The third week of May has been special for many years – and this week is no exception. In fact, it was even more so because two precious babies entered this world on May 16.
Upon hearing the news that my sister-in-law Erin gave birth to her girls (Selah Dawn and Everly Lou), I packed up my car and drove 12ish hours to see her and her husband, Zion and my new nieces. I didn’t care if only I saw them through a window for five minutes – I had to be there. They just mean too much to let this moment in time pass without a visit.
Of course, having a lot of windshield time, allows for plenty of thinking too. The timing of this week and adventure meant I was literally heading into another special date . . . my would-be 20th wedding anniversary on May 18.
One particular question came to mind as I processed this would-be date. “How do you move past the ‘would-have beens’ and shift to ‘what could be?’” This stumped me for a good part of the drive. There is so much joy in looking back at Josh and I’s story. Together, we often wondered what 20 years, 24 years or 44 years, etc . . . might look like – it was hard to imagine but fun to try. There are many moments when I still wish for this and I admit that realizing the "would-have been 20" did bring tears to my eyes.
Here in 2022, I am experiencing a different reality. One that means moving forward and looking ahead to what could be in this new landscape. Wrestling out the question mile by mile, the answer hit me somewhere in Kansas.
How do I move past the would-bes to the could-bes? By focus on “What Is.”
There is much to celebrate in what is happening in this season. Yes, there’s are hard pieces, but many moments to celebrate. I don’t want to miss the good moments and how God continues to speak in my grief journey by looking back too intently.
This year’s reality meant I spent my wedding anniversary with my late husband’s sister –– together in the hospital for a whole different reason than sickness or cancer. On this special day, I witnessed her and her husband holding their little girls for the first time at the same time. What a truly cherished moment to witness, and a memory I won’t forget. Together, we were teary-eyed for different reasons than grief.
On my return drive back to Missouri, I found myself listening to one of Josh’s sermons on love. He preached this message also on a third week of May (Mother’s Day 2012). I know I shouldn’t still be surprised by how God reveals his truth over and over again but once again I was.
In his message, he shared three main points about love.
Love is our Foundation
Love is our Fuel
Love is our Future
So, here I am processing life for what it contains today . . . a tornado of joy for what is, sorrow for what might have been, sprinkled with hope for developing relationships and more. Seemingly, this all fits perfectly and weirdly together. And the key . . . love.
May 18 will always be special because, as a “forever friend” said to me this week, “It’s special because it will always be the day you married Josh Brown.” It’s also the day I officially gained a bonus family (and sister). This year, it was special because I got be with my “sister” and her family for many special moments.
There are many more moments happening this week to celebrate. Moments to also lean into the could-bes and trust a bit more in what love is.
Moving forward in grief means taking on the challenge that love is also my fuel and future.
There’s joy in that for sure.
(Bonus pics of mom, dad, little baby hands, and Colorado.)
Representing the Grief Bearer
In case you didn't know, it's National Widow's Day - a day that no one really wants to celebrate. It's definitely much more fun to celebrate, "National Two Different Colored Shoes Day," a quirky marker that also lands on this date.
Still as I saw National Widow's Day referenced in a few different places, it seemed like a good time to share a post I have been meaning to write since Easter, but have been too distracted or busy.
This year, as part of Easter, our church’s creative team made some plain wood crosses and offered these to various creatives, inviting them to design these in whatever way reflected their story and God's. I debated on doing one and initially planned to make a cross covered in nature (moss, rocks, dirts, etc) highlighting God's beauty in this world. But, in a moment of creative curiosity - I took one of my late husband’s old button up shirts - that happen to have very subtle skulls on it -and wrapped it around the middle: it worked and sparked what I ended up calling my “Grief Bearer” cross.
Visual art has not really been my career focus (I'm more of the writer/digital designer) - in fact, Josh was the studio arts major in our relationship so this was all new. Much like the new surprises around each corner in grief, I soon found myself sifting through boxes of old shirts that I didn’t know what to do with and little by little found pieces of clothing to wrap, cut, tear, and place together in a new artistic way.
Fearing the piece might look like a weird scarecrow, I decided to add some extras. In my quest, I found an old Bible Josh had used for notes, school and study. It was a cheap one he had often stuffed in pockets, and was quite a mess but the front page had a special note. It simply said, "Remember Then Rejoice } = the Gospel of Christ."
He had written the words down from someones' sermon years ago and clearly it had an impact. Josh often talked about the importance of remembering. He loved referencing this constant reminder from the Old Testament and urged others to remember God’s faithfulness no matter what. I'm pretty sure, he'd still say the same thing to me today (even on National Widow's Day). This truth rang out - as a fitting statement for Easter - so much so that his note became the central element on this creative piece.
For years, Easter has presented such mix of grief and joy. It's a day of celebrating Christ's gift to us all but also rings of greater sorrow since my mom passed away on Easter in 1998. With this heartache also in mind, I opted to incorporate another layer into the cross: Scripture cuts outs from my childhood Bible (that had long since fallen apart) and a sign I made for my mom growing up that states, “Love Bears All Things.”
So apt! Christ bears our grief! This truth is declared in Isaiah 53: 4-5 (below). God is our ultimate grief bearer - and he remains with us at each turn! At times, this doesn't make us feel better - when the grief feels so heavy - but there is comfort to cling too over and over again.
Two years+ into the loss of my beloved spouse, my heart still stings and I wonder if I am actually better? I know I am but still . . . grief is messy and layered - much like this artistic cross that some might find odd even as it seems so fitting.
The challenge to "Remember Then Rejoice" is hard. There are moments when I simply want remember and stop time. Pressing through to gratitude and rejoicing can be a struggle when we still wish for a different ending. Yet again, I am reminded that God - not just Josh - calls me to rejoice. God calls me to rejoice in the artistic work that He is still showcasing and the story that is still being written in me and those around me.
A prayer for this day and many more . . .
Lord help me trust you today.
Help me to Remember Then Rejoice . . .
. . . Even in my heartache
. . . Even in my questions
. . . Even in my healing
. . . Even in the new pieces
Thank you for taking on my grief and helping bear it.
Surely He has borne our griefs
May 03rd, 2022
Hi! It's Jenn Brown, writing my story that is now slightly different as we enter a season of new grief. On September 30, 2019, my dear husband Josh passed away after battling brain cancer.