The complexity of grief is that we are dually grieving both a first and second loss. The first loss is what sets us grieving in the first place – cancer snatching our sister too soon, the cruel and unnecessary homicide of a friend, the breaking of trust in a freshly sealed marriage. The second loss is in the knowing realization that we will never be as we were before the first loss. The second loss forces an alteration of faith that must now include, somehow, a God who loves deep and who also allows illness and violence to run rampant. The second loss is what sparks the confusion when you look in the mirror and realize that the same face is looking back at you, but the mind and heart that animate it will never be as they were before the first loss.
A couple years ago around this time, I wrote a blog post titled “Love Without a Parachute” to share about a first loss that my husband and I had experienced in our marriage. The sticky part of this particular event was that we both experienced the first and second losses simultaneously and in very different directions. In short summary, it was one of those moments in marriage of “I don’t recognize myself anymore. And who on earth are you?”
We quickly discovered that we aren’t the only duo who has run into a hiccup in marriage, so in a desperate grasp for a roadmap forward, we picked up two copies of The Meaning of Marriage by Timothy Keller. In his book, he speaks of the importance of seeing the fullness of who your partner is becoming and naming it, even and especially when they can’t see it themselves. He writes,
“Within this Christian vision of marriage, here’s what it means to fall in love. It is to look at another person and get a glimpse of what God is creating, and to say, “I see who God is making you, and it excites me! I want to be part of that. I want to partner with you and God in the journey you are taking to his throne. And when we get there, I will look at your magnificence and say, ‘I always knew you could be like this. I got glimpses of it on earth, but now look at you!”
― Timothy Keller
The beautiful challenge of reading this from the pit of broken trust is that seeing the full potential in each other is nearly impossible, an almost laughable suggestion. Yet in these foggiest moments when Jake and I were relearning how to lean on one another, we had you, our little tribe, right there in the arena with us, sustaining and encouraging and abiding. Quite miraculously, you gifted us with your willingness to brave the tears of deep grief, the awkwardness of growth and self-discovery, and the silence that is needed to start the recalibration. From these sacred grounds of friendship, you faithfully named the light that you saw in us when we were very broken and unsure, and you also looked further ahead to see and name the beauty of who we were still becoming.
This wild ability to name these pieces of Jesus that you saw in us, to speak truth over our lives that we were being made whole, bit by bit, is the sustenance that fueled us to reach the summit. You’ve nourished us with your invitations into spaces of peace – the Kessler’s dinner table receiving confessions about the beauty and hardships of marriage, faithful phone calls from friends dotted all across the country, and camping weekends that made room for silliness and play. Whether knowingly or not, you’ve been showing us all along how extraordinary it is to restore wholeness, how life-altering it is to usher shalom, in community. You have truly been our steady assurance that this too shall pass and be made right; the dawn will break again.
As 2020 has picked up its momentum, we’re starting to see that you were right all along: a much awaited lightness has returned. Laughter is bubbling up without hesitation, authenticity feels natural when there isn’t anything to hide, and we finally have pieces of ourselves to gift to others because we aren’t running below empty anymore. As darkness has given way to light, we’ve been amazed at how much our community’s belief in us and in Jesus paved the way for us to move forward, most especially when our own belief in both was so lacking.
When our faith in Abba was inconsistent at best, nonexistent at worst, you were the little lights that guided us and the crutches that supported us towards rediscovering the wholeness that we have in Jesus. You were the ones who gently reminded that while our vision might be clouded and incapable of seeing God in this mess, he was and is loving us into restored wholeness and peace – where all of our sin, sadness, loss, and trauma will someday crumble away. Your steady reassurances have shepherded us to this in-between space where our Jesus faithfully abides with us, the suffering of the world is swirling in and around us, and there is enough room for both to be real and true.
When our eyes flutter open to the early morning light, we are celebrating that the first and second losses no longer seem to define us. We have been choosing to live in communion with Jesus and with you, our little tribe, long enough to watch the story still unfolding, and we are finally able to look back from the top of the mountain with restored vision of the full picture. Standing high up where the clouds and earth collide, we are now able to catch our own glimpses of the fullness of who we are becoming, of who each other is becoming, of who you are becoming, and lean in. We are finally claiming and living into that peace and wholeness that was promised to us through the boundless grace of Jesus, because you have shown us the way.