Last year, our family made a couple of trips to Washington D.C. for long weekends. The idea for taking one of those trips came from a request by our daughter, Ava, who asked if we could possibly make the journey for her 10th birthday. Now, we don’t usually make it a habit to honor birthday requests to take a four-day vacation to one of the most expensive cities in the country, but this was different. Ava was asking if we could go to D.C. in order to visit her first daddy and my first husband, Tell, where he is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
Ava’s 10th birthday also fell in the same year as the 10th anniversary of Tell’s death on a September morning in Iraq. The ten-year anniversary was the reason we made the second visit to D.C., for a reunion with his unit. When Ava was born eleven years ago, I experienced what I thought was the greatest joy in bringing a little life into the world. Five months later, I experienced what I thought was the greatest sorrow in burying the man whom I loved more than anything. But most significantly, most powerfully – most drastically life changing – nearly eleven years ago, I had an encounter with Jesus the Christ. And this encounter literally brought me from death to life.
Ephesians 2:1-10 encompasses this picture for me with poignant accuracy. The darkness of death washed over me on that beautiful September day, but in it there was grace applied in God’s powerful and mysterious way. I was already dead in my sin and by nature, a child of wrath. It took the death of the one I loved to understand my own depth of depravity. This would be a double portion of grief if it weren’t for the immense, inexpressible, irresistible love of God.
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved me, even when I was dead in my trespasses, made me alive together with Christ.
This powerful demonstration of love doesn’t erase the repeated memories of pain in the loss. After ten years, the raw emotions of pain and sorrow can surprise me with their force on dark days, but even for this I am grateful. Remembrance compels us to gratitude. The narrative of love from the One who promises life (1 John 2:25), also promises us that our afflictions are light and momentary, preparing us for an eternal weight of glory (2 Cor 4:17).
He promises new things and to make a way in the wilderness (Is 43:19), and we know that if in the loss of all things we may gain the knowledge of Christ, then indeed, it is a knowledge that surpasses all worth (Phil 3:7-11).
So I don’t consider the sufferings of this tragedy to define me; rather, I consider the cross and fall upon my knees to thank this God of love and compassion for the gift of grace in salvation. And I look forward as I trust in the future grace of God as he continues to reveal the story he has written for my life: one of joy, affliction, triumph, sorrow, - and as I call to mind every day - hope.
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” (Lam 3:24)
Loss. Sorrow. Grace. Glory. Hope. Follow the path of Jess’s story from the deepest darkest depths to the soaring heights of God’s endless love. In God’s sovereign plan, a dear life was lost but new and everlasting life in Him was found. By His grace, God put me in the gap to be a husband for Jess and daddy for Ava when they were without. Later, He gave us Elloree and all the joy she brings to our life. This year we traveled to China to adopt Leeona, too. But why? What’s this all for?
I ask God this question often as I try to lead my family in a way that honors Him. I think that is a question that Memorial Day begs. Why all this loss? Is the freedom we hold dear worth the countless lives it cost? More than an excuse to light the grill, Memorial Day should call us to remember, in gratitude, the sacrifices made by many for our country. It should compel us to be vigilant stewards of liberty to continually honor those who paid the price for it.
More so, as Christians, as we pay tribute to the fallen, may we rejoice as we see God’s love in action still – though once slayed for our sake on the cross, now mighty and strong to save us forever. True love and sacrifice on display in the face of evil, securing our eternal hope.
You may hear it this weekend. The old hymn goes like this: “...as He died to make men holy, let us live to make men free.”
That song evokes great emotion as America pauses to remember on Memorial Day. But may these dear words that point to the gift of salvation not fade away but instead rally our hearts come Tuesday morning. Out of remembrance and gratitude for what Jesus has done for you, present yourself as a living sacrifice so that others may know Him and live. Let love be genuine. Rejoice in hope.
Jessica and Rhodes Roberts have been married nine years and have three daughters, Ava (11), Elloree (7), and Leeona (3). They have been members of Brook Hills since 2012.