STORING THE MEMORIES
Part 12 of 12 of “How to Keep Trusting in God, Even in the Face of Significant Loss”
by Eric Elder
Today I’d like to share with you the final message in my series, “How to Keep Trusting in God, Even in the Face of Significant Loss.” This is the 12th of 12 messages that I’ve written to you this past year regarding the loss of my dear wife, Lana. I say I’ve written them to you, but they’ve helped me just as much, as I’ve been able to think through all that God has done through this major life-changing event.
After rereading each of these messages–and the notes that you’ve sent in response–I’ve decided to put all 12 messages into a book that I hope will help others in the future as they process their own losses in their lives. The book will be ready later in the week, and I’ll let you know how to get a copy when it’s done. It’s called Making the Most of the Darkness: How to Keep Trusting in God Even in the Face of Significant Loss.
With that introduction, here’s the final chapter of the book, Part 12 of 12 called “Storing The Memories,” which also includes a personal update on our lives.
Storing The Memories
by Eric Elder
One of the things I look forward to at the end of each year is to look back. I’m often surprised at all that’s happened during the year, and it gives me hope for the year to come.
This past year has been no exception. As I was writing my year-end letter for my family and friends this week, I was amazed at all that God helped me to do this year, even though I felt like so much of it was just absorbed in my grief of losing Lana. As God reminded me of all that He has done in my life this year, I was reminded of the words of Jesus:
“But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you” (John 14:26).
As I looked through my journal, as I looked through my Facebook posts, as I looked through pictures on my phone and in albums, I was reminded of all that God was doing in my life, even when I wasn’t aware of it at the time.
This time of looking back truly has given me hope for the future. I’m in a different place now after a year of grief than I was last year at this time. And in many ways, I’m in a different place now than I’ve ever been in my life. Things will never be the same.
That’s a statement that has often brought a flood of tears. But as I’ve looked back over all that God has done in my life this past year, I can see that statement in a different light. From here on out, things will never be the same. And I praise God for it. It reminds me of the lyrics to a song by Stephen Schwartz called, “For Good,” from his popular musical, Wicked:
“It well may be
That we will never meet again
In this lifetime
So let me say before we part
So much of me
Is made of what I learned from you
You’ll be with me
Like a handprint on my heart
And now whatever way our stories end
I know you have re-written mine…
Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better?
But because I knew you
I have been changed for good.”
Just before she died, Lana asked me to put together a picture book of all the work we’ve done on the house here at Clover Ranch and send it to a friend who helped us so much with the project. As I looked through pictures from the past 7 years, I was amazed at the transformation that I saw taking place from year to year. It was a lot of work and it took a lot of time, but it was beautiful in the end.
I put together the book and sent it to our friend as Lana had asked. But it was so helpful to me to look back, and gave me such hope for the future as I look forward, that I bought an extra album for myself and printed out an extra set of pictures so I could keep a copy, too. It’s filled with memories I’ll treasure for the rest of my life.
As hard as it was to look back at the past, I’ve been encouraged by it as I look forward to the future. Perhaps you’ll find it encouraging, too.
In closing, I’d like to share with you the year-end letter I wrote to my family and friends this week. As you’ve been with me on this journey, I certainly consider you my family and friends, too! There really is another side to grief, and I’m thankful now to be able to see it for myself. Here’s my year-end letter.
January 18th, 2014
Happy New Year to you! I wanted to send you an updated picture of our family, along with an update on how we’re doing. I was torn again this year between which Christmas picture to send you, so I’m sending you both. (I’d love it if you wanted to save or print one of these pictures as a reminder to pray for us throughout the year! Just click a picture to get a higher quality version.)
We took these on Christmas Eve at the Lexington Cemetery, about 7 miles from our home, where we installed a memorial bench for Lana this fall. One picture seems to highlight Lana’s beautiful memorial and the other seems to highlight the beautiful faces of our kids. I think Lana’s spirit is clearly evident in both!
I kept the first few months of last year as low-key as possible: doing school with the three younger kids, finishing projects around the house and working on some behind-the-scenes things for the ministry. I wrote a few messages for The Ranch website and spoke at a few churches, but overall it was nice to spend some time out of public view for awhile after our whirlwind year.
In April I drove to Houston in a friend’s truck to pick up the granite bench for Lana’s memorial. My cousin Joan had found it at a craft shop there and sent us a picture just a few days before Lana passed away. Lana loved it and I did too. It turned out to be cheaper to pick it up myself than to ship it to Illinois, and the road trip gave me some extra time on my own to think and pray.
While I was in Houston, I visited the church where we were married. Of course I cried as I knelt at the front of the church where I said my vows to Lana: “You are a gift from God to me and I plan to treat you as a gift.” As I walked through the empty hallways that day, I felt like I was reliving a scene from the Titanic. My mind filled in the empty hallways with people and dancing and private moments with Lana (and the photographer) from 24 years ago. I don’t think I needed a photographer to remember anything from that day.
We tried to keep things the same as much as possible around the house this year because so much had already changed in our lives. We planted a garden as usual in the spring, and we made Lana’s favorite salsa with all the tomatoes and peppers and parsley that we grew. (The rest of the garden was overtaken with weeds when our tiller broke, just so you’re not left with some picturesque but false view of our life in the country–although we all still love it out here!)
The rest of our summer was filled with fun things like Kaleo’s dance recital in May, Josiah’s week at Boy Scout camp in June, and music festivals and a camping trip to the sand dunes on Lake Michigan in July and August.
In the fall I drove Makari back out to California (in her 1993 convertible 240SX…the best way to head out west!) to start her second year at Bethel College in Redding where she’ll finish a 2-year certificate in transformational ministry in May. On the last day of our trip, driving through the mountains with the top down in the beautiful sun, I somehow felt that everything was going to be all right.
It was a turning point for me and, by the time I flew back to Illinois and started school with the three younger kids again, I felt like my heart was really on its way to healing. The deep pain of losing Lana was starting to be replaced with so many beautiful memories, and it’s just been getting better and better ever since.
In December I flew to Australia to spend two weeks with Lucas and watch him graduate after 3 years with an advanced diploma in worship and leadership from Hillsong International Leadership College. It was great to meet Lucas’ friends and teachers, see a ballet at the Sydney Opera House, spend a day at the Taronga Zoo and see The Hunger Games 2 at the world’s largest IMAX theater.
Two weeks after Lucas graduated, Karis texted me to let me know she had just turned in her final paper to finish her bachelor’s degree in biblical studies from Liberty University Online. She’ll have a graduation ceremony in Virginia in May, but as of now I have two college graduates! I’m so proud of both of them, and I know Lana would be so pleased at the fruit of all her labors of homeschooling the kids from kindergarten through high school.
We were all together for two weeks at Christmas before Makari had to fly back to California for her 2nd semester at Bethel. We’re starting to get back into the swing of school here at the house, too, happy to have Lucas home for awhile after being so far away for much of the last 3 years. Last weekend we had a movie night here at the house with all the kids (minus Makari) to watch the first of the Lord of the Rings movies as Bo had just finished reading the first book.
And that brings us up to today, January 18th, 2014. It’s a new year and a new season of life. Psalm 5:3 has become one of my daily prayers:
“In the morning, O LORD, You hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before You and wait in expectation.”
I never could have made it without God’s help and without your love and prayers. Thank you! I appreciate you all so much.