by Elizabeth Bixby- Guest Blogger & Ruth Retreat Graduate
“The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.” Isaiah 58:11(NIV)
This verse inspired me to put in a memorial pond in our yard. It started as an ornamental fish garden in remembrance of my thirteen-year-old son, but one day, became a source of encouragement and hope in the midst of a double loss, as now I live out my life without my husband as well.
My young son had dabbled in a game that was meant to create a momentary high, which most children his age naively consider an innocent act. After all, it wasn’t drugs or alcohol, just a quick, funny way to feel really different for a few seconds. For my son, the end of the game came as a permanent ending to a life just beginning.
Deciding on the garden was a process that began with a sweet offer which came right after my son’s funeral. Monetary donations came with the urging to go on a trip as a family, to “get away”.
I couldn’t bring myself to go on that trip. I could barely place a phone call or take a shower without assistance, much less go on a vacation.
It took a while to decide what to do in place of the trip. Then, somewhere along the grief strewn path I landed on the idea of creating a small oasis in the yard in the form of a decorative pond. It could be filled with fish, turtles and frogs, all the things my son enjoyed. I thought somehow it could keep my husband and me connected to him, with nature and God’s handiwork our tiny thread of connection.
The verse at the top of this page came straight into my heart from God and helped me press on. With newfound clarity, I pursued the right company, who understood that this would be more than a pond, and the construction was soon underway.
Years have passed, and I have never regretted the time and effort it took to get the pond in place. Many a summer’s evening has been spent, on the porch swing, savoring the sound of the trickling waterfall and watching the eager fish swim toward us for food. My husband and I ended most days with one eye on the sunset and one eye looking for new signs of life in the pond.
A year and a half ago, the porch swing occupancy changed from two to one. My husband, out of shear despair and unending grief, took his life. Another devastating, earth-shaking loss for me and my two children. We headed into the longest winter of our lives.
As the season finally changed from the arctic winter to almost spring, I found myself wandering outside more and more, wondering when the ice would melt enough.
My heart felt so similar to that thick ice. Frozen. Hard. Cold.
One day, when the ice finally gave way enough, the pump began its comforting trickle. I reached down at the water’s edge of my Koi pond and pulled up sludgy leaves and slimy algae—proof that winter was hard and had stayed a long while.
I dropped the sludge and dipped my hands in the pond, rinsing them of the debris, like nothing happened. Doing so reminded me of my grief journey. Many days I could paste a smile on my face, put a sack cloth over my heart and act like everything was fine. After all, with the loss of my son, I had experience at this now.
But not all days were like rinsed hands. Other days felt more like sludge. I thought of the sludge at the deepest part of the pond. This is how that particular day felt.
I grabbed my long-handled net and reached into that part, where the real muck and mystery lie. I wanted to see what was there–knowing it would feel like I felt–Thickness. Darkness. Uncertainty.
It all swirled around in the depths of my heart, just like my pond.
I scooped with the net and pulled up the largest mass of glop I could grab and studied it.
Decay. Brokenness. Unendingness.
Could I ever truly clean out my heart and mind of the “Why” questions?
Why did my teenaged son play around with such a dangerous game and die at his own hand?
Why did my husband, a gifted and aspiring pastor, take his life out of shear grief and hopelessness?
Why didn’t God in my neediest moments stop these tragedies?
The sludge just lay there in the net, mocking me—ugly like the questions. Taunting me to ask more–after all, I can’t have my answers to why questions, can I? I’m talking to cold gloopy meaningless sludge.
So I obliged. With anger I asked God…
Didn’t I do all of the right things? I was steeped in our church and reached out to hurting people whenever the Lord urged me. I thought that somehow I had already experienced the worst possible loss, and I was being asked to do it again…
Will I ever have answers to my “Why” questions?
No answer…except for a little of the sludge dripping through the net onto the soft ground. I stared as it dripping slowly—plip plop.
I paused to consider the “Why” question for some of the heroes of the Bible. Surely Daniel asked “Why, God?” even though he was obedient in his actions. Ruth had to have a moment that she whispered under her breath, just out of Naomi‘s earshot, “Why, God?” And Job, a man of unmatched faith in the worst of times, cried out to God for answers.
Caught in the moment and scooping deep into the pond suddenly something moved in that clump of sludge. Tiny, light green legs in the midst of the leafy-dirty clump. I pulled the mass to the surface. It was a baby turtle, my son’s favorite childhood pet!
Yes Lord, You are here.
In that darkest moment of questioning, a soft-shelled moment of hope was born. Proof that in the hard work lays the promise of a loving exquisitely attuned God.
Just like when Job asked God why? God answered him with “Who”.
It is not about the “Why”, but rather about “Who”!
It is not an easy shift, but it’s one of great value…and immeasurable comfort.
Dear God, You are my Comfort, my Joy, my Rock, my Salvation. Keep me ever mindful that You are solid, unwavering and worthy of all praise. I pray I will not miss the small flecks of joy when I am covered in life’s muck. From one of your messiest children, Beth