A mother whale grieves too!

Read the story of the mother whale


Yesterday I read a story in USA Today about an orca whale whose calf died shortly after birth. This grieving mother held onto her baby for 17 days, balancing it on her forehead to keep the body from sinking. She pushed her offspring for over a 1000 miles until she finally let go.

During the whale’s journey, Deborah Giles, science and research director for the nonprofit Wild Orca, stated, “(The mother) is bonded to (the calf) and she doesn’t want to let it go. It is that simple. She is grieving,” 

No one in the whale research community tried to stop her. No one gave her silly platitudes. No one spoke of complicated grief. 

According to an article from the Center for Whale Research, a resident from San Juan Island reported this scene:

“At sunset, a group of 5-6 females gathered at the mouth of the cove in a close, tight-knit circle, staying at the surface in a harmonious circular motion for nearly 2 hours. As the light dimmed, I was able to watch them continue what seemed to be a ritual or ceremony. They stayed directly centered in the moonbeam, even as it moved.

Her friends didn’t pushed her to move on. They circled her as she grieved.

A mother-child bond is holy. It is deeper than the ocean that tried to separate these two. It is eternal. I wonder how much I have in common with this whale mother named J-35 or Tahlequah. After all, we were formed and loved by the same God. Our Creator designed the mother-child relationship. 

I think about this mother pushing her calf over a 1000 sea miles, carefully keeping her body afloat and wonder if I do the same. I see myself posting pictures and talking about my child who died in 2013. Is it merely an effort to keep her memory alive? Is it that I can’t let go? I can almost hear this mother whale screaming, “oh no you don’t! You will not leave me now!” Is it desperation? Or is it a mother’s instinct that this relationship is not over yet?

I know something that Tahlequah can’t comprehend. My Creator is also my Savior. His death has given me life… life after death.

His death has given my child life, life eternal! 

Yes, I will continue to carry my child, not on my forehead but in my heart. I will keep worrying that others may forget. Not because I’m afraid her memory will die but because her life is such a story of grace! I won’t stop posting pictures or bringing her up in conversation. She is after all, alive in the presence of Christ. I still need my friends to circle me in the moonlight when the grief is too hard to carry. But I know without a doubt that I’ll see her again. 

Tahlequah,  you remind me that giving birth is glorious. Losing a child is life altering. You understand we were created for relationship not loss. Your inability to let go is heartbreaking. Your Day 17 resolve to keep living is courageous. I’m thankful for your story.

Last sighting reports that J-35 is in good health and “remarkably frisky”.

Life goal: live remarkably frisky even while I grieve!



Christmas musings


 “Unfulfilled and fulfilled promise are related to each other, as are dawn and sunrise. Both are promise and in fact the same promise. If anywhere at all, then it is precisely in the light of the coming of Christ that faith has become Advent faith, the expectation of future revelation. But faith knows for whom and for what it is waiting. It is fulfilled faith because it lays hold on the fulfilled promise.”  Karl Barth

Today is the beginning of Advent. Every year I tell myself that I won’t let this season slip away without pondering things like faith, hope, expectation, heaven and a few other small thoughts. But every year I spend these days in December shopping, wrapping, unwrapping, baking, cooking, eating, and then wishing I knew what to do with the extra stuff and extra pounds!

This year I’m making a vow to ponder, reflect, remember and muse! Here is today’s musings starting with my Christmas tree.

Yes, the tree is up too early, it’s fake and filled to the brim with ornaments. At the base of the tree the Nativity gang has been thrown behind the stable and is lying across the tracks in perilous danger of the oncoming Santa train. All of our Christmas memories hang on an aging tree that we bought at Good Will years ago for 10 bucks!

nativity gang

This morning I’m sipping coffee and trying to really SEE my Christmas tree and its heavenly meaning. There are a few ornaments that represent our family vacations through the years and a few that are the grandchildren’s but the majority of ornaments belong to our youngest son and oldest daughter. Every year we gave our five children ornaments on Christmas Eve. That adds up to over 100 ornaments and more money than I choose to remember! Three of the boys have been given all of their ornaments for their own family trees. Those that are left still hang on our tree in waiting. Our youngest son is still single and doesn’t yet have his own tree so we will hold them for that coming day. Our oldest daughter has no need of her ornaments any more. She has been in Heaven now for 5 Christmas seasons. We hold them for her children.

