A couple of days ago I passed Nathan Greenfield, the director of Alliance Academy Jordan, in the school’s hallway of administration offices. Although this is my third week working at AAJ, it was the first day that he had been at the school since my arrival. The day that my plane landed in Amman, Nathan’s father passed away unexpectedly, just one week away from turning sixty-two. Nathan, his wife, and their four kids flew back to the States for the funeral, and to spend a couple of weeks with family.
“So we’re in a similar boat,” Nathan said, after I stopped to introduce myself.
I nodded and agreed. “Yes—I can’t imagine what it’s like for you—I mean, it’s interesting—working through it all away from home,” I rambled. “For me, coming here and being away from home adds a whole new dimension to grieving—acknowledging the reality of the situation while I feel so removed from it—it’s good, I think, definitely hard, but good. For you–being here, and then going back to your extended family, and now being back—it must be strange to try and process.”
“It is strange,” he agreed. “But there is grace through it all.”
It has been difficult, processing my dad’s death in an entirely new context. The months that followed his death, spent at home in New Jersey, were strange and almost surreal. Here, so far away from home, things seem clearer, and drastically—painfully and sickeningly—more real. Instead of being faced with the “new normal” sitting around the dinner table with my mother and siblings, I find myself thinking of home and my family, and then suddenly slapped with reality, wondering how can it be? When people ask about my family, I hesitate for a moment, considering how to begin. I think twice before sharing stories from summers and holidays and life growing up, or anything that will force me to speak about my father in the past tense. I feel unsettled, in this foreign land of life without my dad, a land that is now home.
There is a scene in The Magician’s Nephew, written by C.S. Lewis, where Digory pleads with Aslan to provide some cure for his mother’s sickness. Overwhelmed by his own grief and hopelessness, Digory finally looks up, from where he has been staring through tears at the Lion’s feet and claws, and sees that “great shining tears stood in the Lion’s eyes . . . They were such big, bright tears compared with Digory’s own that for a moment he felt as if the Lion must really be sorrier about his Mother than he was himself”.
I often find myself resigned—at least, in my mind—to God’s sovereignty over my dad’s death. I’ll sigh, and like Digory, keeping his eyes down and focused on the huge claws and feet of the lion, plead for a cure (probably more halfheartedly than Digory does). I know that the Lord is there. I know that the Lord is listening. But somehow, I almost doubt that the Lord cares—with any real, feeling affection—about my particular circumstances very much, considering the far-reaching range of circumstances dished out daily upon humanity.
But then, I am reminded continually of His grace, and of His love. “Pour out your heart like water before the presence of the Lord,” Jeremiah writes in the book of Lamentations. “Though He cause grief, He will have compassion according to the abundance of His steadfast love.”
Just like Digory, when he finally looked up into the face of Aslan and saw to his surprise, tears!—when I turn my heart and my eyes to the Lord and His Word, I realize: God is sorrier for my condition than I am. Of course, I don’t mean sorry in the way that I am sorry—my “sorrow” over my condition and circumstances is too often simple frustration over the discomfort or unfamiliarity of certain circumstances, and longing for temporary comfort, rather than a true grieving over the fallenness of this world and my own heart. But even when I grieve over death and sin properly, through the revealing light and wisdom of Scripture, still, even then, I cannot see as fully as He sees. I long desperately for the land described in The Great Divorce (also by C.S. Lewis), the land “not of questions, but of answers [where I] shall see the face of God.”
Though the Lord has caused grief, He has had compassion on me, not only in the inexpressible wonder of bringing me to salvation, but in providing me over these past months with the greatest joy and contentment and encouragement and assurance that I have ever known. In realizing how shakeable so much of life is, I come to know the One who is unshakeable. In new and unfamiliar territories of life, He goes before me and He goes with me. I marvel even at the fact that in spite of unexpected and uncertain circumstances, He made a way for me to come to Jordan, and has even provided those walking a parallel path to remind me of His goodness.
There is grace through it all.