It’s April again.
I sniff the musky air and I know it’s time.
Time to remember and allow the memories to stir me up again.
I noticed some beautiful, gentle blooms in my garden and I thought about how beautiful new growth is in our lives. Every year the trees bloom. The flowers are beautiful: the enchanted air sway swiftly in the breeze of a thawing earth. These blooms tell me that winter is passing away. They enrich the branches all the while decorating the open skies. I see them. I enjoy them. I take them in and I smile. They make me happy. But then they too fall away, veiling the distance like a satin curtain flowing from the trees to the ground. They are gone and in their place come leaflets, green and small, many and closely attached to the branch. They do not look like much until they peak and cover the tree in the heart of summer: a gown of lush display of vegetation. These leaves fulfill their purpose for the tree and the nature. But it took the death of the blooms for them to grow.
God placed reminders around us of all kinds: for every good growth there is a painful beginning. From the death of a noble flower comes the new shoot of a greener leaf. Death is not wasted on Spring blooms. I take a moment to soak in this glorious message inscribed in the trees in my yard. We forget that though they cannot speak, they have a story to tell, these swaying trees. In fact, the whole universe speaks without words of this divine, gracious story. It invites us to listen to its silently vocal testimony of the God who made the most of death for the benefit of beautiful beginnings. From the death of His beautiful Son springs everlasting life for whoever believes in Him. Our good standing in the loving presence of the Lord was made possible only because Christ suffered a terrible punishment for our sins. I see it in-scripted all over the rhythms of the universe. The created order knows this message too well, and like a big amphitheater, it echoes it all over, every day, every season, everywhere. His death gives us meaning. In Christ, none of our suffering is ever wasted.
It’s been 5 years since she died and much has changed. The branch where once she bloomed misses her terribly. Our tree is not the same without her. I often stare at the place she once filled and I weep with a heart that understands the depth of the suffering her end still brings. We are often too quick to avoid lingering in suffering and grief afraid not to give the perception that we have no hope. When Paul encourages believers in 1 Thessalonians to “not grieve like the rest of mankind who have no hope,” he is not discouraging grieving. He is discouraging grieving without hope. It is possible, in fact it is godly, to grieve deeply with a firm hope. To linger in the valley of the shadow of death assured that the Lord is with us even there. Our hope is not less godly when we rest in grief for a (long) while. There is a time to linger in grief and a time to come out: but in both situations, hope never leaves us. We do not exit grief to have hope as if hope is the next step up, we have hope so we grieve well.
In deeply grieving her dying I understand just how much I loved her in her living. But it is the grieving of her loss that enlarged my heart to better understand the death of my Savior. The promise of death being swallowed up in victory once and for all helps me grieve with hope. I can sit in grief and be pierced by the stings of death trusting that when Christ returns these scars will be made new.
When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1 Cor 15:54-55)
The promise of an eternal future without the stings of death comforts us in the present sufferings and dying. It also encourages us to allow ourselves to grieve and suffer for the hand of God holds us fast.
My sister’s death was not wasted on me. I stand rooted in Christ like never before. Her death opened me up to more. More compassion, more understanding, more pursuit of God, more thirst for His presence, more love for my family, more maturity emotionally, spiritually, relationally. I flourish on my branch, in my tree, on my plot because beautiful blooms died. It’s April again: watch me stir.