grief


Tomorrow I am giving my testimony in MOPS. I was originally going to give it back in February, but we were snowed out, so I was rescheduled all the way in May. I reread it just now after not having touched it since the winter, and thankfully nothing about my testimony has changed in the interim. I wanted to share it here both for others to read, and also because it encompasses a lot of the things I wrote about in the early days of this blog. Be aware that it’s quite long. 🙂

I want to tell you a story this morning. Please keep in mind as you listen that this is not a story of grief, loss, fear and longing. Despite those elements being present in my testimony, this is a story about joy.

I want to start by reading a passage from Lamentations 3:

[a]I am the man who has seen affliction
by the rod of the Lord’s wrath.
He has driven me away and made me walk
in darkness rather than light;
indeed, he has turned his hand against me
again and again, all day long.

He has made my skin and my flesh grow old
and has broken my bones.
He has besieged me and surrounded me
with bitterness and hardship.
He has made me dwell in darkness
like those long dead.

He has walled me in so I cannot escape;
he has weighed me down with chains.
Even when I call out or cry for help,
he shuts out my prayer.
He has barred my way with blocks of stone;
he has made my paths crooked.

And the New Living Translation’s version of 1 Peter 1:6: “So be truly glad: there is wonderful joy ahead, even though you have to endure trials for a little while.”

Has anyone here ever heard — or said — that God doesn’t give us anything we can’t handle? I think it was Mother Teresa who first made that claim. She was wrong. I know only the slightest bit about God, but one thing I do know is that He does, in fact, give us things that are beyond us to endure. There comes a point when all of us have to lean on Him, and not on our own strength.

There was a time in my life when I read — and lived — Lamentations 3 every single day. From 2010 through 2012, I experienced a season of profound grief which included three significant losses within one year. I suffered two miscarriages four months apart (one of which occurred very unexpectedly on my 31st birthday), and just as I began to emerge from that fog, my mother died of breast cancer after a sudden decline. The Lord truly had walled me in so I could not escape. He weighed me down with chains.

I found out that I was pregnant with my son, Will, just over 24 hours before my mom died; in fact, I told her I was pregnant during the very last conversation we were able to have. So I began my journey into motherhood in the midst of deep, deep grief. I wasn’t excited to be pregnant; I was filled with fear about losing another baby, and I really wasn’t sure I was interested in bringing new life into a world I wasn’t even sure I wanted to be a part of anymore. I felt very keenly the fact that we are all just pilgrims in this earthly world, and that our true home is in Heaven. I knew that my mother had gone to her true home, and that my first two babies had as well, and frankly, their home sounded a lot better to me than the lonely world in which I was stranded.

Not only was I grieving, but I felt a lot of resentment as well. I resented the fact that, as Joel says, my years were being “eaten by locusts”. I was enraged by my loss. I walked around feeling for a long time like there was a literal giant hole in my chest where my heart had been, and that frequently it bled out all over the floor. I got very used to this feeling — a lot of the time, in fact, I could actually feel it physically. As you might imagine, this was uncomfortable, but the physical sensation matched my emotional state, and this was in a way comforting.

I realized early on that in my weakness, I was not at all up to the task of “staying strong” during these ordeals. I needed God to carry me through. I prayed every day not for the strength to endure, but for him to carry me, shelter me, protect me, uphold me during the storm. I felt more than anything like I was on the floor of a tiny boat, riding these giant waves of grief and anger, just praying for his protection. “Staying strong” was not at all an option, because my strength was gone. If I was going to survive my grief and learn to live again, it was going to be because of God’s mercy, and because of his strength.

I was blessed to have been raised by a godly mother who used her cancer diagnosis as an opportunity to glorify God. After she died, her friends told me that she never asked for her cancer to be taken away. Instead, she asked that God would be glorified through it. As a cancer patient she felt blessed to have the hope of Christ as she faced death. Her prayer was answered in every way, not least through the challenge it presented to me, her daughter. If my mother could pray that God would be glorified through her illness and death, so I must too be willing to pray the same thing in all of my own circumstances, no matter how painful. I reluctantly asked that God would be glorified through my grief, and that my losses would ultimately bring me closer to him, that I would grow in wisdom and closer to that elusive peace that surpasses all understanding.

