You know that saying about March – how if it comes in like a lion, it’ll go out like a lamb, or vice-versa? I often think about that when March begins, but by the end of the month, I usually don’t remember what the weather patterns were like at the beginning, or even think to make a comparison at all. One thing I have noticed over the past several years though, is that all of March’s weather has certainly felt more “lionish” than “lambish,” – but I am not talking about the weather outside.
March has become a long month for us. A sad one, and a hard one, a month that feels full of loss and reminders of losses past. Ironic, isn’t it? March, in this part of the world where we live, is on that see-saw between winter and spring, and while one day might see ice and snow, the next might see the tender yet tough little crocuses pushing their way into the warm sunshine. Lots of shrubs and trees start to prove they aren’t dead, and those tiny buds hold promises of shade, or flowers, or fruit in the weeks and months ahead. While the nights can be dark and cold, the days can be sunny and fresh. March should feel hopeful, optimistic, and full of impending life.
In fact, this March was the first one in a long time that I’d been looking forward to. Last summer, when we learned we were expecting a baby and the due date would fall in March, we thought with hope and anticipation about how precious it would be have this month redeemed and reclaimed. About this new reminder that for us, in the Lord, death cannot and will not win over life forever. We were so excited, and so grateful for this tangible way that God was bringing the beauty of new life up out of the ashes of our grief. Though none of our babies have actually arrived right on their “due date,” it felt like a justified laugh in the face of so many sad March days to note that March 20th would be the 40 week mark this time – March 20th – the first day of spring!
But too long before March 20th, 2017 arrived, October 14th, 2016 arrived, and with it, our beautiful, beloved son Findley. While we held his tiny body, weeping from the bottom of our broken hearts, his true self was already being held in our Father’s loving arms. This was not the springtime promise of new life we so desperately wanted, even needed. I’m not sure there is, nor should be, any way to rank things like grief, pain, and sorrow, but our baby’s death and burial feels burned into our hearts and minds as one of the hardest things in our lives. There are additional layers of … everything, because just a few weeks after Findley was buried in Nairobi, Ryan’s work and our time there was completed. Leaving Kenya felt like leaving home for many reasons, not the least of which was that now, it would forever be precious to us as Findley’s earthly home.
So here we are now, in the midst of March and all that it brings, both inside of our hearts and outside of our windows. It’s beautiful when the sun warms my face and arms as I sit in the already-greening grass, and the call of a mourning dove breaks the quiet stillness of a new day. It’s terrible when my arms wrap around my empty body, longing to hold the baby that grew there and should now be here to greet this springtime with me. The ache of missing Findley is strong and deep, and tears come often and heavily. Sunny and promising as the day itself was this year, March 20th feels like little more than a cruel irony to me. First day of spring, indeed.
But God. I think those two words, which appear throughout Scripture, (here are some) are my favorite words anywhere, ever. But God: God is the strength of this broken heart. But God: God who is rich in mercy. But God: God intends and works for good. But God: God remembers. My son Findley died, But God: God gave us His own Son Jesus, who died, and yet was raised to life everlasting. I feel like spring was snatched away from my heart, But God: God promises that one day He will swallow up death forever, and He will wipe away all these many tears, and redeem all these painful memories and heartbreaks that March holds right now. How I would like that day to come, even to be today, this second day of spring that seems to be trying to go back to winter this morning, with its cold wet snow and bleak gray sky. It is like a see-saw – not just the month of March, but this whole journey of life, isn’t it?
For sitting here on my kitchen counter, are beautiful expressions of remembering from friends and family that know our grief, and choose to bear this grief with us. Roses, lilies, tulips. Love in vases and flower pots. Sitting here on my desk are cards and notes, and in my email inbox, more of the same, from all sorts of people in all sorts of situations. Love in envelopes and words. It’s not always necessary to understand or have personal experience with someone else’s particular loss and pain in order to be able to enter into it and help them bear it, and how thankful I am for the ways this has been proven to me. I cannot exactly say that God took Findley from us, for He is not the author of evil and pain. No, death came into this world through sin. The recent words of another grieving mother ring true to me here: tragedy took my son away. But God: God did not and does not leave us to despair in this. In a way that only God could, He took sin, which had brought death, and conquered them both, with a cross and an empty grave. He alone can take such ruin and work such glory. Although we long for our home in heaven, we are given even now precious glimpses of God’s redemption, sometimes through these very things that are around me now: flowers, cards, shared tears, and silent prayers.
Yes, it hurts – a lot – that that there aren’t tiny sleepers filling my laundry basket this March 20th, but filling my heart, there is peace, there will be peace, because my only sure and unfailing comfort is in the One who holds today like He holds eternity, and He also holds my son for me. And yet how lovely are the ways He sends this comfort: through the people around us, the songs that we hear and sing, and the words that we read. You might hear grief described as numbing, but I have often felt like grief is rather sharpening my senses. I notice more, hear more, and feel more. Sometimes it’s not fun when everything feels too bright, too loud, or too personal, but sometimes it’s like a lifeline. Sunday night, March 19th, we sang “My Hope Is Built On Nothing Less” in church, and the words spoke truth to my heart. “I dare not trust the sweetest frame,” (and not much is sweeter than the frame of a new baby), “but wholly trust in Jesus name,” and “When darkness veils His lovely face, I rest on His unchanging grace. In every high and stormy gale, my anchor holds within the veil.” In the prayer he wrote for March 20th in The Songs of Jesus (devotional on the book of Psalms), Tim Keller quoted George Herbert, and I echo these words:
“Though I fail, I weep:
Though I halt in pace,
Yet I creep
To the throne of grace.”
(from The Temple, 1633, Discipline)
And even this trust, this faith, this creeping to the throne of grace is not dependent on me. Another song bringing truth to me over the past several months is this, as refreshed by the Gettys, He Will Hold Me Fast. “When I fear my faith may fail, Christ will hold me fast … For my Savior loves me so, He will hold me fast.”
So come and go, March, like a lion, or like a lamb; I know you cannot overwhelm completely. When it’s stormy, I will cling to the Rock that is higher than I (Psalm 61:2). When it’s sunny, I will rest in the ways He quiets me with His love (Zephaniah 3:17). This is My Father’s World, even the weather, and though the wrong feels oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.
Below are a few pictures of what March 20th, 2017, looked like for us. They’re not part of the story we were expecting, but they are a good chapter. And, we know our story isn’t finished yet.