I took in the bounty presented on two large tables…ham, scalloped potatoes, green bean casserole, three different kinds of jello salad, and a chocolate sheet cake. Standing in my childhood church’s familiar fellowship hall, I could pretend it was 1985 when eleven-year-old me looked at offerings from the same recipes prepared by many of the same ladies. I have so many good memories in that church and fellowship hall. And yet, the day I spent there in winter 2018 was a very different kind of day from those potluck gatherings I remember of my growing up years.
This fellowship hall gathering followed my dad’s memorial service.
Yet, as I put a bit of ham, potatoes, and green beans on my plate, I smiled because it felt like dad was still here. After all, how many times had I sat next to him in this same room?
Since losing my dad six winters ago, I have “sat down” with him, figuratively speaking, many times. I’ve told him everything from general thoughts to life updates, such as, “You’d have enjoyed today’s graduation ceremony. You should see Faith on the tennis courts! I think you’d love this book I’m working on.”
I share other truths, too, like how much I still miss him.
Because I lost Dad during winter–and because we lost my dear father-in-law only a month after my dad–this time of year carries an extra veil of gray coldness for me. I’m sure the time of year you lost someone you dearly loved is color-washed gloomy, too, even years later. That’s one of the hardest things about difficult change that involves much loss: Realizing that its shadows can follow you for seasons well beyond when the loss occurred.
My dad died in his 70’s after a long battle with MS, and he suffered no small amount from it in his latter years of life. I’m comforted by the fact that when God chose to bring him home, He also ended Dad’s physical pain. And while I miss him here on earth, there is extreme gratitude that he’s now walking whole and healthy in heaven, talking with Jesus, and no doubt hoping to convince his favorite country music artist, Johnny Cash, to sing a duet with him.
In my dad’s case, while my family and I didn’t know exactly when he would leave this earth, we knew it would be sooner than later. My heart goes out to those who not only lost someone when it wasn’t exactly a surprise, like I did, but certainly to those whose loss of a loved one was a shock, a sudden tragedy.
From Scripture, we know Mary pondered the life events she experienced and treasured them in her heart when Jesus was a baby and a child. I wonder, though, what did she ponder after His death? Perhaps she treasured her many good memories of Jesus as a young’un, such as the way He looked when He was deep in thought or the way He lit up when she made His favorite meal. And while she eventually came to know that He had to die to fulfill His Father’s plan for Him on earth, I’m sure it took a good deal of time to get past His death.
I read a beautiful poem by George Herbert shortly after Christmas Day, and I’m still reflecting on it these few short weeks later. An excerpt of it goes,
“O Thou, whose glorious, yet contracted light, Wrapt in night’s mantle, stole into a manger…”
It’s an image of light encased in darkness that shows up suddenly in an unexpected place. About this poem, author Janet Morley muses that Herbert “…resolves the light/darkness opposition in a way that sees both as positive.”
I’m not one who usually sees darkness as a positive. I’ll always gravitate to a chair near a window, not the one in a dark corner. I want to bask in the light. Yet, I’ve learned not to be so afraid of the dark or the sad feelings that come with it. Of course, I’ll never imply that we should slap on a happy heart about death and loss and see it only positively. No. But the fact that God’s light can be found in the deepest dark is a positive providing epic hope in God’s epic hands.