Two weeks ago, if you asked me what I planned to write in the first blog post of 2017, this was not it. What I planned, was to summarize 2016 and about hopes, dreams and goals for 2017.
But that is not what I’m writing today.
No, I want to just talk about the past two, life-changing weeks. One week in 2016, one in 2017.
During the last week of 2016, my husband’s beloved grandma unexpectedly began her hospice journey following a heart attack. She later died on New Year’s Eve and began 2017 and the rest of eternity in the arms of her loving savior, Jesus Christ.
Another day I’d like to write a post honoring this special woman but I haven’t gathered my thoughts coherently to do so today. What I do want to say today is this – God was ever-present in her hospice room, cradling grandma in His good, sovereign hands. He was present in the condolences, encouragement, prayers and help of family and friends who supported our family. God was present and tangible as my mother-in-law and her sisters walked through the process of saying goodbye to their mom. Without question, they relied on God’s strength to support and love their parents well.
I saw God’s goodness in action as I watched my husband try to balance being a dad, husband, son, uncle, brother, nephew and grandson as he grieved and ran back and forth between the airport, home, and hospital. He was able to be present in each relationship and to rely on God’s strength to be ‘all things’ to each of us. I saw God as my husband grieved, loved and supported others while remaining steady, eyes fixed on Jesus.
Perhaps most remarkably, God was powerfully present in my husband’s grandpa who freely and deeply grieved as he said goodbye to his bride of 69 years. Despite deep pain and sadness, he was grateful and overjoyed by each visitor and family member who came to the hospital. He took time to pray for us as we dealt with a separate issue in the middle of his own grieving. He modeled beautifully what it looks like to truly walk with Jesus – to rely on His strength, to have deep-rooted joy in salvation, and to have a personal, real relationship with Him.
Watching faith of those in this family in a painful circumstance as they experienced the comfort and peace of Jesus personally testified to the compassion, faithfulness and goodness of the God we serve. And in my own life, I felt the prayers and support of many and His energy as I supported the family as best I could – in prayer, by taking care of our kids so my husband could be fully present for his family, and making our home available and comfortable to the influx of family from out-of-town.
One of the greatest joys of celebrating the life of a loved one is that family comes together, from all over. We had the joy of having our niece and her husband stay with us for almost a week, and our nephew, my sister and brother-in-law stay some as well. We spent New Year’s Eve playing games and enjoying quality time with family we would not have seen otherwise. The time spent with family during this process has been a priceless gift as relationships are deepened and strengthened in mourning together and in lifting each other up.
On New Year’s Day, the entire family went to accompany and support grandpa at his church. We saw his church family greet him, offering condolences and sharing in tears. The body of Christ is such a gift. As the service began, the family filled several rows in the front and began singing O Come All Ye Faithful.
As our 3-year-old daughter joined in and I listened to her and our family, worshiping in the midst of mourning, I couldn’t help but feel a surge of joy through sorrow. My eyes were glistening with tears as we sang, experiencing the welcome relief of worship and just being in the presence of God.
All Hail! Lord, we greet Thee,
Born this happy morning,
O Jesus! for evermore be Thy name adored.
Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing;
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.
Just as we were finishing the final verse, we heard a loud noise and turned. The beautiful moment of worship was cut short. The noise was a woman collapsing in one of the back rows. 911 was called and she later passed away in the church sanctuary.
We took our kids out to the lobby as many rushed to assist her. Members of our family responded and administered CPR until the EMTs arrived. The pastor who had loved our family well during the previous week began to comfort and support a member of his congregation as she passed away, and then her family as they arrived to begin their grieving. God’s love and strength were clearly lived out in the pastor, yet again.
While our children were too young to fully comprehend the situation in church, our nieces and nephews are older and did understand. I spent much of the day praying for them and all involved. The day was heavy. This seemed to just pile mourning upon mourning and I left feeling numb. After all our family had been through, this seemed like a kick in the teeth for all for this happen on the day after grandma died, in her church, and when we’d come together in worship, seeking the solace and comfort of God.
