Before Day’s End
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted (Matthew 5:4 NIV).
I received the text from my friend Marcia first thing the other morning–
Well, here I am, back in the USA… We had a great time in Scotland, but on the last day, I slipped on some rocks and broke my tibia. Long journey home and had surgery… Though we didn’t get to see Ireland, Scotland was beautiful… Looking back now, even though it was awful, God was with us and provided the comfort and help we needed at just the right time.
Included in her message, she’d sent pictures of her cast, her x-rays, and even the view from her hospital room in Scotland where doctors worked to stabilize the break before putting her on a plane for the States.
But despite her cheerful outlook, her cute emojis, my heart was sad for my friend–knowing how much she and her husband, my husband’s previous medical partner, had looked forward to this trip. What she’d called “our bucket list experience”–cut short by a tragic slip.
Having just read Psalm 37:23, 24, I found myself having a conversation with God, inquiring of Him–Where were you when she stumbled? Doesn’t seem her steps were made firm. Because, you see, sometimes we question God, even when we’ve trusted Him for a very long time.
Just that morning, prior to receiving her text, I’d had the thought, How often, before day’s end, things turn out differently than one might expect. So, I’d offered a quick prayer before stepping too far into the morning–
Order my steps, Lord. Help me not get too far ahead. I hate being caught off guard, but if I am, guide me through the changes, and help me to trust You.
It was a simple prayer, though that nagging thought continued to tug at the corner of my mind. Then, moments later, I received this message from my injured friend and thought, How true it is!
After all, she knows this all too well. I’ve been wanting to tell a bit more of her story but was waiting for the right time. That time, it seems, is now.
My friend Marcia’s from the good earth of Iowa, from a rural small town where her family farmed the land. She was born Marcia Dianne Day on July 10, 1953. She had one older sister, Sharon (1951). Two years after Marcia’s arrival came younger sister Beverly (1950), followed by the youngest Day daughter, Cynthia (1957).
One hot and humid June morning, their 16-year old farmhand arrived to help the Day girls’ daddy. It was like any other midwest morning. Likely the red-winged blackbirds thrilled through cornfields, cicadas ch-ch-ch-ch-ching among soybeans. Sisters looked forward to a new day to play and explore, as little girls do when summer sunshine stirs them early from sleep.
But days don’t always turn out as one might imagine, and before its end, tragedy sometimes strikes. Even on days when the sun’s shining, birds are singing, and morning’s dew is fresh on grass. Sometimes, before day’s end, life has forever changed.
Such was the case for little Marcia Day, as well as for those she loved. As she tells the story–
We had a fenced in yard, and Daddy told us girls to stay there, safely away from farm equipment. My older sister Sharon had turned six, and Beverly was two years and three months, just a toddler. Although I was a couple years older, I was very small, and Beverly and I looked eye to eye. When Sharon opened the gate and told me to stay with Beverly, I thought, ‘I can do whatever you do,’ and I followed her. In turn, Beverly followed me through the open gate. Having seen Sharon, our farmhand shouted, “Return to the yard,” as he prepared to back the truck out of the driveway. Seeing him myself, and knowing not to get too close, I got out of his way. Little Beverly, however, didn’t understand, and he hadn’t noticed her when she came toddling behind the pickup. Backing up, he hit her, knocking her down, then, completely unaware she was behind him, drove over her. Daddy was in the field on the combine and saw all this happening. He ran to us, heard me crying out, “Get up. Get up.” Of course Beverly didn’t get up, and I just remember Daddy standing there in utter shock, then whispering, “She’s so beautiful.” My parents got her in the car and headed for the nearest hospital, which was about 20-minutes away. Mom held her while she fought for her life. Just as they’d pulled into the emergency parking, Beverly breathed her last.
Marcia, now a wife and mother, as well as grandmother, recounts how her youngest sister Cindy was only four months at the time of Beverly’s passing. How her father always said that God must have wanted this “angel child” home–how her kind and gentle ways made her vulnerable to the cruelties of this world. How her mother suffered alone, given that she didn’t have a lot of support, and she and her husband didn’t know how to comfort one another, so deep was their personal grief.
Marcia’s father, who’s birthday was the day after little Beverly’s June 6th funeral, never again wanted to celebrate. He blamed himself, feeling as though God had punished him, though he never blamed their farmhand. On the contrary, Marcia’s dad did his best to make certain this young man would never feel the sting of guilt. Still, nothing Mr. Day could do would ever remove that memory and the heartache it brought this young man, who himself is now eighty-one. This man who never married, who’s been described by some as a loner, carries his own wounds, and Marcia hopes he’ll find healing from the One who bends low to mend the brokenhearted.
Mr. Day passed unexpectedly in 2005. He and Marcia’s mom were married fifty-five years at the time of his death, and though the family sometimes spoke about what they imagined Beverly would have been like, they never discussed their grief or spoke openly about the incident. Today, Mrs. Day’s in her 90s and lives with Sharon, still in Iowa. Marcia’s older sister has shared that, even now, she’ll sometimes pass her momma’s room and hear her crying.
Because, though many decades have passed, what started out as a bright summer morning turned to tragedy, when the life of 2-year old Beverly ended. Yes, before day’s end.
Grief. For many, it never goes away, just ebbs and flows like the tide.
Many of us know this personally–how, before day’s end…
- We receive that undesirable diagnosis.
- We hear rumor of a broken marriage.
- We experience the loss of a job.
- We’re left reeling with news of a sudden death.
I have another friend who suffered loss. Her first son, in utero, passed away, and Stacy had to deliver this full-term baby boy knowing he would never run and play with siblings or call her Momma. We talked once some years ago, and she told me something I’ll never forget.
“Grief is just another word for love unending.”
How true. When we love someone who passes, our love for them never ends. That love unending, thus, is grief. Grief and love are two hands, fingers laced together. Inseparable, hard to tell where one begins and the other ends.
But when we bring our hands–our grief and love–to God in prayer, His comforting presence works to heal—
- Bringing laughter in the midst of grief—love unending.
- Bringing growth in the midst of grief—love unending.
- Bringing joy, even through tears, in the midst of grief–yes, love unending.
Grief may never fully go away. I would guess Marcia Day Trent would say as much, despite all the years that have passed. Her mother and sisters too. So would Stacy. Still, each has discovered that, in the midst of grief, there’s laughter. There’s been growth. Indeed, there is joy.
And even though we do sometimes question God, despite having trusted Him for a very long time, He is true to His Word. As Jesus taught in His Sermon on the Mount, blessed are those who grieve, because they will experience the unending love of the Father.
Though we may not want to drink from that bitter cup, God’s comfort–His love–is enough.
He’s always, always enough.
You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you (Matthew 5:4 Message).
Ann Voskamp’s best-selling book One Thousand Gifts opens with a very similar story. She shares how her younger sister, too, was struck by a vehicle and killed near their midwest farm. She says, Really, when you bury a child–or when you just simply get up every day and live life raw–you murmur the question soundlessly. No one hears. Can there be a good God?
This is a question many ask when tragedy strikes. How do you explain our Good God in light of pain? Brokeness? Despair?
Dear Jesus, be near the brokenhearted, just as Your Word promises. Even in our grief, You truly are our Love unending. Amen.