Thursday, September 12, 2013

The strange dance of grief and hope

A few weeks ago, we danced an odd dance.
It was the dance of grief and hope.

We danced with our friends, with our children, at a messy rainbow party.

"We're going to a party to get messy?!"
They were all thrilled, of course.

Yes, children, we will celebrate, and we will make a mess. We celebrate in the mess; we celebrate despite the mess. We celebrate Delia's day: her birthday, her death day. She would have been two. 
No, children, she is not here with us. We gather to remember.

"But mommy, that's so sad," said my daughter, munching Skittles.

It doesn't make sense to have a party, does it? For a moment she felt it, the hole there, in this family; the missing sister, daughter, held only for a moment.

Oh yes, it is sad dear; sadder than you can comprehend. In all your ten years, your heart has not been so deeply wounded.  Not yet.

We grieve and celebrate, and if it doesn't make sense to you, know that it doesn't make sense to me either.  Grief is nonsense, but it's a nonsense we must deal with in this place, with its brokenness, sin, and death all around. And we can't explain it away; we can't clean it up; we can't paint over it.  Death creates large, gaping holes, and  yet we must go on living with them.

Oh children, we would be lost without God's grace in this place. We would be lost if He did not uphold us, and give us hope by His promises.
We would be lost if we had not been found.

But we have been found, rescued, redeemed by our God through Jesus.  I know, it is still hard, and we are still waiting, but while we wait, we cling to the promises. We can look forward together, to the day of promises fufilled and grief ended.  We cling to God-- our trustworthy, powerful, loving God-- and in anticipation of His Kingdom Come, we celebrate.

Meanwhile, we practice.  I am grateful that this party helped me practice this conversation with the children. Because this week, the dance of grief and hope has come into our own home.

Years ago, when I was on my face in grief and fear, under trial with Aggie, haunted by her illness and horrified by the depth of my own sin, my Aunt Julie wrote to me:

People say, "be strong." I say, "be weak and be loved."

And her words became my heart-song.  That year as God proved His love to me over and again, those words became for me my theme, my story: I am a child of God, weak and loved.

This week, Aunt Julie was called home to heaven.

Aunt Julie on the left. I'm the baby.

I do not remember the last time I saw her. Was it a wedding? A New-Years party?  My children have been praying for her, but they never really got to know her. She is my dad's sister-- one of eight in their family.  And I think of them, and my 19 cousins, and the summers at the lake, and I ache.  I am not ready for these chapters to end, not ready to say goodbye, and more goodbyes as the years pass.  I am six hours away from my family, my dear, grieving family, and I ache for them terribly.

I am reading "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe" with my older three children right now. Last night, we read through one of the scary parts. Edmund had betrayed his siblings, and the Witch made her claim on his life. And then the lion, Aslan --strong, good Aslan-- made a deal with the Witch, and rescued him.

And the children smiled softly, almost as if they had known the story would end happily. Stories usually do. But how would Aslan rescue the traitor?  They were sure he would simply attack the Witch, kill all the bad guys, and announce the beginning of happily ever after.

As they listened, they began to see that Aslan chose the way of suffering. And oh, how they fought against it.  "But he can't die!" they insisted.
"Why doesn't he just bite the bad guys' arms off?"
"If I were Aslan I would scratch them up, I'd make them stop!"
Suffering? It makes no sense! It can't be!

On we read, and good Aslan, he suffered. It was brutal, ugly, and humiliating.
And then... Aslan died.
He really died.

The children looked at me with horror, and a million questions.  It was late, and we really must go to bed, but there was no other option: we had to keep reading.

In the next chapter, grief got heavier, but only for a moment. Then, with the sunrise: ressurrection, joy, and renewed hope that all shall be well.  The blood and love spilled in the atoning sacrifice burst forth into new life, stronger Life.

And with that, they could sleep.
All shall be well, dear children.

