Welcome to the season of anniversaries! Like many of you, our anniversary is in May and this Friday we will be celebrating 11 years together. In that time we have shared 9 addresses, served 4 churches, had 3 children with one in heaven and the fourth child due this July. I can’t imagine life with a better person than her!
Earlier this month we also had our second annual Bennett’s Bash fundraiser where we raised over $100,000 for St. Jude. It was such an incredible night! Event Chair, Meg Reavis, the committee chairs, Brooke Bergman and Jennifer Stricklin, and their team members deserve so much praise for their efforts. They paved the way for hundreds of people to join the fight and St. Jude is blessed because of it! And it’s not too late to still donate! You can click here to make a donation online until June.
But the biggest recent anniversary was three weeks ago. It was the one year anniversary of Bennett passing away. We talk about that being the day the cancer died…and it is. But it’s also inescapable that when the cancer died, it took Bennett from our arms. So, when I woke up on tuesday morning, April 28th, I was more than surprised when I listened to the first words out of Megan’s mouth.
“This is a good day.”
Yes…she said that…and not with sarcasm. I was more than a little taken back by her statement and immediately began to look through the hopeful lens that God had obviously already reminded her of. I remembered the verse our pastor read during the welcome of Bennett’s celebration of life service.
“Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.” 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14
Megan was right. April 28th, 2015 was a great day and we were able to grieve with hope. Now…the days leading up to it were some of our worst yet. In fact the entire week leading up to it was just painful. We remembered every day of Bennett’s last week like it was yesterday. We recalled every doctor conversation…every scan…every phone call to family and friends…and every conversation with Davis and Reide about what was happening to Bennett. But when the sun broke through on April 28th, the pain was lifted. Rather than feeling like I was a year further removed from my son, I realized I was year closer to seeing him again in heaven.
And so we celebrated. We rejoiced in the fact that Bennett was celebrating his 1-year-in-heaven birthday. We ate cupcakes, wrote notes to Bennett on balloons and released them up to heaven. We received more little blessings that day than I can recall. Our friends called us, sent us messages, surprised us with gifts and multiple deliveries of cookies! (I guess people have heard that pregnant Megan has a weakness for cookies!) We even had someone ambush us in the line of Chick-fil-A and pay for our dinner. We felt so loved and we could not be more appreciative of the way many of you made sure we didn’t feel forgotten.
As I got ready for bed that night, I remember thinking how ridiculous it was that the anniversary of my son’s death had been a good day. How is that even possible?! It’s because the verse I shared earlier is absolutely true. We grieve with hope…and hope changes everything!
You may be approaching a difficult anniversary too. You may know someone rapidly approaching a difficult day as well. I want you all to be able to grieve with hope as we do. Jesus makes that possible and I want to share with you how.
1. Remember where hope comes from.
It’s no secret that Megan and I approach all of life through the lens of what we learn from The Bible. It teaches us that in the context of a daily surrender to Jesus and relationship with Him, there is hope that this life will not defeat us.
“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you.” 1 Corinthians 15:55-58
“Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him. Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken.” Psalm 62:5-6
No other religion promises hope. I unapologetically promise you that your strength in grief is directly tied to your closeness to Jesus. As you approach painful anniversaries, find ways to remind yourself of what God has done for you. Remind yourself of His faithfulness, provision and goodness. Read about heaven and verbally thank God for removing the sting of death.
2. Remember where your tears come from.
Having your hope and strength in Jesus does not mean you won’t cry. You will…they are just different tears.
“Jesus answered, ‘Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” John 4:13-14
When you grieve with hope, your tears come from a different place…they are the overflow of living water Jesus places in your soul. With hope, tears no longer drain you but they refresh you. I am so glad that Megan and I gave ourselves permission to weep long and hard leading up to the anniversary. It is important to not run from these moments of overwhelming emotion but rather place yourself in safe places at safe times to unleash the tears of hope.
3. Remember the future.
The first thing Megan and I did after dropping the kids off at school on Bennett’s one year heaven birthday was drive to Baton Rouge and sit on the banks of the Mississippi River. When Bennett passed, we spread his ashes in the river and it has been such a special place for us ever since. As we sat and looked at the fast paced flow of the water, we talked about our dream of one day retiring to a home somewhere along the river. We talked about heaven and laughed as we wondered if people in heaven take family pictures once they are reunited with loved ones. We talked about what we pray our next 10-15 years look like…in ministry and for our family.
In those several minutes of purposefully looking forward, I experienced a type of comfort I did not expect. I was reminded that God is not finished with our story. Patience will produce endurance and God’s best is yet to come.
“I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:14
You don’t get over the loss of a child. But you can get through it. One of the ways God is getting us through the difficult days is reminding us of the future. While we don’t know the individual steps in our future, we know the destination.
I hope you never have to grieve. But I know many of you already are or will in the future. I also know that it is possible to grieve with hope and can’t imagine walking this path without it. I’ll leave you with the words of this poem:
Because of You, the dead are raised,
Because of You, our future is safe,
Because of You, our tears overflow
From the living water deep in our souls
Because of You, we can cry with hope
Because of You.