In case you’re wondering if joy will ever return, I want to assure you that it most certainly can.
It will take a lot longer than you wish it might, but it is there, waiting for you to welcome it.
At first it just felt WRONG to have a moment of happiness because if the pain of missing Dominic somehow didn’t fill my heart I was afraid it meant my love for him was fading. If the broken pieces were knitted back together then maybe one day they’d mend so well I couldn’t find the spot where he fit in.
But I’ve learned no amount of present joy will squeeze out that space where Dominic lives.
I can love him, miss him, sorrow over his absence and still revel in the beautiful blessings the Lord brings into my life.
Just this week I had the privilege of watching my grandson while his mother and father had a little time away. It was so much fun (and hard work!). I had forgotten how exciting it is to view the world through a young child’s eyes. Everything is new, everything is wonderful, everything is worthy of exploration and comment.
The little fellow walked down the hall my great-grandmother walked, my grandmother walked and my mother walked pointing a finger and asking, “This?” as he passed photos and paintings, doo dads and doorways.
The sixth generation to hear the creaking hardwood and learn about life.
We showed him family photos and talked about Uncle Dominic. It raised a lump in my throat each time but it also helped me place Dom in his story-helped me learn how to talk about the uncle he will never know except for what we share.
I’m not going to lie.
More than a few times tears threatened to make their way down my cheek as I held his little hand and remembered holding another one just like it decades ago. Nostalgia can be hard to swallow when it’s all you have left of someone you love.
But I reminded my heart that it is big enough for both.
I can miss what I once had ANDdelight in what I have now.
A year ago I was in the same city under very different circumstances.
My first grandson had been born at just over 28 weeks because his mama developed HELLP syndrome and was in mortal danger. Both he and she were in the hospital while we held our collective breath, begging for them to be OK.
We were filled with quiet but uneasy joy knowing as we do how death can come to steal it away.
This Sunday, family and friends gathered to watch this little guy grab his first birthday cake with gusto and smear his mama and daddy with blue icing.
You’d never know he got such a tentative start in life just by looking at him.
Grateful is too small a word for how we feel.
Last week was a roller coaster.
My first grandchild-a boy-was born prematurely on Saturday after several days of heart stopping, breath robbing drama as his mama went back and forth to the hospital three times in as many days.
My son, his father, is deployed overseas and paddling as fast as he can to get home.
I thought I understood just how heavy it was the moment the deputy’s words sank deep inside and crushed my heart.
But I didn’t know the half of it.
You really can’t know how large a person’s absence is until you’ve explored the edges of the world without him or her.
When folks started coming up our long and winding drive, even though I knew full well he would not be among them, my eyes strained to see inside every car. When his friends gathered in our front yard, I couldn’t help looking through the picture window trying to make out his face among the crowd. When we walked into his now-empty apartment I thought surely he was in his bedroom, around the corner, just out out of sight.
But he was nowhere to be found. And the hole in my heart where he should be but wasn’t got bigger.
Those were just the early days.
In the weeks, months and years to follow I found everywhere I set my foot that followed a path we’d walked together, I missed him. When the next movie in a series was released, he wasn’t there to watch it with me. Family gatherings, holidays, birthdays, graduations all went on without him and my heart counted his absence.
From sunrise to sunset my heart marks all the Dominic-sized spaces in a day.
At night, dark stillness invites me to recite them.
But after more than five years, most people no longer see any tale-tell sign of this mama’s heart longing desperately for one more minute, one more hug, one more quick exchange of “I love you!”
I have grown stronger and better able to carry this load of missing.
Daily exercise will do that.
And it IS a daily exercise-lifting the missing up on my shoulders or carrying it in a basket on my head like women hauling water from a well far away has taught me to bear it well.
I still miss him.
I will always miss him.
Greater strength means I can shift the missing to make room for living. I can carry that weight and still find room to carry joy.
I hope it rains. I hope I get the job. I hope it’s a boy!
Most of the time we could exchange “wish” for “hope” because we have no power to make the things we hope for come true.
So when we read “hope” in this passage, it doesn’t necessarily evoke the sure promise Peter is trying to convey in his letter to suffering Christians of the first century.
It would be cold comfort to families as they were forced at sword point to walk off cliffs or thrust into the arena with lions if Peter’s hope was just a wish.
But it’s not.
Peter opens his letter with a bold declaration based on his eye-witness testimony to the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
And His living Presence means that THIS hope is a promise.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, 5 who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.
6 In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.
8 Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, 9 for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
I Peter 1:3-9 NIV
These are some of my favorite verses in the epistles.
Peter packs so much in so few words: I have an inheritance, I have a future and I have joy.
My inheritance in Christ is safe, secure and eternal.
There is no law of diminishing returns in Heaven. Unlike that dress I bought that seemed so wonderful a week ago, I won’t ever get tired of reciting and reviewing all Jesus purchased for me with His blood.
Do you ever fear you might lose your faith?
Peter reminds us we are shielded by God in Christ until the full glory of our salvation is revealed at the Last Day. Jesus Himself said that those the Father gives Him cannot be snatched from His hand.
Doubt is not denial.
If you have put your trust in the finished work of Jesus then you are saved.
Trials will come. But they are not the last word.
When we lean on Christ and trust Him to walk with us through them, take the heat and refuse to melt, then we are refined and His glory is purer, clearer and more easily seen in our lives.
And in the midst of trials I have joy because my hope in the living hope of our resurrected Savior sustains me.
Consider Paul’s words: ‘sorrowful, yet always rejoicing’ (2 Corinthians 6:10). In the ugliness of intensified grief, the Christian is supernaturally enabled to rejoice.
