Kim Gunderson is one of those people who leaves a lasting imprint on your heart, even if you only just met her. That’s how it was for me after meeting Kim at the She Speaks conference last July. We sat together at one of the meals and talked for a bit, and I just knew from those few moments she was someone who had been anointed by God to encourage moms and dads and love on others who were hurting and needed hope. Her writing is honest and beautiful, and often brings me to tears. I’m so honored to be able to share this guest post from Kim.
Have you ever wondered if God has a sense of humor? Last month, Jelise reached out to ask if I’d like to write a guest post for her blog. I’d love to! I quickly responded. After chatting, I decided to write about the one thing I believe many need to hear: hope. Hope that there is more to life than what we see. Hope that God is real and he really does mean all that his Word says. Hope that pain and sorrow don’t last forever. Hope that joy really does come in the morning.
As quickly as I settled on the topic, I tumbled headlong into the darkest pit I’ve experienced in years. A pit so deep, I wondered if I’d ever see light again. The feeling of hopelessness stormed my heart with the fierceness of a midwest thunderstorm. Funny how God allows that to happen – a return to hopelessness just as I need to write about hope.
The month of March is pretty significant for my family. Not only is it my birthday month, but nestled right in the beginning is the anniversary of my youngest daughter’s death.
Yes, I’m one of those moms, a mom who lost a child living everyone’s worst nightmare. The kind you’ve heard about, aren’t sure how to react once you meet, and who often surprise people into silence when asked, how many kids do you have? After all, how do you respond when someone shares, two by choice, two by birth and the youngest of those two is in heaven?
My youngest daughter, Emma, was born into a blended family 15 years ago. She arrived two weeks early and kept me on my toes every moment after. For 5 years, Emma brought pure joy as her giggles filled our home and her squeezes made any day better. She belonged to all five of us and truly completed our family.
Five years, one month, and fifteen days after Emma was born, she breathed her last, right on the second day of March. A normal day became a defining day, forever altering my life. A fire destroyed my home and snatched my sweet girl away. (You can read more about that story here or here).
To say I fell headlong into a pit that day would be like saying Chicago weather is unpredictable. Obviously.
What wasn’t so obvious was how I was going to survive. Yes, I knew Jesus. Yes, I believed in him, in his Word. I mean, I worked for him (translation: I work at a church). But this? Living life on earth without my sweet girl? Living the tenuous and tender dance of joy and sorrow, love and grief, loss and hope? I didn’t want to simply survive this season of my life. I was determined to not allow it to define me. Or control me. Or keep me trapped in sorrow as my soul yearned to live.
Perhaps you can relate. Maybe you see threads of your own story interwoven among mine. Tears well up, blurring the screen because you know. You know exactly what I’m talking about – that pit of darkness where hope seems absent. You. just. know.
“Let all that I am wait quietly before God, for my hope is in him.” Psalm 62:5 NLT
The years following Emma’s death felt like perpetual winter. C.S. Lewis penned it this way: Always winter, and never Christmas. Waiting through the frigidness of this season became my new normal. Waiting for our house to be rebuilt. Waiting for the waves of grief to subside. Waiting to see God work, to make sense of this tragedy. Waiting to survive, to see beauty even in the sorrow. There was beauty during those years, just as there’s beauty on a winter morning as sun strikes the snow, causing it to sparkle like diamonds. Beauty surrounded us through the gifts of strangers, friends, and family. Gifts of time and resources replaced clothes and furniture, and ultimately built a beautiful new home where devastation had once reigned.
During the waiting, God provided strength to bury my sweet Emma’s body, courage to choose to trust Him, no matter what. He provided peace in the midst of chaos, and filled me with hope that His Word was true, that He knew what He had allowed and would use it for good. He drew me closer, calling others to do the same. He revealed His faithfulness through His constant presence, His whispered words of comfort, His tender declarations of love. His Truth became alive as it showed up real and tangible throughout my everyday life. He met me in the darkness of the pit and shone brightly through the love and hope and patience of his Son, Jesus.
“For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.” Isaiah 43:19 NLT
A couple of years ago the thaw began and I started to see the “something new” that God promised. The trauma and chaos of the previous years subsided, and peace reigned. Christmas finally arrived. The days of sorrow lessened to moments. While memories of Emma still brought tears, they soothed my soul even as I yearned to hold her once more. Healing, deep, full-thickness healing occurred and I longed to embrace the beauty of spring. The dark days were behind me and life felt good again.
Until I fell into that pit a short few weeks ago. This year marked the 10th anniversary of the fire and Emma’s death. Ten years of living without her. Ten years of wondering what she’d look like, what her likes and dislikes would be. Ten years of sorrow, and ten years of experiencing God’s faithfulness each and every day.
One day as the darkness hovered near, I felt the pull to head outside to breathe the fresh air, sweeping away the cobwebs that clouded my mind. As I walked around the little lake near my rented home, I noticed it had begun to thaw. Sure, the ice was still thick towards the middle, but the outer edges had been released from its grip and the water flowed with ease. A perfect visual of the journey of my heart.
The air was warmer, too, and it felt like spring, full of hope. Yes, my soul was weary and weighty as sorrow interrupted my life once more, much like the melting snow and ice I traipsed through on my walk. As I walked, I was reminded of this hope: spring is coming. There is absolutely nothing I can do, nothing that can happen, that will stop it. I can’t wish it away, or wish it to come sooner. I can’t hide away and hibernate until its arrival. I need to walk through its ugly thaw, brown and wet and dirty. I need to take every sloshy step, feet wet, hem of my pants soaked, one step at a time, believing that beneath the ugliness of the thaw, beauty yearns to burst forth.
We don’t want the messiness, though, do we? We long for the beauty of spring’s flowers yet dread traipsing through the messiness of spring’s thaw. But the thaw is necessary for growth, providing nourishment for the months to come. Hope is a bit like that. It looks messy and uncertain, ugly and inconvenient yet so vital for our growth. Hope is like trudging through the frigid waters of melting snow, slipping in its muddy wake, shifting our eyes from the mess and fixing them on the Maker. It takes patience and strength and great courage to allow the spring thaw do its work in our hearts, to trust that work even when we can’t see the beauty just yet.
“And the Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.” Isaiah 58:11 (ESV)
Yes, God does have a sense of humor, and he is at work, calling hope forth from our sorrow. He’s creating something beautiful through our circumstances and in our lives, even those messy and painful parts. I suppose the question remains, are you willing to endure spring’s thaw so you can embrace the beauty of its flowers?
Kim recently admitted she’s a true Midwesterner at heart, having lived in the Chicago area for the majority of her life. She loves watching the seasons change, especially as winter gives way to spring. Kim has raised four kids – two by birth, two by choice, and recently welcomed a son-in-law into her family. She’s the author of Breathing in Ashes, a memoir that shares her story of hope after the death of her youngest daughter. She also blogs over at www.abigumbrella.com and is a contributing writer for Ask God Today Ministries.
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