It is difficult to know where to begin. It feels as if, together with my family, I have lived whole lifetimes since I last wrote in this space.
We prayed for rescue, but Shawn did not need to be rescued.
Perhaps those prayers were for ourselves.
So many of you prayed with us. So many of you wrote words of love and encouragement. You delivered meals, not only here in Oahu but to my husband in Pennsylvania and to my youngest sister’s husband in Washington. You sent gifts (even a big cardboard box packed full of tissues!). Quite a few of you left your own families and flew hours to be here with us.
You showed up. And through you, God drew near.
I can’t tell the whole story yet. We are still living it. Also, so much of that story isn’t mine to share. And yet I can say this: when you observe suffering from the outside all you can see is the suffering. Despair can feel like the only option.
Having sat, for two weeks, on the inside, I want you to know that despair doesn’t feel like an option. Peace is too real. Hope is too bright. God, the Ancient of Days, has drawn close.
“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” 2 Corinthians 4:8
Shawn Matthew Campbell’s death on Thursday, January 14 came as a shock to all of us who knew him and loved him. But what happened that dark night did not shock God. We have seen in a hundred ways how he was preparing us for this though we never guessed what was coming.
In December, I was asked by a writing colleague to contribute a series of three devotionals for a website called The High Calling. Over Christmas, I regretted saying yes to that request. I resented the time I needed to give to writing when all I wanted was to work a little longer with my father on our giant Christmas jigsaw puzzle or make one more batch of dairy-free Christmas cookies with my son.
I chose three passages of Scripture seemingly at random and wrote up three brief devotionals. A week or so later, I responded to my editor’s request for headlines and offered a few suggestions.
And I forgot about it.
A day or so after my arrival in Oahu, my father mentioned that he had heard from an old friend. Apparently, this friend had read something online and found it meaningful. Looking up the name of the writer he discovered me and my connection with his friend, my Dad. Knowing what we were all experiencing, he sent an email wondering if we had seen the piece online.
I had not seen it.
I had not known that my three devotionals, meant to be read over Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, had been published on Thursday, January 14.
I did not know that the headline I had suggested had been accepted.
I did not know that the Scriptures I had pulled from my Bible without any sense of direction would be the verses we would cling to. The same verses we would print on the bulletin for Shawn’s memorial service at his local church.
The final headline for those devotionals reads: Why Today Is So Good.
When I found out, I wept. I cried, because it couldn’t be true. I didn’t want it to be true, but I couldn’t deny that it was true. Hadn’t God given me the words before I ever knew what they meant?
We believe it. We don’t understand it. We are still rocked by loss and grief, but we see God’s goodness everywhere.
God is still good.
Some of you will be reading this with my first book nearby. Roots and Sky: A Journey Home in Four Seasons releases today, Tuesday, February 2.
For months, friends have told me I should plan something special for this day. They said I should find some way to mark the occasion. Something I would always remember.
I thought their advice was good, but I never did make those plans. I am not sure why.
But now I see that God always knew what I would be doing on Tuesday, February 2, 2016. He knew I would be on a red-eye flight from Honolulu to Seattle and from Seattle to Philadelphia. He knew I would lose most of the day in a blur of time zones and jet lag.
He always knew.
And though this is not the plan I would have made, I do not resent it. In a way, I am relieved that there will be no party or celebratory drink. There will probably not even be a way for me to know if you are reading this post or sharing it or leaving a comment.
I will spend most of the day in the air, and I will think of Shawn. Of how kind he was. Of how much he loved to fly.
Of how glad I am to have called him brother.
“I kneel in the dirt in a cathedral of maple trees. My trowel is almost useless in the bony soil, but I persist. While Lillian holds her baby sister on the porch, I bury 250 bulbs. Their names are prayers: daffodil, tulip, crocus, and scilla. They are papery. They are dusty. Like little more than a bag of onions.
But I am a believer. I know they are like the beautiful souls of those who’ve gone before. I will see them resurrected in the spring.”
– Christie Purifoy, Roots and Sky: A Journey Home in Four Seasons
I know this is not the way anyone would have wanted this story to unfold. This tragic twist in the story of your lives I imagine, feels like stumbling upon an unexpected canyon, but watching from here, how God has carried you all across, (and is carrying you still) is a shocking testimony to the rest of us who can only imagine falling into the void and being swallowed by grief. The faith of your family, the witness of your peace in the midst is a powerful reminder of God’s unyielding presence and comfort. You have carried the light within you, Christie, you and Kelli, as you have continued to praise His good name in the dark. God is so good. My prayers continue to drift up for you all, and I celebrate with you, the wild ways of God, how He writes our seasons, and invites us to write them, before we even understand what we are doing. Love you, sweet friend. Praying over you and your family continually. XO
I shed tears as I read this. What a beautiful witness to the wonderful power and wisdom of an all knowing God.
