The tile was cool under me, and the tropical birds called loudly from the mango tree. Sounds of an old truck lurching and jolting down the pathetically paved cobblestone road filled the air, just like they have for years. I think donkeys found the old dirt path smoother than the vehicles find the road, ever in hideous disrepair.
I held a warm mug of freshly roasted and brewed coffee in my hands,
and we chatted with my husband’s cousin and wife.
These tiles, the teeny bathroom with its narrow door, the remodeled kitchen I had helped design: it was all so familiar.
We had lived in this house, made so many memories under this ancient, leaky teja roof.
My son learned to crawl on these worn floor tiles.
And then the phone rang and we quietly sipped coffee and listened to one side of the conversation. I could tell by the words that something was wrong.
Very, very wrong.
They went out on the lake. Three row boats. Swimming. Jumped in, and swam a bit.
Got tired. Sank. Can’t find him. An hour ago. Still nothing.
Oh God. Not again.
I sat here, on this same porch, seven years ago and heard nearly the exact same words. Only it was my husband on the other end of the phone, talking about my brother. “Melissa, I think Isaac just drowned.”
I will never forget the coolness of the swirling tile as I sank down, reaching up and wrapping its icy fingers around my heart.
The desperation and urgency in my prayers as I begged and pleaded for the impossible.
God could still bring my only brother to the surface.
God could do it.
I turned to my little sister and grabbed her shoulders,
“Promise me, if he doesn’t make it, that you will still trust God!”
She nodded numbly.
The moments and hours that followed are like an old fashioned reel of pictures,
snapping past so quickly, so loudly, emotion hung frozen in time.
Losing my dad to cancer and watching him fade before my eyes was so very hard.
But the sudden shock of having my brother, in the prime of his life, so full of dreams and questions and energy, gone in an instant was more than I could absorb.
And then the agony, the mind-splitting, heart-rending agony as the search for the body stretched out on and on, past day light and on into the second night.
It was a nightmare that felt like it would never end. One that I couldn’t wake up from.
We were trapped in this treadmill of impossibility.
This story couldn’t be real. God had taken again.
We were shattered, again.
We bumped out those awful roads in silence, headed to the lake, a year ago today.
There was nothing we could do besides join the search for the body.
We arrived in the town, our friends there smiled and hugged us gratefully, but their eyes were haunted.
They retold the story for the hundredth time,
some of the details worn so familiar that they ceased to feel real.
I saw it in my husband’s eyes. Again.
He HAD to go out and join the search.
The old memories, the responsibility of having walked this exact path before weighed heavy on his mind. He kissed me and the children and hurried off.
I knew it would be a long day. And it stretched out into the night.
For the second time, Daniel searches for a body in the dark waters.
Flashlight beams dart here and there in the water, and one wonders how anyone can ever thoroughly search in the ever changing, never-the-same surface of water.
I see that haunted expression in his eyes, and I beg God to let him find Peter.
To be the help, the support, the stability that he needed so badly seven years ago.
And I sit and wait. Praying, yet feeling so helpless. Again.
We make food. We drink coffee, handle phone calls, tear laundry off the line before a sudden rainfall soaks it all. We watch the kids, and try to keep things as normal as possible.
But oh, what haunted me was Peter’s family.
God only knows how desperately I wanted to spare them this journey.
God was there, carrying me and reminding me of His faithfulness seven years ago in the shocking, sudden wake of my own tragedy.
But the years ahead of tears and heart ache and missing and questions?
How I wanted to shield them.
To wipe away the pain and reality of the new normal.
I wanted to fix it.
But I didn’t know best.
I would never have chosen this path for my own story.
No one would ever wish for this.
Yet I have tasted, and seen, and felt God in the face of the raw shattering.
Deeper than my devastation was his faithfulness.
Fuller than my love for my brother was God’s love and wisdom in allowing my best friend to drown at the age of 19.
Higher than my own thoughts and dreams were God’s plans,
reaching farther than I could see as my eyes strained at the shimmering,
lovely yet relentless water.
They came, Peter’s dear family from so many states and even countries,
arriving before the body was found.
I met them on the steps, our eyes speaking what our tongues could not.
We wrapped in tight hugs, his sister I knew and the ones I didn’t.
We were wound into a strange familiarity in a story none of us wanted.
In this loss and agony, we were one.
It felt helpless, bringing platters of fruit that no one really felt like eating, brewing another pot of coffee when all they wanted was their brother.
But the one thing I could offer was assurance.
Proof that one can face shattering, and survive.
That God is big enough for our hardest questions.
That we can have the very breath knocked out of us, and get up and walk again.
To find life is worth living, and living with all our heart.
Words at a time like this are so small.
But BEING? There is where we see grace.
A.W Tozer knew it well when he said,
“It is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly until He has hurt him deeply.”
For them, this last year has been hard.
Packing up his clothes, his house, wrapping up the million little details of his story here. But I have witnessed his family facing the salty spray head on.
Of choosing the truth of God’s goodness over the gaping pain of their own loss.
Of carving words of courage and surrender onto the tablets of their hearts.
Today, one of Peter’s sisters is among the throng of a refugee camp in Greece, passing out warm cups of tea and comfort to those whose lives have been turned upside down. She wades out into the uncertain waters and reaches for little ones being handed off rafts, shivering in the cold, and grasps the hands of mothers whose eyes tell stories we can only dream of.
I’ve read the words another sister has written, the anointing and presence of God so real that I am deeply moved.
Wayne Grudem wisely said,
“…God’s purposes in present grief
may not be fully known in a week, in a year,
or even in a lifetime.
Indeed, some of God’s purposes will not be even known
when believers die and go to be with the Lord.
Some will only be discovered at the day of final judgement
when the Lord reveals the secrets of all hearts
and commends with special honor
those who trusted him in hardship
even though they could not see a reason for it:
they trusted him simply because he was their God
and they knew him to be worthy of trust.
It is in times when the reason for hardship cannot be seen
that trust in God alone
seems to become most pure and precious
in his sight.
Such faith he will not forget,
but will store up as a jewel of great value and
beauty to be displayed and delighted in on the day of judgement.”
I would have written the story differently.
I would have made the road less painful.
I would have spared them this shattering.
But I sit back and look over this last year alone, and I see God’s handwriting all over their lives. I would have deprived them of such a deep measure of God if I had made it all easy.
God’s story isn’t done yet. Words are still being prepared and written.
Hands are being offered to those who so desperately need them.
There is something so powerful about ministering through our loss,
of reaching out and touching others.
And I see Peter’s family finding healing as they minister that same healing.
The comfort they are finding, they discovering the beauty of being able to minister from.
I read these words I wrote in those days of waiting for Peter’s body to be found,
and I rest in God’s goodness.
Even in the unfinished story.
January 23, 2015
And in this moment
of the water closing over our head,
Nothing sure under our feet,
When the noise of life is silenced,
And life as we know it slips out of control;
We discover we are carried,
That in our lostness, we are found.
When we gasp for air, we find HE is our breath.
And that here, this place of utter devastation,
is actually the threshold to REAL life.
And here, there is peace.
(For those that do not know the story, Peter went down for a short trip to Honduras, right over the time of our brief visit last year, and drowned while on the lake. Daniel was right there as his body was found three days later. Peter’s family has been a beautiful testament to God’s grace in the face of such pain.)