Last week I jotted a note that simply said, ‘write the joys.’ It was a reminder to myself, in the midst of a moment in need of the reminding.
I often seek to search it out, but that day I realized it’s really much more about just letting it in. The reality is the joys are all around, always. But the grief can be so pervasive that even as I acknowledge them, marvel at times, the heaviness all too easily settles back in.
That jotted note on a little scrap of paper opened my heart to its own need. I soon found myself filling the white space with all the recent joys I could remember, and as I wrote, I saw each of them as a demonstration and testament to God’s enduring love and grace.
It was an anchor point for me that day. A reminder to find ways to stay in that place longer and more often, planting my feet and turning to watch a replay of all the good that’s been placed in my path. Only in the turning can I see how God walks beside me in the every day, shouldering and sharing the heavy weight of this loss.
I experienced a lightening in those moments. A very real sense of His presence, and a confidence that I can carry this, without it carrying me.
But as often happens when a pinnacle point is reached, tests to stay planted in that place come fast and heavy and hard, and this was no exception. The very next day some tough news came inadvertently. Blindsiding me, and knocking me right off that tenuous platform of peace I had just begun to cultivate and more deliberately plant my feet in.
The what and how and why and what for’s of it are better left untold, but the grief came back with a vengeance that day, leaving me reeling in its relentlessness.
I don’t remember turning the stove off (thank goodness instinct still prevails) and I could hardly tell you how I got to the river. But that’s where I found myself, grief spilling out in torrents with the singular thought that this is not the way the story is supposed to be.
I couldn’t tell you how long I sat there, knees hugged in tight as if to somehow hold my heart in place. It was a brutal onslaught, physically painful in the release of it, each breath ragged and sharp as wave upon wave tore open my heart.
But God doesn’t leave us in that place alone, and as I finally caught my breath and looked around, I saw them. The giant flock of geese along the shoreline, granting me space within their companionable silence.
It may not sound like anything much, but you see, God and I have this thing about geese.
And while I sat curled up into myself on the side of that river, He went to work using them. They soon started up a cry, their song echoing through the river valley as if serenading the setting sun. Had I been in some emotional state other than this, I would have marveled in delight at its orchestration.
…But wrung out and ragged is a hard place to marvel from.
Their song was a greeting as it turned out, and my grief-strewn gaze was soon drawn upward in witness to a small flock of geese, flying in the most perfect V, straight down the length of the river toward me.
And not a minute later, a second flock came soaring overhead. Same perfect V, same friendly greeting from below, and same trajectory right over where I huddled.
Okay God, I get it. You’re here in this place.
But I wasn’t ready to give in to the offering, and I didn’t know how to give up the pain.
But God doesn’t give up or give in, and within a few moments, there they were again. Except this time…this time that flock caught my full attention. They were so un-uniform. Short on one side, long on the other, and rounded out on the short side rather than V’d. In other words, those geese flying right over my head were in the shape of a perfect letter J. It was even oriented correctly to where I was gazing up, and any grade school grammar teacher would have marked it with a bright shiny star.
Okay God. …Okay. That was pretty good.
But those emptied out places leave room for a lot of filling.
That may have been a J, and it may have been for me, but those were grey geese that just flew over God, and ours were white. That night in Dover when they brought my son home…don’t you remember? The geese were white God, and they were silent, and they were sacred…
My breath comes deep and my heart beats faster just in the remembering of this, because no sooner had the thought entered my head, two lone and silent WHITE-breasted geese flew low and steady across the river.
…And a deep God-filled peace entered my heart.
But He wasn’t done yet.
As I pulled myself together to begin the trek back to the car, I glanced up to see a couple of fishermen starting down the same narrow path I was heading up. Though I had just been showered in grace upon grace, the showering needed time to settle in and fill up the hollowness, and I immediately looked to whatever options I had to avoid them. I felt hungover from the grief, and could hardly stomach the thought of trying to pass by these fishermen with any kind of greeting. Everything in me wanted to turn and run the other way until they’d passed. But feeling compelled to glance back up in their direction, my eyes did a double-take and my mind went reeling again, because what would my brother be doing here? It’s not like it’s a private river or anything, but there are LOTS of places to enter it and lots of miles to fish it from.
And yet there he was.
I collapsed into his strength, and he and his friend stood silent witness to my final disposition into the graces God piled on that afternoon.
As it turned out, they had been fishing most of the afternoon, visiting several spots without a single bite. Calling it a day and on their way home, they changed their mind and decided to try just one more place. He had no idea he’d find his train-grace-wrecked sister when he got there …but God did.
And the perfect example that His grace flows freely, especially when we follow His prompting? Wouldn’t you know it, without a single bite all afternoon, this was at the end of their 3rd cast…
…So that was the day that led me to the next, which tied my heart back into that little scrap of paper with the jotted little note. Because the first waking thought God placed on my heart the next morning was simply this: I may have to live in this world without my son, but each day I get to choose how to do that.
Not a new concept, and nothing profound within it. But with it came the deeper realization that choosing matters, and if I put the darkness and the light side by side, is there really a choice?
What it told me in that moment is that I will always carry the loss, but carrying it doesn’t have to mean letting the darkness prevail. Because really, who does that serve? Not a single one of us. It doesn’t honor my son’s life, and it does nothing to share the Giver of the tremendous grace that brings me through each day.
And as my best friend reminded me with this text she sent…
The grief will ebb and flow in its own pattern, but ultimately, I get to choose what it looks like to carry this. And I want my life to reflect who God is within it, not the loss that’s part of it.
And so a sort of truce prevails. A peace I can settle into, knowing the One who holds my hand through it is the very same one who has my son in His other.
I plan to stay planted in this place as long and as often as I can. He’s shown me what it looks like, what it feels like, and hopefully how I can shine His light to others through it, jotting the jagged edges into joys…