It’s the week before Easter. It’s a busy one at church as we prepare for the biggest Sunday of the year. It’s quite the opposite at home. I’ve freed up my week for quiet stillness, which has given way to much reflection.
I’ve been reflecting on the words “suffering” and “light.” What a contrast these words represent when describing what Jesus experienced at the end of his time on earth…death and resurrection, Good Friday and Easter. Without one, there couldn’t be the other. Without suffering on the cross, there would be no ransom for our sins. Without the Light of His resurrection, there would been no hope, no way out of darkness, no way to conquer death.
What a very stark contrast. A juxtaposition. It’s one I witnessed first-hand on Good Friday a year ago. It’s a day and experience that’s taken a year for me to put words around. Be fore-warned, this is a heavy post.
By his wounds you are healed. (1 Peter 2:24 NLT)
Good Friday 2013 was first time I had ever been nearly blinded by the light of the cross.
I attended the Passion City service that Friday evening. I can’t recall the content of the message, or even the set list of songs. All I vividly remember is a cross lit up with what seemed like a million lights at the top center of the stage. My weary eyes could hardly look at it, and yet it’s brightness kept drawing me in. I could not escape it. I’d try to look down, yet I could feel the warmth from its bulbs on my tear-stained face.
It overwhelmed me. The light of the cross overwhelmed me. It overwhelmed my tears, my suffering, my pain that I had carried in that evening, left over from the day’s events. In that moment, like never before, I understood a new depth of healing and Light that could only be found in the cross of Jesus Christ. His suffering, his wounds, for my healing, for my salvation. What a juxtaposition.
The evening began with David Crowder singing “How He Loves,” the very song we sang at Tony’s memorial. The weight of what I had just done hours earlier hit me hard. A wave of emotion rushed over me; I could not stop the ensuing flood of tears. I lost it. I mean, I plain lost it. Yet, I wouldn’t fully realize until weeks later that my uncontrollable sobbing signified a new beginning in my journey. This was my first step of many I’d take toward healing that year.Healing.
2010 was the last time I attended Passion’s Good Friday service. It was the same day I picked up my Tony’s ashes from the funeral home.
I’ll never forget the weight of that box. It was all that was left of the earthly shell of a man I loved more than anyone on this earth. That day I felt as if I was carrying every shattered hope and dream for my life in my two hands.
It was too much.
I took that box to my parents home. And that’s where it remained for 3 years.
I could not bear to pick it up again. I could not bear the weight of how deeply I had lost.
It took 3 years to gain my strength and courage.
On the morning of Good Friday 2013, I picked up the box again. It was time for me to fulfill the last of Tony’s wishes he entrusted to me. When we were married and put together our living wills, he told me that if anything ever happened to him to simply take his ashes to the North Georgia mountains; he requested no big deal be made, no fanfare. I wanted to honor that request.So I placed the box in the same backpack Tony had carried up to Stone Mountain. I just wanted something of his with me that day. I placed it in my car, and I headed for Blood Mountain. I picked up one of my dearest friends, Karen, along the way. It was so fitting for her to accompany me. Words could never fully express the love and friendship she has lavished on me. The last words Tony said to her as she and I headed out of town the weekend before he died were, “KK, take care of my girl for me.” He would be so incredibly grateful to know she has done immeasurably more than that.
We made the journey north up 400, past Dahlonega, to the base of a mountain I had never traversed. It was a mountain I had always heard Tony talking about hiking as a child. It was a mountain he loved.
It would be a fitting resting place. It would be his final resting place.
I strapped on his backpack and we began the ascent to the top. We stopped a lot along the way. We were in no hurry. The pack was heavy, but I was determined to carry it all the way up. We passed a lot of Appalachian Trail hikers. I kept asking them how much further to the top. I’m sure they thought I was just one of those lazy day-hikers; KK and I joked, “If they only knew what we were up to.”
We finally made it to the top; there was still a little snow on the ground. We took a few pictures, I even snapped one of two tiny twigs in the shape of a cross.
I found a place over to the side. I opened up the backpack and pulled out the box I never imagined opening when I said “I do” to my husband just 5 years prior.
This was just not how life was supposed to be.
It just was not.
I sat down to soak it all in. I fully realized in that moment that these were just earthly remains, the things left behind. My Tony was complete and more alive than ever before at home in heaven.
I let the ashes go.
I let them go.
I let him go.
I paused for a moment. Then slowly I turned, picked up his backpack and walked away. I looked back only once. I let go of my Tony on that mountain top and left behind every hope and dream I had for our life together.
As Karen and I started our descent, I could not help but notice how much lighter I felt. The physical weight of the ashes was gone, of course. Yet it was as if I had left the weight of my pain and suffering there too.And a few hours later, an unforgettable encounter with the brightest cross I’ve ever seen would be the catalyst for me to let go, to walk on, to move forward.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. (Hebrews 12:1-2 NLT)
The cross and my healing.
Suffering and light.
The weight of Easter; the hope of Good Friday.
I am so grateful for the juxtaposition.