There’s a birthday coming up in just a few days and as I look out the window, daydreaming about her hair, her eyes, her giggle, I glance down to see the daffodils, bravely poking their little heads up out of snow. They’ve been waiting to appear and it’s time, in spite of the millions of flakes floating down from the sky.
I want to be like the daffodils. I want to hope, even when it seems laughable. I want to stretch toward the sky, even when I feel like shrinking into the ground. I want to have faith that spring will come, even in the middle of winter.
Those first days after we buried our Annie and I was still shaking my head from the shock, from the reality that had changed in a blink of an eye, I felt myself surrounded by a deep fog. Call it what you will, but it was as horrible as it was beautiful. Jesus cared for us so tenderly during those days— the days of toddlers who didn’t know how to process the sadness of losing sister they adored, the days of leading a church who was grappling with their own grief as they watched us, the days of lonely sorrow.
We went to buy a stone for her grave, though I had resisted for months. It seemed so final to me, the very last thing to check off the list. I didn’t want to finish the list, because then it seemed we would be done caring for her. But I went and no sooner had we walked in the door, that I was sobbing. I couldn’t stop. “Here are the most popular choices,” the man said, and I wanted to hate him. Popular was not what I wanted. I wanted my baby, fresh from the bath, giggling when I tickled her chubby thighs. We gave him the dates and the spelling of her name and he typed it into his computer, showing us a mock-up. I stared at that screen, the weight of my husband’s hand on my lap and i just couldn’t believe this was my life.
Buried underneath the fog of grief, something was growing. I watched the mound of dirt on her grave turn to grass and, oh! it hurt to see new things growing, yet I was aware that God was teaching me new truth. He was taking my deepest wounds and He was healing them. When I gave Him my broken heart, Jesus handed me hope. It’s what Nicholas Wolterstorff wrote in his book Lament for a Son:
“And sometimes, when the cry is intense, there emerges a radiance which elsewhere seldom appears: a glow of courage, of love, of insight, of selflessness, of faith. In that radiance we see best what humanity was meant to be… In the valley of suffering, despair and bitterness are brewed. But there also character is made. The valley of suffering is the vale of soul-making.”
Psalm 84:6 says it like this, “When they walk through the Valley of Weeping, it will become a place of refreshing springs, where pools of blessing collect after the rains!” If anyone knew about suffering, it was God’s people, the Israelites. The Old Testament is full of stories of how they fought and failed and stumbled and grieved. And yet somehow they knew that God is a God of redemption and rebuilding. They knew that somehow, in some unexplainable way, He would take their tears and make them into pools of blessing.
And so, in our sorrow, we take the hope Jesus hands to us and we refuse to believe that our losses made us less. It comes at a cost and it takes a mountain of courage and bravery, because the person we become is so very different from the one we were before. But bravery is a choice, not a feeling. You, like me, might realize that you’ve been changed as a result of your grief. As we sift through our memories and emotions, we slowly find a way to get back up on our feet, to realize that we will have the strength to go on. We look at the dry valley of our life and realize the tears of sorrow have suddenly turned to pools of blessing.
Just like the brave daffodils, we see the beauty in what we thought was only brokenness. We usher in a new season, as winter gives way to the warmth of spring and we remember what it means to hope again.