From the Valley of the Shadow of Death

This post is an excerpt from my book Learning to See Beauty in the Wreckage, which will publish later this year.

I often think about the grief my grandparents experienced when an aunt I never knew died as a one month old baby to whooping cough.

The anticipation of pregnancy.
The joy of a new arrival.
The excitement of each new day with your baby.

But then.

The grief of losing your newborn.
The sadness of what could have been.
The despair accompanying each passing day.

After Judy’s death, my grandparents visited the cemetery each Sunday. It just so happened that the cemetery was next to a church. And while my grandparents were not people of faith, the church family would join my grandparents in their pain and suffering, comforting them, consoling them, and walking alongside them in their loss.

Through their loving kindness and compassion, my grandparents began to follow Jesus.

And man, this story tears me up everytime I share it, because my grandparents were not planning to have any more kids once Judy was born. But as a result of her premature death, they decided to have one more child.

That child was my dad.

And I am only here on this earth, very literally, because Judy died as a one month old baby.

It is tragic and horrible and beautiful. But these are the tensions we hold together right now.

Let me be clear. God did not make her die. God did not need another angel. God wasn’t testing anyone’s faith. God didn’t have a better plan for her. God was not sitting on high like a great marionette orchestrating this death for some greater good.

We live in a world that is suffering under the weight of immense pain and suffering and death in the present. But even in our pain, even through our suffering, even in the throes of death, God is there with us, surrounding us, holding us, hurting with us, grieving with us. And even in the most painful and horrific situations, God can still bring healing, still bring life, still bring transformation, and still bring hope.

God does not cause death. But God can bring life and beauty from it.

For all the pain my grandparents experienced. For all of their sufferings. For all of their grieving tears and burdened, sleepless nights and heartaches, did they know that I would be sitting here, writing these words of life and love and hope to each one of you?

And is it possible that the same eyes that shed tears of sadness on the fertile ground will one day shed tears of joy for the seeds I have planted in that ground?

Is it possible that their days of great loss and great sorrow can be redeemed, at least in a small way, through a lifetime of gratitude, joy, and blessing that I experience and pass on to others?

Is it possible that a young life did not pass away in vain but can be honored with what I do with my life, how I live it, and how I pass it on?

Beauty can, and will, come from this wreckage and devastation.

Suffering, as an end destination, is nothing but wreckage and devastation and hopelessness. It is a wasteland where nothing good is found and where misery and brokenness reside. It is the valley of the shadow of death.

But suffering, as a transformative passageway, is the ground upon which beauty flourishes, where hope is birthed. It is the morning light, the dawning of a new day, from which the first hopeful rays break over the distant horizon of the valley that causes the darkness to flee.

You may not trust these words now, but there is hope in your pain and suffering.

From the outside looking in, pain and suffering as a transformative passageway where beauty begins to spring forth, is completely counterintuitive. It is upside-down thinking to the logical mind. But for the contemplative seeker, for the humble mystic, it is the power of God that brings life from death.

Again, it’s not that we actively seek out painful situations, or enjoy our sufferings.

Suffering is a natural inevitability of this life experience that we all will face and enter into at some point in our lives.

But there is an awareness and trust that begins to develop within the contemplative seeker and the humble mystic in understanding that no matter the degree or type of suffering we are experiencing, there is something beautiful at the core of our being, at the very center of our humanity, being birthed deep within us, that transforms our pain and suffering into something extraordinarily beautiful. We are being forged with a depth and resilience into something invaluable and useful and magnificent when we are willing to face our pain and walk headfirst into our suffering, in a posture of humility, that leans into the Spirit.

For it is in this place where the transformation begins, both within us and then ultimately through us for the benefit of others.

Peace…

Brandon

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