And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died[a] so you will not grieve like people who have no hope.
1 Thessalonians 4:13 (NLT)
This last year was tough on a lot of us. I saw a lot of people mourning as they lost loved ones. I would hate to just gloss over that and talk about the good things ahead. I DO want to be excited for the things that God has in store for each and every one of us, but first I would like to talk on the issue of grief and loss.
For me, the biggest loss in my life up to this point was when I lost my grandmother. She was a 4’8” Italian New Yorker, full of love and, though short, a giant in faith and kindness. She taught me so much. She taught me how to love those who didn’t necessarily deserve it, to pray every day, and how to make amazing meatballs. She has been gone for over 20 years. Actually, January 6 is the anniversary of her graduation into Heaven. But still, that wound sometimes is brought up and I think about that amazing little giant who changed my life and who was instrumental in me becoming a missionary. Last year I had the amazing privilege of traveling to Italy for the first time. Part of that trip was going to Naples, where she boarded a ship as a four-year-old girl, leaving behind her mother and everything she had ever known. She traveled with her two sisters, one of whom died of Scarlet Fever. She would never see her mother again.
She grew up with a sometimes abusive but mostly absent father, and was raised by her older sister who eventually was diagnosed as manic depressive and suffered greatly when mental illness was not yet accepted as easily as it is today. It was only God’s grace that made my grandmother such an amazing, loving woman. I stood on the dock where her very ship would have left. It was a very touching moment for me, thinking of the little girl who would grow to be a Matriarch and change so many lives in her own quiet way.
I will never forget her generosity, her fun, and her care. The legacy she left with me I hope to live on and pass on to my children as well.
As I left my home in the US and started a new life in Uganda, it was not as a four-year-old girl who was being pushed to do so. It my choice; but nonetheless, I thought of my grandma. I thought that she understood what that was like. She adjusted to a new culture, language, and way of life just like I have these past years. I sometimes wonder if God gives her glimpses down, and if she is proud of me. I can’t wait to see her again and catch up on everything that she missed. I don’t know if there will be meatballs in Heaven, but I hope that we will be able to cook something together and laugh. I can’t wait to watch her stand tall. I picture her as towering over everyone else, with long flowing hair and sparkling eyes; with no scars from a life of sorrows, but only complete freedom and victory and revelry in our great God forever and ever.
You see, it’s a bit easy for me to think this way, because my grandma has been gone for so long. It’s easy for me to remember that we don’t grieve like those who have no hope. The hope I have is sure and exciting for me to think about. But my wounds are not fresh. For some of you, the wounds are newly inflicted, deep and raw. Your hearts have been ripped out by tragedy. I do not in any way wish to undermine your pain. It is real, and it is understandable to hurt. I would like to unpack this topic of grief a little bit in the next few weeks. I hope that all of us will find comfort in the God of all hope, knowing that saying goodbye to our loved ones is not necessarily goodbye, it is just “see you sometime soon.” Because, you see, our God is the God of Resurrection.
I hope you stay tuned next week for more!
And please, if you are hurting or grieving, don’t be afraid to reach out to a trusted pastor or a qualified counselor. Don’t be ashamed to reach out for help!