One of my favorite mental images of my friend Kim is the picture of her arriving at my recently purchased fixer-upper house, the one that used to smell like a warehouse full of dirty gym socks.
When she arrived, the smell was gone because we had ripped up all the old, nasty carpet and doused the plywood underneath with bleach. But the old carpet nails and tacks had to be removed before new flooring could be installed, so Kim came, bearing knee pads and pliers, to help me with this project.
We crawled around the house, yanking and talking, until the job was done.
It reminds me of the time several months earlier, when I had arrived at her house with a bucket of gardening tools and a bunch of peony shoots, to work on another project. Just weeks before, her 16-year-old son Andrew had been killed in an automobile accident. The immense outpouring of love and concern from the community had lessened some, but the grief the family was experiencing had only just begun.
We dug holes and planted peonies and laughed at the little black dog her husband had just brought home. Later, we sat on the deck with Diet Cokes and I listened as she talked about Andrew, and her grown boys, and the things she used to find in their pants pockets when they were younger.
It’s odd what I remember about these conversations. They were sad, because she was sad, but I also remember laughing a lot, because her stories were just so funny.
It would have been impossible not to have been inspired by the strength Kim and her family displayed at Andrew’s memorial service. They were likely still in shock, but they were fiercely determined that every person present—and there were hundreds—knew Andrew loved Jesus and was with Him now.
But in the five years since, that has not been what has encouraged me—taught me, actually—about Kim and faith.
Sometimes, when people think of faith, what comes to mind are images of upraised hands, powerful testimonies and inspirational books. When those things aren’t present, people think faith is missing too.
But I don’t think it works like that.
What I have seen Kim doing, since Andrew’s death, is the hard, hard work of survival. And sometimes, that requires more faith than anything else.
She has read books about death and heaven. She has gone to retreats for grieving parents. She and her husband have trudged with Andrew’s three siblings through endless fields of sorrow. She has conjured up the courage to let her daughter start driving by herself. She has worked faithfully in our church’s special needs and preschool classrooms, giving tired parents a much-needed respite for a few short minutes each week.
She might not be in the sanctuary every Sunday, proclaiming God’s goodness in the great assembly. But she is in the building, working so others can worship.
Maybe 18 months after her world crashed in around her, Kim and I sat in a coffee shop, talking about what her faith looks like now. “I should be speaking at the Christmas tea,” she lamented, referring to an annual event our church has that always features a speaker with some kind of inspiring story.
Her words made me sad, because I understand the pressure she feels to some how “get over” her pain and move on with the “joy-filled Christian life.” It’s kind of expected in today’s insta-everything world. It’s kind of expected even in our churches, where too much pain and vulnerability for too long still make people uncomfortable.
Sometimes, I think, people stand up to testify—or write books, or whatever—before they are truly ready, before they really realize what has happened to them and how it will change them. Healing takes time, sometimes a great deal of time, and it cannot—it should not—be rushed.
No, Kim—and anyone else who can relate to these words. You should not be speaking at the Christmas Tea.
Not yet, anyway. Maybe not ever.
You should be doing exactly what you are doing. Helping friends with projects, no matter how tedious. Learning to cope with the deep, enduring sadness that is now part of your reality. Going about the tough business of living, all the while providing a compelling example of what the Apostle James might have meant when he said that faith without works is dead.
Actions speak louder than words, my friend. And no matter what you might feel on any given day, your actions show me that your faith is very much alive.