“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” Charles Dickens knew what he was talking about when he began his A Tale of Two Cities. These sentiments which seem so opposite are so often true simultaneously. It is one of the major paradoxes of life that those times that seem worst visit alongside those that we remember as some of the best.
This past weekend in my life was one of those times. I received a call on Saturday morning that my grandmother had passed away. Her final breaths seem to have been around the time that I was kneeling by my bed asking God to end her suffering and grant her wish to go to her permanent home. She was ready to see her Jesus face to face, and her wish was finally granted.
The weekend was a busy one for me. Moments after I received the news of her death, I left the house to go and pray for people in the center of the town where I live. Healing on the Streets is a ministry I have the joy to be involved with each Saturday, and this one was no different. The rest of Saturday flew by in a flurry of visitors, laughs with a friend, writing projects, cleaning and rearranging my flat, and I was left with little time to process the news I had received.
Sunday was also a busy day. I was part of a team leading worship at church, singing with renewed passion the words, “Now death, where is your sting? Our resurrected King has rendered you defeated.” After church, I prepared to go and be part of an advent service with the choir I get to sing with. The afternoon was filled with more laughs, praise songs, and a message of hope and expectancy for the coming season of celebrating the coming of our Savior.
And then came Sunday evening… I knew the time of the service for my grandma was nearing, and I was home alone. I chatted via text with a couple of friends who told me they would be praying for my family, but communication felt somewhat sparse. I felt alone with my grief, and for the first time since receiving the phone call, there was nothing to distract me from it. All thoughts of the hope and expectancy I had just been celebrating mere hours before were forgotten, and loneliness and sorrow filled their space.
About the time I imagined the memorial service would be wrapping up, I received a reply from a friend I had messaged earlier in the evening. The friend offered condolences and prayers and then asked if I would share a bit about my grandma. As my words and tears flowed, healing and comfort came. With a simple question, my friend had given me the opportunity to have my own sort of memorial service via Facebook messenger. I had no idea that I needed space to share and celebrate the life and legacy of this special woman whom I got to call Grandma, but God did. At just the right time, He sent someone to open that door and provide the space I needed to remember and to celebrate.
Monday morning brought with it a worship time with friends, more tears, and lots of hugs. (For the record, to any of my local friends, hugs are always welcome!) I was no longer “alone” with my grief, but surrounded by people who would be a shoulder to cry on, and in some cases, eyes to shed tears right along with mine.
Just before I left the church where our worship and class times take place, setup was going on for a funeral. I stood alone in the church hall where overflow seating would be provided with the service shown on screen. Standing there, staring at the preparations happening on the screen, I couldn’t help thinking of the previous night and the service I had missed.
This time, though, there was joy mixed with the sorrow. The paradox of grief and hope was there, and I could feel the hope growing again. Those few days were certainly among the worst of times, but in the midst of them was the hope that this advent season represents – the coming of Christ. Immanuel, God with us, has come to walk with us through the darkness and bring hope that never dies. His arrival in the simple request from one friend and the hugs of other friends broke into the midst of my pain. The worst of times collided with the best of times, all because of Him and the hope He brings.
I don’t know what you’re facing during this holiday season. What I do know is that, just as God showed up in a most unexpected way all those centuries ago, He is still showing up today to those in need of the hope He brings. He may not come in the way you expect, but keep your eyes open and you will see Him. He is here!