When Nathan and I lived in Houston the local Christian radio station (KSBJaaay!) provided constant background music in both of our cars. One new song by Big Daddy Weave, "Overwhelmed," was played more often than usual. I vividly remember making the trek downtown for a prenatal doctor's appointment right before Elissa was born, as "Overwhelmed" played for what seemed like the tenth time that day. The words brought me to tears as I visualized the glorious relief I would feel once our daughter had entered the world. In my imagination, the thrill of beholding her face to face after the agony of giving birth would feel very akin to dying and entering heaven. I knew that what happened in that delivery room would be a holy moment, that heaven would touch earth and I'd be compelled to worship.
"I delight myself in You, in the glory of Your presence / I'm overwhelmed, I'm overwhelmed by You..."
Elissa's birth was every bit as painful, glorious, and miraculous as I'd anticipated. Three weeks later, in a single instant that obliterated our euphoric new family life, Nathan was hit and killed by a drunk driver. I immediately went home to Maryland to be with our families, but a few weeks later found myself back in Texas for his memorial service. As I once again drove those familiar highways with KSBJ playing in the background, my grief seemed punctuated by the same refrain, over and over again:
"I'm overwhelmed, I'm overwhelmed by You..."
It seemed like every time I started the rental car "Overwhelmed" was playing on the radio. I knew it was no coincidence. In the midst of overwhelming feelings of pain, betrayal, and anger towards God for allowing this to happen, the lyrics nonetheless became my anthem:
"God I run into Your arms, unashamed because of mercy / I'm overwhelmed, I'm overwhelmed by You."
My once-solid faith that I'd clung to for 26 years was in tatters, wrecked by the one thing I was sure would never happen: losing the one person I couldn't live without. Yet as I visualized Nate at home and free in the arms of his Creator I knew that the words of this song were an apt description of what he was experiencing, even as we who were left behind struggled to keep breathing, to make it through another day. I found a measure of comfort in my own devastation knowing that he was in the place he was made for, fulfilling his eternal destiny.
Fast-forward twenty months later. Elissa and I are spending the summer in Prince Edward Island, at an idyllic inn on Memory Lane (I kid you not). Nathan brought me to this same inn exactly two years ago as a surprise last hoorah before we became parents, both of us clueless as to what would befall us just months later. This place was meant to be a part of our story, and before I even realized the connotation of the road name I brought along a bag stuffed with the journals I'd kept during our years together. I've spent the last month poring over hundreds of handwritten pages, documenting the ups and downs from our days of first meeting and falling in love, to fights, passionate trysts, joy, laughter, heartache, and everything in between. And I've only made it to 2008!
I never imagined how painful a trip into the past could be. Though we had the best marriage possible this side of heaven, I've felt acute pangs of grief and guilt over so many things I should have done differently in our relationship. Ways I could have loved him, served him, cared for him...missed opportunities because I was too absorbed in my own selfishness.
Our early years of dating were particularly rocky. We grew up together in many ways, hours apart at different schools with very different pursuits, and though we longed to be together it was agonizingly unclear at times whether our paths were ultimately meant to converge or separate. Woven between the stories of conflict and confusion are my journaled prayers for Nate, reminding myself over and over again that he belonged to God and that God would fulfill His purposes for him, regardless of how our future together played out.
Today it hits me, reading once again the many ways that I'd failed Nate in spite of my best efforts, that he is now overwhelmed by a Love like he never imagined. Nathan struggled his whole life to believe that he mattered to others, that people really cared about him. It hurts more than I can express to admit that, even knowing this, there were so many times that I didn't do enough to convey my love for him. I love him more wholly and passionately than anyone can ever know, yet all the love in my heart fell woefully short of what he needed and deserved.
As I am devastated once again that I couldn't be a more perfect wife, I find my grief turning to thanksgiving. Impulsively I start to praise God for dazzling Nathan with all the love he was created to eternally behold. I thank Him for holding Nate in the palm of His hand, guarding him from countless unknown disasters until the moment that he was destined to enter heaven. In January of 2008 I wrote in my journal:
God, please give me Your heart for Nate and use me to show him how special and wonderful he is and how much You love him...
It is overwhelming to me that God gave me this priceless treasure of a man for eight years, that I got to love him with everything I have and thus be a part of showing him God's love on earth. Yet the story was never meant to end with us. Tim Keller describes how Jesus embraced the cross, "knowing that no matter how dreadful, on the other side would lie the joy of being with us. We are his reward." This. This is overwhelming Love. And until I can hold Nate again I will rejoice that he is safe in the arms of his Father.
Nathan and I at Green Gables on July 4, 2014
Elissa and I on Memory Lane, June 2016