God is always Good, even when feel wrecked. Your post, these signs, sent chills up my spine. God knows the plans He has for all of us, and we never see them unfold, but you have, and what a blessing in such a sad time. Your faith, and the strength you and Kelli have shown, has been a testament to God’s goodness. Through your posts on IG, and Kelli’s.. you have both shown me what grace is, and real faith. I have prayed without ceasing that God would continue to carry you all, and I will continue to do so. Sending you prayers for safe travel today.
How wise of you to see that God was making preparations, and how good of you to share it. Your testimony is powerful. God is more powerful, still, and isn’t it amazing to think that we are seeing just the hem of His work: that there is so much more happening behind the veil? Keeping your family in my prayers.
“Just the hem” – yes, that is exactly how it feels. Thank you, Brandee.
Praying for you and your family
Thank you so much, Jan.
I do not know you, Christie, but I know friends who do, and so, I discovered your words . . . and then, I discovered your story. I have been deeply moved by it, and now am deeply humbled by it. I can’t imagine such courage in the face of such grief. In some ways, your story reminds me of Elisabeth Elliot’s and how she chose not to question God in the face of unspeakable tragedy, when her young husband, Jim, was taken from earth by what most considered to be a timing far too soon. But Elisabeth always said that God was good, and she saw much good that overcame during a time that appeared only to be bad. Thank you for telling us that God is always good. Thank you for sharing how He has carried you. We who love Him know this. And yet, at times like this, it can be difficult to understand. It staggers me not just how He has met you and your family at every turn during the loss of your beloved Shawn, but how He prepared you through words He would lead you to write (in the blogs and the quote here from your book). As I began to read your lyrical quotation, hope was rising in my soul . . . and I thought: Oh, God! Let her see that those flowers will bloom, that what is buried will rise? Oh God! . . . And immediately I read that you can see, and God showed you so mercifully and powerfully when you wrote those words that even in the planting of bulbs in your own soil, that burial is not the end. It is necessary, but it is the prelude to hope, to life, to joy. Oh, my dear new friend, I will be praying that this spring, God will flood you with such hope–the sure hope of heaven–when the flowers on your very own land spring forth to life from death. I can’t fathom how much your sister, his children, your family and you miss Shawn. But I know you cling to God and to the truth, that Shawn has already sprung forth into new life in all its glory, in all its endlessness. May I also just thank and salute him for his service to our country. In another life, before I had our daughter, I directed a large USO here in St. Louis, and during Desert Storm, especially, witnessed the courage not just of our military, but their families. We owe Shawn, we owe you all so very much. I salute and thank and bless you.
Dear Lynn, Thank you for taking the time to leave such encouraging words. You are exactly right – those daffodils will mean so much more this spring. I am already hoping my sister can be here to see them. Right now, I see only dark fog and old, rain-soaked snow outside my window. Spring will come at the right time, but I am longing for it.
I wept while reading this. Thank for you being willing to so openly share. Deeply moved and touched.
Thank you, Terry.
Praying for you all. Thank you for sharing your heart with us.
Thank you for being here, Melissa.
Singing “How Great Thou Art” through tears. Thank you.
Oh, me too now. Thank you, dear Val. xoxo
Wow. Yes, everything Kris said. Wow. Jesus is so beautiful in you, Christie.
Thank you, Amy. xoxo
Oh, Christie. So lovely and heartbreaking. Praying for all of you.
Thank you, Katie. Thank you so, so much.
Oh Father God…You are amazing, wonderful, counselor, and EVERLASTING! Wrap this family in Your arms….hold them close.
Well, there’s something else you’re doing today. You’re arriving home. Sky & roots.
Homecoming! Yes, how appropriate. Thank you for reminding me, Laura. Wow, God is so good with the details.
Tears flowed as I read this, Christie. It’s just beautiful and I was up way after midnight reading your book as it downloaded on my kindle. I just can’t find words to describe how your writings have touched me and comforted me as I grieve for my family from afar. I love you and God radiates through you in everyway. I’m so thankful I am your auntie. Just wish I could hug you and all of my family that is heart broken over the loss of Shawn.
I hope we can share that hug soon, Aunt Katherine. In the meantime, know that we are well cared for. May God be near to you as well.
Tears with you and for you in this journey — tears of sorrow, and of resurrection hope. May God continue to be glorified in each life touched by your story. Thank you for being faithful to write.
Thank you, Kate. “Tears of sorrow and of resurrection hope.” Yes.
Wow. Such good words. I am continually amazed at God’s intricate, deeply personal care for each of his children. Mourning with you today for your brother. So glad that we don’t grieve as those who have no hope… Congratulations on the publishing of your book, the excerpt is beautiful.
P.S. I found you through the post published by lisa Jo baker.
Thank you, Kristi. I am so glad to welcome you here.
