Face First

   In the build-up to a significant Remembrance Day last week, I felt the familiar rumbling of memories that evoke sadness and joy, longing and gratitude, and grief refreshed and renewed. How could it be otherwise when a great love is distant yet ever present and always near.

   The universal outcome of grief is an altered perspective on life. Whatever our experience of the death of one we love, we are forced to change. The choice is whether we grow or spend the rest of our waiting to die. There is no finer gift of grief than the kind of spiritual growth in which we struggle and question—circumstance, emotions, and yes, even God. Spiritual growth leads us to new, unexpected places in our understanding of both life and death. Spiritual growth allows us to read and appreciate the spiritual truths of scripture in new ways.   

   As I walked toward a favorite lunch counter last week, my senses dulled and distracted by dark shadows of remembrance, I tripped over a carpet strip that served as a transition to a large expanse of marble flooring. For a nanosecond I felt myself airborne, my body arcing in the certainty that I would land with a graceless thud. I have tripped and fallen at other times, but never, I think, so inelegantly. As I lay sprawled face first on the hard marble, somewhere in my head I heard the voice of my beloved father saying as he so often did, “pick up your feet”. 

   Though I was oblivious to the curiosity of dispassionate onlookers, as usually happens, there were angels present, people whose first impulse it is to care about others. The lunch counter man left his customers and rushed to help. Two women saw my distress and offered their assistance and comfort.

   I was well and truly shaken, both inside and out. Surely I looked to all the world like a limp rag doll. In that moment, the pent-up emotions of the day collided with the indignity of both my bruised body and my bruised vanity. I could do nothing other than sit there, legs splayed, and allow the tears of my woundedness and damaged pride to flow.

   With the help of two strong men, I made it to my feet, dusted myself off, and assured those who had gathered to help that I would be all right. With no self-pity or drama, I limped to the lunch counter, dazed and still snuffling. Each step suggested that my right ankle, elbow, and shoulder had absorbed the brunt of the blow. As I took a seat and assessed the damage to my chin, upper lip, and knees, the counter man discreetly gave me a bag of ice wrapped in a napkin to put wherever it hurt. When I finished my lunch and thanked him again for his kindness, he murmured words of assurance meant to restore my self-confidence. He seemed adept at knowing just the right thing to do and say. Clearly God used him that day as an agent of care for me—body, heart, and soul.  

   Though I was sore, nothing was broken other than my spirit. A fall seemed too much to endure on a day already fraught with the pain of loving remembrance. Yet within the moment, there was an impetus for spiritual growth. In Psalm 37:23-24 we read, “Our steps are made firm by the Lord, when he delights in our way; though we stumble, we shall not fall headlong, for the Lord holds us by the hand.” The psalmist David wrote these words of encouragement for his people from long years of personal experience with adversity and the challenges of life. In these verses we discern an undertone of warning and an overtone of gratitude.

   Until the face-plant last week, I had always thought of this scripture somewhat more literally. To be honest, I felt a little let down by God when I not only stumbled, but also fell headlong. But this is not right thinking, because the verse is not about our health and well-being, but about how we follow God’s direction for our life.

   Since the death of my husband, I have come to rely absolutely on God’s hand holding mine, “fear not, for I am with you, be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand” (Isaiah 41:10). When I fell, it was a though for an instant  that God had let go of my hand. In hindsight, I think this is what upset me the most about the fall.

   Within the assurance that God is always present to us there is no promise that nothing will ever go wrong in our life. Grief teaches us about the presence of God when our heart hurts because of the death of one we love. The promise of scripture that overcomes every adversity in life including the experience of death is that God is always with us, holding our hand, “For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, ‘Fear not, I will help you’” (Isaiah 41:13).

   God never rests. God is with us, even when we fall face first.

For you have delivered my soul from death and my feet from falling, so that I may walk before God in the light of life.  
Psalm 56:13






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