Beneath the branches of a broad oak tree in a parked car near the local arts center, my boyfriend Josh and I discussed marriage. He’d been recently diagnosed with an operable brain tumor, so we had a lot to consider. His well-known specialist was predicting he had 20 years before the slow-growing tumor would change, however, so we began planning our life together.
His primary care physician recommended he take low doses of preventive chemo. Having observed my family’s unsuccessful experiences with chemo, I suggested that he run this by his specialist. A resounding “no” filled the room. Chemo began a week later, and we continued our wedding plans.
And then, on Fathers Day 2008, I was shopping for vacuum cleaners for our new life when a deep uneasiness sent me to Josh’s home. There I was greeted by two forlorn EMTs. “I’m Josh’s fiancée. What’s wrong?” I asked.
“We tried to revive him,” they responded. “He is deceased.” My knees broke beneath me.
There are no words to describe what it was like to hear I had lost Josh and my future. Platitudes, Facebook posts, calls, hugs, sympathetic thoughts, scripture references…they could not comfort me. Looking back, I’m still not sure how I made it through those days. Without my permission and lacking survival skills, I’d been tossed into a barren wilderness.
Following Josh’s funeral, a longtime friend brought me a scripture plaque with wisdom from Romans 5:3–4: “Rejoice in suffering, suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”
“Rejoice?” I said tearfully. “How?”
“God will get you through,” my sweet friend replied. “That’s all I know.”
As a Jewish convert, Christians had always fascinated me with their ability to “ forever have happiness ” no matter what sad piece of news. This joy in sorrow concept was not part of my Jewish culture, but it had a pull on my heart and curiosity. God had a plan.
When Josh died, the wilderness was inevitable. My choices? I could walk the wilderness path or give up. Giving up was not a workable option, so I pressed though each tear, sad moment, and disappointment. I found ways to rejoice through the lonely heartaches, persevering when my faith was less than a half a mustard seed. I laid it all at the foot of the cross…picked it up…laid it back down…until it was completely given to God.
Day after day, I heard a hushed, comforting whisper, “I’ve got this.”Day after day, I kept walking forward. Day after day, I moved closer to Him and away from the sadness.
Thrown into the wilderness with no survival skills, I learned that, with God, I could survive. And my newfound confidence allowed me to understand and apply the “ forever have happiness ” concept I had admired and observed in my Christian brethren.
God had a plan.
The Christian school Josh had attended had left the imprint of a man raised by believers. We shared many late night chats about the loving and healing power of Jesus. Toward the end, Josh shared with me that he felt called to ministry. Little did he know how much he would minister in his death.
Are you in the wilderness, clothed in disappointment and clinging to leftover promises? Press through to Christ. Is your future foggy and unclear? Find a path to rejoice in the sadness. Is it easy to believe in an unknown future? Not always, but it is doable.
In my internet zigzag wanderings, I found the following quote on a grief-recovery website. It is still on my fridge. “I will walk again, I may limp and I may struggle and I may cry, but I shall walk.” The quote was a great encouragement to stay the course, experience sorrow, and discover joy.
It worked. I kept walking, and I learned the wilderness was a destination not an end.
Jacob wrestled an angel; Moses found a burning bush; Ishmaelites pulled Joseph out of a pit; David was chased by a jealous king; Job lost everything. Each was on a wilderness path to an incredible destination and we still ponder their journeys. The wilderness is a beginning.
You can find promise, happiness, and a reworked joy in the wilderness. Rays of hope fill the distant horizon.Your future is not bleak; it is ready and waiting with the hush of God’s whisper. “I’ve got this.”
The wilderness. Destination happiness.
Written by Lynda Stein
Photo by Patrick Fischer