In the distance, there was a massive mound of sand. You could say it was a mountain. I run toward it as fast as I can; upon reaching it, I begin to climb, only to slip and slide back down to the bottom. My heart races, my mind fears and my body trembles.
I begin climbing again, frantically attempting to reach the top. Then it happens again. I slip and slide back to the base, anxiously looking over my shoulder to figure out how much time I still have … to get away from the monster that is chasing me.
I never reach the top of the mountain, but I also never realize the end of the dream. Each time I have it, I wake just before what I considered the inevitable conclusion can occur.
As a child, I experienced this dream repeatedly. As an amateur dream interpreter, I hypothesize that anytime I faced something I could not change or something I feared, I dreamed this escapade. I haven’t had the dream in years, but it returned to my thoughts recently as I thought about grief.
Grief is like that monster. It is following me, even chasing me, and some days I am doing everything I can to avoid it. But the sand hill isn’t the avenue by which I can flee. In fact, there is no avenue for escape. As an adult, I now know that I must stand at the base of the sand hill and face heartache, even embrace it.
“A voice cries: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places plain. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together for the mouth of the Lord has spoken’” (Isaiah 40:3-5).
Wilderness. Desert. Valley. Mountain. Hill. Uneven. Rough. Any of these words from this glorious passage of scripture can be used to describe the experience of anguish that comes from losing someone. Many days, my heart is filled with these images as I struggle to make sense of loss and sorrow. Readers have shared their own experiences with me, and I know I am not alone.
Still, it can be a journey of loneliness and alone-ness, as no person faces grief in the same way as another. No other wife lost my Thurston. Others have lost spouses, yes; still others have lost friends, parents, nieces, nephews, children and grandparents. Still others are experiencing anticipatory grief, caring for their loved one while knowing what the outcome will be.
If I focus only on those singular words above, however, I lose the sense of the big picture. Thurston was a big picture kind of guy. At times, he frustrated me, but today I am thankful that he thought and planned long-term. Through his wisdom, he taught me to look at the big picture.
Though there is anguish in the scripture, there is a splendid expression of hope. God resides with me in the wilderness. He will make the way for me to move through it. He will raise up the valleys and lower the mountains to meet for a more straightforward journey. He will smooth the rough places and the uneven ground to provide a safe path.
As I personalize this verse to my life, I become filled with hope. God is present. God is walking with me. God is dwelling with me in grief and helping me to process these difficult emotions. And finally, God will reveal his glory, and I will be able to embrace it completely and with assurance this massive sand hill, frustrating all my ups and downs, will collapse.