It's been one unwelcome anniversary after another. First Native ministry summer without our beloved Mama Hutch. First Thanksgiving and Christmas without the heart, the hugs, the laughs of our dear Karen ... Mom ... Grandma. Every family members' first birthday without the light of our lives.
And then, May 16. The day my baby - so vibrant and alive the night before at our grandson's graduation - was suddenly gone.
Each of us has our indelible images of that awful day. And each of us brings our own, deeply personal, grief journey into this painful milestone.
We will gather at the cemetery shortly, knowing there's no map for this day of emotions that defy words.
I realized this morning that I had to make a decision about this day.
What will my heart choose to dwell on?
It would be easy to land on the vivid memories of the last moments of Karen's life on earth. Or we could choose to dwell on the enormity of our loss. The thousands of ways we miss her, the huge holes left by her absence.
In many ways, you don't have to choose those first two "landing places." Our hearts will go to them almost instinctively - unless we choose another option.
It was God's Word that literally held us up one year ago as we sobbed in each other's arms at the airport. I had raced to get back from my out-of-state speaking commitment, and our three adult children, their spouses and my sister-in-law, clung to each other in a holy huddle of grief and disbelief.
And then - the verses started to come. "Weeping for a night, but joy in the morning." ... "I go to prepare a place for you." "Absent from the body, present with the Lord." "We have this hope as an anchor for the soul."
Though our hearts were shattered, our feet were planted on the one thing that was not moving - the character and promises of the God who has never failed us.
Now - one year later. We know a lot more about what life without our Great Lady will be like.
Early this morning, as I sorted out where my heart would land this milestone day, I got a text from God. Actually, from dear Christian friends who have encouraged me at several difficult points during the year. But this message seemed to come from God Himself.
"We are praying for the Lord's strength and comfort and peace. But most of all that His joy would overwhelm you all. His joy knowing your bride - His bride for the past year and on into eternity, has been and at this very moment is worshipping in His throne room and looking into the face of Jesus."
That kind of took my breath away.
Then, the inspired bottom line: "Ron, we love you and pray you celebrate more than mourn this day."
Celebrate more than mourn. That's where my heart has landed on this anniversary like no other. Rather than focusing on this side of eternity today, my heart is dwelling on what my precious Karen must be experiencing on her side this day.
How often we have stood next to each other, singing with brothers and sisters in the Lord, "Worthy is the Lamb who was slain" (Revelation 5:12).
Now she sings it right there in His presence, along with "angels numbering ... thousand times ten thousand" She loved Jesus so deeply, without ever having seen Him. Now she's by His side!
Like all of us here, she carried the wounds, the sadness, the burdens accumulated from living in a sin-spoiled world. She carries them no more! All of life's sadnesses, gone in an instant!
I can't even imagine the discovery conversations she is having with the spiritual giants of her history. And with those who walked with Jesus on this earth. Often, her bright mind would give me an original, challenging question she was pursuing in God's Word. Honestly, I often didn't have a satisfying answer. That's over now. She can ask Jesus.
She's seen the nailpoint. She's felt His touch. She's hearing His voice. She's touched the glory.
And she's experiencing His pleasure for a life abandoned to Him, poured out for others.
Years ago, my family went with me on a ministry trip to Alaska. They had to head home for school before my speaking commitments were finished. Their homeward journey began in a small aircraft, flown out of Soldotna, Alaska, by a skilled missionary pilot. It was bitterly cold as the pilot and I pushed the plane out onto a runway covered with deeply rutted, refrozen ice. Needless to say, the takeoff was harrowing.
Jarring bumps. Pilot playing one engine against the other to maneuver the plane. Wide-eyed children in the back. My wife in the copilot seat, transfixed with the rapidly approaching stand of trees. At what seemed like the last possible second, the plane lifted over the trees and into the clouds.
Suddenly, my family was flying right into the glory of the Aurora Borealis, the Northern Lights. It was beyond words. It had been a bumpy ride. A rugged process. But all that was forgotten the moment they touched the glory.
One year ago, the rugged journey ended for the love of my life. And she touched the Glory.
That's where my heart has chosen to land.