And yet, the unmistakable solace and comfort of God were there. God’s presence was unmistakable and thick. Literally, God and the comfort of being together as family was all we could cling to at this point. The church was singing, ‘O Come let us adore Him’ just before she passed away – I believe that as a follower of Jesus she woke in His presence where she will praise and adore Him forevermore.
We returned home and had a ‘normal’ relaxing day running errands, watching football and spending time together as family, while trying to process everything that had happened. The next day was Monday and the plan was to attend grandma’s visitation in the afternoon and have a big family pizza dinner at grandpa’s house before the funeral on Tuesday.
In the morning, I was on my way back from buying mixes to make brownies to serve at the funeral when I walked in the door to our son holding my cell phone.
‘Mom, your phone is ringing.’
It was my sister, I picked it up and prepared myself to catch up. Instead, what I heard stoppped me in my tracks.
‘Dad is having a heart attack. They are transporting him to St. Josephs now.’
All I could muster was to say that I was coming, NOW.
The next moments are a blur – yelling to my husband what was happening and running out the door. I left so fast, I left my husband behind with no car. He called me as I left our neighborhood, right about the moment when I realized I shouldn’t be driving myself. I turned around and he took over driving as I called and texted dear friends who began praying. SO MANY prayed. THANK YOU.
Because of the circumstances with grandma, our niece and her husband were at our house and stayed with our kids. We never have people at our house. And my husband isn’t usually home but since it was a holiday, he was. In fact, it was why my dad was with my mom when it happened, and why my each of my siblings were with their significant others and no one was alone. We were so blessed to know the kids were in such loving and capable hands. God’s timing is always perfect. There is never a good time for a crisis, but He always provides.
My husband and I held hands and prayed in the car as I choked back tears of emotion I just couldn’t keep in.
I was scared.
But, oh, how we felt those prayers. Still scared, but trusting God would walk us all through whatever may come, we made our way to the hospital, joining my siblings and my mom. And, oh, how I saw the presence of God in my mom as she drove herself to the hospital and remained calm and focused on God as we waited.
Waiting is not fun. It was over 45 minutes before we heard anything from anyone about how my dad was doing. To make a long story short(er), my dad had a minor heart attack for an unknown reason. We praise the God who hears our prayers that my dad’s heart did not suffer damage and he is doing well. Now we just need to move forward trusting the God who has already protected my dad to protect him going forward.
Assured he was stable and my sister and brother staying with my mom the next day, my husband and I went to the funeral for his grandma. A funeral for a believer in Christ is full of mourning and sorrow but also full of hope, celebration and joy of a life well-lived for Jesus. Family members participated by singing, reading and speaking of her impact on their lives and of her faith. It was one of the most beautiful and meaningful funerals I have attended and I left feeling sad and a deep sense of loss, but also filled with peace.
A friend who prayed for my dad volunteered to watch our kids. She showed up promptly at 8am and stayed not only during the funeral, but also all afternoon so my husband and I could return to the hospital. It was a long, but good day. This friend served our family and loved us well. We are so grateful and recognize the provision of God through her. We were able to be fully present for all in our family who needed us, we were able to grieve without being brave for our kids, and our kids were poured into by her.
My dad is home and recovering well. Grandma is being missed but in light of the truth that she lives in eternity. Our out-of-town family has returned home. I still cannot believe all that happened in just under 2 weeks. We are all trying to get some rest and I am spending today reflecting on what has transpired.
I pray the rest of this year is filled with life and is less eventful than it has begun. But, I can tell you with confidence that the past two weeks have deepened my faith, my trust and my reliance on God. He showed up in mighty ways and these are just the tip of those ways that I could put into words. In truth, it’s all much deeper than all this.
I’ll leave you with this – God is good, all the time.