The Empty Grave Conundrum

We provided a typical Easter holiday for our children: Church where they learned about Jesus’s sacrifice, pretty dresses with white patent shoes, dyed eggs, and chocolate delivered by a generous rabbit who responded to their questions despite having an impossible schedule to keep. They learned that the Easter Bunny’s name is Hobie and his handwriting looks surprisingly like mine if I were to write with my left hand. Since we are Southern where spring is in full bloom by late March, we always took pretty pictures besides budding azaleas.

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Despite my longing for it to go backwards, the calendar plods on toward Easter – our second without Kylie. You might think we are getting in a groove by now, but we aren’t. Little things dig deep. Tears seem to come less frequently, but the heartache turns up like that last plastic egg you find in September because the kids gave up the hunt to eat the ears off of their chocolate bunny.

Church is hard. That statement doesn’t mean we believe any less, but finding a medium between the loving, sovereign God we know and our painful experience is a difficult climb. Still, every day we shove our toes into our boots, strap on our gear, and prepare to ascend knowing that we will likely stumble and fall several times.

I believe… I doubt.  I believe… but why?  I know… but this hurts.  I step forward… I fall…

Maintaining faith when you’re hurting can be like climbing Kilimanjaro during a rock slide.

We just can’t be at the church that we attended previously. Since Kylie’s school is a church we tried there, too. While we will be forever grateful for the boundless love each congregation supplied over the past two years, both places scream Kylie. She performed on their stages and it is impossible not to dwell on her no matter who is singing or preaching. The only face we saw was hers, which made it hopeless to get anything out of the service.

 

Sunday we sat at a different church and sang an unfamiliar song called Remember by Passion:

My heart hangs on every word that you speak
I need You, Lord come find me, Holy Spirit breathe
I’ve been walking through deserts
I need more of Your Presence
I’m weak Savior be my strength

I’m there, engaged in every word!  I’m in the desert and oh, so weak. I’m all ears until the chorus:

Down in the valley, when waters rise
I’m still believing, hope is alive
All through the struggle and darkest day
I’ll remember the empty grave

 

tomb

And there it is: The grave. When considering the grave, my mind used to drift back to an old laminated Sunday School picture: a cave entrance with the unfortunate sleeping guards and a large stone rolled to the side. But now… Now I can picture only one grave – a real grave. And that grave is full. I watched the coffin close. I saw the hole. I’ve seen the new grass grow over top of it. It isn’t empty. It holds someone I dearly love.

Easter. Oh, how I wish for the simple, bunny days when my faith was unwavering!

I wept. I wept so hard in this new church that my shoulders heaved and the people behind me had to wonder what was wrong with the 6’3” baby with his bad-boy penguin tattoo. But it wasn’t the church this time, it was me.

It was the counter-intuitive pull of my lifelong belief in the empty grave and the pain of the one that is full.

What a conundrum. How could He do this to me? How could He rise yet leave my little one behind? Thoughts about graves swirled – the old cave and the lush hill beside a pond where we laid Kylie. She stayed, He didn’t.

But if my theology is right, she didn’t really stay. She left that cancerous shell behind and now they are together. Because of His empty grave, hers is empty, too. Yes, this I know and yes, this I believe. I can reason it, but I still sometimes can’t feel it.

And as I put my feelings from church onto paper, I notice two predominant pronouns: I and me.

Oh Lord, if only to divorce myself… to understand that this life isn’t mine, just like Kylie’s wasn’t hers. I am here to love others and point them toward you. My ultimate goal is to find the rest in you that my daughter is now enjoying.

I pray that and I want it to be so. Rationally I know it, but church is still hard wherever I worship – a fact that may never change. I might not ever summit that mountain, but maybe… Maybe I can help others face their climb and hold their ropes when they slide backwards.

 

KylieEaster035

 

We won’t hide eggs this year. I won’t write a left-handed note. I miss that stuff, those were fun years. Likewise, Kylie isn’t coming back and the truth is, she wouldn’t want to. She waits for me in paradise because of the empty grave of Christ.

Jesus, thank you for the cross and for the empty grave that enables me to join Kylie when mine is dug. Help me to live like I know this.

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41 thoughts on “The Empty Grave Conundrum

  1. I have no words for this–you’re a remarkable man and I blessed for having crossed your path. Not that it’s any comfort, but Easter services have always triggered heaving shoulders and sobs for me, too.
    Xo
    Michelle

  2. Your faith and your love are beautiful. It’s so hard to keep believing when you feel your fervent prayers fell on deaf ears. You are very strong to be able to keep your faith alive. It makes me want to shout, “Kylie is risen! Alleluia! Alleluia!”
    Heather S.

  3. He IS with you and you are wonderful for seeing that helping others to find their way to him when sometimes feeling a little lost shows your unending faith.

  4. Mark, I look at the picture of your 4 darling daughters decked out beautifully in their Easter finery, huge smiles and I ask why? Why couldn’t this continue for your family, changing to new traditions as all your girls grew beyond the bunny phase to the promise that Easter brings to all of us. Jesus did leave his grave empty to give Hope to all of us. Yet, that Hope is not always hopeful when you and your family live without Kylie. Your blog always leaves me thinking, hoping, praying, wishing. Thank you for your writing which does help people feel less alone in their grief. For reaffirming that a 2, 3, 4, forever Easter without Kylie does not make a forever loss less, when it is your child!