This year our son-in-law, his new bride and our two grandchildren decorated our tree while I prepared a meal for them. I watched in wonder as they lovingly unwrapped her precious ornaments and hung them for us.  I can’t get that scene out of my head and I’m grateful. That picture of beauty for ashes is in my mind even as I reminisce on past Christmases.

lilly decorating


Years of memories are hanging on that tree.  As each child came into the family, we hung a baby’s first Christmas ornament to say “welcome, you belong here, you are family and you are deeply loved”.  Every year they received another ornament that spoke of their belonging, welcome and love. I miss that sacred experience. I wonder how to express that same sentiment to our ever growing family in the years to come.

baby pics

The words that come to my mind as I look at our tree, are found in the Christmas hymn, O Little town of Bethlehem.

“The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”

These ornaments represent more than 30 years of parenthood! Seeing them helps me remember that I live somewhere in between those hopes and fears. Not all of my hopes have come to fruition but neither have all of my fears. Those that have, have been met in Christ. When our daughter was a baby, my greatest fear was that she would die. My greatest hope was always that she would know Christ and serve Him faithfully.  She was met by Him before her birth, at her new birth and again at the end of her earthly life. At her death my hopes and fears met in His presence and there was peace. Physical death is no longer my greatest fear for any of my family.

When I do let fear creep in, it comes as the thought that one or more of them would never know Life and Death in Christ. I make a daily choice not to live in that fear because 1 John 4:18 tells me, “there is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear.” So until Christ comes again or He meets me in death, each Christmas I will hang my ornaments along with my hopes and fears and remember that all will be met in Him.

I am believing that someday I will hear Him say to each of us, “welcome, you belong here, you are family and you are deeply loved.”









A New Addition to Our Family


St. Therese of Lisieux once said, “Only love can enlarge my heart”,

or was that the Grinch?

When I was pregnant with our second child, I wondered how I could love another child as much as our first born. I agonized over how my heart could ever have room to love as deeply as I loved the delightful little girl who made us first-time parents. I asked questions like, how could we give them both an equal part of ourselves? How will our family dynamics change when we add another person? Who will we be when we are no longer 3 and we become 4?

Maybe most parents ask themselves these questions with child number 2. But by the time I felt the first kick the questions were over. We were in love as soon as we met him. How could we have even wondered? The next three pregnancies it never even came to mind. We knew these children were a gift, would enlarge our hearts and would change us forever!

Some of those same questions ran through our minds as our children chose their mates. How will we love this new person? How will they change our family dynamic? How will this marriage affect our relationships? We fell in love with each of them during the dating and courtship time. They became family.

Four years ago, our daughter was in a fatal car accident and left behind her husband and two children. In an instant, they became a family of 3. I wondered how they would ever be whole again. I prayed daily that God would bring someone into their lives as a sign of God’s love.

After four years of prayers from people all over the globe and an incredibly discerning son-in-law, April came into their lives and ours. I didn’t ask if we would have enough room in our heart this time because I’ve seen what God can do.  I did question if she could have enough love for us… the other family.

I watched her with my son-in-law and his children and saw her selfless love. I observed her passion for God and His people, especially the least of these. I saw her strength and casual comfort in her own skin. And yes, she never once looked at us as “the other family” or even “the other family once removed”!

She is not intimidated by the legacy of Bethany. She doesn’t see herself as second but as a beautiful continuation of God’s covenant of love. She is filled with grace and beauty that can only come from above. She is family. Next week they will walk down the aisle and become a family of four. She is God’s benediction!

30 years ago, I wondered if my heart could stretch large enough to include one more in our tiny family of three and love took that question away.

4 years ago I agonized about how God could bring healing to another tiny family of three and love became the answer.



Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Ephesians 3:20-21                




Once upon a time, three children lived in a forest…


When we were young, my sister and brother and I ran away to a forest. We had been sent to our rooms over some sibling squabble so we packed our bags and moved out… together. We told ourselves that we would live on nuts and berries and find shelter and comfort under the trees. By the next meal time we were hungry and headed home to the campus student housing right around the corner.

Many of you will recognize this “forest” as the semicircle at Asbury University in Wilmore, KY. As you can see we had overactive imaginations! Or did we?  Is it possible the Holy Spirit led us to this place and was whispering something far deeper than we could hear over the rumbling of our tummies?

We couldn’t have known then that our family would find spiritual nourishment here for generations to come. We sat and pondered our future as orphans in the forest.  We didn’t realize that by 2017 our family would have 16 members graduated from Asbury University and 7 of those would cross the street and study at Asbury Theological Seminary.

It was beyond our imaginary skill to picture that many of our someday family would meet their spouses in this forest called Wilmore. Nor did we dream that our children would attend school at these institutions together. In our hour all alone among the dark shadowy trees, we had no idea we would soon find life-long friends in this place who would shelter us in the storms of life.

Farthest from our minds were the real life tragedies that would eclipse the pain of our self-imposed hunger on that day. We couldn’t then see how God would use the far-reaching community of Wilmore to lift us to the Father, comfort us and meet our needs in such tangible ways.

Yesterday, I stood in this forest, took a picture and remembered those three small children and their parents who were so concerned that their kids couldn’t get along. I smiled that our instinct was to huddle together and battle nature rather than each other.

It is strange to be living in the same town that holds this forest of memories. Proximity and familiarity can be blinding. But yesterday for a moment, God’s Spirit lifted the veil, unstopped my ears and I heard His whisper. His words sounded something like this,

I am your family’s nourishment…

I am your family’s shelter…

I am your family’s comfort…

I am your family’s future…

“I have loved you with an everlasting love;
therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.” Jeremiah 31:3

My never and always list



Last week I was driving to work and as I turned left at an intersection, I thought to myself, “I’ll never ever do that without thinking of my daughter”. Turning left was the last decision she made on this earth and the moment she took her last breath.  Thankfully, it was also the instant she felt the arms of Jesus.

There are so many never and always connected to losing someone you love. If you have experienced loss you have your own list. It is difficult for me to imagine that list changing over time as I grieve and heal. And I wonder what happens to that list once I enter Heaven? When I see my Savior and reunite with my loved ones will my never and always list go away?  I hope some of them do but others I want to take with me. Here are just a few that I will keep in my pocket until I’m given new clothes in heaven.

My Never list:

I’ll never turn left, see a silver Saturn or drive on a certain road without my heart skipping a beat.

I’ll never watch Gone with the Wind without thinking of her.

I’ll never French braid hair without a flood of memories.

I’ll never stop making artichoke dip on Christmas Eve.

I’ll never look at her children without seeing her face.

I’ll never sing, ‘Great is thy Faithfulness’ without picturing her worshiping her Savior and feeling waves of gratitude.

I’ll never forget the sound of her voice.

I’ll never stop looking for moments when the veil between Heaven and earth thins and I sense she is close enough to touch.

My always list:

I’ll always be grateful for the extravagant love shown to her family after her death.

I’ll always feel the closest to her at the Jersey shore.

I’ll always wish she were around to process life’s events.

I’ll always be glad I homeschooled her, if only for the extra hours I gained with her this side of Heaven.

I’ll always give thanks for the last four years of her life and watching her walk daily in grace.

I’ll always wonder how she loved so fiercely and forgave so easily.

I’ll always feel a part of me is missing.

Jesus had a ‘never and always list’

that He shared with us in scripture.

Matthew 28:20 “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Hebrews 13:5 “I will never leave you or forsake you.”

I’ll keep these in my pocket too.

In fact, after reading His, maybe I don’t have to cling so tightly to mine after all…


Do you have a never and always list in your pocket? I’d love to hear some of yours!

5 Reasons I am grateful even after losing a child.

The month of November always makes me think through my gratitude list.

This year I’m listing the many reasons I am grateful for my daughter.

She is in Heaven yet still influences my life in profound ways.

