For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
…a time to weep, and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance… Ecclesiastes 3:1, 4
We needed a place to grieve, a place to gather and hold one another close as our hearts were breaking.
Our house had been bursting at the seams for years. In 2008 there were 13 of us in our four-bedroom home. I dreamed of building an addition, but it was too costly. Could an outdoor space expand our home – at least in good weather? Maybe a porch or a patio?
Then one snowy morning on a rural Idaho highway our lives changed forever.
We lost our 13-year-old daughter, Kalkidan, in a tragic car accident. We were in shock, injured, and devastated.
As we walked through grief, I knew I was different now. My priorities had changed. I could no longer race through my days dealing with urgent matters and living as if there would always be time for important things later.
There might not be a tomorrow.
More than anything, I wanted to gather with my family and hold them close. I wanted them to know how dear they were to me. These precious people are my most valuable treasures and I wanted my life and priorities to reflect that.
A few years earlier, my father had given me some money as a generous gift telling me to use it for anything I wanted. My sisters quickly decided how to use theirs; I waited and thought about it. Now it became clear. I wanted to build the long-considered patio where we could gather as a family, grieve, and someday, maybe even laugh again.
I could picture it in my mind; a simple concrete patio with chairs around a fire pit. Russ, however, pictured something entirely different – a patio of stone pavers complete with a curved wall, lighting, steps leading up from the driveway, and a cobblestone pathway winding to the front of the house.
He researched, drew designs, and dug up the backyard with the tractor. Russ loves hard, detailed work. Making something beautiful with his hands was one way he could grieve.
But as life would have it, time was short and progress was slow. Parenting our large family while recovering from the accident took everything we had.
Then our daughter got engaged and asked us to host the wedding in our yard.
I looked at our home and yard and knew the amount of work would be tremendous. But twenty years earlier we’d stood in the backyard with our realtor and I said, “You know, we could even have a wedding here someday.” This was our dream coming true.
We said “yes” to hosting the wedding and took a good look at what needed to be done.
Over the years of parenting our kids with lots of needs, we’d fallen behind on home and yard maintenance and it showed. Completing the patio catapulted to the top of our frighteningly long To-Do list.
As soon as the snow melted in April, work began. We spent long hours carrying heavy pavers one-by-one, placing them in alternating patterns on layers of perfectly leveled gravel and sand.
As the wedding day grew closer, Russ worked later each night. Most nights as I got ready for bed, I looked out our upstairs window to see Russ working under bright utility lights.
There were many times over the past four years when I was frustrated and even angry that this project had become so consuming. The process was tedious and took too much time and effort.
I had dreamed of a place for us to gather and grieve, but here we were four and a half years later still building the patio.
The wedding day came and just hours before family photos, the patio was finished. It took most of our family and a few incredibly sacrificial friends to complete it.
As I looked at this carefully crafted space, God opened my eyes to a beautiful truth.
My dream of a patio was birthed in sorrow. Now the first event to take place on it would be a wedding.
This is our God’s way. What we sow in tears, we reap in joy.
We’ve sown many tears of loss and grief in recent years. Now, after decades of prayer, our daughter was marrying a wonderful man.
We’re reaping so much joy.
God does not leave us in our sorrow forever. He gently leads us back to joy, even in the hard, dark, confusing times. He shines light into our darkness and illuminates the beauty.
On a beautiful July night, our daughter and her husband exchanged vows. Fields of wheat turning from green to gold served as a backdrop. Later that evening, after a delicious dinner, humorous toasts, and cake-cutting, the music started and we danced.
We danced for hours on the patio. And when the DJ packed his gear at the end of the night, our kids set up another sound system and the music kept going.
You turned my wailing into dancing;
you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,
that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent.
Lord my God, I will praise you forever. Ps. 30: 11-12
God turned our mourning into dancing. His love stuns me and fills me with gratitude.
Sorrow will rip your heart wide open leaving you gasping for air and desperately crying for help and relief. You may weep.
But the tears you sow today will grow into a rich harvest. One day death will be defeated forever and our joy will be complete.
Friend, if you’re grieving and your heart is broken, you can trust Him. This is not the end.
Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy. Ps. 126:5
The patio will always be a symbol of what God has done. The place where I thought I would grieve became the place where we rejoiced in the goodness of God and recalled answered prayers. It’s the place where we danced for hours celebrating two people joining their lives and becoming a family.
I believe we’ll see Kalkidan again and I imagine it may feel we’ve only been parted for a moment. Her vibrant spirit we loved on this earth will be even more colorful and brilliant in heaven.
And we’ll dance in the presence of our holy and loving God.