Gratitude and Grief

Today, I have a guest post for you from my very own Dad, Paul Newton.  He recently took a trip to Mexico, and this is the story of one of his most profoundly memorable experiences there.  I hope you enjoy his disarmingly honest and deeply moving account of how God brings comfort to His children in their time of need.

I felt stupid. Here I was, a grown man, weeping and blubbering like a toddler. All I had done is give a small gift, a harmonica that had belonged to my dad, to a dear and deserving brother in Christ. I had thought that it would be no big deal. I had been looking forward to it for over two years, in fact. But when the moment finally came, it was nothing like what I had imagined it would be. From some primal place deep inside I was brutally ambushed by a sudden torrent of pent up emotion that would not, could not be denied. It rushed upon me totally unsuspected and knocked the breath out of me in one vicious blow. Now I was being dragged down in the powerful undertow of its current, fighting to gather my composure against this unrelenting force that felt as if, should it gain the upper hand, it would surely sweep me to my utter destruction. Through my tears, my voice shaking like it was so unsteady on its legs that its collapse could happen at any second, I told brother Esteban that my Mom and I wanted him to have it and use it for God’s glory, and I was sure my Dad would be pleased as well. Then I asked him to play me a hymn, any hymn. He played Sweet Hour of Prayer, one of Dad’s favorites. And I wept like a baby while he played, trying hard not to make embarrassing noises while nearly hyperventilating. Hector Rodriguez held me in a strong sideways hug, and I drew some strength from his kindness and managed to pull myself together on the outside. Inside I was in chaos, and I couldn’t get it under control. My eyes were still leaking at the corners, and I didn’t want to make a big scene, or at least not a bigger scene than I had already made, so I went to the doorway of the temple, and turning my back to the others fixed my eyes on the distant mountains. I couldn’t understand it. In the fourteen months since my Dad had died I had plenty of opportunities to grieve, plenty of times to let down my guard and cry. Why hadn’t the tears picked any of those prime occasions to come gushing out? Why had my grief chosen to make a fool of me 1,500 miles from home, in a foreign country? Here I was in Mexico, the day before a once-in-a-lifetime event, the dedication of this temple, and instead of adding to the joy I was fighting, none too effectively, with all that was in me not to slide over the edge of a precipice of grief that felt more bottomless than the Grand Canyon. Suddenly I felt it surging up within me so strongly that I was sure it would carry me away, so I slipped out the door and went around to the side of the temple where I hoped that I would be out of eyesight and earshot. I was so wrapped up in my struggle that I didn’t even hear Hector approach, he was simply there. He told me that it was O.K., that my grief was still fresh, that nobody thought less of me for my tears. He told me that when his dad had died when he was just eight he would wake up at night for years afterwards, trembling uncontrollably. Then he just stayed with me, letting me have my solitude in his company. The rest of the afternoon and evening I functioned, but always with the churning black ocean of my grief just barely restrained, the mist from its breakers clouding my eyes from time to time. I felt certain that there would be no way I could possibly preach the next evening if I couldn’t somehow pull myself together. That night when we returned to Mama Juanita’s house (Pastor Pepe’s Mom, who had adopted me) where we were staying, the waves finally breached my hastily and poorly constructed breakwater. I couldn’t escape, so I didn’t try. I let the grief have its way with me, and Hector and Pepe held me as I sobbed so hard that I couldn’t breathe and I could barely stand. In the end it wore itself out and left me feeling empty, but cleaner somehow. Strangely enough, it didn’t destroy me after all. It roared through my very being with the sudden violence of the Michigan summer thunderstorms that I love so much, and like those storms so often do, left behind in its wake a cool, fresh, quiet, peaceful feeling. That and gratitude. Gratitude for the love of my Father who knows the right time and place for all things in His perfect plan, and gratitude for dear brothers in Christ who love me like my Father loves me, and were willing to help me weather the storm.


1 Comment

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One response to “Gratitude and Grief

  1. mom

    wow. reading this hit me in a much different way than hearing it told to me. I am in awe of God’s timing and provision and love.

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