Here in the Valley of the Shadow of Death

Feb 13, 2018


On school “Career Day,” she sat at the back of the third-grade classroom. Her bright face was framed by two glittery barrettes. “What’s the funniest things you’ve ever written?” she asked.

“The funniest?” I said. Quiet settled around us like a fog, filling up one second, then another.

“To be honest, I tend to write about sad things. Those are the things that snag in my heart and make me want to understand them. I guess I write about sad things because sad things happen to all of us.”

She sat up straight in her desk and almost shouted, “My cat died!” She looked toward a corner of the room and then back into my eyes. No longer shouting, she said, “My grandmother died, too.”


On Valentine’s Day, our youngest will give her preschool friends paper cards covered in glitter glue and sparkly stickers. Her bedroom floor has become a Milky Way of pink and purple dust.

Valentine’s Day is also Ash Wednesday. That afternoon, Jonathan and I will gather four children and drive to church. “Dust to dust” and a cross of ashes on all our foreheads. Pizza dinner with our church family. Heart candies in pastel shades pulled from linty pockets.

Last year, I was not prepared for the terrible sight of a black cross on my little girl’s tiny, white forehead.

No, your heart says.

Yes, your mind insists.

This year, I am prepared. I know I will want to wipe it off. I will want to say to her, I’m sorry. But I will not.

Five years ago, she was born into this breathing world, and it is too late for apologies.

You are dust, Elsa Spring.

And so am I.


Christmas at Maplehurst was the glitter of snowfall. Epiphany was the sparkle of ice on the dark water of the neighborhood retention ponds. With my sister and her children, we feasted. We skated. We laughed, and though we did not talk about it, I know we also remembered.

Only two years ago, my nieces and nephews celebrated Christmas with their Dad in the house with the mango tree. Only two years ago, I celebrated Christmas with my parents, their grandparents. “We’ll slow down,” they said. “Maybe we’ll travel!” they said. We didn’t know we were all walking nearer to the edge of a cliff.

Each Christmastime, I find myself bracing for bad news. “What’s coming?” my body asks. “Nothing,” my mind says. “You’re only remembering.”

“Sorrow is always coming,” my heart insists.


The sparkle of Epiphany has been washed away by rain. There is no snow at Maplehurst, and the ice over the dark water is thin and broken. Now there is only fog.

“This is bad,” Jonathan says, driving our car toward church on Sunday morning.

“Ice would be worse,” I say. I mean it to be comforting, but the words slip away, and we are both quiet peering ahead along a road we can no longer see.

I turn toward my sons seated at the back of the minivan. “Remember, you may notice some of our friends at church crying. We are sad right now, and it’s okay to be sad. Do you have any questions?”

They have no questions.

Or maybe they do. Maybe it is only that they know by now their parents do not have the answers. At least, not the easy ones they may want.

These past two years, grief has visited family and grief has visited friend after friend, and though these four children are mine to care for, I cannot protect them from sorrow. I cannot pretend this world is different than it is.

If they must know sorrow, I pray, let them know comfort, too.


I’ve always imagined Lent as a season of subtraction. We do without. We live with less.

But the word itself is an old word for spring, and spring is a season of more. In spring, there is a very little bit more every day—more light and more life, as if joy were a buried seed and this is our one chance to watch it take root and grow.

Lent is related to lengthen, and this is the season of lengthening days.

I tried to explain all this to my kids at dinner, but I failed. Shrove Tuesday they love. “Let’s eat all the pancakes in the world!” Elsa said. But Lent? No, thank you. Though my boys were less polite than that.

Maybe that’s why I kicked them out of the room halfway through our post-dinner reading of C. S. Lewis’s Prince Caspian. They disrupted our family reading with laughter instead of their usual bickering, but that somehow made it worse. As if anything were more fun than listening to Mom read about lions and dancing trees.

Still, I wish they’d been there. I wish we could have talked about the turning point in this story, and how it all began when Lucy recognized her failure and stopped trying to defend herself. “I’m sorry, Aslan. I’m ready now,“ she said.

“Now you are a lioness,” said Aslan. “And now all Narnia will be renewed. But come. We have no time to lose.”


Come! We have no time to lose.

Time is flowing on, but time is also moving backwards. This is the meaning of renewal.

Renewal is spring made visible, but it is also winter undone. The tangled threads of the past are set right. Our mistakes are rewoven. Even the power of death itself has begun to be unraveled.

And we can participate.

Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke … (Isaiah 58:6).

No doubt, I will long for some shortcut. No doubt, I will want to guide my children toward some other path. I will wish for them some easier way unmarked by grief or hunger or unanswered questions.

I will want to keep them comfortable, but comfort isn’t always our friend. Still, I think I’ll keep a few of those leftover candy hearts in my pocket. A little sweetness to share along the way.


What will we see when the fog rolls back and we arrive at Easter morning?

