Grief is the price we pay for love. —Queen Elizabeth II
My best friend was dead. My faith was shattered. It was too much for me. I felt that I, too, was dying. I desperately needed a breakthrough—a sign, if you will, that she was safe. The thoughts of her being smashed against a mountain in her own private plane just had to be changed. It just had to be.
I would wait seven months for such a healing connection. Let me walk you through the events that led up to the breakthrough.
For nearly a decade, Jody and I read through the Bible each year together. We’d read it out loud when we were together on our trips, and we’d talk about what we were learning over the phone. The day of her death in a tragic plane crash, we’d been reading Psalm 23.
For months after Jody died, I returned again and again to this beloved song in the Old Testament. God used the words to soothe my broken heart. Many people want to blame God for the mishaps of their lives. Maybe you are one who has. I definitely have. I hope that as you journey with me through a small part of the spiritual dimension of my own healing, it will help you see God differently.
Psalm 23—Jody’s and my favorite chapter in the whole Bible—was the means God used more than anything else to bring me to a place of healing through my painful struggle to recover from the loss of my dear friend. Verse by verse, day by day, he showed me his love and care and nearness, and I found myself personalizing each phrase and paraphrasing it, writing it in words that were mine and yet seemed to be his. I will only share from verses 1 and 2.
Verse 1: The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.
My own paraphrase of verse 1: The King of kings and Lord of lords is my very own shepherd—the one who holds my hand and takes full responsibility for me. So, believe it or not, I have need for nothing. I just love that!
I had to believe this by faith for many months, for I certainly didn’t feel it. It is very normal to doubt when the bottom falls out of life. God did not feel to me like a good shepherd that January day when news came that Jody was dead. How could he do this to me? Why would he do this to me? None of my questions had satisfying answers. I had to lean into the truth of God’s word and believe, whether it felt true or not. I had seen him take me through hard times before. I had seen him bring me through to the other side, changed, stronger in my faith, and more deeply in love with my God, my shepherd. I chose to believe he would do it again.
Verse 2: He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters…
My own paraphrase of verse 2: How lovingly he takes me to just the right place—a place where the grass is green and soft. He pats his hand on the spot that is best for me, and I am quick to lie down. Knowing my thirst is real, he leads me to the edge of cool water. He always knows where I need to be and what I’ll need upon arrival. His kindness overwhelms me.
I did not know it at the time, but the tragedy of losing Jody would change my life forever, and change it in some very positive ways—change the way I approach people in pain and teach me the language of sorrow. There were many days when I had to spiritually squint to see and believe that this spot was the right place for me to be. It was dark and hopeless, confusing and unrelenting.
The July following Jody’s death, I was in Colorado for ministry meetings. It was a Monday morning. I was struggling, crying as I read the Bible. I was reading Psalm 23 and sort of camped on this second verse. I was asking God to feed me and quench my deep thirst for understanding and hope. What happened next just took my breath away.
In my mind’s eye, I saw Jody’s face and her big, beautiful smile. Her head was cocked back a bit so I could see her neck where there had been two large scars from the vertebrae surgery following a car accident seven months and one day before she was killed in the plane crash. They were gone! And then she turned around and I saw her back.
In the hospital, I had seen other large scars there from the accident. I had held her head while the stitches were removed. Now she was looking over her shoulder, still smiling. The long scar down the middle of her back and the one across her hip…gone as well. There was a twinkle in her eye—and then my mind went blank. This brief moment brought immeasurable comfort and hope to me. She is whole. She is happy. And I was deeply comforted by my shepherd who helped me lie down in peace and drink from the well of his kindness.
Even the saddest things can become, once we have made peace with them, a source of wisdom and strength for the journey that still lies ahead.
Yes, my friend, healing connections can come when you least expect it. Watch for them.
Barbara Francis 2011