But as I said before, grief is cyclical. Sometimes, from nowhere it seemed, those feelings of sadness would appear again. They were not as intense and did not last too long, but I still needed to grieve when they came.
Cliff and I went to see “Steel Magnolias” when it came out in 1989. I sat in the darkness of the theater and heaved deep sobs into Cliff’s shoulder.
In August of 1996, I was in Colorado Springs for a retreat with a small group of women friends. I cannot remember why we visited the baby wing of hospital while there, but we did, and it shook up bits of memory that I knew better than to push back down. The young man who would eventually become my son-in-law wrapped his arm around my shoulders and gave me the steadying I needed to regain my equilibrium.
There were probably other times the grief returned for brief visits, but these are the two I remember well.
In all the years since Allison’s death, I have freely shared with people who were hurting, I have handed out hundreds of copies of the recording made, I have prayed for many, many people dealing with grief. I know it’s not necessary to say much. I know the kind of embrace that’s needed. But in all those years, I have not listened to that recording again. When the grief occasionally surfaced, I embraced it, but I never went to that tender place willingly. I have never tried to write about the loss until I wrote the poem, “Allison,” a few years ago. Then my daddy died and I needed to remember some things.
The other thing I have wrestled with in recent days is the expression of my faith. I have spent most of my life in Christian church groups. I grew up going to church and found most of my friends there. I married a man who was a pastor, so my primary circle of influence was among believing Christians. In the last few years, as Cliff moved from pastoring/counseling to full-time counseling and I stepped more fully into the writing world, I have wrestled with how to be open and honest about my faith in a circle of friends and acquaintances who often look at the world and wonder how there can be a God who allows such suffering. I heard a sermon recently that gave me a new frame of reference for this question.
If you look at a mountain range from a distance, it seems to be a single line of mountains, but if you look at it from the air, it’s easy to see that there are usually at least two ranges with a valley between them. Let's say the plain on the western side of the ranges represent the time before Christ came. There are many, many promises in the Old Testament of a coming messiah who would bring order, peace, and an end to suffering.
Then Jesus came and fulfilled some of those promises, but not all of them. He lived, taught his followers, and said very plainly that the Kingdom of God had come here on the earth. Then he was crucified, dead and buried. As Christians, we believe he rose from the dead and ascended to God the Father. As a result, God gave us access to himself and sent his Spirit as an embraceable entity into the world. We’ll consider this point in history the western range of mountains, or the Now.
Jesus promised to return and make a final end of evil, sickness and suffering. As Christians, we believe this will happen at some point in time. The disciples believed it would happen in their lifetime. Toward the end of his life, Paul was beginning to understand that wasn't the way things were going, but it didn't change the fact that the promise to return was real. So we’ll consider this final promised return the eastern mountain range in our imaginary picture, or the Not Yet.
Why has he waited so long? I don’t know. I told you from the beginning that I’m not a theologian. But I do believe that we live in the valley between the Now and the Not Yet. The Now gives me access to God’s spirit who speaks, changes my heart, makes healing and wholeness a reality. But I also live with the reality of the Not Yet. Brokenness, sickness, suffering, death, and evil still exist in my world.
I can choose to live in the shadow of either mountain.
Sharing the story of Allison’s death has given me several things. I have remembered her in a new way, re-examined the grieving process, and entered into it again with grace and faith as I let go of my daddy. This “telling” has given me the chance to see if I could share faith in a way that my non-Christian readers could hear. It has given me courage to walk in the shadow of the Now without ignoring the Not Yet, but keeping my focus where I want it to be. I am simply one who has taken my own journey through this valley and found God faithful.
His promise to us was that he would use Allison’s death more than he could have used her life. She continues to prove him true.
Thank you for taking this journey with me.