Like several others, I cried reading this. Christ is alive in you in a hundred different ways, and it is something to behold.
I pray on, beautiful friend, for Kelli, for you, for your whole family. xoxo
Thank you, Kristen. I really don’t have the words for what your support, encouragement, and prayer have meant these past weeks. Kelli and I are both so grateful.
The “inside” is a sacred, holy place. We never choose it, but when our Father bids us come, it’s for love’s sake. Thank you for your courage and for reminding us of the hope that always sustains and surprises. The light that shines bright in the dark. Your book and this story are a lamp stand. I’m praying for you as you re-enter your world. May His peace and hope continue to surround.
“For love’s sake.” Yes! Thank you, Kim. That’s it, exactly.
Christie, I am so very proud to be one of so many people holding your words in my hands. They are life-giving gifts given from the Father of Lights who is so near. Thank you for sharing not only your book, but your story of grief and testifying to the nearness of Jesus. I love how you make much of him without cliche or truisms. There is such a steadiness to your writing because there is such peace in your marrow. And I just love it.
Thank you so much, Ashley. Your support has meant so much these past weeks. I appreciate what you say about truisms, as well. Like you, I abhor a cliche, and yet even I have found myself coming back to them. When we are shocked, we struggle to express what is happening, and, I am finding, we sometimes reach too easily towards easy language. It is the writer in me who has worked hard to find other words for what we are experiencing. I do hope that this extra effort (an effort I normally find so satisfying, even enjoyable) will honor what God is doing in our midst.
Thank you, Christie, for your words. We lost our 21 year old daughter almost 18 years ago now. Your words, the devotionals and your book will minister to so many people. Thanks so much. Prayers being said for you and the whole family. xoxo
Oh, I can only begin to imagine the grief. Thank you for sharing even this small piece of your story, Leslie.
Beautiful words and extraordinary faith. Praying for your family as you move through grief. Our military families have been lifting up these men and their loved ones since the moment we heard. You are all held close in prayer and we are humbled by the sacrifice.
Thank you, April. We feel those prayers, we really do.
I’ve thought of you and your family so often lately. Amazon is telling me your book is shipping soon. I can’t wait to read it. One of my favorite writers is blogger/writer Lanier of Lanier’s Books blog. She has been writing about what God has been showing her through the death of her beloved father. That sweetness can eventually come as one works through the grief.
I too have been so blessed by Lanier’s story and gift with words. I know that will be even more true now.
There is no way to plan for these things. There are no real words that can stop the pain of missing him.
Know that You are loved by so many. We are all praying for you and your family to have the strength needed to walk this path. Your online friends are here…you are never alone.
Be kind to yourself – allow all the emotions to express themselves as needed – and then don’t judge yourself for feeling them.
I looking forward to reading Sky and Roots
Thank you, Diane. Words of wisdom and love – I am grateful.
This is so touching Christie. Your words bring such hope. I am constantly overwhelmed at the ways of the Lord – so filled with grace and love. We have never met, but I have felt drawn to you and your lovely place here. I received an email from Laurie Collins a while ago when she noticed I was reading your blog. She wanted me to know her daughter Julie was living and working with you. Laurie’s family and both my husband’s and mine all attended the same church when we were much younger (we’re a good bit older than Laurie!). Joyce and Hal Anderson have been such an integral part of our lives. They are an amazing couple with an equally amazing family. I’m happy to know there is a little bit of a connection.
I’m waiting impatiently for your book to arrive. I had hoped it would come today.
Praying His peace and presence will fill your hearts.
Linda, I love this. We think the world is so large, but truly he has all of us in his hands. Would you believe I met another Collins family friend at Shawn’s memorial service in Oahu? Incredible. I love how God brings us together.
Oh, dear Christie. Your faithfulness and fervent clinging to Our Father’s robe is such a reminder to me of how we need Him, always, and how faithful He is in His giving to us peace and life. Thank you for reminding me that the battle is real and yet, He has us in His grip. He chases our hearts to know His peace and to rest in the midst of chaos, confusion, and calamity. We need only trust and the rest will blanket our weary souls. Thank you for reminding me this. Keep clinging, sister. Keep holding tight. Much love and peace and rest to you and your beloveds.
Thank you, Amy. Yes, he is so faithful. Always.
Four reasons I’m smiling now: 1. I felt this morning I was to come here today although I haven’t visited in months 2. I cried reading your news and the way God wove joy and pain side-by-side into the same day 3. you referenced “bony soil” and God seemingly dropped into my lap an illustration about a manual soil-tiller in my garage to use at college womens’ conference I’ll soon be speaking at (& desperately needed inspiration for) and 4. Your NEW BOOK RELEASED 2 days ago that I now will go and buy!!!! God is good. Great to see you again Christie.
Oh, it’s so, so good to see you here, Samantha. How glad I am God gave you that nudge. xoxo