Where I’ve Been and Where I’m Going (I of III)

“Still Here and Still His” ~ These words, once Jeremy’s, became my own after his death. They are words that still fuel me when I’m at the end of the day … or at the end of my rope. They are words that promise a future and a hope despite what can be seen or understood. Although I know that it is God who holds the day, the rising and the setting of the sun, and that He calls me His own and I am His,  I need reminders more often than not. It seems these days that grief, once familiar like a friend, has become a burden that I can’t seem to shake off.

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“Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak …
then he said, ‘Let me go, for the day is breaking.’
But Jacob said, ‘I will not let you go, unless you bless me.’”
(Genesis 32:24-26)

The wrestling match between Jacob and God has a context worth knowing. Jacob, who had stolen his brother Esau’s birthright, was about to meet him again for the first time and he feared death. Jacob knew God and he knew that God was with him. He also had done everything he could think of to prepare for his encounter with Esau, sending gifts on ahead and trying to set everything up for his success. Still, he was afraid. It seems that what Jacob needed was not more knowledge of God and His ways but rather an encounter with God: to be touched by Him, moved by Him, marked by Him, renamed by Him. Jacob needed to be blessed by God. And a wrestling match ensued. As the day was dawning, Jacob was told to let go. Your time is up. But Jacob refused to be released into the day because he hadn’t yet received what he most needed, God’s blessing. He would be walking into the future with a stolen birthright; Jacob wanted the real deal. He needed the LORD to make it right.

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The context of the biblical narrative within which Jacob’s wrestling match is told had much greater implications. God was making a new nation, the Israelites, and through them would come the Savior of the world. The blessing of Jacob is critical to our history. We, on the other side of the cross, are living within a blessed state already. Nevertheless, I think we can identify with the emotions behind the story as we await the fruit of the victory that is ours.

I resonate with feeling the necessity for God alone to make things right (don’t we all in various ways?). The life I now live is not the life I once knew, and while there is a continual ache for things to be made right I hardly know what that means or what that is to look like in my life. I have often wondered over the past several months if I am wrestling far too long in this battle, concerned that I am too slow to heal, too slow to discern and understand, worried that I’m squandering all that I already have.

“When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him.” (Genesis 32:25)

It’s been almost three years since those crazy seven weeks unfolded, unraveling some of the most important pieces of life that I had known for over ten years. In those weeks, the supernatural strength that God so often supplies was clearly on display. But what about when the battle grows long, when we are weak and broken and still waiting for a promised blessing? Some days it feels like ages ago that Jeremy died. Those are the days I wonder how it is that my heart hasn’t healed up more. I begin to question God’s intentions and my own ability to receive the life He must long to give me. Other days, Jeremy’s death feels like yesterday. Every image is clear, his life and breath is just one thought away. And I wonder how in the world am I ever going to rise above it all?

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I have a few lovely friends who are widows, too. We gather together and wonder why we struggle through the season changes. We realized one day that no season has been left unmarked for us. Has even one month been left untouched–any celebration, any smell of spring, any thought, any memory, any music–by the men we once wrapped our lives around? Hardly. And just what are we to do with ourselves now? We together fight the inner tug to close up and shut down. We know there is a reason that we are still here, left fumbling around, trying to raise our kids, trying to laugh, trying to love. We long for it to be easy again. We sometimes question if it ever will be. Have we known too much of sorrow? Has it robbed us of unhindered joy? Do we know too much? Or do we not yet know enough? We know that the death of a loved one is never meant to be the slow death of the rest of us. It’s meant to press us onward and heavenward.

They say grief has no time frame but in my mind and heart I think, even still, that it must. I know there must come a point when God calls me forth to begin anew, like Ruth who followed Naomi to a new place and began gathering sheaves of grain, or maybe like Orpah who returned home to begin again, or like the many widows who remain widows for the long haul yet are filled with vitality, life and peace. I don’t so much care how God decides to redeem the broken pieces of my heart and life, I just care that He does. And in this longing for blessing, I refuse to let go. Even though I’ve come to this place of grief not by choice, I refuse to give up the fight. The blessing for me, I expect, is more than something that’s tangible (for I’ve known many tangible blessings over the past three years). Maybe instead, it’s the work that God is doing on the inside of me, in the depths, where I am being remade and where only God knows what will spark life back into my heart. When I grow impatient with myself, which I often do, I try to remember that we can never be released if we aren’t first gathered in. So I look to take comfort in the “shadow of His wings” and trust that the blessing will come.

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“Then he said, ‘You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.'” (Genesis 32: 28)

Jacob was renamed Israel and the LORD blessed him. He walked away limping while the sun was rising upon him. Jacob encountered more hardship and more fears in the years following but I’ll bet he never forgot his match with the LORD where he fought for his blessing, knowing that it was the only thing that would satisfy. I don’t doubt this is a season where God is meeting me face to face, a wrestling match that will leave me changed and blessed. That’s worth hanging on for.

…as Jacob comes to Esau, he tells him, “Please accept my gift that is brought to you, because God has dealt graciously with me, and because I have everything I want.” (Genesis 33:11). 

I hope one day to be the one who is able to give more graciously and more fully because I have encountered God in a way that has changed my perspective (which does, indeed, need changing). With the LORD’s blessing, we have everything we want. We gain a satisfaction that runs deeper than anything this life can hold, anything this life can give. Just who or what I am wrestling with I often don’t know, but I’ll fight for restored joy and light until I get it.

So, the initial answer as to where I’ve been and where I’m going, is that I’m still here and I’m still His. In the two upcoming posts I’ll fill you in on the specifics, but really, this past season has been one of wrestling (at least on the heart level). The day will break eventually, though I may always walk with a limp. But if this blog is to be the honest portrayal of what life is like as a daughter of the King, sometimes it’s a battle face to face with the Maker of the universe. The effect is lasting, and the blessing is sure.

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