(Photo by the very talented Michael Johnson)
A few weeks ago, I was blessed with the incredible opportunity to backpack through Utah. Traveling out west was something Andrew and I had always dreamt of doing together. So, while it was tinged with sadness, I felt deeply that Andrew would love for me to take this journey. I travelled with a group of mostly strangers that grew to become a significant extension of my heart. During this trip, I laughed again. I laughed and I laughed and I laughed. I hadn’t done so in a long time. And though it wasn’t completely guilt-free, it was the most sincere joy I had felt since spending my last Christmas with Andrew. It felt good to breathe and take in God’s goodness. It felt good to hike a mile down the river with tears freely flowing from my eyes. It felt good to feel something other than grief. This wasn’t an easy hike, both physically and emotionally. There were moments that I was overcome with sadness; so much so that it literally felt like I was being punched in the gut over and over again. At times, it was uncomfortable and challenging. My pack was so large that I legitimately could nearly fit all five feet of myself in it. We hiked miles upon miles, up and down various terrain with sand flooding our boots and our calves feelings as if they were on fire. We reached peaks of accomplishment and points of exhaustion.
Saturated in sweat and wondering if it was almost over, I often times forgot to look up and note the beauty that we had traveled across the states for. As I would lift my heavy head and wipe the beads of sweat from my eyes, I would be left speechless at the splendor in front of me. Miles and miles of the most breathtaking mountains and arches, painted in shades of colors I didn’t even know existed. In these moments, I realized that I had become so engrossed in my discomfort and forging ahead that I was forgetting to look up. I was missing the beauty right in front of my eyes. As I approach six months of life without Andrew, it is still really easy to remain focused on my grief and my loss. It is still easy to cast all of my attention on what never will be instead of what is. To all who have loved and lost, I would absolutely say that this is not only acceptable, but healthy…sometimes. I would never, ever put a time limit or expectation on grief; everyone is different and their needs look differently, too. But I think it is also more than reasonable to say that it isn’t healthy to devote all of your attention on your loss. It is so easy to do, especially as a spouse. Every single detail of every single day seems to be a reminder of my husband. Sometimes those are welcomed and greeted with a smile and tears that sting my eyes, but it often makes it impossible for grief to not dominate my entire day. But here’s the thing, and if you don’t get anything else from this post, please hear me on this: if you don’t look up, you’ll miss it. If you don’t lift your head from time to time amidst the anger or hurt or sadness that seems to envelope you, you’ll miss the beauty that God is trying to create from the ashes and rubble that is your current life. Your hurt and your pain is completely valid and I’m not saying that it won’t continue to ooze of agony, BUT if you don’t stop constantly focusing on what is hurting, you’ll miss out on what’s being made. Here’s what I know without a shadow of a doubt: I know God loves me more than anyone on this earth ever has or ever will and He has a big, beautiful plan for my life. I know Andrew loves me and is cheering me on from Heaven to find happiness and continue on in our desperate pleas and prayers to Jesus to be used in mighty ways for His Kingdom. But, I also know that if I spend all of my days lamenting on what could have been, I’ll miss the goodness and wisdom that God is trying to mold out of me from walking through such hardship. This doesn’t mean that I don’t/won’t think of Andrew every single day and miss him more than I could ever imagine. This doesn’t mean that I won’t love him endlessly, because I will, until my very last breath. This just means I would be missing out on a lot of God’s goodness, His mercy, and His greatness if I am always looking inwardly at myself and my grief.
So today, my heart is just to encourage yours. You can get through this. I promise. Whatever your “this” is. Before Andrew went Home, I sincerely believed that the day Andrew’s heart stopped beating, so would mine. I laid by his side for hours and hours and thought that surely the air would stop filling my lungs and the blood would cease to pump from my heart. And yes, a lot of me and who I am went with Andrew that day. I’m not the same person I was and I never will be. But my heart is still beating and whether I like it or not, the sun has risen each day for nearly six months without waking up to Andrew by my side. I had always had two gnawing, deeply rooted fears growing up: cancer and losing the person I love most in this world. So when I was faced with both of them in the midst of my twenties, I didn’t think I would make it through. The long days and never ending nights I have spent crying in misery will always haunt me, but those days have passed and the nights have been met with a new day each time. As these past six months have come and gone, both quickly and so very slowly, I’ve learned that you get through it. You just do. You never realize how strong you are until it’s your only option. Life really sucks sometimes. It’s not always pretty and it’s very rarely easy. And some seasons are absolutely impossible, but you can do this. If someone was to have sat me down 10 years ago and told me about the life and loss I was about to face, I would have told them with certainty that I wouldn’t survive it. I would have told them that’s too much pain and too much grief to put on a person. I don’t say that to throw myself a pity party because what is NOT lost on me is that there are so many people in this world that are hurting and suffering far greater than I am and my prayers are for those people each and every day. But, I say it to express that I am surviving and making through what I would have deemed impossible; what would be impossible if not for the love and mercy of Jesus Christ. I encourage you to take heart, find peace when you can, and don’t let all of this heartache be in vain. Be sure to look up from time to time; you don’t want to miss it.
“Jesus replied, ‘You don’t understand what I am doing, but someday you will.'” (John 13:7)