  5. There is a Christian professor, Tony Campolo, whom I’ve heard and find him “real”. He has a lecture based on a sermon title from his pastor..”Today is Friday, but Sunday’s a-Comin'”. Depression is the cross I’ve been given to bear and sometimes it feels like it’s always Friday, when the world darkened and Jesus cried, “why hast thou forsaken me?” Even when I feel like I’ll permanently be stuck on Friday emotionally, remembering that there was, there is and there will be a Sunday brings me a modicum of peace. Kylie is living a world of Sundays. I pray that makes your Fridays a little bit tolerable.

    1. That is a beautiful sentiment. It is easy to get stuck in our Friday’s. I’ve heard that sermonette. It is powerful. Blessings in the fight against your Friday. .

  6. Reblogged this on In the Wake of Suicide….trying to understand and commented:
    While even those of us who are Christians still struggle with devastating loss it is still up to us to show His strength through our suffering…”to point the way” inspite of our fragile feelings.

    Mark writes from the well of pain after losing his precious daughter to cancer. We are reminded of suffering, sorrow, and new life all in one season. Christ, in His transformation, has given us hope for an eternity. We are of a grateful heart as we smile through our tears.

  7. Mark, as I was reading your words the words of another came to me. One who lost their daughter in the blink of an eye. Tom Caton is his name And God did something very special. Tom had this song, and Tom gave it to me, and I gave Tom some words. And that bond is for ever. Tom writes as well. Tom hurts as well. I may never know why our Father brought us together. I don’t need to.

    http://realchange4u.wordpress.com/

    But I guess you know or know of this song. It evokes so much Loving Imagery when I listen to it – it connects me. And if it does that for you – I guess it may mean a few more heaving shoulders ((hugs))

  8. Oh, Mark – all I can do from this side of my monitor is pray – that the tears of your constant sorrow will water that tiny mustard seed of faith deep inside your heart, and it will grow again, lush and beautiful, as a testimony to Kylie’s beautiful courage and smile. ❤

    1. Thank you Susan. I don’t know if my faith is small or large, but it is misshapen for sure. Not the same as it was before. I have a desperation I’ve never had. And I sometimes think I’m supposed to be here. I don’t like how I got here, but here I am. Thank you for your prayers always, Susan.

  9. Mark, it’s easy to get wrapped up in thr day to day busy world. We stop to celebrate that He has conquered death for our sins, during Easter. I too miss staying up and filling plastic eggs with misc Easter treats, dying eggs and never being able to get that stuff off your fingers afterwards.
    My constant prayer is that we never get too busy to hear what God wants us to do. I believe He is celebrating with Kylie. I also believe he uses extraordinary people on earth, like you and your family, to grow his kingdom. Thank you for making me stop and reflect on your blog. Thank you for being an example for me. I will continue to lift you and your family up in my prayers.

  10. Your faith is indeed very strong Mark, otherwise you would not be struggling like you are. I do not have struggle with faith at all because I never had it before. I prayed and I believed in something higher but I had no expectations and strong beliefs. How I see it from this side is that at least you believe and know you will see Kylie again. I want to believe that I will see Bianka again, but not even that is so clear or believable to me, but I am working on it, because Bianka believed it. I am going to a different church each week until I find the one I feel Bianka would loved. So in my eyes you are the lucky one as for you some things are still very black and white even though other things might be painful and confusing. I guess you can thank your parents for that.

    1. Very true about thanking parents. And yes, some of the belief system is black and white. But I certainly see more colors and gray now. Some legalistic things don’t matter anymore. As my Buddhist friend Everett says, “love is all”. That is a very apt mantra.

      1. Yup Buddhism and pretty much all of the Eastern Religions appeal to me, but I embrace it all- I believe they are just different representation of the same God or Creator depending on the way you were brought up and your culture. I just know that sorrows of our hearts are the same regardless of the religion or faith or culture or color of our skin. Glad you are seeing more colors and gray.

  11. Think of that day that your sweet baby girl was laid to rest as Friday. Then KNOW in your heart of hearts that Sunday is coming, friend. Sunday WILL come and you WILL see Kylie again. I will be lifting y’all up this weekend.

    Lynette

  12. I think it is impossible to go through this experience without doubting our faith. Mine was never strong to begin with and my first instinct was to turn my back on Him just like I felt he had done to me. However, I realized that doing that would take away the only chance I have of seeing Jonathan again and so, we tread on. . . I wish your family a blessed Easter.

    1. That is exactly so. There is the heart reasons of having a faith I’ve believed all my life, but there is also the rational thought of this belief system being the only shot I have at seeing her again. You nailed it. I pray your Easter is good as well.

  13. Just cried my way through reading this – there isn’t a word, a thought or an emotion you describe that I haven’t experienced since we lost one of our four children to the side effects of her cancer treatment in 2014. Thank you for your honesty.

  14. You speak for all bereaved parents with this post.<3 I remember well the same struggles the first two years. We are now heading toward the five year mark of child loss. I'm so thankful, like you, for being able to wrestle these issues out on "pen and paper," having the support of so many other grief parents who "get" it. Though I wouldn't wish this on anyone, I am incredibly grateful for the people I've met the past 4 1/2 years. Gentle ((hugs)).

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