There is something about the long, slow pace of a fall unfolding with unhurried grandeur that softens my defenses against the coming of colder days. Hot afternoons, crisp nights, crickets and tall shadows creeping–it is a feast for the senses and it means the gathering of the harvest from the fields. I was reminded of this over the weekend as my family caravanned through the Rocky Mountains, mouths open at the sight of the yellow, sun-drenched Aspen trees creeping up the mountain sides.
We hiked. We celebrated. We ‘oohed’ and ‘ahhed.’ Our family sat mesmerized in our cabin as a herd of elk traipsed by our window. It was glorious.
And, I can already feel my body tensing into the memory of the way the previous autumn erupted with change and heartache.
It was mid-October. I was thrilled to be hosting group young women in my home for dinner and conversation. The early evening was filled with chatter, laughter and the smell of apple cider. Everyone had arrived but the last car. Uneasiness settled into the group when the phone calls began to take on a concerned tone about the whereabouts of one young woman. Real fear surfaced when we learned of her bicycle accident and the name of the hospital where she had been taken. Cars dispersed.
Unable to visit her room, our group gathered in the hospital’s chapel and pleaded for the life of a friend. We begged that the doctors would be wise in their diagnoses, that her heart would be strong enough to endure treatment, that her pain would subside, that she be surrounded by love and that it would suffice until we could personally offer her our encouragement. We prayed that she would heal. We prayed with the fervor of those who love. Very many, myself included, prayed from an unpracticed place somewhere between dumbfoundedness at the circumstances and a naïve streak of certainty that only particular outcomes would be an ‘acceptable’ response from a loving God with regard to a 23 year old woman with a servant’s heart.
God heard our prayers—of this I am certain. And, Kaela died.
Holding these sentences in tension is startlingly difficult and it has shaken me to my core. I have grieved her loss as a parent, a minister and a friend. I am not sure that I will ever understand the ‘why’ of this loss. I will not pretend that I have been comforted with pat explanations; nor will I offer one to numb the feeling of hurt. Though, I have learned enough in this space of grief to appreciate that putting the love and wisdom of God into a box that I could comprehend would be to drastically limit the movement of the God who both gives and takes away (Job 1:21, NRSV).
What I do know is that both her loss and her life have come to define what I am slowly learning about the love of God and the way the Holy Spirit permeates our lives. I know that Kaela loved and honored God with her life and that that relationship had an enormous ripple effect. Stories like that of Lazarus, Job and Sarah are evidence that God’s faithful are not exempt from loss or heartache. Interestingly, in each of those scenarios, God intervened in the story personally. What an expression of God’s tenderness!
I had the privilege of grieving well with Kaela’s mother and friends who walked through this journey with courage, vulnerability and story-sharing which is itself a rare gift and one which Jesus modeled. As October nears, I am doing my best not to tense in fear of the memory of loss, but to allow myself to feel the depth of love Kaela brought to the world and to reflect that love for those who are in my life.
In the words of Henri Nouwen, I find myself leaning into the challenge of seeing Kaela’s death as a “new way for us to send our own and God’s spirit to those whom we loved and who have loved us.”