My Birthday, Another First

Unlike most people, I looked forward to turning sixty. I longed for it. I would be that much closer to retirement. Curt and I had such plans. We even hoped to co-author a book. But God, in His wisdom, called Curt home, and I had to face my 59th year alone. So, as my birthday approached, I dreaded the date. Curt wasn't here to celebrate this milestone with me. It now felt anti-climatic.

The morning of my birthday, I lay awake in bed with my eyes shut. A memory filtered into my thoughts. It happened on a Sunday afternoon over 35 years ago. My family had enjoyed lunch around our dining room table with our pastor in attendance, who happened to be Curt. Of course, we had no idea what the future had in store. He was just a new friend.

After lunch, while my mom puttered around in the kitchen and everyone had gone their own way, Curt and I sat at the dining room table playing a game of Scrabble. Most of the tiles were on the board. We each had only a couple more tiles to play. An X lay just two spaces from a triple word square. It was Curt's turn.

I had a dilemma. Curt was ahead of me by several points, and my two remaining tiles were an S and an E. Did I dare use the word 'sex' to win the game? I mean, this was my pastor—a single, good-looking man. On the other hand, that one word would turn the game in my favor. Of course, maybe Curt would take that spot and remove the temptation. I sat with bated breath to see what he would do.

Unaware of the battle going on in my head, Curt took his turn. He placed his tiles far from the X.

It was my turn. I looked at my tiles for just a moment longer. If I threw caution to the wind, I'd gain 30 points and win the game. The competitive side of me plunged forward and placed S and E in front of the X.

Curt's head shot up, and he looked at me in exaggerated shock. But when he saw my blush and the happy grin on my red face, he burst out laughing. That may have been the moment I won his heart.

As I lay in bed on the morning of my first birthday without Curt, it dawned on me that I was smiling. The memory, so precious and beautiful, filled me with gratitude and joy that lasted all day. What should have been a terrible day of sorrow, completely turned around. I hadn't thought of that day in my life for years. Just a simple memory, but God used it to change an entire day. No one can comfort us as God can. His healing oil reaches into the deepest crevices of our brokenness and pain.

He heals the brokenhearted and bandages their wounds. (Psalm 147:3 NLT)
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. (Matthew 5:4 NASB)

I thank God for the special times He intervenes like this. But there are still days when God doesn't spare me the sadness of my new circumstances. Recently, I attended the funeral of a man from our former church. When Curt resigned, Bob pulled him aside and told him, "Wherever you go, I want you to come back and do my funeral." This precious saint passed away this August, only a few years shy of 100, and instead of Curt doing his funeral, I imagine Curt greeted Bob at the heavenly gates. As I sat at the funeral, these were the thoughts running through my mind. I enjoyed seeing so many people from our former church—people whose lives intersected with ours for a moment in time. Curt had officiated so many funerals in that building. We were there together and left together, but this time as I exited the doors of the funeral home, I walked out alone. It is my cross to bear, and God does not spare me from all the pain just like he didn't spare His Son. But He does strengthen my faith.

I recently read something in the Griefshare devotional that accurately explains the difficulty and blessing of loss:

Heidi, a widow, says, “People would say to me, ‘Heidi, I just wish I had some of your strength.’ And one of the things that I would say to them was, ‘If you’ve gone through the situations in your life like I have, then you would have the strength that I have.’ I’ve experienced a lot of things in my walk with God that have strengthened me. I think because I know who God is and I know His faithfulness in my life, I was able to say that this is not going to knock me down. This is a hard thing, but I have to trust in God.”

Through a Season of Grief, Griefshare Daily Devotional

I think the key to growing in faith amid grief is to remember the character of God. I honestly believe that if Eve had taken the time to contemplate God's friendship with Adam and her, she would have recognized the devil's lies. I'm certainly not saying that I'm better than Eve. Not at all. There were times in my life when I, too, forgot to focus on God's character. The enemy of our souls loves nothing more than for us to turn our anger on God for taking our loved ones away from us. This kind of response causes the devil to do a happy dance, knowing he can keep us imprisoned in our misery for as long as our anger lasts. He will feed that anger and keep us trapped as long as possible.

As Americans, we grow up hearing that we have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It's a right we cherish and protect. But applying that sort of pride and thinking to things that matter for eternity puts us in opposition to the teachings of Jesus. He told the crowd who came to hear Him, "If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, 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, you will save it." (Luke 9:23-24)  

When God called Curt home, I stood at a T in the road. Two options lay before me. I had to choose between my innate rights, which would justify anger at God for causing me to lose my happiness, or choose to die to my plans and submit and even embrace the cross, the burden, the heartache, and the loneliness with humility and trust.

The thing staring me in the face—what I cannot ignore—is the character of God. No matter what has happened to me, God is still the same. He will not leave me or forsake me. (Deuteronomy 31:6) I know that though I have to walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I have nothing to fear, for God is with me. (Psalm 23:4) I know that when He has tested me, I will come forth as gold. (Job 23:10) I know that God's goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. (Psalm 23:6) And because I know my God, I am confident that after I have suffered a little while, He will restore, support, and strengthen me, and He will place me on a firm foundation. (1 Peter 5:10)

So on the morning of my birthday, as I climbed out of bed still smiling from that sweet memory of what I had the privilege of experiencing long ago, I began to get ready for my day. As I sat before the make-up mirror, my heart bubbled over with such joy, I closed my eyes and lifted my hands to the heavens to worship God by singing:

All that thrills my soul is Jesus,
He means more than life to me
And the fairest of ten thousand,
In my blessed Lord I see.

Author: Thoro Harris


Anneliese Dalaba

January 19, 2022