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When we read about women in the Bible, there’s a tendency to flatten them out into cardboard characters, one-dimensional and distant. Kate Merrick was in that camp as well, intimidated by the fabulous woman of Proverbs 31, judging Bathsheba, missing the depth of Mary’s sacrifice in saying yes to God, and brushing Sarah off as that old lady who had a baby.
Then, her nine-year-old daughter died of cancer.
Desperate for moorings in an ocean of loss, Kate looked to the Truth of Scripture and found there a community of women who had suffered as she was suffering. When she delved into their stories, her collision course with bitterness and despair slowly turned toward joy and peaceful acceptance of the will of God. In And Still She Laughs, Kate Merrick is still writing from that liminal place between tangible grief and the new normal that finds its way to the surface, so her words are raw and real, and just about right for me in these days following the death of my mum.
Like breaking in a new pair of jeans, like the bathing suit that fits everyone differently, like a water balloon that if you let just a little bit out it might explode on everyone, Kate employs multiple metaphors to bring her readers into the world that opened up to her when she joined the ranks of the bereaved. Still longing for the old jeans, and having realized that grief looks different on everyone, she encourages readers to throw her book across the room if it helps — and then to come back to it later at a different stage of lament.
Lament Is a Path Through Grief
Since a Western understanding of living “blessed” only served to drive Kate further into bitterness, she turned to the stories of biblical women, for whether one reads Bathsheba as roof-top temptress or helpless victim, the ultimate outcome of King David’s moral lapse was the loss of their baby son. Bathsheba’s story became a virtual grief support group for Kate since so many of their story-points coincided:
“When I was the only woman I knew who had experienced death so close to my heart, I remember how she had too. . . She whispered strength, dignity, and fearlessness. When I was comforted with a pregnancy, I remembered that she had been too. She showed me how to be loyal to another child while grieving the first. She held my hand in the gloom, leaned close to my ear and whispered, ‘Me too.’”
Then there was the dawning realization that, like Sarah, grief and bitterness were leading Kate toward a “bitter, hardened laughter, like a waste product of a sick heart.” Sarah’s Old Testament story sounds idyllic from a distance: remarkable beauty, a godly husband with unlimited assets, a bevy of servants, and exotic travel opportunities — and Kate is convinced that Sarah “was covered in swanky accessories.” (Sure, why not?) But then, there were the empty arms, and the seemingly empty promises of God: Sarah had waited so long that even good news elicited bitterness, bubbling forth in a sneering laugh alone in her tent.
Opening the heart to a journey of lament puts a mother in company with Mary, who demonstrated that a yes to God can lead to a sword through the heart.
“The yes doesn’t always make sense. We don’t fully understand how God works, but we read in 2 Corinthians 1:20: ‘For all of God’s promises have been fulfilled in Christ with a resounding ‘Yes!’ And through Christ, our ‘Amen’ (which means ‘Yes’) ascends to God for his glory.”
Ultimately, Kate realized that her bitterness was directed toward God. She had lost sight of the truth that, in her suffering, Jesus was suffering with her. In the midst of our own Romans 8 groaning, we need to hear, again and again, that we are foreigners on this planet, but we do not grieve without hope. Like Mary, Bathsheba, and Sarah, we are citizens of heaven and live in anticipation of a day in which death will be swallowed up in life, the empty arms of grieving mums will be filled, and the laughter our hearts long for will never end.
This book was provided by Thomas Nelson in exchange for my review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”