I did not want to pray these things; in fact, to be honest I really would have preferred to be able to stay blissfully ignorant and spiritually shallow. I longed to return to a time when I still believed that if you just “fought bravely”, you could “beat” a deadly disease, and that having a baby was as easy as simply wanting one. Spiritual growth and closeness to Jesus did not seem like a worthy tradeoff for the loss of my mom and my babies. But I kept being drawn back to Philippians 3:

7 But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ 9and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. 10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

The challenge was just that forgetting what was behind, straining toward what was ahead, and pressing on toward the goal were not fun things to do. I was challenged over and over to actually claim my faith. Psalm 63 states, “because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you.” Better than life. Can I really believe that? I was being called to actually live out these truths I had professed for my entire life.

In addition to having to face the stark truth of Scripture and live up to my mother’s testimony, I was also just very tired of my grief. I knew that my grief and rage were both natural responses and also very necessary, but I finally came to a place where I didn’t want them to rule my life forever.

From the book of Joel:

“I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten—
the great locust and the young locust,
the other locusts and the locust swarm[b]
my great army that I sent among you.
26 You will have plenty to eat, until you are full,
and you will praise the name of the Lord your God,
who has worked wonders for you;
never again will my people be shamed.
27 Then you will know that I am in Israel,
that I am the Lord your God,
and that there is no other;
never again will my people be shamed.”

Note the line my great army that I sent among you.

I had no desire to become my grief, and succumbing to a lifetime of sadness and anger would only be allowing the locusts to eat not just these years, but my life and my soul. If I was to believe the Scriptures, one of God’s promises to me would be to repay me for these years of grief. To redeem it. How could I allow that to happen if I stayed locked inside my sadness? How could I do that, and allow cancer to win? To allow death to win? 1 Corinthians 15:26 states that the last enemy to be destroyed is death. My task was clear: I had to learn how to be happy.

There are 235 references to the word joy in the Bible, which is more than the words grief, sorrow and weep combined. So that told me something. Slowly, God began to show me how to make my way through the labyrinth of grief and use it as a means of finding joy.

I learned quickly that there was no avoiding the pain of grief, and that trying to white-knuckle my way through the experience wouldn’t make it any easier. Instead I turned to my yoga practice, and there I became comfortable with being uncomfortable. God used yoga as a way for me to begin to approach peace in the midst of pain. If I could breathe and stay calm while balancing in a difficult pose, I knew I could do the same while balancing in difficult circumstances. I stopped being afraid of the grief. It wasn’t going anywhere, and I didn’t have to let it hurt me. My grief and I began a hesitant coexistence.

He also allowed me to be angry. I really believe that actually experiencing what I was feeling — all the rage, the overwhelming grief, the fear — without running away from it was key to being able to survive it. Anger was huge for me; I did not shy away from it. It was far easier to be angry than sad. My rage wasn’t focused on anything in particular, but it was my faithful companion for a long time and I actually think it was healing.

Through all of this I clung to the verse in 1 Peter that reminds us that there is wonderful joy ahead. I knew now that this must be true regardless of how much I could lose. No matter what happened to me, I believed God’s promises to be true. I had to. There is so much evidence in scripture of this wonderful joy — weeping may remain for the night, but joy cometh in the morning (Psalm 30). The Lord shall be your everlasting light, and your days of sorrow will end (Isaiah 60). Death could not win. It was impossible; it was written there in black and white, in the gospel, in Jesus. The victory had already been won. It was mine for the taking, but I had to want it, I had to believe it, I had to receive it.

I felt all the while like I was in a kiln. I felt like I had been lit on fire, but the fire was doing what it was meant to do: purify me. I was unfinished clay and I was going to come out beautiful. My losses made me a different person. In the end they made me a better person. I am wiser, I am more faithful, and despite all that God has taken from me, I trust him far more than I ever did before, because he has shown himself trustworthy to me. He has repaid me for the years the locusts have eaten. This doesn’t mean that my loss was good or that the purpose of enduring them was in order to make me a better person. It means God redeems. It means he took death and disease and used them for his glory.

There is a line in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings that resonates with me, and it’s this: “He will not forget his grief, but it will not darken his heart, it will teach him wisdom.” This is what the Lord has done in me.

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It doesn’t happen as often as it used to, but I still have moments where I instinctively reach for my phone to call my mom. Most recently this happened the other day when I took a picture of Anna practicing her sitting. I then had that whole numbing string of realizations: I can’t text her this picture. In fact, she never met Anna. And in fact, she never even met Will. She never got to know me as a mother. She’s still gone.