Here are my top 5 … today!daily-gratitude

1. A mother-child relationship doesn’t end at death

Even before my children were born I began to bond with them. Each kick gave me a hint about their temperaments. Each labor and delivery was unique and provided greater clues to their personalities and a window into their future.  I have spent their whole lives studying my children. At first sight I was smitten and my love increases with each passing year! Our only daughter’s birth was a 26 hour dramedy (part drama and part comedy).  I spent the next 29 years watching her and moving between tears and laughter! Even though she is now in Heaven I will continue to do the same until one day in the blink of an eye there will be no more tears! Though now we are on different sides of the veil, our relationship is still intimate and real.

“Can a woman forget her nursing child?” In Isaiah 49 God compares His love for us to how a mother loves her child.   

2. Remembering is a Holy Gift

The Judeo-Christian faith involves the act of remembering. The Israelites were told to remember the Lord their God throughout the Old Testament. They rehearsed the exodus and God’s faithfulness at every Passover feast. In the New Testament, Jesus instituted a New Covenant in which God’s people would re-enact and remember his death on the cross every time they took bread and wine.  Each time we remember who God has been in our past, it reminds of who He is in our present situation and that He is our future hope. The act of remembering leads us to new discoveries of who He is.

In a similar way when I remember my daughter it feels holy. I consider who she was during her growing years. I ponder how she related to family and friends and her husband and children. I think about the choices she made and her strong beliefs and I am convinced that she is still that same person even in Heaven. She continues to exist and will always be a part of my life. Someday I will see her again face to face but until then I will remember and discover new ways of knowing her more fully.

“Do this in remembrance of me.” The act of remembering is holy.

3. She taught me about motherhood

Until I gave birth to her, I had no idea about the joy and sorrow of parenthood.  If I were watching her birth on the big screen (and believe me that would have been a much better place to view it) there would have been suspenseful music throughout and I might have recognized it as foreshadowing her life! Her birth came too early much like her death! It was exhausting, painful, hilarious and exhilarating all at once.

Her childhood and teen years were more like a roller coaster with loops and thrills than a lazy river ride. Her young adult years taught me how to let go of expectations and perceived control. Her years as a mother and wife gave me joy and satisfaction but mostly challenged me as I watched her juggle multiple jobs, Graduate school, parenting and marriage with grace and poise. She taught me more about motherhood than anyone.

Phil 1:3 “I thank my God every time I remember you.”

4. Her children

She blessed us with our first two grandchildren. Every time we are with them, we see her. Her son’s wit and sarcasm is uncannily his mother’s. Because I knew her so well, I can tell how he will respond to most situations! He loves books like her too. Her daughter looks just like her and is every bit the princess as her mother. Watching them grow is one of life’s greatest pleasures. To be candid… grand parenting is all around more fun and fulfilling than parenting! So hang in there if you are not yet at that stage. On your most difficult parenting days remember, this child who is driving you crazy right now will hopefully someday give you one of life’s most precious gifts!

Proverbs 27:6 “Grandchildren are the crown of the aged”

5. My faith

I am able to look death square in the face and say, “O death where is thy sting?” because of my faith in Jesus as my Savior. My faith defines my view of life on earth and my eternity in Heaven. I look at my daughter’s death as a temporary separation that is a drop in the bucket compared to the 29 years she lived on this earth and my future with her in Heaven.

As her mother, I had a part in who she became. We loved the same books, movies, the beach, holidays, writing in journals, New Jersey, foods, and time spent together but most of all we loved the same Lord. Passing on the faith to my children has been the hardest and most rewarding part of parenting.

Warning: Rookie Parenting Move…

There were times in her growing up years that I doubted her commitment to Christ.

Advice: You have no idea what is in your child’s heart or their relationship to Christ. Do not judge their relationship with Jesus by their actions!

Thankfully, one of the greatest gifts I have is her prayer journals that she started as a teenager. Even during some of her rebellious years her prayers were intimate, deep and profound. It has been a joy reading her heart and the depth of her love for her Savior.

