Finding God in a Painful Place

Shawnelle, her sons and her dog

The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in sprit. (Psalm 34:18; NIV)

It was about a month ago that we learned that our girl greyhound, Sis, had bone cancer. A month of medication. A month of holding her while she whimpered. A month of learning that the best thing for her was to let her go.

“I can’t believe she’s not here,” I whisper into Lonny’s shoulder. We’re in bed but the lamplight is on. Lonny’s arms are warm and familiar, but this feeling, the ache of loss, is not. I’ve just tucked our three youngest in bed. Little boys wresting with a big hurt.

Sis had come from the track and had moved deep into our hearts.

“I know,” he says. His arms pull me close. I listen for Sis’s breath beside our bed. There’s only Flash, our boy greyhound. I don’t want to peer over the edge to look at him.

There’s sadness in his eyes, too. So we sit quiet for a long while, not wanting to push words into the near-darkness. If the words begin to flow, so will the pain.

Logan, our oldest son, had called from college earlier in the evening.

“If she only had a short time to be loved,” he’d said, “I’m glad she was loved by you.”

Shawnelle, her sons and her dogThe sentiment had made me smile, but in truth, I was blessed to have been loved by Sis. She came to us timid and afraid. But in two years she’d blossomed. She’d learned to love and trust and had become a beautiful, thriving creature. She was a treasure unveiled.

And now she was gone.

“Mama,” a voice comes from the hall, pulling my thoughts from a tender place. “I can’t sleep. Is it okay to come in?”

Zay’s head pokes around the corner. His hair is wild and I can tell he tried to sleep. I nod and he rushes in, settling into a warm place between Lonny and me.

But soon there’s another voice.

“Mom,” Gabe says. “I’m sad. I just can’t sleep.” He shuffles in and stands beside the bed. His eyes are red. His pajama top doesn’t match the bottoms and this pulls my heart.

“Come on up,” I say.

He nestles in beside Zay, close against my side. A breath later, Samuel appears. And shortly after that, it’s 17-year-old Grant.

“Do you care if I hang out?” he asks. He sprawls at the end of the bed, legs hanging over and arms tucked behind his head. He stares at the ceiling, and I know he’s hurting, too.

And for a while it’s silent. And then the silence gives way to words.

“She put her head on my lap,” Gabe says, “when she wanted to rest.”

“Her eyes were so brown,” Zay says. “She was gentle like a deer.”

Soon the family is reminiscing. Remembering. And as I listen, something inside me opens, too. We share memories that make us laugh out loud. We share tender things that make us cry. We share until the green digital numbers on our clock tell us that an hour has gone by. Then we share some more.

And I consider, in this sweet circle of family gathered tight on this one bed, that in this world death is a part of life, but the Lord doesn’t leave us alone in this pain. He counts our tears. He binds our wounds. He comes near to the brokenhearted.

And in this moment, His love is powerfully present.

The hour is late. The boys grow tired. Sis is a memory. We hold images of her stretched under the old maple. Curled beside my boys. Running so fast we half thought she’d fly.

But the Lord is here.

Bringing fullness to what was empty.

And grace to this painful thing.

Thank you, God, for the time we had with Sissy. And thank you for gathering us together. For being with us now. Amen.