It hurts just as much as it ever did, but I’m so used to it now that it feels more like a heavy, dull punch to the chest than a violent blow to the head. It knocks the wind out of me, but I can catch my breath sooner now. It’s wearying to think that this is going to continue happening for the rest of my life.

I’ve accepted my loss. I have “come to terms” with it, whatever that means in the end. Spiritually and theologically I allow it. But it still pisses me off.

In the end I’m just really annoyed that I don’t have my mother around. She doesn’t know my kids and they’ll never know her. It was my worst fear when she was diagnosed, and now that it’s come true, it feels just as empty as I thought it would. I hate not having her around for advice, for encouragement, just for company. Right now I don’t hate it in a sad, disappointed, grieving way — I hate it in an angry way. I may have a happy life, but I can think of a million little ways in which it would be ten times happier and richer if she were still a part of it.

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Where, o death, is your victory? Where, o death, is your sting? — honestly I can see the victory and feel the sting all the time. It’s here in my own heart, in my neverending sadness. It’s hard not to feel sometimes like death has already won.

But today’s Easter sermon was on 1 Corinthians 15. What a relief I felt when I read the passage! It’s one of my favorites and one that brought me deep comfort when my mom was dying. To destroy suffering. (You can listen to it here.) What Easter means is that death hasn’t won. The battle has already ended.

50 I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— 52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

55 “Where, O death, is your victory?
    Where, O death, is your sting?”

56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

That victory, here on earth, here in my mortal body, feels hollow sometimes. Sometimes I just want her back, damn it, and that’s the end of it. It’s that physical ache that will never really go away, that hole in my chest that’s never going to close, that longing that is not joy.

But death has been swallowed up in victory. On the other side of this we will laugh at it. I don’t know why there is so much suffering in this world, but in spite of it, laughing in its face, I see God’s redemptive work every day. One day I will try to write and make sense of my mother’s life story and testimony, but all I can see when I look at it right now is that redemptive work. It’s all I see, too, when I think about my own grief and loss. See? The battle has already been won. Suffering will end. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

This is why Easter is my favorite holiday. The hope fulfilled. The longing satisfied. The joy, the joy, the joy.

I set out to write about what my grief looks like 18 months later, and I kept circling around the same theme: freedom.

I grieve my mom’s loss every single day, and it’s something I’ve become accustomed to. When I saw this on Pinterest:

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(source)

I felt that familiar longing. Yes, it’s gotten easier —  but that doesn’t mean my grief is behind me or that it’s not something I ever think about anymore. The other day I heard Mindy Smith’s beautiful One Moment More and the line give me just one part of you to cling to was hard to listen to. I read Tina Fey’s prayer for her daughter and the last lines, while funny, were like a punch in the gut. So my grief is very much still a part of my life.

But it’s not something I have to spend a lot of time on anymore. I have a lot less anger, and a lot less of that mental fog*. And more than anything else I feel lighter.

I finally feel like I have some emotional and spiritual freedom not being shackled to the chains of grief anymore. I feel like I’m finally free to just be myself and live my life without having to constantly tend to my grief — which, in retrospect, is incredibly draining. (No wonder I was so tired all the time.) Where my grief at first made me an angrier and more high-strung person, I think it’s now allowed me the perspective and grace to mellow a lot, even though it’s not always easy.

I spent a lot of time last year working on making my life about more than just my grief, but it always felt like something I had to put a lot of concerted effort into — the default otherwise was always sadness, mourning, tears, lethargy, depression. Happiness was a massive effort, and striving to be happy while also tending to my grief often left me feeling so worn out. But now happiness doesn’t seem to take as much effort. My default is no longer that sadness, that longing. It’s just life.

And that feels pretty nice.

* The mental fog did lift for a time — but it’s settled back in again, this time thanks to my wacky thyroid. I’ve adjusted my medication and go back again in about six weeks to get re-checked — and in the meantime I’m looking forward to a) being able to string together more than a few coherent sentences (which explains the lack of blogging; I can barely think), b) a desire to get up off the couch, and c) maintaining a body temperature that’s higher than 97.0. Whee!

I was all set yesterday to write a long, whiny post about how I am not really feeling the whole “training plan” thing right now, but I had a great long run this morning so I think (hope?) this post will be a lot less petulant.

But it’s true — I’ve been struggling mentally the last few weeks, or even months, with my running. I actually feel really good when I’m running, so it’s not that I’m having any physical problems or feeling really slow or sluggish or injury-prone or even that I don’t enjoy myself when I’m out there. It’s just that I don’t feel motivated. And that is so frustrating! And as tough as it is to have to talk myself into hitting the treadmill or getting out the door, it’s just as mentally draining to dread my runs so much.