The hallelujahs of joy reverberate on broken heartstrings. My sorrow touches every part of my life, yet I sorrow not as those who have no hope.
My rejoicing is not that of happy feelings; it is triumph in trial and confidence in a supreme God. The true joy of the Lord is divine enablement, not effervescent emotions
James Means, A Tearful Celebration
Sometimes it seems like it’s hardly worth it. Our circle is small and our testimony just a whisper. But we won’t know the full story of how our struggle glorifies Him until all things are revealed.
Our hope is a Living Hope.
It’s no pie-in-the-sky fairy tale.
Your story matters.
It’s being written to be shared as a testimony to God’s goodness, His faithful love and His enabling grace.
You’ll be glad you did.
Have you ever thought about the connection between Jesus’ resurrection and the promise that we will also be raised? How do Peter’s words about our “living hope” impact your faith?
Peter denied Christ and most certainly didn’t ever expect to have a second chance to make that right. Do you feel like you’ve done or said or thought something that puts you outside the love and grace of God?
In the midst of a trial are you aware that it’s a refining experience? Do you care?
Does the promise that our steadfast endurance will be revealed in the last day as a testimony to God’s glory and grace encourage you? Why or why not?
What practical steps do you take to hold onto hope?
Lord, sometimes I feel hopeless. I forget that the resurrection proves You have conquered death and the grave. I forget I have a Living Hope and that hope is the person of Jesus Christ.
Trials come and the heat is so intense. I want to shrink away, to hide, to find some safe corner where pain and sorrow won’t find me. But that’s not the world we live in. Whether I’m persecuted for my faith or just the target of someone else’s sinful actions or words, it hurts!
Give me the strength to endure regardless of how intense the struggle.
I want to finish strong. I want to be a testimony for Your glory and to Your grace. Thank You for providing every needful thing.
Speak courage to my spirit, breathe life into my faith.
Thank You that I can rest assured that the hope I place in You is not just a fanciful wish but a sure thing.
What a privilege to pour my life into them! What joy to see them grow and mature and become people I not only love but admire and respect!
I learned so very much while raising my children. The Lord used them to shape and mold my heart to be more like His. They were instruments of grace and discipline. Over and over and over I had to lay down my preferences and priorities to make way for theirs.
Now I have a grandson.
Another generation to snuggle and teach, comfort and care for.
I’m already learning even more in this season.
This little guy’s early and rocky start in life reignited passion for prayer in mine. Watching him grow and thrive sparks hope and joy like I haven’t felt in the years since Dominic left us for Heaven.
His smile lights up my heart and the room.
Just the other day his daddy shared this picture with me:
James Michael was being silly with him, oohing and aahing and making him giggle.
As I stared at the photo I realized this child was experiencing such joy, such complete contentment, fulfillment and utter sense of safety it was uncontainable.
So it spread all over his face.
Then I had an epiphany-that’s exactly what Dominic feels right now.
This very minute the child I am missing is missing nothing. Precisely when I am wondering if God cares, if He hears, if He’s even near, Dominic is filled to overflowing with undeniable and uncontainable joy because what I hope for he SEES.
And one day that will be me.
All the heartache of this life will fade away to a tiny, tiny dot in the distance. What has been stolen will be restored. What has been bartered away will be redeemed. Wounds will be fully healed and my heart will be whole.
I’ll be full of joy and safe in my Father’s arms. ❤
This life is not all sadness and sorrow, death and darkness.
It was. For a very, very long time all I could see was distant flickers of light.
They were just enough to keep me going but not enough to lift the utter blackness that surrounded me.
Now I would characterize life as hazy gray-most things still filtered through a lens of grief but generally brighter.
I can see and feel the change. It’s not as hard to get up most mornings. Not as hard to put dates on a calendar. Not as hard to commit to social activities and to actually show up. Not as hard to talk about family life with strangers and acquaintances. Not as hard to do so many things that were practically impossible in the first weeks, months and years.
I am so, so grateful.
And there are good things-very good things-happening in my family.
I’m even more grateful for those.
A baby who could have had a sad story has a happy one! He is growing and grinning and getting ready (within the month, we think) to escape the hospital. His dad is home from deployment. His mom is healing like a champ from severe illness and from her surgery. They are forming a happy trio and full of love.
A wedding is less than two weeks away! After some (typical) stress and struggle things are falling into place. My daughter is joining her life to a good man and that fills my heart with joy.
My niece is graduating high school. All the kids in that generation are grown ups just as we finally added one to begin the next.
My mother and father are still here to enjoy these things.
If you are afraid you will never, ever feel joy again, I understand. That was one of the most frightening aspects of early days and months and years. I could not imagine having that heavy, dark cloud envelope me for the rest of my life.
It seems impossible it could ever be otherwise.
But I’m here to tell you-it doesn’t have to be that way. If you reach for the tiny lights you can just barely see in the distance and make whatever feeble and faltering steps forward, your heart will learn to feel something besides sorrow again.
At first it may only be a split-second when a smile nearly, but not quite, crosses your lips.
Then it might be an hourwhen you realize you’ve actually been completely engaged and present with your family or good friend.
One day you will be slipping into bed and think, “Today was a pretty good day”. It will shock you, sadden you and encourage you all at the same time.
It’s not a smooth upward journey that lands you out of the pit of grief.
It’s a bumpy road that tosses you around. Highs and lows, ups and downs. And it lasts a lifetime.
But if you purpose to hold on with both hands, to stay the course, keep heading toward the bits of light, laughter, love and loveliness teasing you in the distance, you will make progress.