I pulled weeds yesterday evening from a flower bed that I used to admire without having to labor in it. Of the two of us, Curt was the gardener. Working in the garden was therapeutic for him, especially after a stressful week. While I did the housework inside, Curt worked in the yard. When he finished, he'd call me to look at it. I was always impressed because he did such a praise-worthy job, and I was glad I didn't have to do it. Countless times, I admired the garden from the windows of my house throughout the spring, summer, and even fall. I loved sitting or walking in the backyard and seeing all the plants and flowers. But last night, as I bent over another big weed, pulled with all my might, and threw it on the ground to join the others, my back ached from bending over, and moisture covered my brow. I straightened and looked toward the deck where I used to stand and tell Curt how beautiful it all was. Life was so much better then.
As I looked down at Curt's gardening gloves on my hands, I shook my head. Our dreams for the future didn't look like this. For years we anticipated and planned for retirement. It was almost in our grasp. But without warning, snatched away. We were partners for life. Now I stand alone. I don't love my life the way I used to—the way we had planned it.
This morning I read in Mark 8:34-35 NLT, "If any of you want to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it." Nowhere in the Bible does it tell me that all my dreams will come true here on earth. Look at the cross Jesus had to carry for our sake. It was a far more grueling and humbling cross than the one I have to bear, but He did it for us. There was no other way to save the world from hell. I trust that God took Curt home because there was no other way to accomplish His plans from His perspective. What His plans are, I have no idea. But I do trust Him.
In Hebrews 12:2 NLT the writer said of Jesus. "Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame." Jesus endured the cross by focusing on the joy yet to come. Does that mean that if we honor God by trusting Him when hard times come and accepting our cross without griping or complaining or angrily lifting a fist to God or bringing shame to Him, that there is an extra reward awaiting us in eternity? I don't know, but I know there will be rewards, and I imagine this might be an opportunity to receive one. What I do know is that Jesus showed us by example how we are to endure our cross. Isaiah 53:7 NLT, "He was oppressed and treated harshly, yet he never said a word. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter. And as a sheep is silent before the shearers, he did not open his mouth." Jesus felt every thorn, whip, spit, tearing out of his beard, and slap. Jesus felt the frustration of false accusations from arrogant and ignorant people. Jesus felt the hopelessness of unjust ruling by self-serving political leaders. Jesus felt the nails and dying of his body. He felt grief for those who wept as they knelt at his feet. Yet He led a sinner (the criminal hanging beside him) to salvation by the way He endured the cross.
Take up your cross.
Your cross is what you take up
for the good of others. You need
not like it, not enjoy it—but
you do enjoy the horizon's promise,
a promise of new life.
~ Curt Dalaba
Curt once told me that our cross isn't about what happens to us but what we endure for others. That my husband had cancer and died is not my cross to bear. That happened to me. But facing my loss in such a way that will glorify my Savior and draw people's attention to God, that is my cross. It's something that doesn't come naturally, but I must do it for others. That doesn't mean I shouldn't cry. It doesn't mean I can't say that I'm hurting and still in the process of healing. But, interestingly enough, in Griefshare, I learned that reaching out and helping others while I'm grieving helps in the healing process. As I stared at all I'd lost, God placed a finger under my chin so I would look into His eyes, and by doing so, He gave me the ability to see those around me who are hurting too.
As Jesus hung on the cross, writhing in torturous agony, He looked down at his mother and saw her sorrow. Then He turned his gaze upon John, His disciple, and asked him to take care of her. Although in excruciating pain and dying of thirst, Jesus saw Mary's need.
"We should never allow ourselves to face toward life's glooms; we should never sit down in the shadows of any sorrow, and let the night darken over us into the gloom of despair; we should turn our face away toward the light and quicken every energy for braver duty and truer, holier service. Grief should always make us better and give us new skill and power; it should make our heart softer, our spirit kindlier, our touch more gentle; it should teach us its holy lessons, and we should learn them, and then go on. with sorrow's sacred ordination upon us, to new love and better service. It is thus, too, that lonely hearts find their sweetest, richest comfort."
J.R. Miller, The Ministry of Comfort
If you have just entered grief, it's perfectly normal to feel your loss intensely. You will need that time of deep grieving. But cling tightly to your faith even when you don't understand. There is a deeper level of love for your Savior attainable to you in this new phase of life.
There was so much the disciples didn't understand while Jesus walked this earth. I love the story in the Bible when Jesus is transfigured on the mountain while Peter, James, and John watched. Peter makes a very human suggestion that lacks godly wisdom. The Bible tells us in Mark 9:6, "He (Peter) said this because he didn't really know what else to say, for they were all terrified." I've often smiled when I read this because I understand how Peter must have felt. I probably would have spoken too and then slapped a hand over my mouth in mortification. When I was in deep grief and filled with despair for my future without Curt, I don't remember all I said to God. I'm sure some of it just came out of human emotion. But just like Jesus didn't rebuke Peter, He didn't correct me either. He did, however, guide me when I felt Him asking me, "Do you trust me?" God had just let me down in one of the worst ways possible, and now He asked me if I trusted him. It would seem unreasonable, except that I know that where I'm blind, He has a distinct vision. God knows the things I do not know. And He loved me enough to allow Himself to suffer and stay on that cross to die for my sins. "Yes. Even now, I will trust You." With those words, my despair turned toward hope.
No one knows me as well as God does. I yearn for something but don't know what. He knows the deepest desires of my heart, of which I'm unaware because He knows me better than I know myself. So, my dreams for my future haven't died. I believe they are in the process of being fulfilled. The disciples didn't understand that Jesus had to suffer and die so that everyone would have the opportunity to spend eternity on a New Earth that Jesus has gone to prepare for us. They had been hoping for an undefeatable political leader here on earth to help them defeat their enemies. Their hopes were for this world alone. They didn't get it until Jesus had ascended into heaven. Then they finally understood that it's not about the here and now. It's about eternity. The fulfillment of my dreams is not about this life either. God is far more interested in fulfilling my dreams for all eternity.
In the meantime, I cling to this promise Jesus gave to anyone who will follow and trust Him:
“Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am.
January 19, 2022