My dad was a dairy farmer and school bus driver. When I was little, I’d go with him to the school bus garage and listen while he chatted with the other drivers over coffee. I loved that building like a second home.
When I was old enough for school, I loved riding the bus. I adored the squared-off green seats and rounded dome ceiling; I loved the great yellow girth and the stop-sign arm and the flashing lights that signaled to the world that it was carrying precious cargo.
Late one night, our phone rang. My parents bundled us all up and we raced to town to watch a fire consume the school bus garage. The building went up in flames quickly and left the buses to combust and groan and burn brightly in the cold Minnesota night.
That experience sparked my profound childhood fear of losing everything in a fire.
During lunch a few years ago, a colleague casually mentioned that she and her family had recently moved to a different house because they’d lost their home to a fire.
She had faced my greatest fear!
When I told her how sad I was for her, she appreciated my condolences. Then she said it’d been a dark blessing. She desperately grieved the loss of photos and family heirlooms, of course. But her children were safe. Her husband was fine. The pets made it out unscathed. She realized that everything else was just…stuff. That fire burned away the inconsequential things and crystallized her highest priorities — and for that, she was sincerely grateful.
I’ve thought about her a lot lately. I had marveled at the juxtaposition of loss and gratitude. I loved her clarity of values.
Now I get it. I am now holding that same juxtaposition of loss and gratitude, despair and joy, of tears and laughter.
Remember that moment in Steel Magnolias, in the cemetery, when M’Lynn is raging through her sobbing, tear-streaked grief, and she says, “I wanna hit something. I wanna hit it hard!” Clairee grabs Ouiser by the shoulder, positions her in front of M’Lynn, and says, “Hit this! Go ahead, M’Lynn, slap her!”
The shock of it causes them to erupt in laughter.
This is happening in our little tribe. A lot. I sob and then one of the kids says something that makes me gasp with laughter. The pain, as intense as it is, inevitably lifts. Joy inexplicably replaces it.
Scott’s death has also clarified my highest priority, which is caring for these two gifts I’ve been given: Piper and Sam. I’m doing all I can to build strength and resilience in them as they survive this.
The best way I know how to do that right now is to reinforce their faith in a good and Sovereign God, and to encourage their good humor.
I am trying to show them that, while they are being forced to grow up much faster than any of us wanted, growing up is not a bad thing. While we desperately miss Scott, this sadness actually strengthens us. And that every emotion – as intense as it feels in the moment – eventually lifts.
And then we can laugh.
3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,
4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,
5 and hope does not put us to shame,
because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
Romans 5:3-5 (ESV)