Glory in the Valley

Today’s post comes straight from the heart of Johanna Garrett. Today she shares her story of hope in the midst of losing her grandmother. I hope you are encouraged by her faith.

Johanna and her grandmother

Hi friends, my name is Johanna I am a Senior (super hard to believe) studying Human Development here at Virginia Tech. My hometown is Virginia Beach, where a few of my favorite things are grabbing coffee with friends and listening to live music!  I have enjoyed being a part of the BCM community these past three years and have loved getting to lead alongside others in their walk with Christ!

No one could have imagined the past few months of life would be filled with enduring a global pandemic. It’s all different. Everything in a matter of weeks shifted around the world and what once was, most likely, will be forever changed. This season has been a whirlwind and we all have experienced unexpected changes to our lives whether it was lost opportunities, economic challenges, increased fear and anxiety, cancelled trips, altered routines, etc. The normal we once all knew was gone.  I faced personal loss when my grandmother unexpectedly passed away in early May from non-covid health conditions.

My grandmother had a huge influence on my life. She lived in my childhood home, helping to raise my brother and me after our parent’s divorce. My grandma introduced me to Jesus and was the most selfless, faithful, and joyous reflection of His loving kindness I could have been gifted with. Some of my fondest memories were our many road trips of taking my sweet grandma all along the East Coast; she was always ready for a road trip with our wild family even at eighty-five years old. Our late afternoons of coffee and intentional conversations (mostly filled with belly laughs) are what I miss the most. I have twenty-one years saturated with memories of her and I hold each moment so dearly.

In loss of all kinds, we have triumph where defeat is only temporary, and death is made a mockery. I feel the noble ache of my grandmother not being here, but I choose thankfulness. Her legacy and life of following Christ gives me the hope that I can look beyond and know vividly that life is only a breath and for all eternity we will be close again. Jesus bought that for me, so I am profoundly thankful. He is alive and my grandmother is alive in Him. So we press on and live fully alive too. The Lord makes good on every word, and even if I can’t see how, it doesn’t mean it’s not. However and whenever He delivers it, it is wrapped up in a goodness I cannot fathom.

The Lord has taught me that grief and hope are not distant from each other but fully intertwined. Hope gives way to a tender grief, and grief, a more heartfelt hope. If we need a model to look to in this, Jesus does just that. He is the one that wept at the loss of Lazarus, while knowing resurrection was just around the corner. He allowed His heart and humanity to have a place in the story. It showed us something we had never seen, but desperately needed, fully God and fully man. The Father has always been on the scene shattering silence to embrace us. Immanuel. God our answer, unafraid of our mess, even from the first breath in the trough. He is right here, ever present. Whether in harvest or a barren place, God is always involved in all He made, not stoic or unaffected by our disappointment and pain. 

I never doubted His goodness, but anger, disappointment, searing loss had to get out. He never left, didn’t correct me. He pulled in closer.

Johanna Garrett

When Jesus pressed on my heart to seek out distance as a space to heal and reflect after my grandmother’s funeral, I resisted it, downplayed it, overplayed it, and then gave into it. I’d rather have stayed up and moving, looking to serve my friends and family unfazed by the aching of loss, but I had broken bones and Jesus is too good to let me move around like normal on them. He was clear they were not broken from defeat- there is no defeat here. Death isn’t darkness, that’s because of Jesus; the fear of death is completely shamed into becoming a passage into fuller life. But pain? Yes. Loss in this lifetime? Yes. Jesus refused to leave, even when I thought He should. I tried to play it tidy, right, and holy, but He doesn’t ask for our grief in a perfect organized pile. He takes our humanity in all its spilling out and draws us in. I never doubted His goodness, but anger, disappointment, searing loss had to get out. He never left, didn’t correct me. He pulled in closer. I’m learning shepherd Jesus, who’s acquainted with valleys, not afraid to walk with us. Not rushed to move us along, because He is the patient, kind, listening Good Shepherd. I can be honest with Him, because He’s holding me, His name is Truth, and He won’t let me stray. His name is Way, and I won’t get stuck there in the waiting. He created passages where fear tells me I’m at a dead end. He is life when this planet is gripped with a fear of death, grappling for control. One of the biggest stances of faith I’m learning is to remain confident in trust. He means it when He says to come to Him, when weary and burdened, not after. Rest comes from His hand, not from earthly answers or things going back to normal. I will never have my things back to normal; who knows when you’ll get yours. In what we face, He is King, He is Shepherd, He defeated death, and knows every detail.

After reading through Hebrews 11 a few weeks ago verses 39-40 really resonated with me, “and all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.” I wondered how these heroes of faith could so wholeheartedly trust and not get what they expected. Even though they obtained a good testimony through faith, they never saw the promise in the same way that we do on this side of the cross. They did not receive the promise, the testimony of the completed work of the Messiah on their behalf. It is not that they did not; it just wasn’t how they expected, or maybe how I expected it for them. I wanted to be assured it always turns out exactly like I thought. I can identify how the faithfulness of Hebrews 11 pulled eternity up to my finiteness, it challenges my tidy “if this, then that” expectations. It does mean something about God, but not what I was afraid of.  He’s not lying, He won’t cheat us or steal, He doesn’t just sweep our fears under the rug and say get over it, be thankful for what you have. He’s much better. His promises are so good that they’re tied to His nature and nearness. Maybe we’re meant to see some by the light of His face, by the glimmer of the Morning Star Himself. There may be promises so beautiful they find their fulfillment in the glory that awaits us. I know I will see many in this life. I know there are promises He will hand-deliver me, in His presence, the presence of my grandmother’s legacy, and the presence of friends and family dear to me. This does not make me contend less, far from quieting “earth as in heaven,” it makes me hope even louder.

So, it only makes sense to stand heaven-side to look at the remainder of my days, and it’s a very different view from there. I see green-with-life purpose, hope, and redemption. There are plans for my life that matter to eternity and need to be completed here. I do not have the answers, but a byproduct of walking through this valley is that I am standing on the right side of the question, and from here I believe my every breath will turn triumphant. There’s glory in the valley. It’s not the year we expected or what I would have hoped for, but throughout the waiting and loss, a redemptive reuniting is awaiting. We choose joy. We choose love. We chose peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness & self-control. We choose Christ. Do not think of it as a pulling yourself up by the bootstraps, because healing and renewing is a process. What we are doing when we choose to redeem our attitude is living out the redemption story of the grace of God and the sacrifice of his son. We can rest in our identity in Christ and allow Him to be strong where we are weak. Nothing forgotten, nothing wasted. He is still in the middle of it all, rebuilding ruined places, He is better than I ever knew, and He can still have all my love. If you can only taste bitter, keep on my friend, sweetness is coming.

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