My husband and I drove from Philadelphia to St. Augustine, Fla., to attend his mother’s funeral. What struck me during our 14-hour drive was the range of moods we experienced. There was the grieving, of course, but there were also playful moments and times when we laughed.
This is interesting to me because we often speak and hear of Mourning, or Death, or Cancer, or an Unhappy Childhood, or an Unhappy Marriage, as if these were a homogenous tissue of unvarying and unrelieved intensity. But that’s not true. And the encouragement in this, for me, is the understanding that God never gives us trials that do not come with moments of relief and even pleasure.
Somewhere on I-95 we even played old Bob Dylan CDs and I asked my husband to tell me how the popular singer had evolved over the years, and to talk about Dylan’s Christian period and to speculate on whether he is still a believer.
Then came the fresh stabs of pain again, and then a new thought or distraction. And then lunch.
I just received a letter from a couple I know in Texas who shared with me how an outpatient procedure to repair a vertebra in the lower back had led to a stroke that left the wife paralyzed from the waist down. The stroke and paralysis are tragic events. But you would not be depicting things accurately if you painted the couple’s life in the aftermath of the stroke as one broad brushstroke of black. For they have recorded a series of events brought about by the stroke that involve getting to know wonderful people they would not have otherwise met, experiencing generosity they would not have enjoyed, and growing in new ways they would not have grown in.
One example involves laminate flooring. In renovating the house to make it more accessible for his wife, the husband went to a local lumberyard to look at displays of flooring materials. As he perused, a young man walked up to him and asked if he was looking for laminate flooring. In the course of conversation, that young man ended up offering the husband 700 square feet (that he had purchased but that his wife had changed her mind about) at $1 a square foot, one-quarter of the store price.
The Lord sends streams in the desert so that we can bear the desert. There is the desert. But there are the streams. One never meets the full force of Death (or the full force of Happiness, for that matter). Psalm 23 tells us that God lays out banquets in the midst of our enemies, where we may enjoy a respite and renew our strength. He gives sleep to His beloved. He knows how we are formed, that we are but dust.