I know that some of that is just the fact that it’s winter; it’s hard to psych yourself up when it’s so dark outside all the time. But there are a few other factors at work, too, so let me just sit back and overthink and overanalyze this for a bit.

First, a picture of my dad and me in our festive outfits, ready to run on Christmas morning:

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(Our festive outfits made for a very magical run.)

My relationship with running is changing. I have been thinking lately about how much running saved me a few years ago, when I was so heartbroken and so angry and I had nothing to channel my sadness into. I thought about how the structure of a training plan gave purpose to my workouts and showed me that I could accomplish a lot more than I ever thought I could. The endorphin rush I got after even the slowest, shortest run was enough to stave off a lot of that dark cloud that hovered there on the horizon, and I think the simple, physical act of running saved me from succumbing to it. (I think the fact that I was unable to run while pregnant and dealing with the loss of my mother had a much bigger impact on me than I thought at the time, by the way, but that is another story for another day.)

Another thing that’s different is that I’m out of the frantic, bewildering new-mom phase. During Will’s early months I cherished my running time because it was mine. I was desperate to know that I was still me, that I still had something that was just mine and meant that I was (though I hate to type these words) “more than just a mom”. What I mean by that is that I was desperate to know that my identity was still intact, even after such a huge, profound shift in my sense of self.

Another piece of this, I should add, is that I’m no longer trying to lose weight. In fact, I’m trying to not lose weight. I would be kidding myself if I said losing the baby weight wasn’t part of my motivation to run. Of course it was. But it isn’t anymore, and I now don’t know how to replace that part of my motivation.

But things are different now. The dark cloud has cleared; I don’t need running in the same way that I used to. I feel settled and comfortable and like myself still — just with a little person attached — rather than trying to retrofit myself into some esoteric, intangible definition of what mom should look like. And now I’m trying to figure out how to fit running into this new life.

Like I said, while I’m running I feel great — energetic, fast, joyful. But mentally I’m just going through the motions right now, and spending naptime on the treadmill has become so much less appealing when I could be doing about a thousand other things. So I’m trying to make a few changes. First, I’ve started running early again. Don’t hate me, but Will gets up much later than a lot of other babies — usually around 8 a.m. So in an effort to be more efficient and productive with my time — and to keep that day’s run from hanging over my head all day — I’ve been getting up early to run before Will wakes up. It’s been working great — the only challenge is dragging myself out of bed, but it’s not like 6:30 is a punishingly early hour. (For perspective, Steve gets up at 5 a.m. to work out every day before he goes to work, so my 6:30 is REALLY nothing to complain about.) I hoped to go out with the stroller this week since it’s been warm, but it didn’t work out. Maybe next week.

I am also still following my training program to a T. I know that if I didn’t have a training program to follow I would be slacking off right now, maybe running three miles here and there. Plus, the Saturday group runs have been rest for my soul the last few weeks, as I usually have to run alone, and this way I can make some new running friends.

Lastly I am remembering that despite the fact that I am not actively grieving or staving off depression or dealing with anything unusually stressful at this point in my life, running does help keep me sane no matter what’s going on. So there’s that, too, and that’s very valuable!

That’s a lot of words about running, isn’t it? Here’s a picture:

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Tulips to start the new year!

And for Will’s doting grandparents:

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Here is your grandson, sitting in a basket, next to a giant stuffed cheetah which my little niece Sophie gave the name “Softer”.

I haven’t felt like running much this last week. Usually I love being alone with my thoughts, but some days you just prefer company. Still, I’ve managed to make it out the door on the strength of the cupcake awaiting me back at home, or on the feeling of satisfaction with which  a completed run leaves me. We were up in Pennsylvania this past weekend so I had outdoor runs and new scenery to take in, but I just wasn’t really feeling it.

So I started Tuesday morning’s run feeling pretty unenthusiastic; my main motivator was knowing that I was going to spend all afternoon sitting in a car and eating Chick-Fil-A for dinner. I headed out the door promising myself that four miles would be a piece of cake.

