Yesterday, October 28, I visited the grave of my late wife. The 6-year anniversary of her passing was crisp, clean and glorious with Autumn. Beauty intertwined with sadness, reflection with memory. Notably, for the first time in six years, the day was shot through with joy, too.
Before she died, we had created 16 beautiful years together, resulting in four young men who also made the trek with me two hours south of our current home in Kansas City. Get this: Four boys, visiting their mother’s grave, currently aged 11 to 17. Be me for a minute. How do you bear that as a father? How do you bear that every day for six years?
We spent the day in our former hometown, an ironic term for something that now feels 1000 miles away from my current life. I sat at the grave and talked to Amy as if she were there, as if it was the last time I could ever speak to her again. I wept. And in the midst of it all, I had a revelation on the utter sacredness of time. I told my boys, “If you were given $1000 and told this was all the money you would ever have in the world, how would you spend it? Would you waste it on packs of gum and video games and water balloons…or would every dollar, every dime, suddenly become precious and carefully spent?
Now, transpose, because money is not the ultimate currency in question. We’ve all been given X amount of time. None of us know the amount of our loan, because it’s different for every person. We just know the total is both limited and fixed. The great question: How will you spend your time on planet earth? Amy spent it well. She loved well, laughed with joy, invested in others, pursued God, and died in faith. I cherish every moment of the 16 years I was given with her.
And now…what? Who was that man, sitting there, talking to the past? Yesterday, two versions of my self fused into one. The person I am now, being deeply invested in my new life, is also one beautifully stained with memory, sort of like those melodies you get stuck in your head, and then go about your day humming this vague, beloved song without ever knowing where it started or how to change tunes. In a wonderful, appropriate way, the life I once shared with Amy permeates my existence. Yet she is not here. I will join her, along with my father and my father-in-law one day, and all the saints of history past. I will go to them, but they will never again come to me. Who I am, shaped by these losses, is now different than who I was. I have a different life, sculpted by grace. New discoveries, new people, new love.
For six years, I have somehow labored to find the balance between these disparate factors: Amy’s memory, resignation to the sovereignty of God, shepherding my children thru their own unique journeys, peaceful acceptance of my radically revised place in the world, and finally, leaning into the future with joy rather than dread. That last part, joy—and here I’ll insert my personal synonym, ‘childlike faith’—has been the most elusive. Why? Quite simply, my confidence in a loving God took quite a bruising over said course of events. Now insert another revelation, one that has been unfolding for years. We all have a story. I asked you to imagine yourself as me, but why would I do that? The truth is, we are all well served to imagine ourselves in another’s shoes. My pain is neither the newest, nor the most dramatic. Others have suffered far more. Note to self: get over yourself! Slowly, I
Six years and a day later, I am in awe of the gift of today. While I labor to rise above my own frailty and self-absorption, even as I acknowledge the emotional stunting of my faith, still, the mercy of God whispers in my ear, “You are known. In your confusion and weakness, you are known.” I’ve been given a second chance at love with a remarkable and beautiful woman, a new career in writing, a new circumstance and home in which to build my life in God, and a new impetus to break free of my self-imposed status as prisoner of my own past. Mystery of mysteries, I do not have to make sense of everything that happened six years ago to feel released into present, authentic joy. My need to understand had been a prison, a torment. Then, one day, I looked down and realized I held a key in my hand. It is called: trust.
In 2005, I posted onto a grief support site: “I alternate between despair, anger, disillusionment, weariness, and an aching, incalculable emptiness that is shaped like Amy’s name in my soul.”
We all carry names in our soul—names of those we love—and such holes tend to widen when they die. Said another way, we often wear their grave clothes. As a man who lived, died and lived again, Lazarus can help us here. After he was raised, the Lord commanded his grave clothes be removed. Why? Because the living should not wear the garments of the dead. This is a two-stage process. First, come alive. Second, be unwrapped. Yesterday, a little bit of both happened in me. In the midst of my revelation of time—admittedly, not new, though epiphanous nonetheless—for the first time in six years and a day, I think I came to understand, with grateful acceptance: the Lord gives and takes away. In all things, even loss, I can bless His name. In Christ, the perfect loop of eternity will balance all sorrow with ultimate joy. For the first time in six years, I feel something deeper and truer than my loss. I can enjoy my memories and release them. I can allow my life to be infused by their richness, rather than depleted by their pain.
For too long, the past has been a toll road, a tax on my present satisfaction. I loved a girl named Amy. I always will. But I love (present tense) a girl named Jeanie. She is my gift. And that is very good. Memory should be a launching pad of gratitude, by which I become more deeply invested in the mystery of God, who makes all things new, and in whom nothing beautiful or true or lovely (yes, Amy, too) is ever truly lost.
I shall go to them. They shall not come to me. Until then, I choose to live.