By Kristen Kill
The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. Psalm 34:18 (NIV)
I’d stopped driving once we arrived in Manhattan, but I often imagined what it was like to be a cab driver behind the wheel among so much honking and chaos. When I was a teenager, my Papa faithfully picked me up in his Jeep Wagoneer on Saturday afternoons, wearing his plaid shirt and brown slacks and his brown leather jacket. My parents were terrified to see me behind the wheel, so my grandfather had volunteered to teach me to drive. He began my education in the cemetery. With smooth straightaways and plenty of turns, it was the perfect place to learn. I could hit the gas in the smooth parts just right, but I always lost my confidence on the curves.
“Darlin’ you don’t have anything to worry about. Everyone here is already dead.”
He said this every week. He waited for just the right moment to deliver the line, and then he’d chuckle and grin, and my resolve would return while we laughed together. I’d try again. Inevitably I’d jerk the old Wagoneer and throw my foot too hard and then slam the brake, sending us backward to collide with the headrests.
These were our Saturdays, until one afternoon right near a turn that always sparked my anxiety, he had me pull over. The fresh air felt good, and we walked for a moment before I realized that he wanted to show me his plot, the place where one day he would be laid to rest. No, no, no. I wasn’t ready to think about it. He was so young and vibrant for a grandfather. He would live forever, I thought. He would be with me for so many moments that mattered throughout my life. We had many more years to go boating and water skiing, to read the newspaper and listen to Andy Williams together, to make sure the family cabin was stocked with Honey Bunches of Oats. We’d dance at my wedding, and he’d welcome my children at their births, anxious and pacing in the lobby of the hospital as I labored with each one.
When heaven began to pull Papa home, I was no longer a teenager naïve to grief. I was a mother of four, a grown-up with a mortgage. By then, Parkinson’s had been weakening his frame for a decade. I snuggled up close and held my grandfather’s hand and all my worries about how to say goodbye came rushing back, as heavy as they had been during that driving lesson years before. Lael, my baby at the time, tiny and angelic, slept on my lap in a purple cotton dress when I leaned in and said goodbye to Papa. As she was breathing in new life, he slowly exhaled his.
I didn’t see it yet, but this exchange would become a familiar one. Breathing in, breathing out. New life and letting go, cycles of welcomes and goodbyes to mark my days.
Our Terror-Filled, Silent Night
My doctor told us the news on a Friday. Our baby’s heart had stopped beating. It was during our second year in New York, and I’d been out shopping for stocking stuffers all afternoon. The holiday markets filled all the parks with peppermint-striped tents, and the street vendors were selling brown bags of roasted chestnuts on every corner. The ice rinks were open, and we had tickets to see the Rockettes perform at Radio City Music Hall. I’d spent so much time daydreaming in front of shop windows, taking in their meticulous designs, that I had to hail a taxi to make it to my appointment on time. It was sure to be quick. I was in the second trimester of my pregnancy, and the visit was supposed to be routine, only a simple check-up. Then came the blow.
She gave us the weekend to decide what to do—let labor come on its own or have surgery. It was Christmas, and I was numb, forced to choose how to let a child fall from my womb as the whole earth rejoiced in the miracle of birth. But her life poured out on Christmas Day. We trimmed the tree and tucked gifts beneath it the same night I began to miscarry, and I wondered if I’d ever enter into Advent with expectant joy again. All my hope had been exchanged for grief, every twinkle and glimmer of light was a reminder of life snuffed out. After a long labor and contractions, I birthed her, still and tiny. We cupped her body in our hands as Josh and I wept at a promise that was unfulfilled—held forever, but hollow.
The Silent Night, so beautiful to many, became our terror.
We buried her in the cemetery in our valley, right near that curve of road that made me jerk and then brake, where I’d had so many stops and starts. She’s buried there, in the place where I began to realize that death jerks us around too, that grief comes fast and goes slow. She’s buried right next to my grandfather. We named her Thea Nöel. Thea comes from a name that means gift. Because God gives, even in death. Even at Christmas.
Taken from Finding Selah: The Simple Practice of Peace When You Need It Most by Kristen Kill. Click here to learn more about this title.
That something you’ve been looking for in the empty stress of your mad-dash days? It has a name.
The Psalms call it selah—the pause, rest, or interlude between the notes in a song. More than merely an empty space, selah is a chance to stop and resync with the story and song of God. For all the ways life keeps you running, this word and practice offers a way to re-center yourself on the One who holds all things together and makes all things beautiful.
Stretched beyond her capacity in caring for a large family in the middle of Manhattan, Kristen Kill was exhausted, depressed, and desperate for a change. Then something sparked within her when she read the Psalms, and found that often all that stood between the psalmist’s cries for help and celebrations of praise was this simple word, selah.
Join Kristen in Finding Selah for a journey that will transform the way you think about work, rest, and the little spaces in between that make all the difference. This book will show you how to tune your ear to the song God is singing over you, embrace the “selah moments” able to transform your daily rhythms, and most of all, encounter the ultimate Selah in Christ, who stands in the gap between heaven and your most hectic of days. There is hope for the dissonance you feel. Finding Selah will show you not only how to sing a new song, but to live a new way.
Kristen Kill is a woman transformed by the delight of God. A contributing editor at The Better Mom, and co-host of At Home, a popular podcast with Sally Clarkson, Kristen is passionate about encouraging women who feel stretched thin with the truth that, even in the tension, God is singing over them with love. After spending the last seven years in the hustle of New York City, Kristen and her husband, Josh, are learning to go slow as they raise their five kids in the Pacific Northwest. Her days are filled with homeschooling, walking her slightly anxious hound dog, and putting off the cleaning for one more day. Find Kristen writing at kristenkill.com.