I did a two-mile loop twice (it’s a small town!), and during those four miles my thoughts were filled with memories. What is it about this time of year? The chilly air, the cloudy skies, the brick buildings flanked by brilliant orange trees all reminded me of Elmira, where I went to college. I am rarely ever further north than Philadelphia these days and I miss the northeast a lot. The smell of exhaust as I ran past a truck reminded me of the three weeks I spent in Russia when I was seventeen — three weeks fifteen years ago, and yet the smell still brings me back. I was even brought all the way back to summer camp as the aroma of sausages and maple syrup came wafting out to meet me as I made my way down King Street. I remembered waiting for the bus during late winter afternoons at Academy; my mind sifted through some of the poems we studied while I was there (the world revolves like ancient women/gathering fuel in vacant lots). I remembered Gertrude Stein and the smell of the upstairs classrooms and the experimental hairstyles favored by my friends.

No experimental hairstyles here, but it was graduation so we had to be classy.

And thinking about my friends brought me back to my public school days, where my thoughts have lingered a lot this past week. I found out on Friday morning that a much-loved friend of mine — the guy who took me to the prom, in fact — passed away unexpectedly last week. We hadn’t kept in touch and our lives went different places, but I miss him. He was a good and kind man who leaves a lot of people behind who miss him a lot more than I ever could.

I followed along as my mind traced the now well-worn path it’s followed a lot in the last year. He didn’t deserve this, said my mind. He should have gotten to marry, have a family, live a long life. It’s so unfair.

And then: Why? Why is it unfair?

I have thought about death a lot in the last year and a half, and not in the overemotional dramatic way I did when I was thirteen. My friend is free. My mother is free. Yes, it sucks for those of us left behind — we’re the ones who have to endure these endless days of grief. But I can no longer simply think he should have lived longer. Instead of mourning a life cut short, I want to rejoice. Rejoice that my friend can escape this broken world and experience peace. Rejoice that my mother has been healed. I want to rejoice — but left behind here in this mess, it’s so hard. It’s hard to look past my own sadness to see the very real joy that exists beyond, but I think if I could fully see it, I wouldn’t mourn at all. I’d just be impatient.

I find it hard to express these thoughts in my “real” life, though. I hope that what I’m trying to say here makes sense, because I don’t mean it in a callous way; I’m not saying that death doesn’t matter or that there is no place for grief or mourning, or that life isn’t really worth living in the end. I’m just saying that … this world is not our home. We are pilgrims. And getting to go Home? Well, that just doesn’t sound so bad to me.

It wasn’t a very long run, so my thoughts didn’t have all morning to follow along on that well-worn trail. Sometimes running alone isn’t such a bad thing, but I don’t know — this may be a familiar train of thought, but it isn’t one I want to visit on a regular basis right now. After all, we may be lonely pilgrims, but the world really is filled with beauty, wonder and joy. So instead of these disconsolate thoughts and memories, today I ran with Justin Timberlake and Ellie Goulding. And it wasn’t so bad.

Note: I am blogging now, and not doing the dishes, because some many-legged insect is lurking underneath my dishwasher and I am not quite that fearless. Perhaps through writing I will find the courage to get the hose attachment on the vacuum to suck it up and away from me. But then I’m left with the image of it clawing its way out of the vacuum …

Anyway. I’ve been thinking some about a conversation I had with my former boss when I met her for lunch last week. She told me that she was seeing a marked difference in my appearance now compared to how I looked my whole last year at work, and I agreed with her, saying that I am happier now than I have been in a very, very long time, if not happier than I’ve ever been, period.

It’s not because I have everything I want, because I definitely don’t have everything I want. But if I keep on waiting and waiting for something I can never have, I’m never going to feel free to experience real joy in my life. And right now, the pieces are coming together to allow me to do that in spite of the longing that is not joy.

I have spent over two years now immersed in the pursuit of happiness. Chasing after it, studying it, practicing how to be happy. I don’t have an end point in mind, because the practice of happiness is both lifelong and also just that: a practice. Like yoga it’s something that stretches and challenges me in new ways — in ways I don’t expect.

Happiness, hope, health and healing are all well and good but I can’t ignore what it is I’m trying to heal from. And really, I have to ask whether healing is even possible. One of my closest friends lost her mom a few years ago and she described her first year of grief as feeling like there was a dark cloud cover over the world. For me, it feels like there’s a huge hole in my heart. Like there is just a gaping hole there in my chest that bleeds all over the place from time to time. It’s been nearly a year and I’m used to having a gaping hole in my heart now — oftentimes I can actually feel it — but it doesn’t always mean the pain of it has gotten any easier. No matter how much I fill my life with happy things and try to focus myself on joy — no matter how much I run, how much yoga I do, no matter how hard I try – it won’t close the hole. Nothing can.

