Today is forty years since my Mama Sarah was murdered. Every April 16th I take a few minutes to write about her, her life, her death, and all that has come after. For those familiar with my story, I’ve always called my mother Mama Sarah, and my grandparents who raised me, Mama and Daddy. My Mama Sarah was murdered (by my biological father) on my Mama’s birthday (April 16) and buried my mine (April 18). As I say in this season, neither she nor I are big birthday people. It’s always a sad time of the year for us, we just try to let it pass without much fanfare.
I also tell people that I know, I’ve seen how God brings good out of the worst situations. I’ve never been unloved. I’ve always been taken care of. And if I had not been raised by my Mama and Daddy, I wouldn’t have gone to the church and schools that I did, and I most likely would not have my family or be a preacher, and maybe not even a Christian. Who knows? God brought good out of the brokenness of life (Romans 8:28, Genesis 50:20). That’s what God does.
But here’s what I’ve noticed. Grief is an odd thing. Her death has been a constant part of my life. I’m not going to say that I’m used to it, but it just kind of is. It’s just part of my story. I’ve told her story many times, in revivals, preaching, online. This brokenness has allowed me to point to the goodness of God, over and over again in my life. For that, I am thankful.
But here is what is odd about grief. You’d think I’d be over it right? You’d think forty years later, I’d have moved on from an event that I have no conscious memory of, right? Perhaps it shouldn’t be a big deal. But it seems the older I get, the more I miss her. The more I wonder what might have been. The more I wonder would she be proud of me? What would she think of my kids? Would she spoil them? I wonder am I living life the way that she would have wanted.
Sometimes I feel plagued by guilt. Am I truly living faithfully the life that I have been given? I shouldn’t be here, I should have been killed when she was. I get worried about my kids, my wife, those that I love. I am always afraid of bad things happening to them, I have internalized that notion that something bad can always happen for no good reason. I worry a lot. About my family. About my church. About many things.
Maybe it’s the fact that this year I lost my uncle/brother, her brother Robert Edgar “Don” Leon. Maybe that has sharpened my grief this year. He loved me for her, and I don’t think I realized it at the time how much he did for me. I wish I could go back and say thank you.
I guess I’m saying all this for this reason. Being a Christian doesn’t mean that life always makes sense. It doesn’t mean that you don’t hurt. It doesn’t mean that there is not pain or doubt or fear. Most people who look at me would think that I’m a pretty happy go lucky guy, never knowing the internal fights I fight many days.
And you know what? It’s ok. It’s ok to grieve. It’s ok to admit you are broken. We have made Christianity a religion for only perfect people. We are always happy. Always smiling. Never any problems. And so often we walk away from church and faith because that perception just doesn’t match up with reality.
Sometimes it really hurts. Sometimes we are plagued with doubt and guilt and grief. Sometimes we battle anxiety or depression. Sometimes, many times, most times life is imperfect and hard. Sometimes we want to give up. Sometimes we just want to quit.
And you know what happens then? God is still good. He still doesn’t leave us. He still doesn’t forsake us. He still loves us. Even in our broken imperfection.
You are loved. I am loved. God brings good out of brokenness. I don’t say this to make you feel better or to make me feel better. I say it because it is true. God is good. God loves. God forgives. God sustains. God provides. These statements are true. Even if we don’t feel it. Grief is an odd thing. I am thankful that even in grief, my God remains true.