Part 11 of a 12 part devotion on Psalm 30
You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness,Psalm 30:11
I like watching Hallmark Christmas movies. You know the ones where some fancy young woman of the world finds the love of their life in some quaint small town where a local and good looking young man turns her world upside down by making snow angels and gingerbread houses. The two are polar opposites at first but ninety minutes later (not including commercials) they will share that special romantic kiss about thirty seconds before the credit starts rolling.
My wife got me hooked on Hallmark shortly after we were married. Back then, there was no official cable channel, but we would watch the “Hallmark Hall of Fame” whenever they would air Sunday Nights. In 2001, the Hallmark Channel arrived and took over our television every Christmas! We would watch the movies, one right after the other, before the word “binge-watching” ever entered into our lexicon.
Although Robin and I loved them, Robin’s Mom, Grace, was a bigger fan. She would start at seven am on Saturday morning and continue until bedtime, her constant companion while she baked, did laundry, or decorate her house for the Christmas Season.
As the years went on, Grace’s health became worse, causing her to be unable to perform all of her traditional Christmas tasks. Robin spent most weekends by her side from Thanksgiving to Christmas, helping Grace bring her version of Christmas to her family and friends. Robin would come home to the boys and me and, after all of the kids were in bed, we would snuggle on the couch with some hot chocolate and she watch a couple of movies with me, even though she had probably seen most of them already.
In the summer of 2017, Grace’s health took a turn for the worse and by the end of July, she was placed into Hospice at home. Robin lived at her parent’s house that summer while I stayed home to take care of the boys. Grace went to the Lord on August 3rd, 2017. Although Robin knew that Grace was now free of the pain she had been experiencing over the last several years and was now standing in the presence of God Almighty, Robin still missed her fiercely. Little things would remind Robin of her mother. She would get misty-eyed whenever “Amazing Grace”, Grace’s favorite hymn was sung in church. A simple meal or a smell would send the grief upon her again. She described her sadness as “waves”.
Some waves were small, a simple memory that disappeared as quickly as it came. Other waves were massive and threatened to sweep her away. I admit I wasn’t as much help as I wanted to be. I had experienced death before and even went through the grieving process myself when my Father’s actions came to light and the family split apart, choosing not to associate with him. But, I had never had someone that close separated from me. To this day, I thank God for Gail!
Gail is my wife’s older sister that lives in McFarland, Wisconsin, just outside of Madison. Gail, like Robin, was missing Grace in the same way and the sisters found they could lean on each other in support. There were a few times after Grace’s death that I would simply suggest that Robin should give Gail a call.
The two sisters always started the conversation the same way. Whoever made the call would nonchalantly ask the other “How’s the weather?” This was their simple code to indicate that a wave of grief had capsized them and they needed to talk. That question also told the other to stop everything they were doing, because one sister needed the comfort of the other.
For the last two years, those waves robbed Robin and me of a simple joy. Because of the memories of Grace and the waves that would crash, Robin could not bring herself to watch any of our Hallmark Christmas Movies. And, out of my love for Robin, I agreed because I didn’t want to be the cause of any waves.
But this year, something happened. After spending the day with her Dad before Thanksgiving, Robin came home and told me that Hallmark was premiering a new Christmas Movie every night leading up to Thanksgiving. She asked me f we could DVR them, so we can zip through the commercials. I smiled but did not make a big deal out of it. We started watching them. I would look over at Robin whenever a character stated that they had lost their mother or if one of Grace’s hymns popped up, but I was surprised to find no big waves, only the occasional ripple.
Grief, I feel, is the most powerful emotion we can experience. Unlike those movies, where the character states that they lost somebody recently but they have moved on, grief can haunt you for the rest of your life. Robin knows that there will be waves from Grace’s passing all the days of her life. People who are so important to us leave a big hole when they are gone. We rejoice that they are not experiencing what they went through on earth but at the same time, would give anything we have to engage in one more conversation again.
My mom lost my Grandmother over twenty-five years ago, but she still gets “ripples” of grief when she is reminded of her (especially if I blog about my amazing grandmother). Every year, I seem to be attending more funerals than I do weddings. This year has been particularly hard because of the pandemic. Not that my friends are dying from the virus, but due to the fact that I did not get a chance to see them before they passed or even get to attend their funeral.
David, when he was writing this psalm, found himself in the same place as Robin, Gail, and everyone else who has lost someone who left a big hole to fill. David described his waves as “walking through the valley of the shadow of death” (Psalm 23) and “My eye wastes away because of grief; it grows weak because of all my foes.” (Psalm 6:7). His grief was crippling and left him an ineffectual leader for the kingdom of Israel.
In the new testament, Jesus, being true man and true God, showed his humanity at the grave of his friend Lazurus. In the shortest verse in the whole Bible, John simply states that “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). I was always amazed at that story, wondering why Jesus experienced such grief, knowing that his friend would be alive again in mere moments. If he knew Lazurus was coming back, why the tears. There were other times in the Bible when He told others that their loved one was not dead, just asleep. Why did affect him so much this time?
The answer is that he realized how much his friend’s missing presence affected everyone around him. The grief is in waves to the people closest to them but as it travels out farther to friends, coworkers, and acquaintances, those waves lose their intensity becoming “ripples”. Like Robin and Gail, the passage of time also reduces their grief to ripples, as seen by her now enjoying our Hallmark movies again. Robin and Gail haven’t had a “weather” call in quite a while, but their shared experience has brought them closer together. Like David, God has turned the two sisters mourning their Mother to laughter and joy of a common bond that was forged stronger through their shared suffering.
God is aware of the pain caused by a loved one leaving us, Whether it happens suddenly or comes after a long illness, the hole caused by their passing is still there. They are gone and fiercely missed, but our lives still need to be lived. Due to Grace’s illness, Robin eventually took time off from a new career as a therapist. She really enjoyed the work and it saddened her to stop doing it at a critical point of developing a client base, but God had other plans. Spending time with her Mom let Robin focus on what she really liked about that job, which was equipping others with the skills needed to ensure good mental health. This led her to give a series of lectures on various coping strategies. Every turn as led her to a new opportunity where God is using her skills to affect his kingdom. Robin now works for Ebenezer Stone Ministries, a food pantry and community center in Milwaukee that focuses on those struggling with poverty, illness, and mental health issues, She is in charge of many programs and I am extremely proud of the work she is doing in the community. Most of all, I am amazed at how the Lord has turned her mourning into dancing.
Prayer: Dear Jesus! There are people in my life who are no longer around me and I really miss them. Although I don’t know the reason, I do know that because of your love and your sacrifice, they are in a place where there is no pain and no tears. Like them, I anxiously wait for the day when I return home to you and my ripples are washed away forever by your love.
I thank you for reading my blog and look forward to any comments or criticism of what I have discussed.
If these words have impacted you, please feel free to share them by email or any social media platform.
“You Turned My Mourning Into Dancing!”, my book, is available for purchase here.