There is just a great longing that will never be satisfied. My challenge is to somehow find happiness and joy despite that longing — not to try to override it. I am learning how to live with the longing, but it’s hard.

I wrote that about two and a half months ago. Everything feels different now. Why?

I really don’t know. Have I finally accepted that longing as part of me? I had a dream the other night that was a variation on a dream I’ve had many times in the last year. I dreamed my mom was back with us, just living life with us. There was no shock of recognition, no tsunami of joy upon our reunion (both of which I’ve experienced in other dreams) — just life. And as always, during the dream I had a moment of clarity: Wait. She’s gone. And then another moment of clarity: No. She WAS gone. She’s back now. It was only temporary. That’s all over now.

It’s like seeing a foretaste of Heaven, or Revelation 21:4 brought to life: the old order of things has passed away.

The Resurrection Body

35 But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” 36 How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37 When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. 38 But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body. 39 Not all flesh is the same: People have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another. 40 There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another. 41 The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor.

42 So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; 43 it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.

If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. 46 The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. 47 The first man was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of heaven. 48 As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the heavenly man, so also are those who are of heaven. 49 And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man.

50 I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— 52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

55 “Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”

56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Corinthians 15:35-57

I guess it just turns out that joy, as I’m experiencing it in my life right now, is a lot richer than I ever anticipated. It’s not just the peaceful happiness of waking up with my baby every morning and watching him grow and learn. It’s not just the way I feel like motherhood opened a door in my spirit that I didn’t know was there. It’s not the simplicity of my life right now, the freedom I feel while running or the peace I feel in yoga, or the relationships I’m building and nurturing. It’s not just those things. It’s this, too:

I will turn their mourning into gladness;
I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow.

Jeremiah 31:13

and this:

19 I remember my affliction and my wandering,
the bitterness and the gall.
20 I well remember them,
and my soul is downcast within me.
21 Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:

22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.

Lamentations 3:19-22

and this:

Blessed are you who hunger now,
for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.

Luke 6:22

The longing is actually a part of the joy, as C.S. Lewis once said. And I wouldn’t feel the sort of joy I feel now if I had never known the grief. I wouldn’t be laughing now if I had never wept. I have been hungry — and now, I feel satisfied.

Hello, hello! There isn’t really any reason for my absence this last week; I guess I have just felt like being quiet. I never want to blog just for the sake of blogging, so I haven’t had much to say. But things are good — better than I anticipated they would be considering this time of year, actually.

On Thursday I went with my family up to Quantico National Cemetery where my mother is buried. (She was a Navy veteran.) I went into the day expecting it to be difficult and emotional, and it was, but in a more cathartic way than I thought it would be. Instead of despair, there was a lot of hope. We are secure in our knowledge that she is Home, and we anxiously await the day when we can be reunited and no one will take away our joy. We had picked up balloons on our way there and before leaving the cemetery, we released them up into the sky toward Heaven.

It could have felt contrived, but it didn’t. Instead it felt like all my grief, all my despair, all my clinging to the past, my guilt over not being a perfect daughter, my wanting to turn back time — they all went up into the air along with the balloons. It was letting go of this past year and accepting that a new life has begun.

I thought of Scarlett O’Hara in her mourning gown, and how she didn’t want to wear it for an entire year. I would have, if we still had mourning garb today; I wanted the world to know I was set apart in my grief. But one thing I’ve learned in this last year is that I am not alone: I am not the only person in the world who’s ever gone through this. Of course, I’ve known this intellectually all along, but more than ever now I understand that other people have done this too. Other people have found ways to live full, happy, joyful lives alongside their grief. Grieving never ends, but I think for me, mourning needs to. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life thinking various iterations on this isn’t right, it’s not okay, this isn’t how it’s supposed to be — NOTHING is how it’s supposed to be in this fallen world, and I need to start training myself to accept that. That it’s not okay, but this is life now. I don’t want to live in the past while forsaking my future and ignoring my present. I need to take off my mourning gown.

I think I’ve said before that I feel like I understand my mom so much more now that I’m a mother myself. When I think about what I want for Will, like any mother I just want him to be happy. I think my mom would want the same for me. The thought of Will being unhappy for years on end or spending his days bowed under grief just destroys me inside — so as my mom’s daughter, I don’t want to live that way either. I have been striving for happiness for months now, and I see it on the horizon — I just need to keep running toward it, this time without looking back.

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