From an article originally posted November 21, 2012…
Guest Post by Clarice Aeby
It was one, simple question. One that a caring niece asked a broken-hearted aunt. But the simplicity cannot be mistaken for insignificant.
We walked along Oregon’s beautiful Willamette River as it wandered its way through Eugene. Kara graciously matched her pace to mine and offered me the baby’s stroller handle to stay upright.
My happy life, just 3 days prior, had been shattered. The beautiful ugly of death had suddenly burst into my world. Jesus called John home. From the rainy Northwest to eternity. Oh, such magnificent beauty for John, the artist. What a gaping hole left in his wake. After 37 years of marriage our journeys—John’s and mine—suddenly diverged.
After answering the midnight knock on the door, my heart—silent to others but a thunderous roar to God—cried out, “God, how will You fill the gap?” This compassionate, talented, soft-spoken man I’d known since we were 16... now gone. John gently refused my occasional offers through the years to be Christ to me... the bridge, the one who would meet all my soul’s needs. He knew better. God knew better than to ever let that happen.
But who would fill the kindness gap? The Lord had a plan. He started early filling the hole, a process I realized He’d keep up as long as air filled my lungs. God, I learned, has a special heart for the widows—those of us who once dared to love, and now dare to continue breathing. Not just air. But life.
Kara and I had spent 6 interrupted days together before this encounter on September 22, 2009. In those brief but rich encounters, we connected. Our hearts seemed to sing a duet. Our passionate love of Jesus, our connection. We shared freely, honestly, passionately, ignoring all reality that we barely knew each other. It didn’t matter. We had the same best Friend and that made the difference, filled us with an unnatural vulnerability.
We left the remaining family members at the restaurant’s outdoor seatting and began to walk. Kara’s baby was restless. The air around me had grown thick. We were a threesome on an adventure that would prove to write the song for my journey through grief and beyond. The long, dark Melody of Mourning. That is what I expected in the face of death. That was what I’ve heard about the shouting ugliness of losing love. But God had another melody in mind for me.
As we stepped out on the tree-lined path, I began. I asked her about the children left behind, the ones I’d just months before gotten to know and love. Kara patiently answered a question or two. Then patience ceased. After all, death happened. We had only minutes to join our souls, and Kara seemed to find children talk an unnecessary distraction.
“We aren’t going to talk about that,” she spoke with kind firmness.
“Really? what are we going to talk about?” I asked.
“What are the lies you are tempted to believe?”
Her gaze, her steady voice immediately convinced me she was in charge, her nine words would direct our dialogue. And later, my life.
Kara and I are the same in ways I find really likeable. We like questions. We like heart-to-heart. We aren’t afraid to possibly offend to get there.
Over the next 45 minutes, I shared the lies that had skipped across my thoughts, but not nearly taken root in my soul. It was too soon. Not a minute to myself yet. House full of people who came to love and stand near.
I began the search, and it was a digging. Let’s see... the lies.
That I had already lived my happy life and now I would begin my sacrificial life.
That no one else could extend the compassion and kindness that defined my life partner.
That I simply didn’t know how: how to run the logistics of home-owning. And frankly, I probably couldn’t learn before some disaster struck.
That I would fall into the desperate state defined by all the death books: anger, resentment, regret... all those “stages” where I had no vote.
That my journey of sorrow would also cause distance, separation... the worst kind. Broken relationship with God.
My lies surfaced. One by one. And as we neared the end of our walk, family patiently waiting, Kara began with Truth. Her Biblical memory refuted the lies, one by one.
“I’m so glad we had this time, this talk,” she said. “Because now I know how to pray for you, and you will recognize a lie when it comes.”
As the people-flurry passed, I turned again to my habit of reading and journaling. That early morning practice that I had treasured. Day one: the book of Philippians. As I look back now, my pages are covered with penciled exclamation, “Amen!,” shouts of “Yes!” scribbled across the parchment. When I got alone with Jesus, I discovered what I had believed to be true. But had never met a test so severe. So potentially costly.
God is the same! God is the same in death and grief as He had been in the challenges of life: relationships, finances, work, physical pain... all of it. God was present. God showed up. His self-named “Immanuel”—God with us—was Truth.
And my early morning time became my safe place, my Sacred Solitude. The one place I was totally understood. The cup of tea, fireplace spot where I received my directions for the day. The power and insight to “just do the next thing,” as my friend who had buried three husbands told me.
Search for peace, and work to maintain it. (Psalm 34:14 NLT)
I learned to use peace as my measuring stick to Truth. If I lost my peace, “what lie am I believing?” became my immediate go-to. I spoke in a Kara-tone to myself. That kind but persistent question that required an answer before moving. Before taking even one step forward. First the lie, then the truth. It is a work. I learned that from the Book that is the Master of Truth.
We take captive every thought and make it obedient to Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:5) I was compelled, driven, addicted to uncovering the lie and replacing it with the Truth. Because I knew that truth birthed freedom. And I craved freedom. The freedom to be at peace. I learned that tears do not mean lack of trust. As grief and gratitude hold hands, so can tears, peace and faith. Good friends, all.
So for the next year the WORK of maintaining peace became my job. Oh, I still went to work, ate dinner with friends, colored with my grandchildren. But mostly, mostly, I worked to maintain peace.
I had a repeating mantra about God. I am tempted to say daily, but the reality was more honestly, hourly. Perhaps every 10 minutes on many days. “God is good. God is powerful. God loves me.”
And then God graciously led me to thanks. A friend introduced me to Ann Voskamp’s book, 1,000 Gifts. I grew up in a family full of appreciation and married the most grateful person I’d ever met. But learning to number God’s gifts sent me on the offensive... the daily search for God’s love in big and small ways.
Ann calls it “the Continual Conversation... the one where He whispers love in countless ways, and I keep murmurings thanks.” The Lord gave me passion to see that love, to live in it, to record it. Because as Ann eloquently says, “Unyielding gratitude to God is how God makes me unstoppable.”
I am not interested in personal power. The kind that in the end makes me look good. Attracts the eyes of those looking in with “How does she do that?” comments. No. I desperately long to see and hear God’s Whisper. I want to move forward unhindered by barriers of anger, regret, despair... the enormous walls that force me to spend my days on earth, the hours in my life trying to tear down and claw through so I can move on to live. As a friend firmly spoke, “Clarice, John is dead. You are not.”
If I could trust, and I do, that John’s days on earth were divinely numbered, that he did not die one millisecond ahead of God’s plan, then I must also believe the same about me. Am I still breathing only to fight despair? No. I am here to give God thanks. Because thanks is what opens the door to His presence. And His presence is where I long to spend all the minutes of my earth life.
“I will enter His gates with thanksgiving in my heart. I will enter His courts with praise.”
God calls praise a sacrifice. Until John left I didn’t understand that connection. Now I do. To thank God, to praise Him, requires a “yes” in the depths of my soul. Yes to His gift... however long it lasts. God’s gift of John in my life, in the lives of our children, is of no less value because it ended before I imagined.
So, by His grace I begin most days writing thanks. And I walk most days looking for the gifts and thanking the Giver. And sometimes, in the tender moments of quiet reflection, the ones John and I intimately shared, I still do the God-given work of finding peace – uncovering the lie to find the Truth.
The journey is good. Every good and perfect gift comes from God... I discover Him in the journey, and we travel together. And everything else in life, everything, is less important. And that’s the Truth.