My heart can’t lay down the bereaved parents who have followed our journey with passionate prayers and broken dreams. I write a post and then lay it down, I prep a sermon and then leave it in the drawer. What do we say to the many who celebrate with us so sincerely while their own children’s beds lie empty?
It’s school holidays here and we jump at the chance to regroup as a family without the constant turning of the rat-wheel of routine. We escape to the midlands - a piece of green paradise and rolling hills that lies between our Drakensberg Mountains and the sea.
Today we visit a coffee shop on a farm, and the boys are picking wild mulberries and staining their hands with blood-red life. As soon as our cappuccinos are finished, they pull us up from the table to show us what they’ve discovered outside. We jump from rock to rock to avoid the scratchy grass, and the girls shriek at huge lizards that look like they might grow into crocodiles.
We’re pulled around the corner and through a labyrinth of figs growing on wire fences like vines - the boys are pointing things out excitedly while we hush them, not wanting to disturb the other guests.
We arrive in what must be the restaurant’s veggie garden, bursting with verdant spinach and edible flowers. The grandest sight of the tour is a massive pumpkin, easily as round as a bicycle wheel, which the boys put their foot on like a Captain Morgan advert, declaring their successful conquest of the pumpkin patch. All around are beautifully formed butternuts and even a grapevine, which we have to keep a beady eye on to make sure our little adventurers don’t evolve into thieves. Of all the garden we have arrived in, which is circumferenced by tall hedges that make us feel like we’ve discovered a secret, there is only one scar to marr the picture. A row of tall sunflowers are blackened from head to root. Death has overtaken their previous glory.
I call the children to attention around them and ask them to look carefully at the blackened faces of the sunflowers. “What do you see?” I ask, and there are murmurs of nothing until one child touches the face with a finger and a few black seeds fall into his palm.
I teach about farming sunflowers, about the blooms and bees and the pollinated seeds which find their value after the flowers have outlived theirs.
And in my heart the bereaved sit heavy, but in my mind the sunflower has found true meaning. And in my soul I know that we don’t know the reason for death, but we know the One who does. The One who said to Job, when Job tried to teach him how to judge, “Have you ever gotten to the true bottom of things, explored the labyrinthine caves of the deep ocean? Do you know the first thing about death? Do you have one clue regarding death’s dark mysteries? Speak up if you have even the beginning of an answer.”
I weave back between the labyrinth of figs, and duck between the wires when the path becomes too long. And I have my seven scampering with unhushable life, and I wish I had an answer to give, but all I have to give is thanks. Thanks for today and thanks for the healing, but thanks, too, for the mysteries and for the God who knows. He leads us through the labyrinthine caves of deepest darkness and death unfathomed, and we give thanks because he is with us. No answer I can give could bring better comfort than a present God who walked these paths before us, and promises to lead us through. Only he has full knowledge of the life abundant that we will see on the other side of death’s dark curtain.