Redeemed. This was the hardest part of my grief journey to write about. Partly because it is still ongoing and partly because it is so profound-I don’t want to understate it. But mostly, it was hard because I worry that the take away will be, ‘phew, she’s all better now” or even worse “see, everything happens for a reason.’”
So let me be abundantly clear. There was nothing good in my husband’s death. It was and will always be horrific. And it certainly was not God’s plan. God did not will my husband to die so that I could learn some great cosmic lesson. But God does write a better story. What we see echoed over and over throughout the bible and what I have seen unfolding in my own life is that God is a God who redeems.
I also want to take a second to push back against the relentless social pressure to bright side. To find the silver lining. To put our sad in a pretty box and tie it up with a bow. That is not what God expects of us. And redemption does not mean all better now. A better story does not mean that the horrible trauma of my husbands death is wiped away. When Jesus was resurrected he still bore the scars from his crucifixion. The bad was still there and a part of it will always be bad. But that bad is transformed into something new. It’s not erased, not re-written, redeemed.
The promise God gives us in this life is not that we will be free from pain but that we will never face pain alone. Lauren Daigle’s song Rescue says it best. “You are not hidden. There’s never been a moment you were forgotten. You are not hopeless though you have been broken your innocence stolen. I hear the whisper underneath your breath. I hear you whisper you have nothing left. I will send out an army to find you in the middle of the darkest night, it’s true I will rescue you. I will never stop marching to reach you in the middle of the hardest fight, it’s true, I will rescue you.”
That is the great God in whom we live and move and have our being. A God who can take even our worst days and turn it into something new. But that same God does not rush you into the new-that God sits with you in the hard, in the pain, in the yuck. God does not expect that we pull up our bootstraps and start redeeming. What God gives us is the opportunity to move beyond the terrible thing that happened to us. The pain is not where we have to stay, it isn’t the end of our story.
After my husband died I gained a new identity. Widow. And man did I hate that. Widows were weak, widows were to be pitied, and widows were so vulnerable they were in need of special protection. No part of me wanted any association with that. But Sarah, your blog is titled “widowed and writing.” What happened? Grace-grace is what happened.
Grace, and grit, but most of all redemption. There were two parallel tracks that lead to me reclaiming the word widow. One involved my therapist, friends, lawyers and financial planners who helped me establish some security in my world. I no longer felt quite so vulnerable. As my day to day life became more secure and I started to find my footing it became less and less scary to be known as a widow.
The second was an in-depth exploration of widows of the Bible. And y’all these ladies have had some really shitty PR. They are so much more than vulnerable victims. It was in this study that I saw God redeem life after life and situation after situation. Anna was widowed but then devoted her life to prayer at the temple where she surely impacted countless lives, but then she was also one of the very first to recognize Jesus-the Messiah. The one she was waiting for. She got to meet Jesus and speak a blessing over him. We read about her every year at Christmas time.
Then there is the widow who put a measly two mites into the collection plate but was lauded by Jesus for her faith-filled giving. That passage is referenced in nearly every stewardship campaign I have ever witnessed. The impact of those two mites has been multiplied in a way that is quite literally incalculable. There is Naomi who left her hometown with a husband and sons and came back with just a daughter in law. Yet her new life went from empty to full once again. And Ruth, the daughter in law, she lost her husband and had to start a new life as an immigrant in a foreign country. And do you know what came out of that new life? Jesus, yes that Jesus-savior of the world. Ruth and her new husband Boaz are part of the lineage of Jesus.
Then there is my personal favorite, the persistent widow, mentioned in a parable. This woman went day after day seeking justice from a notoriously unjust judge until the judge finally gave in. Some translations phrase it as the judge wanted the widow to stop bothering him, but a more accurate translation would be the judge was worried the widow was going to punch him in the face. Now that is a widow I can get behind.
There is the woman at the well whose past is redeemed through transformative conversation with Jesus. She shares that encounter and her whole town comes to known Christ. Even the woman who has had five husbands is given a better story. There is no situation that cannot be redeemed, no darkness that cannot be made bright.
So what about me? What light is coming from my darkness? I can now sing with certainty, “no storm can shake my inmost calm, while to that rock I’m clinging.” My faith has always been important to me and while it would be disingenuous to say I never doubt, I do know that this is real. The words, “Jesus Jesus how I trust Him, How I’ve proved him o’er and o’er” ring more true than ever. But so does the next phrase, ‘oh for grace to trust Him more.” Jeff’s death brought real questions. Deep, faith shaking, life changing questions. And I still don’t have all the answers. A teenage member of church’s youth group phrased it best, “I don’t have to know all the answers, I just have to know God.” Over this past year and a half I have come to know God in a new way. Like the widow of Zarapeth, I have come to trust God to provide just enough flour and just enough oil for each day. And like the psalmists I have experienced the holiness of lament.
But, for now, the biggest part of my ongoing redemption is the story I have to tell. Telling that story requires more vulnerability than I am used to sharing. To share my healing requires the sharing of my pain and I do not love that. But without those who are willing to go and tell how would we know all that God has done?
So now is the time to be fiercely vulnerable, to share the lessons of the darkness. Not in a way that screams look at me but in a way that sings look at God. Because of my story I am able to be a better friend. Because of my story I am able to sit with those who mourn. Because of my story I don’t run away from the unpleasant and I have the opportunity to normalize talking about the hard stuff.
If nothing else, this blog will be real. So here’s some of my current hard stuff. I cry almost every time I drive by church and see an activity that used to be led by my husband and I now taking place without either of us. When someone takes an usually long time to text me back or calls at an unexpected time my anxiety sets in and my brain starts cycling through all the terrible possibilities because those are no longer worst case scenarios they distinct possibilities. And it doesn’t matter how good my day was, how filled it was with friendship and love, I almost always feel sad and lonely as I climb into bed alone.
In a recent therapy session I mentioned that sometimes I will say something about my husband or mention a part of my grief and people will look at me with the sad eyes. I told my therapist how much I hate the sad eyes, how I don’t want your pity, I don’t need you to view me as weak. To which my therapist gently explained that the sad eyes were empathy. It wasn’t a judgement or a thought that I am weak and pitiable so perhaps I should reframe that and see the sad eyes as a reminder that this person cares about me. To let that many people care about me-that is redemption.