Monday, January 9, 2017

Ashes and Bruises

These last three weeks I have been in this swirl of survival mode and of coming to grips with finding a new normal now that my brother is gone. I try to do normal things: having play dates, going grocery shopping, cooking dinner, even watching movies. I'm finding it all to be an enormous struggle. It's so hard to focus on conversations about normal things when all I can think about is the fact that my brother's ashes are frozen in the ground in a cemetery 80 miles away. How can life possibly feel normal when that is the reality we must stare in the face every day? Nothing about that is normal. Nothing is about that is alright.

The first Sunday at church after my brother died was harder than I imagined it would be. Normally I love being surrounded by my church family, and half the time I'm late getting into the service because I can't stop visiting with people. But last week was different. I've never wanted so badly to be invisible. I wanted the words of the music and sermon to wash over me but I didn't want to be seen. I'm not one for crying in public but that particular morning I was a mess. A friend of mine had made me a mix CD of several Sojourn worship songs, and I'd been listening to it on our way to Brian's funeral. One song in particular was running through my head throughout the visitation, and we sang that song on Sunday. It was a small detail, but one that sent me reeling. Perhaps I'll never again listen to that song without thinking about that awful day. The pastor who preached was someone I hadn't heard in awhile, then it occurred to me that the last time I heard him give a sermon was the one Sunday that Brian had come with me to Sojourn.  Seemingly insignificant details that brought on an overwhelming sense of loss.

While trying to keep from coming completely apart at the seams during that service I felt bruised. Like a bruise covered by a piece of clothing so no one around could really see the pain. That was me on Sunday. I sat in the midst of so many people who were oblivious to the absolute chaos that my life has become. Then it occurred to me to wonder how many others around me were feeling the same way. Our church is full of bruises like me. We are all stumbling around in our pain hoping that someone will help keep us standing upright.

The thought I keep coming back to in all this is how difficult it is to have something in my life that I can't fix. It's not like the loss of a job or a temporary illness that will eventually be made right. Brian is never coming back. All plans of getting old as a trio of siblings has been dashed to pieces. We can't fix Brian. There is no putting him back together this time. What a hard reality that is. That means this hurt will never fully go away. The swelling will go down eventually but the bruise will remain. Like an old veteran's war wound that acts up when it rains, there will be perpetual reminders of this loss for the duration of my lifetime. How do I move on from that?

I'm trying to give myself space to grieve. Yes, I trust in the promises of God to be near me and strengthen me during this nightmare, but that doesn't mean that the actual pain diminishes. Those of us who trust in Jesus live in an "already but not yet" kind of world. We believe that one day Jesus will in fact wipe away every tear from our eyes. Every moment of suffering will be forgotten because we will at last be face to face with the author of our very lives. In the meantime we are still part of this sin-soaked world, and the current reality is that we stand face to face with all sorts of unspeakable pain. I used to think that for the Christian suffering was somehow a lighter load. God makes it ok right? How naive I was. God allows us to feel the full weight of suffering not to crush us but so that we might look to Him for our strength.

Yesterday I read Psalm 74:25-36 which says, "Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart my fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever." Somehow every time I've read that verse I've glossed over the word "heart." In times of suffering it is God who gives us the strength we need. Not just the physical ability to get out of bed in the morning and put our shoes on the right feet. God strengthens our hearts as well. He holds us together in the palm of His hand. He will walk through this unspeakable pain with me. He will work through His church to come alongside me and grieve with me. Grief isn't something we can fast forward through. We must do the hard work of trudging through it, but my hope is in the fact that I'm not trudging alone. God is my strength when my heart fails.

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