I used to think orphans were simply people without parents. Characters like Harry Potter and Oliver Twist came to mind. Little dancers from the musical Annie came to mind too. Didn’t they all have happy endings?
When I married an orphan, though, my understanding changed.
Life isn’t about a happy ending. Life is about the journey. And the journey without parents is hard. I never would have imagined how hard if I didn’t witness it for myself, every day and every year, at every celebration and every holiday.
Jeff and I had a traditional wedding ceremony, but we omitted the part where each mother lights a candle. It wasn’t possible.
As unbelievably special as that day was, there was still a taint of sadness to it. Jeff’s mom and dad were not there to celebrate with their firstborn son.
I remember our first Thanksgiving together. It was such a little thing. I had washed and peeled and boiled the potatoes. But when it was time to mash them, I couldn’t remember the correct proportions of milk and butter to add. So I called my mom.
From 400 miles away, my mom told me how much milk and butter to use. I hung up the phone and proceeded to pour the measured milk. Across the room, however, I caught a brief expression.
He didn’t see me. The room was filled with children scampering and aunts and uncles chattering, but I noticed, before it quickly masked over to the face everyone else recognizes. And I knew. Some people don’t have a mom they can call about mashed potatoes. Some people can’t call home.
Holidays and weddings and births—special occasions that other people celebrate blithely—require, for us, tender care.
By the time we had our first child, I had learned a few things. So I didn’t invite anyone to the hospital to see our new baby. I made excuses, like how tired we were or how we weren’t sure when we would be discharged from the hospital.
But really, I wanted to provide space and time, to allow for the grieving that inevitably follows the initial joy. The grieving that his parents will never be grandparents. They will never see our little girl. They will never see what a wonderful father their son became.
And you never know when this grief will strike. It might be moments after the birth. It might be days. It’s a grief he rarely speaks of—because there are no words. It’s a special kind of grief, and I have learned to respect it. And provide a space and time for it. It’s a private pain, and it’s hard to explain.
Of course, we celebrated our little girl’s birth, and we made phone calls to announce her arrival. But we waited until we were home, a few days later, before inviting guests for a visit. It was a beautifully tender time, and this time, we celebrated and grieved together.
More recently, our daughter Brynn was a flowergirl in a cousin’s wedding. It was a beautiful day, and Brynn relished her role, leaving petals on the aisle just so.
Then at the reception, the photographer gathered the family for various groupings. Jeff’s two uncles and one aunt stood together—three siblings arm in arm—and they smiled for the camera.
The now-familiar ache filled me. There should have been a fourth sibling in that photo. Jeff’s father.
Grief doesn’t always express itself in tears. Some of the deepest pain rarely does. Rather, it is a settled sadness, an abiding sense of loss, like a permanent emptiness in a photo where a loved one should have been.
Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:55,
“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”
The sting of death is real. This is why Christ came—to live a perfect life and die a criminal’s death. But the grave could not hold Him there.
For those who are in Christ, death is not an ending but a passageway. In the meantime, though, we are living here and now. And there are orphans and widows among us. And God gets it. He really gets it. This is why He commands in Scripture, over and over again, to care for orphans and widows (See Ex. 22:22, Deut. 24:17-21, 27:19).
“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows …” (NIV, James 1:27).
If people gather in His name, yet fail to care for the orphans and widows in their midst, then their religion—despite their other “good works”—is not acceptable in His sight.
God sees when no one else does. God knows.
My faith in God’s goodness is renewed by the compassion He shows and the compassion He commands because, nowadays, I get it too.
And while it is easy to count the losses, it is important to remember the gifts.
Within his extended family, Jeff is the nephew. And once he married me (Denise), we became “De-niece and De-nephew.” (I’m a firm believer in God’s sense of humor.)
God gave us to each other, to celebrate together, to grieve together, to raise a family together, and hopefully, someday, to grow old together, and become grandparents together—the kind of grandparents our kids never had.
Today, I am thankful for . . .
98. the God who conquered death
99. the God of compassion who sees and knows
100. the God who provides a companion to see and know too
I am thankful for . . .
101. the family He gave us
102. the bond we share
103. the future we hold
104. the hope we have
And I am beyond thankful that we can . . .
105. journey this life together
What are you thankful for?