"…for wisdom is more precious than rubies, and nothing you desire can compare with her." (Proverbs 8:11)
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Lasting Impressions

I stood in his shoes tonight. 

I was hanging up clothes after getting changed for bed and looked at Craig’s side of the closet. Everything is still as it was the day he died, save for a few things I’d given a former inmate we knew from prison ministry. I scooped my arms around a cluster of shirts and rested my head against the fabric. The hangers underneath felt nothing like Craig’s shoulder, and his scent was long gone, but I clung tightly to the memories. 

Looking down, I noticed his flip flops on the carpet. They were a staple of his summer wardrobe, along with his dark grey sneakers and the leather sandals he had on when he passed. The sneakers are still in the same spot by the bedroom door where he left them the morning of July 6, 2018, after working out. I nudge them here and there during the week, and I relocated them for a day when I had the flooring replaced. But for now, they still live by the door, offering the illusion of normalcy. 

I hadn’t given Craig’s flip flops much thought before this evening, but standing in the closet, I saw them in a new light. How could I have overlooked their value? Because, the last thing to touch the padding of those flip flops were the soles of his feet. 

I slipped my right foot into the oversized shoe, navigating my toes into place, then stepped into its mate. My skin touched where his once was. It was the closest I could get to touching him again. I closed my eyes and let quiet tears fall as my feet nestled into the impressions he’d left behind. 

He stood here. 

Probably not here in the closet, of course. Odds are, I’d picked up his shoes from downstairs and put them away while Craig was busy at the computer or watching TV. But he had stood in these sandals with his bare feet, and they had been shaped by his weight and his walk. So, I stood in them, too, hoping to absorb any remnant of his DNA through my skin as I felt the weight of my grief. 

Moments later, I stepped back onto the carpet and wiped away the tears. Self-pity is always lurking in the wings, along with the temptation to hide in dark places. But those flip flops had not lived in the closet. They’d been on walks through the neighborhood and trips to the pool and vacations in Mexico. They were meant for the sun. 

Craig loved people. He used food and travel and new technologies as entry points for deeper conversations and lasting connections. An extrovert and an encourager, he touched countless lives. Standing in his shoes, I reflected on the journey that we walked together, and how he always challenged me to step out of my comfort zone.

Even now, I hear him cheering me on from the rafters, telling me to keep moving. Where grief wants to stay stuck, he says there is more to come. I am walking through unfamiliar terrain these days, but I am never alone. The Lord continues to guide my steps, and I trust in Him. So in the morning, I will get up and get dressed, slipping on my own shoes to pursue God’s promises. Because each day brings a fresh opportunity to connect with others in hopes that I, too, can leave a lasting impression.

© 2019 Leslie J. Thompson. All rights reserved.

For you have delivered me from death and my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before God in the light of life.

PSALM 56:13 (NIV)

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

PSALM 23:4 (ESV)

October 21, 2019   No Comments

Sucker Punched

In the first days and weeks after Craig passed, well-meaning friends struggled to find words of solace. Many understood that experiencing the fullness of sorrow can be healing, while others longed to offer comfort and hope by looking ahead toward a future beyond the searing pain. A phrase I heard more than once (and loathed from the start) was that, in time, I would adapt to “the new normal.”

For someone in the throes of grief, those words are a kick in the gut. The very idea of life without the person you have lost is an insult to the senses. Suggesting that their absence could in any way eventually feel “normal” struck me as both disrespectful and dishonest.

The word “normal” also carries with it some measure of certainty. Normal is predictable; it is commonplace. But grief, by its very nature, is disruptive. Grief creates chaos and turns life upside down, and though it may lessen over time, it never really leaves. It lurks in landscapes and photos and familiar smells. Months or years after the initial loss, grief shows up and throws a sucker punch.

I had plenty on my mind yesterday, while I was driving to a local production studio for a video shoot. I had made sure to copy the client’s script onto a USB drive and brought a portable hard drive with me to transfer the footage. Speeding along the President George Bush Turnpike, I calculated how much time I would need to edit the video later that afternoon, and contemplated grabbing takeout on my way home. All was right with the world, as I exited onto Trinity Mills. And then it wasn’t.

I suddenly realized that I was driving toward Addison Airport—the same route Craig and I used to take at least once a week when he got his pilot’s license back in 2015. Every building and tree was seared into my memory. I could picture the chairs and the coffee machine and the small fridge with bottled water in the hanger, where I would wait for Craig—feeling equal parts anxious and proud—while he would go up with his flight instructor. On the drive home, I would ask him to tell me everything that he had learned and listen attentively as he rolled through the details. Getting his pilot’s license had been a lifelong dream, but Craig only pursued it after we started our aerial video business to meet FAA requirements at the time for commercial drone operators. He was harder on himself than necessary as he completed his flight training and, ultimately, passed the exam with ease. I flew with him only twice. What I wouldn’t give for just one more hour I the air together.

As I turned onto Midway Road, I could see a small plane overhead coming in for a landing on the airstrip a few hundred yards away. Memories came flooding back, and tears trickled down my cheeks. “Ow, Daddy. Ow, ow, ow,” I said out loud, telling God plainly how much the grief hurt my heart. I took several deep breaths, knowing that I needed to pull myself together by the time I made it to the studio. “It still hurts so bad,” I muttered. Where was this font of pain coming from? I felt ambushed.

But, by the time I walked into the studio, I was all smiles. The camera operator had never met Craig, and I saw no reason to burden him with my grief. We had work to do. Part of my job also is to put the client and crew at ease to ensure everything goes smoothly. Feelings would have to wait.

At times, I lean into the heartache, wringing tears from my eyes in honor of my husband. For the most part, however, I choose not to wallow in sadness. I have people to see and places to go. Grief took a cheap shot yesterday. It cold-cocked me in the car. But I’m still standing. Those many memories, albeit painful, keep Craig front-of-mind. For that, I am grateful. Our adventures made me who I am today. Although I will never accept his absence as “normal,” I have learned to navigate the sadness—to tuck away my tears, when needed, and to freely let them flow at home or with friends. I have learned that grief strips away all pretense to bring us closer to others. And I have learned that, despite my reticence, there indeed is a future beyond the searing pain.

February 23, 2019   2 Comments