My faith tells me that God is working toward the redemption of this world. Someday those who are redeemed will be in His presence forever. I have faith that my eternity is secure, my relationship with my daughter is forever and my Heavenly Father is good.

With all of those gifts,

how can I do anything other than live a life of gratitude?

Leading in tandem


Leading as a married couple – a parable of sorts

The call was clear. The need was great. The Seminary Fall Festival planning team asked us to be Grand Marshals of the Bike Parade! We didn’t hesitate for a moment, how could we say no? We had the skill set to lead and the tandem bicycle! Our mission was to ride out in front of all of the bikes, scooters, wagons and strollers in a parade on our way to the Festival Grounds.

We knew there was a deeper meaning to this request.  Our tandem bicycle has become a symbol for all married couples. It is a picture of sharing the burden of hard work when life takes a steep incline. Riding in tandem also allows you to share the beauty of God’s creation as you coast through the easier terrain.  Yes, the Hunters and their tandem bike were the natural leaders for this parade! If you want to read more about the meaning behind this bicycle and marriage you can read it here Experiencing loss as a married couple

The day of the Festival arrived and we decorated the bike with fall items, we checked the tires, we donned our helmets and we took the lead! Now on to the dutiful ride through the streets of our neighborhood gathering families on our way to the grand event! What could be more picturesque?

For about 20 seconds it was glorious and then all the grandiosity of being the Grand Marshals fell apart. The tandem bike didn’t seem to steer as well as it did the last time we rode. We couldn’t seem to ride in a straight line. Neighbors along the road were pointing at us. Middle schoolers were zooming past us, then kids on scooters and finally those on tricycles were passing us by.

One young boy shouted, “Hey I don’t know if this is helpful but your front tire is totally flat.” People started to look worried as they passed us. Someone offered a bicycle pump but we kept pedaling. Small children were weaving in and out of our wobbly path and couples pushing strollers looked on in pity.

Meanwhile, we were shouting back and forth to each other…

“I thought you checked the tires”?

“I did and they were fine until we were both on the bike!”

“Is that an accusation”?

I couldn’t see anything ahead of me with Dave in the front seat so every time we swerved to miss a child, I would shout, “steer honey, just steer”! He couldn’t see me pedaling and was feeling exhausted so he was yelling, “pedal please, I can’t do this alone!”

We could see the field up ahead with the Festival tables and most of the bikes had entered through the back entrance rather than going the extra quarter mile to arrive at the designated entry point. We did what any self-respecting Grand Marshal would do and followed the crowd of children through the field but not before we disembarked from the bicycle, gained our composure and caught our breath!

Leadership rarely looks the way you might imagine it!

And the word GRAND should rarely be used!

I’m still trying to find the leadership principles in this experience while I convalesce…

Maybe you can help me with some suggestions!

Thanks, Walmart for the tire and tutu.


Thanks, Walmart!

Yesterday I was shopping at Walmart for some ballet accessories for my granddaughter’s dance class. As I lifted a pink tutu off of the rack and began to imagine her spinning around with delight, my mind went back to her mother’s dance classes when she was the same age. I remembered how she wore her tutu just below her plump little belly and the serious look on her face as she counted every step. I was lost in my memories when I thought I heard my daughter’s name over the loud speaker. Maybe it was my imagination. No, there it was again. “____, come to auto repair to pick up your tire, paging ____”.  My heart started pounding because my daughter had been in a fatal car accident three years ago.Why were they calling her name?

I had forgotten that on my way into the store I dropped off a flat tire and had given them my phone number for their records.  The man behind the desk said, “OK you are in our computer and we will page you when it is finished”.  Apparently several years ago we brought her car in for work and we gave them my number as a contact.  I put the tutu in my basket and headed for the tire center. As I walked, a strange feeling rose up… I was grateful to hear her name. Her father and I spent months picking out that name and for 29 years we spoke that name countless times. Even after friends and family used a different nick name for her, we always called her by the name we felt God gave us.

I get a similar feeling when I come across her name on a piece of mail, or find an item that was hers tucked away in a drawer or see pictures of her. All of these things remind me she was, she is, she always will be. Each of them stir my heart but hearing her name, now that is priceless.

