As 2017 stumbled to an end I am sure I heard the whisper of the Lord in my ear.
Trust me, a word like that is music to the soul of a girl who has been through the deepest valley of grief. If the word was tangible I would’ve reached out and grabbed it from the lips of my Heavenly Father and hung it somewhere to be seen every day. But, instead I leaned in closer to hear it again, just to make sure it was real and I wasn’t imagining it.
Sure enough, I felt the word spoken again, “Joy.”
Ever notice how the Lord speaks in a whisper? Or, many times it’s an impression on the heart. I’ve also heard his voice through circumstances or a repeating theme I cannot ignore. I’ve never heard his voice audibly, although I’ve certainly read His voice through His word many times. But, this time was different, it was a whisper through my mind. Like a gentle breeze blowing through the flimsy curtains of an open window in early spring.
This year would bring joy.
I should’ve been happy to hear it, but my reaction surprised me. Instead of being excited, I began to feel afraid. Joy; that’s something that slipped away from me a long time ago. Oh, it raises its head every now and then, just long enough to remind me it’s still there, taunting me with memories of how life used to be. But, so much pain has covered it, I didn’t think it would ever come back to stay.
And I wasn’t sure I could trust it if it did.
When you’ve gone through something really hard, something that feels like a blow that may never heal, the thought of joy seems impossible, outlandish even. Once pain has shattered your heart, brokenness and sorrow become your constant companions. One day you’re walking along and all the people you love are right beside you; your world is right and good. Then, before you can process it, someone who kept your world in proper orbit is gone.
And then you can’t breathe. You’re pretty sure you may die along with them. But, after no specific period of time, your breath finally returns. It hurts like a jagged knife in your chest to take anything other than a shallow breath, but, at least you’re breathing.
The circle of life continues but you feel paralyzed in place, like if you move the pain might be more than your soul can bear. You look around willing your feet to move from this painful spot, yet the fear of moving in any direction overwhelms your heart. I mean, how can life return to any kind of normal when there is NO MORE NORMAL?
It is then you find yourself going through the motions: going to work, cooking supper, hauling the kids to any number of practices, being the daughter, the sister, the wife, the mom, the friend. The expectations don’t end.
All the while your heart is crushed.
Your life looks so tidy and pulled together on the outside, but at night you go home and cry and scream into your pillow. How could a good God take away the person who literally brought you into the world? And how am I supposed to go on without her? And why is everyone else going on like everything is the same…but NOTHING IS THE SAME.
Still the sun sets, another tearful night passes and then it’s time to rise again.
The days press on.
Time shows no favoritism.
Days roll into weeks and weeks turn into months and then you realize it has been a year. You would trade some of your existence, some of your precious days on this planet, just to see her again. Merciless life just keeps passing by. It is in this cycle you feel there will never be anymore laughter; not the kind that makes your sides hurt, and no anticipation of a new year; not the kind that feels fresh and new. Everything feels stale and falls flat as you look around for your person only to be reminded again of their absence.
Life is gray.
Days roll into weeks and weeks turn into months and then you realize it’s been another year. You find yourself reminiscing even smiling to yourself as a memory falls like rain into your thoughts. There is almost a chuckle when you think about an especially fun time and happiness sneaks up on you for a minute. But, grief is a villain, and the happiness is short-lived.
Days roll into weeks and weeks turn into months and then you realize it’s been a third year. It’s in this third trip around the sun you realize something – you didn’t die. Oh, there were days you thought you might, and at times you may have even wanted to, but you didn’t. You also realize it doesn’t feel like a jagged knife to the chest when you take a deep breath anymore. It’s still painful, but it’s become more of a dull ache. You finally stood her picture back up on your dresser because you want to see her face instead of hiding from it. You laugh and cry in the same sentence as you tell someone how beautiful her life was.
It is in that moment, that exact moment you realize something.
Your pain has birthed joy.
That sounds so upside down and impossible, but I am here to tell you it’s true. Not fleeting happiness, but joy, the kind that bubbles up like oil hidden underground and gives us the will again to live. The kind of joy that makes us appreciate every moment we share with another human being because life is good and it is also short. It’s a reminder that life is meant to be lived, not endured or taken for granted but really experienced, with each day having your full attention and investment. From the most mundane summer afternoon to the most outlandish birthday party, and all that happens in between…life is meant to be enJOYed.
So if pain can bring the joy that heightens my senses and helps me to see in color, then it has been worth the cost. Would I bring my mom back today if I could? I don’t know anymore, to ask her to leave heaven seems almost cruel. I would give anything to have another conversation with her. I want her to know I’m healing and learning to live again. I will never be the same, I am forever changed.
She has left me, but I am richer for having known her.
- I can’t believe you’re here. You’re the year my Lord has promised me joy. I have no idea what it will look like, but you can bet I’m holding onto that promise with BOTH hands.
My daughter read a book recently that defined joy as thankfulness. That definition really resonated with me. I have so much to be thankful for in this shiny brand new year. I have a family that loves me, friends who care and a husband who supports me through the thick and thin. And you know what else? I have a heart FULL of wonderful memories. It still hurts to talk about them, but these days I want to pull them out of the depths of my mind where I’d buried them, dust them off and share them. I know now that life goes on, just like the seasons: winter, spring, summer and fall. Each of these cycles brings its own beauty. The dying of one ushers in the birth of another.
Death has taught me about life, REAL LIFE, the kind worth living.
Pain has birthed joy within me, sustaining, strengthening, beautiful JOY.
Joy has taught me to see in color and the landscape of my world is beautiful.
“To all who mourn in Israel, he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair. In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks that the Lord has planted for his own glory.”