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When the Unexpected Happens
Around this time a year ago, I was working at the Orange Conference down in Atlanta, GA. The conference is an annual gathering of thousands of Kids and Student Ministry workers, leaders, and volunteers. As part of the conference, the Orange Student team gathered all their content contributors for a time of networking and getting to know one another.
It was there I met my friend Casey. We are around the same age and bonded over being dog moms [if you are a dog mom, you understand how real this bond is]. It has been fun over the past year to build a friendship, talk about ministry, family, life, and, of course, share pictures of our dog children.
On March 15, I received a text from Casey letting me know her mom had suddenly passed away. Over the past six weeks, Casey has shared with me her journey with grief, how she’s wrestled with it in her walk with Jesus, and how closure looks a lot different in a season where funerals can’t really happen. I asked if Casey would share some of her story in the hopes it will be an encouragement to many of you, whether you’re experiencing the loss of a loved one, a job, or your best laid plans.
Here’s what she had to say.
I’ve loved stories for as long as I can remember. As a young bookworm, I developed a habit that, admittedly, has carried over into my adulthood reading. Whenever I start a new book, I flip to the very last page and read the ending first, before I even begin page one. It might sound weird, but the truth is, I just want to know what I’m getting into. I want to know how things turn out. I want to know the story’s end before I begin.
I have to say, if I grabbed the story of my life so far off a shelf and read the current ending, I’m not sure it’s the kind of book I’d be in the mood to curl up with on the couch. It turns out, it doesn’t have the ending I expected.
About six weeks ago, my mom passed away suddenly and unexpectedly. She was 55. I’m 29. We were best friends and she was the greatest mother. As you can imagine, this is not how I thought our story would end. This loss has left me in a greater depth of pain than I ever knew existed. I’ve lost sleep, forgotten to eat, and cried more than I knew I could. It has left me asking over and over again, “Jesus, where are you in this?”
It has left me asking over and over again, ‘Jesus, where are you in this?’
In John 11, we read of Martha and Mary asking Jesus similar questions when their brother Lazarus died. They tell Him, “If you had been here, he wouldn’t have died.” They’re basically asking Him, “Jesus, where were you? We called for you. We trusted you. Why didn’t you come?”
Jesus, tender and strong as He is, embraces their questions. He embraces their pain, anger, confusion, and doubt, and He simply asks, “Where have you laid him?” (John 11:34) Where have you laid the body of your beloved brother? Where have you laid down the one you loved and lost?
As the women lead Jesus to their dear brother’s tomb, we get a glimpse of where Jesus is in our grief and pain. Jesus gazes upon this death and loss, and we see,
Jesus wept. So, the Jews said, “See how He loved him!”
Today, so many of us find ourselves in a story we didn’t expect. None of us expected a global pandemic to make an appearance on the pages of our life stories. Our high school seniors did not expect to lose their proms and graduations. We did not expect to lose our jobs, for our loved ones to get sick, or even to lose them the way I lost my mom.
Perhaps in our own seasons of pain and loss, we could glean from the story of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. Perhaps we could be so brave as to bring our questions, anger, and doubt right to the feet of Jesus, no matter how messy it gets. Maybe we could take Him to the place where we have laid down our losses, to the tombs of our plans, employment, health, and even loved ones, and watch as He weeps alongside us. Because as He loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, He loves us, too.
Maybe we could take Him to the place where we have laid down our losses, to the tombs of our plans, employment, health, and even loved ones, and watch as He weeps alongside us.
Jesus is a Savior who chooses to enter into our suffering alongside us. He does not stand at a distance as we grieve but asks us to take Him to the very center of our pain. He embraces our anger and doubt and weeps with us. In this time of so much unexpected grief, loss, and pain, may we always know where to find our Jesus — right here, walking with us in the new story we did not expect. We may not have all the answers or be able to make sense of our pain, but we do know this, He never leaves us to grieve alone.