The last few weeks have been hard…unbelievably hard. During the last weeks of her life, I told April many times that my heart would forever contain a purple stain. Having lost a son four hours after his premature birth and having buried my own father not too long ago, I thought I knew something of the scars that wound the human heart. But when I awoke on June 26 to a world that no longer contained my purpley person, I experienced a penetrating and soul crushing grief unlike anything I had ever encountered. My heart had not been wounded. It had been severed…wrecked at its core.
The night before, April had been my everything…the source of my earthly happiness and the marrow that infused hope into my future. Even as she slipped into an unconscious state on the evening of the 24th, our marriage was real. Memories of vows, first dances, and nights alone rightly informed my vision for tomorrow. Hope, however precarious, still remained. Relationship existed. Her soft inhale and exhales and the touch of her warm hand brought comfort to my heart. But the moment that she turned cold, I was alone. What had been the most fundamental and essential essence of my life was became but a memory – a treasure chest of joys and wisdom to be stewarded well- but still a lifeless memory. Life to death. Hope to tragedy. Whole to less than whole.
Though my grief is profound, I know that all that has transpired is no tragedy for my dear bride. She has exchanged her frail body for one of eternal peace and her flawed husband for the perfect love of Christ. Though I know her desperate wish and prayer was to stay with me and our children and though I affirm that her love for us still resides within her heavenly heart- albeit a perfected love, I cannot wish her back to this troubled planet. I cannot ask her to exchange Christ’s headship for mine. She has achieved her end. She is glorifying God and perfectly enjoying him forever. Her joy is complete.
And yet, mine remains hidden by hidden a glass covered by shadows.
In the hours after her death, an unsettling silence settled over our home. As I wandered are room alone, I could not help but fill that forsaken space with the simply cry of, “Where are you?” Though I asked the question often, no reply came. All those pictures that she valued so much just coldly stared backed at my tear-stained face. I miss her. Ten years ago when I stumbled into April at Southern Seminary, I found in her something far greater than any ruby or diamond. Though she has gained all, I have lost the companionship, the wisdom, and the affections of this woman worth more than gold.
These last weeks, I have found a new affection for Paul’s sentiment in Philippians 1:23 which says,
“My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better (Phil 1:23).”
I long for Christ…for the joys that my dear April knows well. Life is hard. Oh, what faith it takes to say, “The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away, blessed be the Lord.”
The Path Forward
Though no prophet or son of a prophet, I suspect my life is not close to its end. At the very least, I know God has not called me to prepare for death as much as he has called me to prepare for and to minister to my children and to my church family. As Paul notes in the next verse in Philippians 1, “But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.” Thus, I will cherish the days ahead. I will navigate the dark alley ways of doubt and the swamps of sorrows, knowing that my savior will hold me fast. As the Psalmist says,
“When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their trouble. The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit (Ps 34:18).”
Though hard and emotionally complex, the path forward possesses a spiritual simplicity that even the youngest of believers can easily recognize. God asks nothing special of me during this season. He calls me to trust his wise, loving, and all-powerful character. Then, he commands me to live out the gospel within my local church context, attending to the things that he has called me to such as preaching and loving my children well. In short, I am to love the Lord my God with all my heart soul, mind, and strength and my neighbor as myself.
When April and I lost our first-born son, we found simple obedience to be the surest pathway to hope. Even as she and I grappled with her cancer over the last three years, our souls were forever and always reinvigorated by ministry. The very act of caring for our neighbor in the midst of our sorrows often brought us the divine perspective and hope that our hearts needed to make sense of the very pain that only hours earlier had tempted us to withdraw from the community of faith. If I will but obey Christ in the minutia of life as I suffer, hope will come. As Paul wrote,
“Suffering produces character which leads to the hope of Christ that never disappoints (Rom. 5:2-5).”
With this in mind, I have resumed working on my dissertation, returned to the church office, and reascended the pulpit. The pathway to restoration is beautifully simple.
As I traverse the many ups and downs of this path of grief over the next months, I know there will be many more tears…some anticipated – such as the first full week of school – and some not so much. Life will continue to hurt for a time. And I fully suspect some sorrows will not fully healed until the other side of heaven. But I also know there will be new joys…new relationships…new and increasing evidences of grace in my life, in the lives of my children, and in my church family. Christ promises of abundant life have not grown stale. The God who knew April would live but 39 years and ordained that I would have the blessed joy of being her husband (of being one with her) for 9.5 of those years still loves me. The valley of Bacca will once again flow with the streams of hope. By God’s mercy, I will go from strength to strength (Psalm 84:5-7). The clouds will lift. Joy will come in the morning, and I will praise him again.
I greatly appreciate your prayers for me and my family as we continue walk through this valley.
May God be merciful!