Only God can take a day marked by pain and suffering and turn it into a day of celebration. It’s been one whole year since Mama died. I have thought back on that day and re-lived the moments a million times since then. For months it haunted me, and it was a memory that only brought deep pain and sadness. Until recently.

Many of the events and moments surrounding her death are still awful. Grief, like time, still marches on. But on that day, my mama stepped into Heaven for the first time. I knew it then, and that hope — the hope of Jesus — carried me through. But most of the “firsts” without her and the milestones along the way have been a painful reminder of the distance between us; how long it’s been since the worst day; how long since I’ve held her hand, or heard her voice, or known her smile. Too long.

But, the Lord.

While grief has been one constant over the span of this year, the Lord has been anotherthe companion, the friend that met me in my grief and proved His faithfulness day by day and revealed more and more beauty for ashes along the way. As this date drew nearer on the calendar, I considered how to mark the day. Will it always be a day of sadness and loss? Can it be redeemed in my heart? Can it be good when it feels worlds from it?

And the Lord answered. I’ve spent a whole year missing my mom, grieving her loss. But, for her? She has spent her first year in Heaven, experiencing the eternal promises of God firsthand. No more pain, no more tears, no more death. Her pain has been undone! (Revelation 21:4, Acts 2:24) Praise be to Jesus! This day marks the moment Mama took her first steps into Heaven. But she didn’t totter, or falter. She didn’t walk. No, I believe she ran. She ran right into the arms of Jesus. Those were my last words to my mama: “Run to Jesus!”

As I’ve replayed the moments surrounding her death, I’ve heard my own words spoken back to me: Run to Jesus.

Those words have been a lighthouse, a signal fire calling me back to shore when I’ve been tossed by the waves of grief.

How do you keep breathing during profound sorrow? How do you keep doing the next thing? How do you keep putting one foot in front of the other?

Run to Jesus.

“…Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:1-2

Mama gave me one final gift in the final hours leading up to her death. I played her many hymns in those days; familiar words that I hoped would bring her comfort. The evening before she finally went home, I played a song that took me back to long red pews and gold-glittered ceilings, the church of my childhood. I’d forgotten it at the time, but my dad reminded me it was a song she loved. I played it, and then, with my sister beside me I witnessed a profoundly beautiful moment. Mama sang. Somehow, even as she labored for each breath, she sang: Beulah land, I’m longing for you…Beulah land, sweet Beulah Land.

Beulah is a Hebrew word that means “married” or “rule over.” (Yes, Lord, I need Your reign and rule in my heart!) But the deeper meaning, the significance comes from Isaiah 62.

“You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate, but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her (Hephzibah), and your land Married (Beulah); for the Lord delights in you, and your land shall be married. For…as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.” Isaiah 62:4-5

Those final days, hours, and moments with my mom were gut wrenching. Her suffering was unbearable, And yet, she gave me this gift. Through her singing she expressed her longing for her eternal home with Jesus. She expressed a reality that couldn’t be seen with the eyes. In that moment I believe her eyes were fixed on what is unseen, the eternal, (1 Corinthians 4:18). Forever delighted in and cared for, forever united with Christ.

Jesus bore the weight of the sin of the whole world and cried out in His final moments, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46).

But because of what Christ accomplished on the cross, that isn’t what my mom had to experience. Her death was not easy. It was brutal. It was a physical battle until the very end. But the spiritual, eternal battle was already won. She was never once forsaken, never once left alone or desolate. As we held her here, her Heavenly Father held her as well, until she set foot into Heaven and ran. When she finally breathed her last in this world, she ran into the delight and forever embrace of Christ.

Only God can take the darkest, hardest day and turn it to delight.

And you know what’s beautiful, I dare say, delightful as I look back on this year? All the ways it has sharpened the focus of my faith eyes, peering into the unseen to what’s everlasting and imperishable. I know God more deeply, His heart more profoundly, His love more extravagantly. The deeper the wound, the further I run into His mercy and grace, and the more I understand His pursuit of me. Grief is a journey, a pathway that leads me straight to His heart. Pain and sadness may persist, but even more so, His grace.

I have grieved deeply. I still grieve. But, mingled with the hard, I’ve experienced joy, relief, happy memories, and laughter. I’ve tasted and I’ve seen the undeniable goodness of God; His nearness and hope, the rewriting of broken stories.

I’ll say it again, only God can take the darkest, hardest day and turn it to delight.

So today, I celebrate Mama’s birthday into Heaven. Happy Heaven Day, Mama! I miss you, but I don’t wish you were here. Today I will sing, I will laugh. I will delight in knowing exactly where you are and who you are with. Give Jesus another hug for me.

You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; You have put off my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, to the end that my glory may sing praise to You and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to You forever. ‭‭Psalms‬ ‭30‬:‭11-‭12‬

Forever, Lord. You get all my praise.

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