Faith | Reflection

Finding New Life

One afternoon last week, I applied a full face of makeup to go for a walk in the cemetery.

I dabbed a light perfume on my wrist, donned my favorite sunglasses, and brushed my hair back into a ponytail. It wasn’t perfect the first time, so I started over and tried again.

We live a stone’s throw away from this charming, antiquated cemetery. Surrounded by woods and nestled on a countryside hilltop, the cemetery sits outside a teeny, tiny historic village in the Midwest. I didn’t plan to see a living soul there.

“Look at you, puttin’ on lipstick to go to the cemetery,” my husband teased, whistling at me. And who was it all for? Honestly, it was for me.

I hadn’t left our property for over a week at that point. My relentless anxiety had been particularly aggressive during that time (because…pandemic). My typically-mild seasonal depression was flaring up with worry, the stress of unexpected loss and change, and a last little foray into winter. I didn’t feel like myself, and life didn’t feel like it used to.

I felt a weight leave my shoulders when I reached the cemetery. It’s a peaceful place that reminds me that our time here is meant to be temporary. When I’m there, I remember that even the most painful things happening on earth, whether the result of free will or the enemy’s schemes, will ultimately be woven into good.

This particular spot also offered the perfect place to practice extreme social distancing that afternoon, while rejuvenating my spirit. The air was crisp, the sun peeking through clouds in an otherwise blue sky, and I was thankful to finally see the promise of spring.

I noticed that many of the headstones were weathered enough to be completely illegible; a handful or more were broken in two. The oldest residents of the cemetery were born in the late 1700s, and many were European immigrants. I stopped to appreciate the long gone and forgotten, and to learn their incredible stories.

Cemeteries tell the best stories, although they’re woefully incomplete. Stories of heartbreaking goodbyes to cherished children of a tender age, mothers gone too soon, and great-grandpas who were likely ready to let go of the earthly life to meet the warm embrace of an unconditionally loving God.

As I walked the path and studied the stones, I wondered what had happened in their lives. I mused about the crises they must have faced. I imagined them banding together to fight the frightening, the unknown, and the everywhere, everyone kind of threat we’re battling today. We’re not the first to experience calamity on a grand scale, after all. We’re not the first to unite in a common effort to take care of one another.

There’s something profoundly beautiful about the lessons we glean from the struggles and the triumphs of the past — the history that teaches us that, together, we’re brave enough to rise above our circumstances, and we’re strong enough to overcome.

I took a minute to raise my eyes to the sky, to feel the breeze and the sunlight on my face, to breathe in the pleasant scent of spring’s newly thawed dirt, and to thank the God Who is always with me. And I’m telling you, that place came alive in that minute. My Jesus jams rocked through my earbuds as I floated along the pavement. It was like I could feel the souls of the hundreds buried there, now free and rejoicing.

It felt like hope. It felt like genuine joy. So I embraced it.

And I know it seems silly. It even occurred to me that I shouldn’t allow myself to feel any joy, however fleeting it may be. How careless of me! How dare I feel hopeful, when I know that not everyone will come out of this okay? People are sacrificing, and I will never take that for granted. People are suffering, and I cannot stop thinking about their pain. We’re all in the middle of a crisis, somehow together while we have to be apart, and it’s one unlike anything we’ve seen before.

It’s everywhere.

It’s all the time.

For many, it will be life-changing.

And it’s so scary.

Fear has the power to lock us into the darkest parts of our minds, where we sit alone with anxiety, anger, pain, and lies. And too often lately, I’ve been sitting there, unwilling or unable to climb out. Still, I know, in the deepest part of my being, that fear will not win in the end. Fear is no match for God’s love.

And I felt His love pouring down on me there, where I imagined those souls dancing with me. It felt like a promise. No matter what happens here on this earth, we will always have life. It will be a life abundant with joy, and song, and laughter. And mostly, with love.

But this was not only a promise of eternity. There was a promise for this life, too. One of these days, this life will move forward again, and we will have changed. We’ll have a new perspective; we’ll see beauty we never saw before. We’ll have the chance to start anew. We’ll have an opportunity to fill the world with joy, and song, and laughter. And mostly, with the kind of love that God intends for us.

Opening myself up to the experience of that love is how I’m holding on. It’s what gets me through the days. And I pray it’s working on the hearts of the sick, and the families, and the scared, and the lonely, and the doctors and nurses, and the essential workers. And I pray that it’s pouring down on you.

I’ve been back to the cemetery many times in the last week or so, and every day is different. Sometimes I break down in tears, because it’s the only time I’ve had a chance to be alone with my thoughts all day. Other times, I’m upbeat, ready to tackle this quarantine challenge head-on. And on my most introspective days, I’m simply overwhelmed by the solidarity I’ve witnessed — by the ways in which we’ve come together as a community, as a country, as a world.

Just like those who paved the road before us. Like those who lived and loved in a past that’s long gone but not forgotten, who struggled with loss, who faced unimaginable trials and crises like the world had never seen. Like those who rejoice today, from a vantage point far superior to ours, in the glorious presence of a loving Father.

Today, as I walked that little path, a profound sense of peace washed over me, if just for a moment. In that place, it’s true, there are so many reminders that our time here almost always ends too soon. There are subtle hints everywhere that suffering is inevitable, that loss is imminent, and that unexpected trials will always loom.

But there are more reminders that love has prevailed from the beginning, that the past is overflowing with selflessness and unity, and that little is more beautiful than the time we have together.

As I gazed at a broken stone, its pieces scattered on the ground, I noticed spring’s first tulip leaves awakening beside it. I didn’t realize I’d been looking for another sign of God’s promises.

My heart leapt!

There it was.


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