When 2019 ended, I raised my glass and rejoiced at the conclusion of one of the hardest years of my adult life. I was thrilled to enter into 2020, seeing it as a new year filled with new potential. The first half of my year was planned to the max with travel, speaking engagements, conferences, teaching Bible study groups at my local church, and the publication of my first solo writing project. There was excitement, joy, and expectation; after a season of wandering, I felt as if I finally had direction and was gaining traction.
During the first weekend of March, I was on a trip with friends in South Carolina when I got word of the first COVID-19 infection in Nashville, my hometown. As I traveled home on Monday morning, I found myself walking through empty airports and flying home on empty planes—the spring of 2020 had officially begun. Over the course of the next two weeks, my 2020 calendar went from full to numbingly blank, as every event I was attending or leading was (understandably) canceled. I spent hours on the phone with friends, crying about lost events, anxious about firings and furloughs. And I, like so many, had to learn to work from home in a job which was never meant to be done through a flat, cold, computer screen.
On Monday, March 23rd I finally hit a wall. It became apparent that no amount of wealth, education, or social connection could prevent the experience of loss. This beast was going to deeply affect us all in some way. Any semblance of control seemed to be slipping away, and—if I am honest—the collective experience of loss left me feeling as if I were swimming against a rip tide of grief and fear….
There is a short-term mission trip truth that many of us understand: The one going on the mission trip usually receives way more than the people to whom we are hoping to minister. And that was true last summer when I visited some old friends of mine in Kenya. A team of women from my church went to teach at a women’s leadership conference and put on a medical clinic. It was fantastic.
If the Lord Wills
As we arrived, we started reconnecting with women I hadn’t seen for years. It felt a little like old home week! I was laughing and chatting with a friend of mine when I remembered something about her. This woman would rarely make a statement regarding her future without ending that sentence with the phrase: “If the Lord wills.” It was like her own personal punctuation mark.
She’ll say something like, “Sue, I will see you in the morning, if the Lord wills.” My friend is a farmer and lives her life a little more hand-to-mouth than some of us do. She lost her daughter tragically and has a deep faith in the Lord. She knows exactly what it feels like to pray for rain, food, clothing, and all the Matthew 6:25-33 things. I don’t know about you, but I sometimes forget that the Lord has a plan, a sovereign plan, and everything we have is from his hand.
One of the most difficult days for me since this whole crisis started last March was when I began to clear my calendar of upcoming events, both professional and personal. I mean, I wasn’t simply postponing things or rescheduling. I was removing them from existence. It hurt. Many of us have experienced grief and loss of many kinds during this season…
“Your grief is your own.” These words, spoken by a dear friend this past fall could not have come at a more perfect time. In less than a month’s time, I was hit with a series of losses that knocked me flat. My younger brother took his own life. My dog died. My doctor’s office called with concerning lab results. What is a Christian supposed to do at times like this? Where is the instruction manual? I wasn’t sure what suffering for the glory of God was supposed to look like, but I knew I didn’t have much choice but to walk the path set before me.
I’m not an expert in grief. I know there are others who have suffered great losses and are even now facing circumstances that would threaten to undo any of us. At the same time, as one who has traveled through a season of loss, may I share a few things I learned? It is my prayer that the Lord can use my tears for the good of his Kingdom.
In today’s hyper-connected online world, we have the capacity to share news quickly. While places like Facebook can be hotbeds of anger and ugly discourse, I encountered something entirely different when my brother Jody died. Every single post—“I’m sorry for your loss” or “Your family is in my prayers”— was a reminder of a friendship, a relationship, a connection with someone who cared what I was going through. If you are ever in a place where you wonder if it makes a difference whether you say anything or not, please hear me. It does. It matters. It comforts. Those words helped to heal my aching heart.
Suffering in Public
Grief has a way of rearing its unexpected head in the most unlikely of places. I so wanted to worship and be with my local body of Christ, yet I couldn’t hold it together through even one hymn without breaking out the Kleenex. In the early days, the tears would come—and I would let them—at the most inconvenient times and places. This phase didn’t last forever, but I learned to yield to God’s good timing and trust that this was all part of the grieving process…