I've always loved the hymn "Amazing Grace." Now I'm living it.
When a song or a favorite food or an old voicemail slams me with the still inconceivable reality that she won't be back. Or when I'm in the living room where the love of my life and I shared so much. Her touches are everywhere. Her laughter is in the walls. Her absence is overwhelming. She's been gone a month now.
What's amazing about the grace, though, is that - as great as the grief is - the grace is greater.
It was there at the final goodbye at Karen's grave. In the spontaneous quiet singing near us. It was our Cherokee sisters singing in their language the song that had sustained their ancestors in the agony of their Trail of Tears. "Amazing Grace."
And now it was holding us up during our tears. Not just the song. The reality behind it. A Savior who holds you close and lets you know you're safe - even in the darkest hours of your journey. Who infuses my weakness with this spiritual adrenaline called grace. That carries me when I can't walk and I call His Name.
Living for years on an Indian reservation, our son and daughter-in-love walked with many through serial tragedies. And serial grieving. Last week, our "daughter" said, "You know, we've seen grief be so destructive in so many lives. But watching you, I see how something constructive can actually come from it."
That's the grace she's seeing. I'm early in this journey, but I've learned that pain and loss can, in fact, bear not just bitter fruit, but beautiful fruit. As the Old Testament hero Joseph said - after being sold as a slave by his brothers, falsely accused, wrongfully imprisoned - "God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering" (Genesis 41:52). Yes, like the pain of childbirth, the ordeal can produce something beautiful.
If I grieve my grief. So often I've seen in others ungrieved grief morph into a monster of anger, withdrawal, depression. So I've let the tears come, and they do. I've made myself take time to feel the feelings.
Because this valley can only be "fruitful" if I decide I won't waste this grief. My friend John didn't. Four years ago, he lost his beloved Nancy. He's called me several times, checking, challenging, comforting. As only one who's walked this trail can do. He's delivering that grace.
He's being for me what I am now being painfully qualified to be for someone else. In the Bible's words: "God...the source of all comfort, comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us" (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). That's why I'm journaling this journey. To never lose this hurt-softened heart.
I'm following a Savior who left the suffering-free zone of heaven to become "a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief" (Isaiah 53:3). Who hung on a cross for my sins. If I let this Jesus tenderize my heart for other broken hearts and lead me through this valley, I can become one of His wounded healers. Like my friend John.
Sandy had just said goodbye to her lifetime love when I saw her at a conference. I asked her what everyone asks me, "How are you doing?" I've never forgotten her answer. "Ron, this is the final exam you study for your whole life of walking with Jesus."
I really understand that now. You can't cram for this one. If you haven't been walking with Jesus day-by-day, you won't have a well deep enough for the most crushing days of your life. Each day, doing life with Him, is building spiritual muscle to one day lift a load you thought would be unbearable.
I feel like I'm living each day...drawing deeply on the love of the One who died for me. Experiencing the life-giving power of my resurrected Jesus.
And singing my own verse of "Amazing Grace."