I often wonder why people don’t use her name more. If you have ever questioned whether it is right to bring up my daughter’s name in conversation, let me share a few thoughts:

  1. Yes, yes and yes!
  2. I don’t expect you to speak in hushed tones or even elevate her to sainthood. It is just nice to hear her name especially if she has been part of your life too.
  3. You may be thinking that I might cry if you bring her up in conversation and jog my memory. Let me assure you that I’m already thinking about her. I might cry, I usually don’t but crying or laughing is a good response to thoughts of people that we love.
  4. In these last few years, I have rehearsed all of my memories over and over so if you have one that I wasn’t privy to, I would love to hear it. After time, memories can become one dimensional like a photograph. When you share a new story with me, it is as if she is lifted off a page and begins to move and breathe. Just recently I went to a hair stylist who was a friend of Bethany’s and she shared stories that I had never heard. Our conversation that day was a holy experience and both of us had the same sense she was somehow a part of our time together.
  5. Don’t feel that you have to talk about her every time you see me. I lead a full life and have great joy. But when her name comes naturally into a conversation, it is sweet.

I’m sharing this to assure you that bringing up her name or laughing together about a memory is healing not harmful. Experiencing her death has deeply changed me. Separation is not as complete or final as I previously believed. For those of us who live in the assurance that there is an eternity in Heaven, this time on earth is but the blink of an eye. Relationships, especially those that are family, are forever. I have no doubt that she is alive and with Christ so why would I stop talking about her? If I were to guess… she probably has a pink tutu too.

God’s presence is in the midst of the memory.

So when we talk, feel free to talk about her. If not, I may be forced to go to Walmart with another flat tire!

Maybe someone else you know

needs to hear a story about their loved one.

Remember to speak their name!

Not another birthday!


Birthdays are supposed to be for celebrating, right? As a child you depend on others to celebrate for you. If you come from a home that celebrates well, they might bake you a cake, buy you gifts, purchase a card, blow up balloons, light the candles and sing while you blow them out. My mother was and is the supreme cake baker. On our birthdays we were allowed to choose our meal and whatever cake we wanted. I always picked her Orange cake with cream cheese icing. My daughter caught on and started requesting her grandmother to bake her birthday cake!

When I had my children at home, we carried on the same tradition. Now, if we are fortunate enough to be in the same state on birthdays, we simply go out to eat. We are a family who celebrates! I have often had people mention, “your family sure likes to celebrate! You will celebrate practically anything!” Last night for instance, we had dinner with two of our grandchildren and celebrated the last bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich until summer! When my grandson asked why we were celebrating that fact, I told him, “so that we can celebrate our first bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich next summer when the tomatoes get ripe again”. His response was, “of course!” He knows that people from New Jersey never eat tomatoes in the winter.

This morning I woke up early and began to wonder why we celebrate a birthday each year? Kids love birthdays because they represent parties, gifts and milestones in life. Teens and young adults love the rights and privileges that come along with special years. But seriously, why does someone my age want to celebrate another year that represents a few more wrinkles, a couple extra pounds, new sightings of gray hair and oh did I mention the aches and pains? How’s that for a happy birthday card?

I decided to look up the word celebrate in scripture and found some great tips on how to celebrate this year! In the Old Testament there are several words that translate to celebrate in English.

Halal – which means to praise, give glory, shine, boast to the point of being foolish, to celebrate

Chagag – to dance or reel, to do a circle dance, to celebrate a Holy day

Shabath – to cease or rest, to sit down, to be still, to celebrate

Euphrainō, in the New Testament means “to make merry” and is used multiple times in the story of the prodigal son.

So I’ve made a decision. When I celebrate my birthday, I will celebrate the Giver of Life. I’ll celebrate the gift of each year on earth. I’ll celebrate the promise of my Eternal Life. I’ll celebrate the lives He has entrusted to my care and my daughter who is now in His care. And I’ll celebrate as Paul did, “to live is Christ, to die is gain”. Philippians 1:21

How will I celebrate this year? I’ll make merry with friends and family. I might act a little foolish or do a little dance. Then at the end of the day I will celebrate by sitting still and recounting God’s gracious gifts… not gray hairs or wrinkles!

