There was an empty chair at Christmas dinner this year. There was an open spot where daddy should have been sitting. I can’t say I didn’t have a good Christmas; in fact, I had a great Christmas. I got wrapped up in the magic of the season just like I always do. But there was also a tugging void that hovered like a dense fog over the holiday.
It was different without him, and I think it always will be. That’s something I’ve come to notice about grief, it never really goes anywhere. Sure it retreats to its dark place most of the time, hanging like a shadow at dusk. But you can always feel it’s heaviness, lingering at the edge of your world, reeling with an energy that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up.
But even as it stews, there’s a beauty in its existence. You see, when you have that grief pressing in, it’s then that you learn to put your blinders up. Just as they cause a horse to sharpen it’s attention to the task at hand, these blinders drive you to look ahead. They tunnel your vision until the path in front of you is all you see. In a way, that grief is the greatest motivator to charge full speed ahead. But your attention isn’t just focused straight in front of you, but instead it’s focused in the right direction. And as a Christian, I find myself with my eyes trained solely on God who’s always before me, beckoning me to follow him.
“The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” Deuteronomy 31:8
There’s honestly days my breath catches in my throat and I remember he’s gone. It’s not because he isn’t always on my mind, but more so because it strikes me that I’m still standing, that I’m still breathing, and that I’m moving on. My heart breaks even as I write that, because I shouldn’t be moving on, but in my sigh I hear God telling me it’s okay, that I’m not leaving daddy and his memory behind, but rather I’m carrying him with me as I walk with God. And it is truly only through his grace that I am still standing.
I woke up the day after Christmas fairly early for me. Lori, her family and my mom were coming to my house to celebrate together. As I walked into the kitchen to let the pups out, I couldn’t help but smile when I saw a light dusting of snow on the ground. It wasn’t called for, and we weren’t expecting it, but there it was, lightly coating the grass and trees. I chuckled, trained my eyes upward and mouthed the words “thank you” because I truly believe it was just for me. I think it was daddy’s way of saying, “I’m here, and it’s okay to be happy today.” And no one knew just how much I loved the snow more than he did, mainly because I texted him every time it fell from the sky, so I couldn’t think of a more fitting, or more beautiful messenger.
Maybe I’m crazy, but I love to picture heaven as being just above the clouds. And when I see it, it’s a flat space and God and dad are just peering over the edge of its ledge watching over me as I go throughout my day. They probably smile when I act silly or sing and dance in the kitchen, they no doubt laugh when I attempt to fuss at the pups, and I know they shake their heads when I am feeling a little bit sassy. But they are always there, rising when I do and resting when I’m sleeping. Like I said, I may be crazy but it’s the most comforting thing to me.
And so that’s where I choose to train my vision. I put that image in front of me, I banish the grief to the edge of my world, and I follow God’s call on my life. I stumble, a lot. With my eyes looking up, I sometimes don’t see the roots and rocks beneath my feet. And ever now and then, I trip, fall flat on my face, and take a while to get back up. But you know what, that’s okay. For me, the most important thing is that I’m moving forward. And the clarity with which I can follow him now is striking. There truly is beauty in pain, and his name is Jesus Christ.
So now, with 2018 just around the bend, I think about leaving this year behind. I think about how many people I love, and how many I’ve never met, whose hearts broke this year. And I think about them standing on this path, grief lapping at the edge, with blinders on and they are faced with a choice. They can either run towards God who is beckoning them forward, or they can stand still with the darkness walling them in as the ground beneath their feet sinks, threatening to hold them there. It’s my prayer that if this is you, if you’re nursing a broken heart, that you choose to run towards God. Drop your baggage and follow his voice, for peace lies within his arms.
God, I pray that you would fix my eyes on you. Help me to be blind to the pain and the grief and see only your light this year. Help me to choose to move forward and to carry with me the strength you have granted me. Light my way and unburden my heart.