Tuesday, September 27, 2011

How to Give Thanks When a Life's Been Buried

It's an unseasonably warm day in the middle of September and I'm standing in the garden with a hose in hand, evening light falling all around.  There are dozens of plants left to water but I'm pausing here by The Memorial Tree, tracing the shape of leaves and marveling at the way these colors are seeping in while the green fades away.

It's been two and a half years since I stood at a grave and whispered words to a boy who was already long gone.  And that grave, it's too many miles from here, and this tree, it's the only thing I can touch with my hand when I most want to remember what's been lost.

Even with the sun's warmth still lingering on my face, I feel the weight of all the grieving as I'm counting down the days until the one that represents the beginning of all the breaking.  And this is the question that haunts me, leaves me empty of words--

How do you give thanks for the beauty He brings out of the ashes when everything began with a life burning down, a boy leaving the world behind on an evening in late September?

The sun lingers a day longer before the deluge begins and I can't help remembering that weekend of saying goodbye--my brother and I driving late into the night, rain pouring down, us trying to find our way through too much darkness.  I felt the sky grieving right along with us, and I thought I could stand up under the weight, but it was long months later when I realized I'd nearly drowned in all that sorrow.

Now it's three years later and I'm wrestling with my thoughts, the rain still falling steady and the trees bending beneath the wind.  A friend clutches my hand across the table, waits for the grief waves to recede, and I'm sitting here wondering at the way the gratitude mingles with the sadness and leaves me gasping for breath and words.

Because God, He's turned the darkness of a soul into the light of His Glory.  And He's taken a girl broken into a thousand pieces and woven her into a woman who bears the mark of His Love.  And I've no need to seek out something for which to give thanks.  No, there's more than I can even name, and I'm laid low by the Grace He's poured over and under and straight down into me.  This gratitude, it overflows even in the sadness of remembering, and I'm not in search of the what anymore--I'm just trying to understand the how.

How to give thanks for the healing and the hope when the cost of my becoming was the blood of someone's son.

Oh, I know I'm not to blame for the dying, but some days I still feel like a cold-hearted thief for reaping all God's goodness after the laying down of a life.  Can I really give thanks for what's sprung right out of the blackened ground without dishonoring the one who's buried in the soil?

This is the question I'm wrestling on the eve of the anniversary.

But the twenty-seventh day of September dawns dry and almost clear.  And long before noon, the sun's broken through the clouds and I'm stripping off all the layers--because isn't that what these three years have been about?  God breaking through, me stripping off the layers of who I used to be?  And the sun, it's burning me up but I won't pull the shade because how can I shut out the One Who's refined me in the fire, hammered me into the woman I am, imprinted His Love on every part of my being?

And it takes me all day to understand that every bit of Grace He gives, it comes at the cost of a life, a Son laid down in the darkness of the earth, His blood staining us all.  And there's no dishonor in living out the gratitude for all that's come from the sacrifice, even when I am to blame for His dying.

Maybe there's no comprehending what God's doing with all our lives, and maybe there'll always be grief on this day for the boy who left us too soon.  But the beauty that's come from all this loss?  How can I keep silent when God's using the heartache of a life to show His Glory to the world?

And I'm sure of it now that there's no dishonoring in the giving of thanks.  Because what I'm really saying is this--

Your life, it mattered to me.  And your death, it mattered to me, too.  I'm not the same person I was and God's used your living and dying to turn me into the woman He's always wanted me to be.  You were a gift.  And I can never say thank you enough.

I remember the promise I made that sunny May day, sitting on a bench at the foot of a grave.  A promise to come back, tell the tale of God's redemption to the boy who'd begun my story of falling apart and being made new.  And I might've thought I was ready to go back before now, but I know it today that this story's been incomplete before these last weeks and months.  Oh, I'm not counting out God for writing more beauty here, but there's enough already to fill up a whole life.  And I'm longing to go back, lay my hand against the name carved in stone, and whisper deep thanks for leaving his mark on my life.

This road, it's been the hardest I've traveled in these decades of a life.  But everything I've lost?  Every night of sorrow and anger and utter despair these last three years?  It's all been worth it to find out that God really loves me and to see how this Love is changing who I am.

I might still grieve for the boy we lost one Autumn night, but there's no denying all the Beauty and Glory and God that's come to us since.  And there's no better way to honor what's been buried than by letting God grow up a life of thanksgiving in the soil of our loss.

The last rays of sunlight are falling on the leaves of a tree planted in the grieving, but I see it now how this little tree's earned a new name.  And I brush my hand against The Tree of Thanksgiving and offer my whole life back to the One Who's turned my losses into a beauty I could never have imagined.

{In Loving Memory of Nathan R. Neahring, July 7, 1990 ~ September 27, 2008}

6 comments:

  1. Your writing is so beautiful! Thank you.

    mamagriffith

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  2. So thankful that you are finding healing and beauty from the ashes. ♥

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  3. @Anonymous: Thank you, MamaGriffith, for your kind words and faithful reading here. It's a joy to share the blogging world with you, Friend!

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  4. @B: We have taken very different paths in our grieving and our healing, but God's been faithful to us both. Thank you for being willing to read my offering here.

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  5. my studies this week refocused me on the Gospel, what it really means for Someone's Son to die for me...and this story highlights the hope and healing we can take hold of because of His complete work for us. so thankful that you press on though the road is hard. only now do we begin to see how rewarding perseverance is.

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  6. @Rachel Schober: Glad that at least *some* of what you are reading this week is coming together :o). And you, my dear, give me much courage and strength to persevere. Thank you for never shying away from walking the hard road with me, hand in hand. You are a gift to me, God's Grace through and through.

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