The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.  . . . they will see the glory of the Lord, the splendor of our God. Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way; say to those with fearful hearts, “Be strong, do not fear; your God will come . . .”

Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert. The burning sand will become a pool . . 

. . . they will enter Zion with singing . . . Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away. (Isa.35: 1-7, 10)

 

On Monday, November 25, 1996, I had an overwhelming taste of the desert — a whole mouthful of sand, you might say. In the pre-dawn hours, my husband Mike collapsed and died of a heart attack at the age of 46.

It may sound strange when I say that although I’d been diagnosed with depression three weeks earlier, I was in a stronger place than at any previous time in my life. Despite my emotional struggles and in response to Mike’s persistent prayers, God had brought me to the point where I trusted Him completely.  I was exactly where I needed to be to look to Him, depend on Him, and hear from Him.

I was sound asleep when I heard the crash in the kitchen that morning at 5:15. It was followed by a stangled-sounding voice calling my name. Mike was on the kitchen floor, gasping for breath when I reached him. I called an ambulance and knelt beside him while I stayed on the line. A minute later, he stopped breathing. The nurse on the line told me how to start CPR. Within five minutes, the paramedics were at the door and took over.

As I walked down the hall to get dressed, I prayed. “Please Lord, don’t take Mike away from me,” I pleaded. “I can’t live without him.” God answered: “The righteous perish, and no one ponders it in his heart; devout men are taken away, and no one understands that the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil.  . . . they find rest as they lay in death.” Later I would find these words in Isa. 57:1-2. They were words I had read before, but never memorized. (If I needed it, these scriptures were proof that I wasn’t me coming up with them on my own. At that moment, I could hardly remember my name.) Then God said, “Be careful what you ask me for. There are worse things than death.”

I changed my prayer. I asked God to do what was best for Mike. Then, there were two things I knew with certainty — that Mike was gone, and that God would be with me.

God’s words to me gripped me and held me as I moved forward to do what needed to be done in the hours ahead. They gave me a firm place to stand for all the days and months and years that have followed. I have never questioned God’s goodness in taking Mike, and I have never felt anger because of his death. From the profound depth of Mike’s loss came an equally deep gratitude for having him for the 24 years of our marriage. In life, I had ever felt I deserved him. He did far more for me than I ever did for him.

That only served to underline how much more I don’t deserve the love of God, the sacrifice of Jesus. But with God, it’s not about deserving, it’s about love. In Jesus, love truly, absolutely and definitively conquers all. Unlike Mike, Jesus never has to leave me behind and never will. I can never outlive the constant presence, the unquestioned loyalty, the unfailing love and the pure purposes of God for me, his beloved.

Here’s what I’ve learned:

In the desert of pain, loneliness and grief, the sand burns and shifts underfoot. The winds of adversity hurl the grit against me so that it stings, obscuring my vision, making even breathing difficult. But in these conditions, Jesus shelters me in His arms, holding me close to his heart. I don’t have to struggle alone; I’m carried by Someone who will never falter. I don’t have to know where we’re headed, because He does. He will help me get where I need to be, taking me through the necessary steps along the way. I will feel all the pain of my loss, but He will share it. In the sharing, I’ll discover new spiritual depths, fresh understanding, sharper perspectives. Most of all, I’ll have a fuller appreciation of of God’s grief over the loss of every child of His who decides to chose death over life.

The wilderness I began by trudging through did in fact have blossoms. I had loving support from many. I had my two children, and helping them through their own grief gave me a purpose outside of myself. Although there were many, many hard days and nights, God was there with me in every one of them. My feeble hands and weak knees began to get stronger.

Then I suddenly came to a gushing stream of music. I began to receive spiritual songs — both words and music — in what might be described as a torrent. Over a 30-day stretch, there were 33 songs, and many more followed. I said at the time that it was like standing at the base of a waterfall. I couldn’t empty one bucket before the next one was full. Each song was another place where the desert was blooming — green and growing evidence of new life and God’s glory. For me, it was God saying “I love you” over and over and over. My heart started to sing again.

Then God brought me Kevin to not only share my life, but the music He had given. We have been blessed with many opportunities to share God’s encouragement and love with others over the years. Gladness and joy have overtaken us.

Today, on this anniversary, I again thank and praise God that in the desert, I have seen His glory.