their daddy. Like Boaz did with his Ruth, Shawn answered a surprising call God had on his life to marry me and make us his family. He is my kinsman-redeemer, bringing surprising new value to our life and hope to our future.
I return to the words of David in Psalm 30:11-12, “You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give thanks to you forever!”
On January 16, 2016, there will be a wedding. And there will be dancing. Oh, there will be glory dancing in Heaven and on earth!
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Image Credit: Mike McCune, Creative Commons