It was less than ten days until Christmas. My eyes struggled to open from the weight of my weariness—not only in my body, but in my heart. I tried to decipher if my reality was a dream before my feet hit the floor. This was really happening.
The trouble with time (according to an old haiku my mom wrote and likes to brag about) is that it waits for no man. So when you stand at a grave site in disbelief as you watch the tiniest little box go into the earth mere days before Christmas, it is a strange feeling. It seems as though everything is spinning in both slow motion and barreling on like a freight train, but one thing is sure… time does not stop.
It does not wait because the Christmas presents haven’t been wrapped.
It does not linger for the business orders that have yet to go out the door.
It does not pause for the kids who still expect supper and need baths and normalcy.
And it certainly doesn’t stop for grief.
I remember greeting kind women who had offered to bring dinner to our family in the days after we lost Jacob. Their willingness to serve was appreciated more than they could have imagined, and the blessing of their simple offering was a welcome relief.
But she was different. She came in the door with more than a few casserole dishes. She hauled in a big box and began unpacking it. Surely weary with small children of her own, I recognized her sacrifice with an extra knowing of the effort it takes to get dinner on the table for your own family much less another. But she had done so much more than simple kindness. And yet, it was just simple kindness. She provided things for my family that I normally would have done had circumstances been different. Had grief not been taunting me as I did my best to put one foot in front of the other.
There was supper with sides. Two options for the picky eaters. There were special movies and homemade popcorn with honey butter. There were hand-drawn cards from her kids to mine. There were bath salts for momma and special bath bombs for the boys. And there was juice.
Looking back, I still don’t know why the juice meant so much. Maybe it was refreshing. Maybe it was the time I knew she put into it. Maybe it was just one of those small sentimental things that sticks out in your brain after years have washed most other memories away. But there were old milk bottles of fresh squeezed satsuma juice in that box, and I savored every drop. And for the next several weeks I sought out my own satsumas and made juice like a mad woman. Somehow, for some silly reason, that satsuma juice carried me through those raw moments like fresh lemonade on the front porch on a hot summer day. It soothed my soul.
Spring came. Jacob’s actual due date came. We wanted to plant a satsuma tree in his honor. A friend whose family owns a nursery was kind enough to give us one in his memory. And we planted it in the backyard near my rocking chair.
Time passed, and it remained scrawny. Several harsh storms hampered its growth. It seemed cruel that even a simple tree planted for my precious too-tiny son might not make it either. Can’t you even give me that, Lord? I know it’s just a tree. But there is a certain sentiment in loss that our logic can’t explain. And all I wanted was for that tree to bear fruit. I just wanted to see satsumas.
Losing Jacob did something else to my heart and soul. It cracked it open in a way that left me raw and open to things I may never have considered otherwise. Open to hope. Open to change. Open to new beginnings. Open to uprooting our lives and leaving everything behind to write new chapters. And so we did. We moved to Texas and left that little satsuma tree sitting in the back yard still looking small and scraggly and doubting it would ever bear fruit.
Spring came again, and the realization of time hit me like a brick. Jacob sometimes feels like a faint memory to everyone but me. He would be two, running to keep up with his brothers and being toppled over by the dog. I’d be yelling to slow down on the four-wheeler, he’s still too small to go that fast! He would have a distinct giggle, a voice I could pull out of the crowd, a fourth head to count in the parking lot walking into church.
But there is only silence. In the overwhelming noise of my life that, with three other boys, often leaves me exhausted and craving for silence… silence is a cruel enemy that taunts me with all that is missing.
With a heart hobbling, I approached his due date. The silence screamed at me. There were no mentions of his name. There were no visits to his grave. There was no remembrance that he should be here by anyone but me it seemed.
But in the days leading up to his due date, I got a simple picture. Her tired hands placed at the foot of his grave, “Just in case you needed to know someone is still praying for you, and remembering Jacob.” And if I looked closely I could almost see the satsuma juice stains on her fingertips.
She didn’t remember that it was his due date. But God did. She didn’t know I was struggling. But He knew. She didn’t know how much I needed to know someone still spoke Jacob’s name. But God remembered. He always does.
And then, on the evening of his due date, I got another picture. This one was from my momma. Satsumas! Two years later, wondering if we would ever see satsumas, there was finally fruit on the branch. They were small. They would take time to grow. But they were the start of something good. The weight of it all was not lost on me.
Pain is a process. We are hard-pressed, but not abandoned. We must be willing to persevere. We must keep walking with one foot in front of the other even when everything around us seems dark. All things truly will work together for good. And even though it may take time, God will not cause pain without allowing something new to be born. Hold on when you’re hurting and hang on to hope… Because time does not stop.
It does not wait because we cannot yet see the path clearly.
It does not linger when it seems no good could ever come out of this hurting.
It does not pause while our pain is giving birth to purpose.
And it certainly doesn’t stop until we see satsumas…