Moving Heavenward - After the passing of my Beloved Bride, Victoria...

Losing my beloved wife this month has been devastating on my soul. I lost the love of my life, my anchor, and my lighthouse. She was the “gift of God” to me. Over the last 30+ years, I learned the joy of the profound mystery which the Apostle Paul talked about in Ephesians 5:29-33 (the mystery of the One Flesh). This month, I also learned that there is very great grief and great pain when that one flesh is ripped apart! As C.S. Lewis, the great Christian writer once wrote, all great love must end in great grief – on this side of eternity! I am experiencing that great grief now, and it seems like (for now) that it will never go away.
After the burial of my beloved Victoria, I felt lost, hopeless, and abandoned. No words or answers from anyone could take that pain away. I realized that I did NOT want any answers to life’s great mysteries. I only wanted the Presence of God. Answers cannot put the broken parts of me back together. Only the presence of God can put back together the broken parts of my soul and mind. I had lost my balance, and only the Presence of God can bring that balance back to my life. I further saw this truth from the Book of Job, where God offers no answers to any of Job’s questions. Only God’s Presence comes to broken Job in a whirlwind – the breath of God (Job 38-42)! I realized that what really helped put Job’s broken life back together was the Presence of God – not any answers to man’s questions! Job was able to pray for his “friends” because that Presence of God had helped put his soul and mind back together amid a great trail. BTW, why did these bad things happen to righteous Job? Only God knows! At the end of the day, the Book of Job tells me to reserve the quest for answers to some of life’s puzzling questions for a later time, when I can fully see and understand the heavenly perspective. For now, I must embrace the Presence of God on earth, and move ahead with integrity in who I am in Him (Job 2:3).
So, this letter is a brief testimony of the His grace and mercy to me on November-14-2022.
I buried my beloved Victoria on Saturday, November-12-2022. On Nov-14, Monday morning, when I woke up, without any thought, I went downstairs expecting to see my wife. But she was not there. At that moment I realized that she will never be with me on earth till the Lord brings me home. I broke down in great pain and sadness – I felt the hole in my heart just growing bigger and bigger. I had never cried out to the Lord like that before. It was at this time that the Lord graciously brought to my attention that the “Parsha Portion from the Torah Readings” in the Jewish synagogues around the world was “Chayei Sarah” – the burial of Sarah.
The Biblical portions read, preached, reflected, and discussed during this week (November 12-19) in the local Jewish synagogues was on the burial of Sarah through the hope of Abraham – Genesis 23:1-25:18. (FYI: my wife was of Jewish origin. Her father Jules Russell (of blessed memory) was Jewish, and her mother Virginia Russell (of blessed memory) was Catholic.) So, in my great grief, I remembered the lessons on “Chayei Sarah” taught by the late great Rabbi, Dr. Jonathan Sacks. It brought me hope through the promises given to us in Hebrews 11:8-16 (NIV)   
“By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed, and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise. And so, from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore. All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.”
In Chayei Sarah (Genesis 23:1-25:18), Abraham was 137 years old. He had been through a few traumatic events involving the people most precious to him in the world - Isaac, Hagar, and Ishmael. Then came grief. Sarah, Abraham’s beloved wife, died. She had been his constant companion, sharing the journey with him as they left behind all they knew, their land, their birthplace, and their families.
What does a man of 137 years do – the Torah calls him “old and advanced in years” (Gen.24:1) – after such a trauma and such a bereavement? Seven times he had been promised the land of Canaan, yet when Sarah died, he owned not one square inch of it, not even a place in which to bury his wife. God had promised him many children, a great nation, many nations, as many as the grains of sand in the seashore and the stars in the sky. Yet, separated from his son Ishmael thru Hagar, he had only one son of the covenant, Isaac thru Sarah, whom he had almost lost on Mount Moriah, and who was still unmarried at the age of thirty-seven. Abraham had every reason to sit and grieve.
Yet he did not. In one of the most extraordinary sequences of words in the Torah, his grief is described in a mere five Hebrew words: in English, “Abraham came to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her.” (Gen.23:2). Then immediately we read, “And Abraham rose from his grief.” From then on, he engaged in a flurry of activity with two aims in mind: first to buy a plot of land in which to bury Sarah, second to find a wife for his son. Note that these correspond precisely to the two Divine blessings: of land and descendants. Abraham did not wait for God to act. He understood one of the profoundest truths of the Kingdom of God: that God is waiting for us to act.
How did Abraham overcome the trauma and the grief? How do you survive almost losing your child and losing your life-partner, and still have the energy to keep going? What gave Abraham his resilience, his ability to survive, his spirit intact?
I once read an article in Jon Courson’s commentary on the New Testament that talked about a group of psychologists who were studying the victims of the Holocaust, including those who survived concentration camps like Auschwitz and Treblinka. They found that 40 percent of the survivors who had adjusted well and had gone on successfully in their lives versus the 60 percent who were still struggling shared one common denominator that set the world of psychology topsy-turvy. That is, the 40 percent who had adjusted well did not, when asleep, dream about their past experiences. Until this study, the traditional rap in psychology had been to follow this advice: If you want to get over your hurts, you need to dwell on, relive, and work out the past. Instead, because of what they called “the Auschwitz Studies,” psychologists found that the people who were still working through the horrors of the holocaust were not doing well, while those who were healing were those who had been able to say, “That’s a closed chapter in my life. That was then. This is now. I’m going on.” Most of them did not talk about the past, even to their marriage partners, even to their children. Instead, they set about creating a new life in a new land. They learned its language and customs. They found work. They built careers. They married and had children. Having lost their own families, the survivors became an extended family to one another. They looked forward, not back. First, they built a future. Only then – sometimes forty or fifty years later – did they speak about the past. That was when they told their story, first to their families, then to the world. First you must build a future. Only then can you mourn the past.
