Grief has a way of surprising you.
It’s the impish way memory has of trampling in all unexpected and unannounced in moments you least expect and on the most average of days.
It wasn’t ever my dad’s birthday or father’s day or even the anniversary of his death when the sadness came heavy.
No, it was when I walked into the fire station for my four-year-old daughter’s field trip years ago.
A dozen preschoolers clamored for a chance to scramble up into the driver’s seat of the fire engine. I sucked in my breath, blinked tears out of my eyes and then wiped them off my cheek, trying to look natural, like there was just dust in my eye.
My dad was a firefighter.
I explain this to someone else: that sometimes it’s not the days when you are most prepared for grief that are the hardest. But it’s the way an unexpected sound or sight or smell can usher in a memory that just knocks the breath right out of you.
She speaks wisdom in return: Better to have those memories that stir up grief than to completely forget.
Yes, how much better not to forget because, given time, Jesus turns those ashes right into beauty and surely we wouldn’t want to miss the sight.
Somehow even the pain and the tears become sweet when we bring them to Jesus and receive the memory not as bitter loss, but as a precious gift that He gives.
When Mary Magdalene sat outside the empty tomb of Jesus on Resurrection morning, she cried with hopelessness.
Grave-robbers. Defilers. Someone had been in there and taken the body of her Lord.
She still called Him, “Lord” even after she’d seen Jesus hang on that cross. Even when others might have been stunned by the failure of the man they thought was Messiah, still she believes at least this: He is still Lord.
Somehow she clung to belief and managed to carry it even with her sorrow. She held on tight to see what God would do.
After the disciples rushed into the tomb, saw the emptiness and ran back to others with the news. still Mary lingered outside the last place she’d seen Jesus. She “stood outside the tomb crying” (John 20:11).
It’s not to Peter or John that Jesus appears first. He doesn’t rush into the town to show the crowd His resurrected body.
He appears first to this weeping woman at the grave and asks,
“Woman, why are you crying?” (John 20:15)
Jesus met with her in her despair and asked her to bring the grief to Him.
Maybe her eyes were so cloudy with tears or maybe her brain just couldn’t comprehend the matter, but she thinks Jesus is no more than a gardener. So, she begs him to tell her where Jesus’ body may have been moved.
He stops her there, not just in her sorrow, but in her accusation and anger, and He reminds her of His presence by just speaking her name– “Mary.”
Did she recognize the way her name sounded when Jesus spoke it? Did He open her eyes to see what had been veiled before?
Whatever happens, she realizes it’s Jesus Himself, not some gardener laboring over weeds.
“Rabboni!” (Teacher), she yells as she worships a risen Savior. That becomes her testimony and her joy, “I have seen the Lord!”
And over time, slowly and without me ever knowing when it all happened, the memories I used to meet as a shocking reminder of loss have become like dear friends stopping by for a surprise visit.
I’ve learned, like Mary, that God is present even in the places of sorrow.
I think this as I plug in the record player a friend gave me last week.
She brought me this old technology in a brown carry-case and I’ve toted it home and placed it on my kitchen table. I pull out records that I couldn’t listen to before, ease one out of its sleeve and place it on the turntable.
The moment that needle dips down into that first groove, my kids come running to marvel over the mysterious sound.
We listen to some of my dad’s records, and for once I’m not tearful.
It’s sweet. Like the memories alone keep him present.
And I think, how precious that God walks us through the tears and reminds us of His presence even in the brokenness.
How precious that He calls us by name, that He knows our sorrow and even asks us to bring it to Him by asking, “Woman, why are you crying?“
Our Resurrected Savior wipes away tears. But even more than that, He gives us hope for a future that is forever and ever in His presence.
Want to read more about the questions God asks?
Check out my book, Ask Me Anything, Lord, available in paperback and for the Kindle and nook!
Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer and worship leader. Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness. Her book, Ask Me Anything, Lord: Opening Our Hearts to God’s Questions, is available now!
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Copyright © 2013 Heather King