I woke to the song of mourning doves. Their soundtrack seems a part of the landscape here in the Texas Hill Country, along with the buzz of locusts on hot summer afternoons and the chirp of tree frogs in the scrub that separates our home from a fairway often inhabited by golfers with a penchant for powerful but awkward swings that send balls soaring into our yard.

I woke up to the sound of birdsong, and the friendship of grief found me again. It’s been 20 years now since I woke up to another sound—of the phone ringing, of water in the sink to splash my weary face to reality, of the car starting and road racing and the ding of the elevator at the county hospital, of the striking silence in the room where the woman who tried to be constant love in a fickle fling world laid so quietly.

I discovered where heaven was that day. It wasn’t some distant, in the clouds never-never land; rather, it was present in the bathroom with me as I threw on jeans and a sweater before rushing to the hospital. My mom was there already, just on the other side of the parchment-thin reality between divinity and the shadows. I could see the faint outline of her smile. If I could have torn through the veil that morning, I would have—just to see her there dancing without the weight of the living days that threatened to crush her with the weight of a cancer that was relentless in its attack.

I realized the profound ache of missing Eden that day, and that death was never created or invited but rather self-imposed after the long afternoon walks with God were traded for the insatiable desire to know it all and do it all. I felt the space between the grief that holds hope out like a bouquet of roses, and grief that stands in a field to say, “hope is buried here – and I believe you can still find it.”

Mom’s death was the bouquet and the field.

I used to think grief was something to get over or to get through or get past. I’ve learned it’s certainly not a thing to cling tightly to for too long, as it needs fire and water and air and earth to do its work. Gripping grief will destroy its beauty and denying it will destroy us. But it’s been 20 years now, and I’ve come to be at home with the unlikely friendship of grief. The wash of it over a tender moment is the reminder that we are made for more than the dirt under our feet. The sound of it in a mockingbird’s song is the reminder that our stories are still being written even as the ink on the page blurs from tears. The presence of it in dog-eared picture books or fading photos is the reminder that death is the very thing that God uses to plant his new seeds of life in us, the way the soil in the field hides the seeds of hope – hope waiting to be baptized.

Perhaps it’s our tears that water the ground. 

The unlikely friendship of grief has met me in the fragrance of a cinnamon twist donut and hot fresh coffee on a Saturday morning. It’s found me on back country roads as leaves begin to find their new hues. And it’s spoken to me in the pages of a 46-year old Bible. It’s the one my mom opened for the first time in 1982 to try to prove me wrong when I told her I would be traveling to Mexico to live for a while as a missionary. Surely any God worth his salt or her attention would never take away her little love. There are marks in ink on the pages where the searching took her to a different place–a place of his great affection for her. I remember the day she told me she hadn’t intended on falling in love with Jesus, but something had turned upside down when she began reading the words on the pages—and that she was terrified still but knew he would care for me because that’s what he promised.

There are other marks as well as the woman who couldn’t get to a church building because she had never been allowed to drive learned about love and strength and grace sitting in living room chair with a cup of coffee and words written in King James English. God taught her about beauty. He taught her about wisdom. He taught her about letting go. He taught her to be thankful–always. “Praise the Lord for everything,” she wrote in the margins, “even that which we think to be bad. Praise the Lord.” He showed her the power of women. He reminded her not to worry. He told her that love was worth it all. She marked not only scriptures but circled small descriptors on the pages as well, finding comfort in words like “made complete,” “good courage,” and “bless.”

I am learning in the eternity of the missing. I hear my mom’s voice in the markings on the page. Today, she is reminding me that the latter days will be better than the former, that where I am today–20 years later–holds more beauty than she could have ever imagined in any poem she wrote or picture she drew. Today, she’s reminding me of the power that lives inside me to be prophet and priest and keeper of Holy Spirit–perfected words of prayer. Today, she’s reminding me that I am both legacy and future–that seeds planted in the soil of pain have sprung up in bouquets that give life. She’s whispered my favorite scripture to remind me that God redeems and keeps redeeming.

Today, the sound of a mourning dove says I am still here, still breathing, purposefully planted in this moment to keep living and keep marking the pages until the ink runs dry. It says you are here too, with me–circling descriptors that tell the world who we are and who we want to be. It says we are beautiful; it says love is still worth it. It tells us to take good courage and to bless beyond all blessing.

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