Two people in the Torah looked back, one explicitly, the other by implication.
Noah, the most righteous man of his generation, ended his life by making wine and becoming drunk. The Torah does not say why, but we can guess. He had lost an entire world. While he and his family were safe on board the ark, everyone else – all his contemporaries – had drowned. It is not hard to imagine this righteous man overwhelmed by grief as he replayed in his mind all that had happened, wondering whether he might have done something to save more lives or avert the catastrophe.
Lot’s wife, against the instruction of the angels, did look back as the cities of the great plain disappeared under fire and brimstone and the anger of God. Immediately she was turned into a pillar of salt, the Torah’s graphic description of a woman so overwhelmed by shock and grief as to be unable to move on.
It is the background of these two stories that helps us understand Abraham after the death of Sarah. He set the precedent: first build the future, and only then can you mourn the past. If you reverse the order, you will be held captive by the past. You will be unable to move on. You will become like Lot’s wife – a pillar of salt – a metaphor for something that has hardened and unable to go anywhere.
Something of this deep truth drove the work of one of the most remarkable survivors of the Holocaust, the psychotherapist Viktor Frankl. Frankl lived through Auschwitz, dedicating himself to giving other prisoners the will to live. He tells the story in several books, most famously in Man’s Search for Meaning. He did this by finding for each of them a task that was calling to them, something they had not yet done but that only they could do. In effect, he gave them a future. This allowed them to survive the present and turn their minds away from the past.
Frankl lived his teachings. After the liberation of Auschwitz, he built a school of psychotherapy called Logotherapy, based on the human search for meaning. It was almost an inversion of the work of Freud. Freudian psychoanalysis had encouraged people to think about their very early past. Frankl instead, taught people to build a future, or more precisely, to hear the future calling to them. Like Abraham, Frankl lived a long and good life, gaining worldwide recognition and dying at the age of ninety-two.
Abraham heard the future calling to him. Sarah had died. Isaac was unmarried. Abraham had neither land nor grandchildren. He did not cry out, in anger or anguish, to God. Instead, he heard the still, small voice of the Spirit saying: The next step depends on you. You must create a future that I will fill with My spirit. That is how I believe that Abraham survived the shock and grief. God forbid that we experience any of this, but if we do, this is how to survive. God enters our lives as a call from the future. It is as if we hear him beckoning to us from the far horizon of time, urging us to take a journey and undertake a task that, in ways we cannot fully understand, we were created for. That is the meaning of the word vocation, literally “a calling”, a mission, a task to which we are summoned.
We are not here by accident. We are here because God wanted us to be, and because there is a task we were meant to fulfill. Discovering what that is, is not easy, and often takes many years and false starts. But for each of us there is something God is calling on us to do, a future not yet made that awaits our making.  It is future-orientation that defines our faith in-Christ (Hebrews 11:8-16).
So much of the anger, hatred and resentments of this world are brought about by people obsessed by the past and who, like Lot’s wife, are unable to move on. There is no good ending to this kind of story, only more tears, and more tragedy. The way of Abraham in Chayei Sarah (Life of Sarah - Genesis 23:1-25:18) is different. First build the future. Only then can you mourn the past.
So, during those moments of great grief, the Lord graciously brought back to my mind His Word given to me through my beloved Victoria, back on May-7-1990 (two years before we got married). She had written it on a Study Bible she had given to me as a gift for my Birthday – the Companion Bible by E.W. Bullinger. The words she wrote in there were prophetic, and as a young man and an immigrant trying to find his way in this land, I did not grasp the full significance of what she was trying to tell me at that time. But on Nov-14-2022 after her passing, I understood the significance of those words from 32+ years ago…it is what I must do now to move ahead in hope.
You see, the Word she prophesied over my life 32+ years ago was from 1 Peter 5:2-4: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.
That is how I believe I will survive like Abraham survived the shock and grief after the passing of his wife, Sarah. God enters my life through this call from the future. I hear him beckoning me with my wife (his daughter) by his side, from the far horizon of time, urging me to take the journey as a shepherd, and undertake a task that, in many ways I cannot fully comprehend, but for that which I have been for.  I, as a shepherd, must move ahead with my family and my flock toward that which Christ has called us heavenward.
Philippians 3:13-14 – Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”
This I know. This is what my wife wanted for me in-Christ.
May the Lord bless, guide, guard and govern our steps forward in faith in the days ahead!
  • Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning: An Introduction to Logotherapy, translated by Ilse Lasch (Boston: Beacon Press, 1992).
  • Jonathan Sacks, Future Tense: Jews, Judaism, and Israel in the Twenty-First Century (New York: Schocken Books, 2012).
  • Courson, J. (2003). Jon Courson’s Application Commentary (p. 5). Thomas Nelson. 
  • C.S. Lewis, A Greif Observed.