This morning, as I hunt for shoes and help toddlers go potty,  I wonder how my dad is holding up. Prayers for him and the whole family ascend with the steam from my coffee cup. This place in the story is such a hard place to be; here in this chapter, the one with the suffering and the questions.  Here we sit, thinking of cremation, funeral arrangements, and never-agains. And we do not get to see promises fufilled before our eyes, not before we sleep.

The fog of grief can so easily consume.  None of us want to sit in it, here between chapters. Yet, here we are, with the hole, and the suffering, and the questions.  And we ought not try to paint over the ugly parts, or to pretend the grief is not there.

But even through sad eyes, we can look to the One who gives us hope:

Jesus on the cross.
Jesus risen.
Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who will complete the good work He has started in us.
Jesus, who has gone to prepare a place for us.
Jesus, who welcomes little children, and sinners.
       and you. and me.

His life, death, and life for us: this does not answer every question, but it is enough.

Toddlers, loud, happy toddlers, filled my home today.  It is hard to live in toddler world with a heavy heart.  But I thought of Shel and her rainbow party, and the promises of God, and I set my mind to remember my place in the story. I am in-between chapters. Death has not won. The waiting is hard, yes. But our God has not abandoned us here.

We wait, and we look forward.

So I got  out the chalk, the bubbles, and in the camera. Death, you cannot have this day.

We rebel.

Trace me, trace me!!!
I have set the LORD always before me.
       Because he is at my right hand,
       I will not be shaken.
Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
       my body also will rest secure,
 because you will not abandon me to the grave,
       nor will you let your Holy One see decay.
 You have made known to me the path of life;
       you will fill me with joy in your presence,
       with eternal pleasures at your right hand.

Psalm 16:8-11

The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 6:23

trampoline + chalk = joy!

If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.

But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

For he "has put everything under his feet."

1 Corinthians 15:19-27

"rainbow popcorn"

2 Peter 3:13
But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth,
in which righteousness dwells.

   "As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives,
         And at the last He will take His stand on the earth.
    "Even after my skin is destroyed,
         Yet from my flesh I shall see God;
    Whom I myself shall behold,
         And whom my eyes will see and not another.
         My heart faints within me! "

Job 19:25-27

Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: "Death has been swallowed up in victory." "Where, O death, is your victory?
      Where, O death, is your sting?"
 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

1 Corinthians15:51-58

For more about Delia's party, read Shel's beautiful post: Oh, we painted.
The last note I sent to Aunt Julie contained a copy of this post: Just Come
Perhaps it will lift your spirits, too-- especially the hymn.
Sad and angry, too? See A beef with God: The dance


  1. God’s grace as you mourn Julie’s death, but also celebrate her victory in the resurrection. Thanks for opening your heart once again.


  2. Thank you for this. The theme of the "middle of the story" keeps popping up at every turn in my life these days. I love how you have captured it here.

  3. Grief and joy intertwine and I think they form what Mary DeMuth refers to as "Thin Places". The juxtaposition of a broken hard from loss and the broken heart from joy where God IS...where He shows Himself to us. Beautiful words.

  4. Our family was just at a funeral today for the eleven year old daughter of a family in our church that was taken suddenly to heaven two weeks ago today. We and our congregation and the relatives of the family, both saved and unsaved, got to hear a sermon of hope and life, about the death and resurrection of our Savior. I am thankful that we do not grieve as those who have no hope, for we too will all be resurrected on the last day and share eternity with Jesus and all the forgiven sinners He died to save.

  5. This verse is on my sister-in-law's grave (she died before I married her brother):

    Whom have I in heaven but you?
    And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
    My flesh and my heart may fail,
    but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Psalm 73

    LOVE the resurrection verses. Every All Saints our church reads off those who have died during the year in the Lord, and we recite many of the verses you have posted, responsively, one for each of the departed. I always keep the bulletin insert on the fridge, with all those verses.

    A truly Christian funeral is a beautiful thing. Come quickly Lord Jesus!

  6. And I always send this sermon to family and friends after they lose a loved one. I think I've listened to it 30 times.


Web Analytics