Three graduations in 24 hours. One scheduled, two a surprise. And tons of different emotions.
That was the story for us, two years ago this week.
On that Sunday night, Karen and I were in our high school football stadium, watching our grandson graduate with highest honors. His valedictory speech was articulate and full of his love for Christ. It doesn't get much better than that!
Immediately after, I had to leave with two friends to travel overnight to a speaking engagement 12 hours away. That next afternoon, my son called. The love of my life since I was 19, was gone. Suddenly. A heart attack in our living room. It doesn't get much worse than that.
But, then, she, too, had graduated. To heaven. She was, in the reassuring words of Scripture, "away from the body and at home with the Lord" (2 Corinthians 5:8).
Karen's graduation wasn't on my schedule or hers. But it was on God's. Once again, Scripture injects this uplifting eternity perspective: "all the days ordained" for Karen were "written in Your book before one of them came to be" (Psalm 139:16). From God's perspective, "cause of death?" "Work done."
When our grandson graduated, the graduates threw their tasseled hats into the air. When Karen graduated, she threw a dozen prescription bottles in the air! Because she was, in a moment, where there is "no more death or mourning or crying or pain," where God wipes "every tear from their eyes" (Revelation 21:4).
I have no doubt that she, too, graduated with highest honors. Her journals, which I've read since her Homegoing, are an outpouring of affection for her Jesus. A profound desire to please Him in all she did. And fervent prayer for all of us so blessed to be her family.
No one I know lived more generously, more selflessly. The evidence is in the hundreds of tributes that flooded my mail in the days and months following her graduation. The recurring theme - "she made me feel..." Loved. Worth something. Beautiful. Important. Like life was still worth living. Often well into the night, by text or phone or Facebook, she was the voice and heart of Jesus to countless broken people.
On this second anniversary of her leaving us, I close my eyes and picture her running like an ecstatic little girl into the arms of the Jesus she loves. And burying her head in His shoulder as He says so tenderly, "Well done, My good and faithful servant." Those words are what she lived to hear. I know she did. And still does.
There was a third graduation this week in May two years ago. Mine. After a lifetime of it being "RonandKaren" - like one word - in a moment it was just "Ron." I had done my whole adult life with her. Suddenly, I was facing the rest of my life without her.
That incalculable loss began a graduation process that continues to this day. Shortly after Karen went to be with Jesus, I wrote in a grief journal I started: "Jesus, please don't let me waste this grief. If it's going to hurt this bad, please use it somehow to make me more useful to You."
All I know is this. I am living in a closeness to my Jesus I've never experienced before. In "the valley of the shadow of death," He is walking with me, loving me, directing me in a new and beautiful way.
I am feeling my feelings as never before. And feeling the hurting hearts of others, too. Like the Grinch, when the people of Whoville were still celebrating Christmas after he'd stolen all their gifts, my heart has "grown three sizes." I'm finding myself, as He says, able to give wounded folks "the same comfort God has given" me (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).
A friend kindly told me, "You are ministering out of a deeper well than ever before." If that's true, it is a grace-filled answer to the prayer of my grieving heart. I'm grateful for that deeper well. It cost a lot.
Our grandson graduated to greatness. Karen graduated to Glory - indescribable Glory that "no eye has seen...no mind has conceived...prepared for those who love Him" (1 Corinthians 2:9). I have graduated to growth. A heart more in tune with my Savior's and more tender toward a world of broken hearts.
The one remaining question - will I graduate with honors? For His "well done" is all that really matters on Graduation Day.