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.
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
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.
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.