The disruption of grief ebbs and flows as a tide freed from the predictable confinements of the moon’s rationality. And with each sweeping set of sorrows comes new decisions. Some being codified by our legal system float above the waters. Others jump out at us from under the dark waves without warning. It is the later that prove most difficult because they defy anticipation. For example, the innocent blue and white wood sign hanging above my fireplace that my late wife painted a few years back recently became unavoidable point of tension in my heart. I could not get over the phrase, “Established 2012.”
In one sense, it was the most basic of truths. Twenty-twelve was the year in which I asked my dear wife out for the first time, popped the question with a princess cut diamond ring, and then said, “I do” before a hundred or so witnesses. But 2012 was more than that. It was the year my soul was knit to hers to an eternal love forged in the fires of faith and trust. And it was that love that I rested in time and time again in the years that followed.
Many know of the sorrows that April and I endured when we buried our first-born son. A few others knew that we suffered a miscarriage between the births of our second and third child, another pain that scarred our hearts. But no one knew of the almost suffocating isolation of ministry that enveloped our souls at times. Though we thought about sharing the depths of our sorrows, divine prudence dictated that we do otherwise. There were no public dialogues, FB posts, or blogs. Only the two of us and the Lord knew the full extent of those days. But as we debated how to best apply theology to this and that situation, memorized Scripture, read ferociously, and lifted our concerns to the Lord, sweet blessings arrived. Our love for Christ and for one another become ever more fixed and more glorious. Oh how we both delighted in those long weekends spent eating Mexican food in Dublin, shopping in Warner Robins for a deal that would align with our simple budget, and walking the few historical sites of note that dotted the middle Georgia landscape. Even in the worst of days, I knew I could pour out my soul to her with all its faults for she loved me as she had been loved by Christ. Indeed, many a bitter day followed 2nd Peter’s death, the miscarriage, and those times of intense isolation. But her love was always sweet, charitable, and unfailing. Hope was always close by. Even in the worst of days, I was the most blessed of men.
When we arrived in Virginia, we came to start anew and to live our lives without the secrecy that had defined our past and that of so many other pastors. As her cancer descended upon her with unprecedented speed, we both embraced the public nature of the moment, seeing our suffering as an opportunity to live out our theology…to do what we had always longed to do…to cast a vision for what could be. But then that which was perishable was transformed into that which is imperishable. What had begun in 2012 ended in 2022. And now that sign…
Though my blessed April exchanged mortality for immortality, the secret memories and sorrows of times past have not disappeared. Rather, they have shifted in-whole to my shoulders. My heart has ached under their pressure of late. As I succumbed again to the waves of grief, those old muscle memories from years ago took over, and I looked afresh for the profound solace derived for my wife’s faith. But I found only the profound emptiness and sorrow that comes with losing one’s soulmate.
But with the tears came clarity. I now know that while a modified version of our vision for what could be still belongs in my heart, those recollections of sorrow need to be carefully stored in the depths of my heart away from the light of the present. I need to cast them fully upon the Lord, trusting myself to his care. In other words, those memories are my past – a past that both profoundly and positively shaped who I am both in an out of the pulpit – but alas, still my past. For better or worse, my kids know little to nothing of our experiences from those years. My family as it exists today did not begin in 2012 but in the tragically late hours of June 25, 2022.
In other words, God has ordained that I begin anew and that my kids begin anew as a family of four. The burdens of yester-year are to be laid aside. However much I mourn this transition and fought to prevent its arrival, I can no longer maintain perfect continuity with my past. Our shared experiences are no longer the essence of who I am. That chapter of my life is now complete. A new chapter awaits.
And so as the waves once again begin to recede, I join my sweet children in beseeching the Lord to bless our family with the woman that would necessitate one more beginning. Waves of sorrow and glimpses of hope; of love lost and loves to come. May God be merciful.
And the sign? It came down.