Perhaps not sunrise. Perhaps we must still wait for that. But even though we go on walking in the valley of the shadow, the sky above is pierced with starlight.

Look at that! we’ll say to one another. This night is more like noonday (Isaiah 58:10).

Then we will turn to our companions on the way, shining with so much reflected light, and we will say to one another: Remember that you are stardust, remember you are on your way home.



  1. A. Baik Lee

    Christy — this is so beautiful. And so full of true comfort. Thank you.

    • A. Baik Lee

      (Apologies! I clicked “post” before I realized I’d misspelled your name.)

  2. Barbara

    Christie, as I celebrate 5 years of my mother’s death. This post is so comforting ad beautiful. Thank you dear friend. With prayers for your family and much love and friendship.

  3. Ingrid Lochamire

    Thank you, Christie. Today, my adult son is caring for his birth father, who has suffered a fracture that required surgery. Still, I want to protect my son from the pain, the sadness of seeing his dad in need of such care. Pain comes into our lives when what we want is more sparkling glitter and sunny days. But sorrow is also life and it makes the goodness shine even brighter. I look forward to more of your words in your next book.

  4. Heather Legge

    Christie, thank you for letting me know (here and in your IG postings) that it is ok to be sad. It is ok to be Christian and have sadness and sorrow. To have to work a little harder than others to find joy. This has truly been life changing for me at a time where I feel like I am done trying to NOT be sad. That alone is exhausting. This is truly beautiful.

  5. Diana

    Thank you for this….we, too, are grieving….the loss of my son’s 15 year old friend to a gunshot wound….how I long to be able to protect my children from this world, and I often wonder why I chose to bring them into it. Thank you for the comfort of this post.

    • Christie Purifoy

      Oh, Diana. I am so sorry. For you, for your son, for your son’s friend and his family. I’m glad my words brought some comfort.

  6. sgdoolittle

    I don’t have words for what this post means to me, I only have the bittersweet tears that came fast over the valentines I just finished for my class of first graders, many of whom have walked harder roads in their 6 years than I ever will in my life. Thank you for reminding me why I walk beside them. Your words are candy hearts to carry in my pocket during these grey days.

    • Christie Purifoy

      Oh, how glad I am to read this. Bless you and your first graders.

  7. Danielle

    Remember we are on our way home. Yes. Why is it always so hard to remember?

  8. Cindy Wilkins

    Christie, I always want to leave a comment after I read your posts but your words leave me breathless in their beauty and my mind reverberates with the poignant aftershocks they leave behind. I am lost in a fog, straining to see the light. Thank you for helping to show the way.

  9. Heather MacLaren Johnson

    Ah, Christie! Your words are balm! “To be honest, I tend to write about sad things. Those are the things that snag in my heart and make me want to understand them. I guess I write about sad things because sad things happen to all of us.” My soul resonates with yours. It’s not that we’re morose; it’s that we want to understand somewhat, to find meaning and purpose in the pain. You do. I do. Grateful for a great God who never leaves us sinking in sorrow but lifts us to the heights of Himself.

  10. brendacoffeeteabooksandme

    Beautiful. My father died suddenly of a heart attack when I was a little girl. It is a shadow that stays with me every day for childhood trauma burns deep. I love how you give words to this.

    • Christie Purifoy

      We long for the day of full healing and restoration. Much love to you. xo

  11. Stacey

    Our grieving seasons have been framed by Lent every year for the past 4. This year is no different. I’m beginning to unravel it, but maybe I’m not supposed to entirely. Maybe I’m simply to sit in it and let it take up the space it needs

    Thanks friend.

    • Christie Purifoy

      So strange, yet maybe not so strange after all. May God be near.

  12. Julie Pizzino

    Your words are a gift. Thank you for crafting for our good and His glory.

  13. pastordt

    Lovely, lovely, lovely.

  14. Ruth

    I came across this post from a Velvet Ashes link, and the writing seemed familiar…then I saw Maplehurst and I knew – Maplehurst! I know that place! I read your book, well, more than once now, and it is such beauty and truth. But I didn’t know you blogged! I am so happy to find you. As someone else said, your words are balm.

    • Christie Purifoy

      Such kind words! Thank you. Welcome to my internet “home.”

  15. Annelisa

    This hope we have as an anchor for our souls. Thank you. A beautiful post.

  16. Susan Arico (@SusanBArico)

    I loved this. Your words on grief are so powerful and (as others have attested) poignant. They ring true and help in the deep places.
    I also felt camaraderie with you in the section where you talk about readalouds. How you had to dismiss your sons from the table and the disappointment you felt about the content they missed – content that you wished for them to absorb. I can so relate. I have been blogging about readalouds lately; your authenticity here encouraged me.

    • Christie Purifoy

      I’m grateful for your comment, Susan. And grateful for your encouraging presence here in this online space. xo


Leave a Reply

Pin It on Pinterest