Today marks the third year since Dan died. I started to write third anniversary, and while technically correct, it’s not a connotation I want to think about.
Three years seems, in one sense, like another lifetime. But really, it feels like he was just here. For months, I kept Dan’s leather briefcase right where he’d left it, next to his chair in the living room. As if any minute he’d stride through the door with that big smile and we’d pick back up where we left off. The books he was reading are still stacked on the bedside table with his Costa Del Mars perched on top. And I have no plans to clean out his junk drawer, heavy with buck knives and boyish trinkets and the smell of pipe tobacco. It’s comforting to look at his stuff still filling up our house and I want my kids to see his fingerprints all over our home.
But, man, so much life has happened in these three years. Good stuff, like our first son getting engaged and married and graduating college. And another starting college and landing his first big internship, packing up and moving out west. Dan wasn’t here to worry with me when our daughter flew (by herself) seven time zones away to work in Ethiopia for the summer. Or to see two of his boys run track for the first time and another start varsity football. In these three years, our 6- and 8-year-olds asked Christ to be their Savior and have been baptized. They’ve learned to read and ride bikes and mow the lawn.
And there is the mercy.
That God continues to give us life in the suffering. One doesn’t stop for the other. Moments of joy intersect affliction. It’s not sequential or linear. But woven into the days of despair for what is no more and what will never be again, God is and His hope resuscitates.
As the paramedics worked on Dan, I could utter only one prayer. “Have mercy on us, God. O God, have mercy on us.” Till my dying day, I will shout from the rooftops that God is Faithful and True. He has been merciful.
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He could have kept Dan here for another 20 years. He could have prevented it altogether. But Christians aren’t immune from suffering. We don’t get a pass. God allowed our suffering and in His great mercy He has been very present in very practical ways and in very personal details. I could count hundreds of ways that God has lifted my head, given hope, guided decisions, straightened out my thinking, restored emotions, provided our need, blessed us, loved us.
“The eternal God is your refuge,
and underneath are the everlasting arms.” (Deut. 33:27)
“In the midst of affliction, my table is spread” wrote the Scottish hymnist James Montgomery.
My whole life I prayed against suffering. I see now that God’s mercy doesn’t keep us from suffering, but keeps us in suffering. O give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good; His mercy endures forever.
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Edited to add: This is a video produced by the talented media folks at our church, First Baptist Jacksonville, as part of a series on prayer in difficult days. Prayer — both our prayer and the prayers of others on our behalf — absolutely, hands-down, carried us through our most difficult days. I am forever grateful.