A lesson on grief from Psalm 137

rivers of babylon
I love the imagery that Psalm 137 paints. It is the story of God’s people forced out of their homes by the Babylonians and taken to a strange land. All of their hopes and dreams were destroyed in a forced exile along with the lives of people they loved.  So they sat by the river, under the shade of the willow trees and wept. The instruments they used for praise now hung in the trees waiting for better days.

I’ve often wondered how their harps could have hung on the tender branches of a willow so I started to research the type of tree that sat by the Babylonian rivers in biblical times. After hours of study and conflicting conclusions I finally decided it doesn’t matter! The important part of this beautiful poetic song is that God’s people were grieving and they chose for a time, to hang up their harps, simply sit and remember their past.

Did they recall feasts that they had celebrated together? Or maybe they spoke in hushed tones of high Holy days. Someone may have remembered a funny story about one of their friends from home. And while they remembered, their harps sat silent.

I like to picture them huddled together under the boughs of those trees. I can almost see the branches swaying in a sorrowful dance.  I’m thankful for this Psalm and the messy truth about grief. These brave exiles help me walk through my own grieving with honesty. Here are just a few “takeaways” as I read this Psalm.

  1. They sat together and cried. A whole community grieved. No one should have to grieve alone. I encourage you to find a support group who will sit with you as you remember.
  1. They took time to remember Zion. They didn’t just remember their losses, they remembered the whole story. It is easier to center on what has been taken away or what we won’t get to experience in the future. Remembering can be a holy act and remembering that heals encompasses good memories as well as the pain.
  1. They hung their harps up on the trees. They didn’t throw them away. There is something hopeful about the future in the act of placing them out in the open just above their heads. Those harps hanging precariously in the wind were reminders that there would come another day for singing. They had hope that God would make things right again. The author of Revelation in chapter 14 writes that he hears the sound of harps being played again. That reference tells me that God intends to make right all that is wrong on this side of Heaven.
  1. They chose not to sing or play their instruments simply because their captors wanted them too. If you have experienced grief you know what I’m talking about. People around you will want you to be OK and some may feel uncomfortable when you break down and cry. Grief isn’t a linear forward moving process. If you were to draw it, you might see squiggles and circles and lines going every which way.  A person in grief may choose when and where to express sorrow but shouldn’t ever feel pressure to pretend that everything is “fine”.
  1. Later in the Psalm the writer took an oath that they would never forget Jerusalem. Anyone who has lost a loved one will have made the same oath. It is painful when it seems like the world just goes on as if the person never existed. Psalm 103 says that the days of human life are like grass, that even the ground where it stood doesn’t remember it. Naturally we want to remember those that we have lost. But the truth is we are not responsible to keep them alive by our memories. Those in Christ are eternal beings alive in Christ. So yes keep sharing your memories because you love them but not out of duty.
  1. The psalmist, in graphic detail blamed the Babylonians for their national pain. He was angry, vengeful and honest but he sang all of this pain in a prayer to God. Rather than blame God or simply walk away from faith because of loss, he took all of his hate, unforgiveness, pain and remorse to the only one who could understand.

 Walking through Grief the Willow Way!

ISBN #notaseasyasitlooks

Psalm 137 is beautiful, messy, unforgiving, painful and God fearing. It can’t be wrapped up in a pretty package and used as the perfect self-help guide entitled, Walking through Grief the Willow Way. It isn’t that simple or easy. In fact, grieving involves more sitting than walking.

Three years after my daughter’s death, I keep my harp hanging on a lower branch so I can use it often. I move in and out of my willow tree’s shade. It has become a sacred space with memories and laughter and tears. I sway to the rhythm of the dancing leaves and dance or sit depending on the day. Anyone is welcome to sit and remember under the willow with me and if invited, I’ll sit and remember with you… until the day we sing a new song before the throne!

“I heard a voice from heaven, like the voice of many waters, and like the voice of loud thunder. And I heard the sound of harpists playing their harps. They sang as it were a new song before the throne.”  (Revelation 14)