January 14th, 2010 would have, could have been my 32nd wedding anniversary. But it wasn't.
Part of the traditional wedding vows I recited back in 1978 included these words: "...until God by death shall separate you."
Yesterday, while running some errands, I stopped by the graveyard to pay an anniversary visit to Patti's grave. On the gravestone are two names, separated by a line: Her name and mine. "Til death do us part..."
Fourteen years after her death, there is still love, warmth, and fondness, but there are no new memories. Death put a stop to that.
Besides the names on the gravestone, there are a pair of roses, one on each side. There is also a quote from Hebrews 11:13 -- "These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth."
As I stood, I talked, I prayed, I sang, and I also pondered... What do I feel?
I've used the word heartbroken before, but this time, I found another label: I felt burned. God had burned me. "Til God by death shall separate you..."
Another verse came to mind... "That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire..."
And, "Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you..."
Part of life involves being burned. Whether you aspire to be a man or woman of faith or not, fiery trials come. (Sometimes, instead of heartbreak, we get deliverance. But other times, bad things happen.)
These bad things try our faith in God. "In God we trust" is no longer an absolute, it becomes a question. Will I trust God?
On the cross, as he was expiring, Jesus said, "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit." As he was being burned, by family, friends, townsfolk, countrymen, and foreigners, he choose to believe. Even as he was being "burned" by God.
Pioneers blaze a trail, so that others may follow. "...fixing our attention on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of the faith, who, in view of the joy set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God."
Fiery trials aren't meant to consume, they're meant to refine. What makes the difference? Faith in Another.
"That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth..." These is something more precious than gold: a proven faith.
Another pioneer of faith named the Apostle Paul came to a conclusion about fiery trials: "For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
A line etched in stone, symbolizes a separation, a loss, a burning. But what goes on?
As I stood at Patti's grave, I was reminded of a question that has echoed in my mind before, "Is it enough that I am your Friend?"
"...because God has said, 'Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.'"
"What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us?"
Life burns. Sometimes the burnings are small and repeated. Sometimes they seem to be a maelstrom. But in the worst of times, the challenge is to look to Another. "...fixing our attention on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of the faith..."
And what have I discovered in my refining moments? I was never alone.
Just like in days of old when King Nebuchadnezzar threw Daniel's three companions into a real fiery furnace, something amazing happens.
The king "...leaped to his feet in amazement and asked his advisers, 'Weren't there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire?'
They replied, 'Certainly, O king.'
He said, 'Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.'"
No, never alone. Not even in the fire.
When Job was being "burned" by awful circumstances, he made this determination: "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him..."
"These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth."
And I left the cemetery with new insights.
Later, that evening, as I was watching TV, a scene included a song, by John Bunyun, a man "burned" in his own time...
He Who Would Valiant Be
He who would valiant be
'Gainst all disaster
Let him in constancy
Follow the Master
There's no discouragement
Shall make him once relent
His first avowed intent
To be a pilgrim
Who so beset him round
With dismal stories
Do but themselves confound
His strength the more is
No foes shall stay his might
Though he with giants fight
He will make good his right
To be a pilgrim
Since, Lord, Thou dost defend
Us with Thy Spirit
We know we at the end
Shall life inherit
Then fancies flee away!
I'll fear not what men say
I'll labour night and day
To be a pilgrim