Let me tell you about one of the most important people in my life.
But now that I’ve written that one sentence declaring my intensions, words seem to allude me. Where do I start? How do I talk about someone so dear to me in such a vulnerable, eloquent way so that the beautiful person that she is is accurately portrayed? I guess the answer is to just write and hope for the best. So, please, bear with me.
My aunt is so cool. FBI, Special Agent. Not just any agent, mind you. Special Agent. (Yeah, she’s a big deal.) Everyday for the last 20+ years she has dedicated her time, her brainpower, and her whole heart into her work, saving lives and putting criminals behind bars. In one afternoon, she could be undercover as a middle-aged man who’s bagging my groceries at the local Wal-Mart for all I know and, in the same afternoon, corner the bad guy, take him down in one foul swoop, send him to central booking, and make it home for 6:00 dinner and the usual “hi, honey, how was your day” (as if her day wasn’t straight out of Mr. and Mrs. Smith).
Granted, she has never really detailed her work with me. But I can’t imagine that a job at the FBI – no matter the area of focus – doesn’t come without risks. I’ll never actually know, but I undoubtedly believe she has, at times, risked her life to help people who may never know her name. You see, her area of focus within the Bureau is child kidnappings and sex trafficking. If that isn’t a picture perfect example of selflessness, I dare to ask, “what is?”
And every super hero has to have a day off, right? I mean, even God rested on the seventh day. With that in mind she did just that – rest. Rested in God’s presence, His goodness. In her faithful quiet times, she would record the lessons, the verses, or the quotes from biblical scholars on index cards and then she would mail them out. Out to family, out to church family members, out to co-workers, sometimes anonymously, just as a reminder that you are important and that you are loved by the Creator of the universe, loved by Almighty God Himself. How powerful is that?
And you know, they weren’t like penned on with a black ink pen in some signature half-cursive, half-print fashion. No, they were painted, printed in perfect block lettering (which, to this day, I’m still convinced she used a stencil. I mean, no one could have that neat of handwriting naturally. Nope. She did.), complete with a cute colorful doodle or drawing. I was lucky enough to have been sent one every single week while I was in college. Do you know how many that is?? It’s a lot, in case you were wondering; each one crafted uniquely beautiful and different than those sent to my three other sisters in the same week.
Oh, and did I mention that she’s quilting 25 quilts to send to orphanages in Haiti for Christmas?? Again, all beautifully unique. Yeah, let me just leave that here, too. All, of course, while raising her beautiful 13-year-old gymnast and being a boss wife without a hitch. What an inspiration.
She’s the aunt that would listen to my middle school drama intently…as if it were a matter of life or death (which, to be fair, it was a matter of life or death to an insecure middle schooler …life and death socially, that is. Y’all, middle school is rough). She’s the aunt that has helped me through heartbreak and who pokes fun at new and exciting crushes. She’s the aunt who officially named a room in her house “Sarah’s” because I was over so often. She’s the aunt who drove and hour and a half just to see my lose the Homecoming crown in high school and the aunt who gawks with me at O.U.T.R.A.G.E.O.U.S outfits that people dare to don in public. She’s just so cool.
I watched the example that she and my mom set as best friends. Some would mistake them for sisters…and I guess they were, but only officially by marriage. The two of them showed me constant love, unconditional grace, and consistent joy. My mom and my aunt are undoubtedly the strongest two womanly influences in my life. If I could be half the friend, confidant, godly servant, sister and one day wife and mother that they both are, I would be so incredibly lucky.
It goes without saying that I am so, so blessed.
But now that I’ve rambled long enough to momentarily forget the point of this post, let’s address the title, shall we? Beauty in Grief. Did you know there’s five stages of grief? Yeah, well, I had the sick pleasure of skipping the first stage of grief (or maybe the denial was just short lived, who knows?) and going straight to the second stage: anger.
And let me tell you: I’m angry. I’m so incredibly, undeniably, uncharacteristically angry. I’m angry at God:
“God, why? WHY ?!!!!?
HOW IS THERE ANY GOOD IN THIS? ANY!!!
HOW COULD YOU EVEN CONSIDER TAKING SOMEONE SO FAITHFUL, SO LOVING, SO SELFLESS SO YOUNG?!
WHY IS SOMEONE SO INTENSIONALLY DEDICATED TO BENEFICIALLY IMPACTING THIS WORLD FOR YOUR KINGDOM SUFFERING SO MUCH?! WHY, GOD?!
WHY HER AND NOT ME?!
Why is my aunt dying of cancer? Can you riddle me that, God?”
These are the questions I asked God everyday for the three weeks leading up to her passing. These are the questions I would quietly ask in my heart while I struggled to put on a strong façade for my younger cousin. These are the questions that I would scream at the top of my lungs when I was finally alone in my car. These are the questions I would weep with a broken heart to God every single night for those three weeks. Why, God? Why?
I tried to find comfort in the words of others that were passed along to me, but found some snarky reply that countered them all:
“I don’t know why this is happening, but Jesus does. Take heart, dear friend.”
“Well wouldn’t it just be peachy if He cared to share it with the class…”
“I’ll pray for you.”
“Won’t do any good. I’ve tried.”
“I’m here for you.”
“More than I can say about God.”
“Don’t be angry with God. Just talk to Him.”
“Too late. I’ve tried that and lookie where we are anyway…”
And with every passing snarky reply and bitter thought, my heart was further hardened and God’s voice became that much more muffled.
Finally anger turned to despair.
“No one understands the depth of my hurt.”
“This searing pain of loss is so real, so tangible.”
Now you know how I felt.
“But she’s doing so much good; she’s still so young.”
So was my Son.
“I’m not ready for this.”
You see, friends, the anger and bitterness that resided in my heart prevented me from hearing God’s voice at all; my heart was so intensely hardened by the circumstances surrounding the eventual loss of my aunt that I was entirely incapable of seeing any resemblance of goodness.
But the truth of the matter is that “God works all things for the good of those who love Him” (Romans 8:28).
And so let’s just be honest for a second: I don’t understand. I didn’t understand then and I still don’t understand now, five months later. In fact, I don’t know that I’ll ever understand the why’s, the how’s, the when’s. I have zero confidence that I’ll be able to truly find the good that He has promised in this. But here’s the thing:
God is almighty, all-powerful, all-controlling. He tells the moon when to shine and when to hide; He gives the dragonflies flight and the warm summer glow of the sun light; He commands the mountains to move and they do, and the air to become crisp and it cools. He commands it all! He is beginning, the middle, and the end - unestablished. He has always been and always will be! We can’t even begin to comprehend it because we can’t yet grasp the intensity and the unimaginable glory that is God. We weren’t meant to understand God fully - we couldn’t handle it! That’s where faith comes in; faith that the goodness is there, despite what our minds perceive.
That’s the only thing I’m holding onto in these stages of grief: that it’s okay not to understand but to simply have faith that God has not turned His ears to my cries.
Hebrews 10:23 says, “Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep His promises.” If God keeps His promises, then let us take heart that Jesus has overcome the world (John16:33) – including cancer! – and He will give you that much needed rest (Matthew 11:28).
May God fill you with courage, dear friend, and bring healing to your ailing heart. Let us wait, knowing the days of sorrow will soon pass. In the meantime, rest assured that Jesus will wipe away your tears, replace your sorrowful sigh with laughter, and turn your grief into joy.
Take heart in the beauty and the peace that God grants through grief. You are not alone, friend.