Audrey Assad

Death In His Grave

Job, by Leon Bonnat

I grew up Evangelical Protestant and something I heard thrown around quite a bit was the term “life verse”—a verse or a passage from Scripture that encapsulated in some way your particular grasp of the deep and abiding hope of the Faith. As a young adult I always struggled to decide.  Should it be Jeremiah 29:11, or Philippians 4:13? Many of the ones I considered seemed ‘cliche’ to me, which seems terrible to say about a verse from Scripture, but I couldn’t help myself.  And I felt disconnected from their tone—on their own, removed from their surroundings, they rang hollow to me, as though stripped of the rightful dignity of context. I felt more connected to passages in Ecclesiastes that spoke of the vanity of life.  I was more enamored of Job than of Paul or Peter. You might say that, when it came to the Bible, I was really in touch with my emo side…<insert bad joke face emoji>

Anyhow, many years later and I still don’t have what you might call a “life verse.” The Word of God is alive and powerful, to be sure, and sharper than a two-edged sword, as the writer of Hebrews says…but I can’t say that I could pinpoint one verse that  captures my faith, and I’m not sure I feel a need to. 

However, I will say this much: the following passage is one that has truly sustained my hope in some very dark times—and, at times compounded with the beautiful John Mark McMillan song I’ve linked to beneath it, has been a light to my soul in the darkness. 

It was my privilege to cover this song on my most recent project, “Death, Be Not Proud”—it has long held a meaningful place in my heart. My husband and I, not knowing that a mere year would pass before his cancer diagnosis, chose the song “Death In His Grave” as our wedding recessional song. Walking back down the aisle to these lyrics proved prophetic in ways we could never have predicted—we would come face to face with death in the form of an illness that has taken many lives—and in that conversation with death we would find that the verses from 1 Corinthians quoted here do indeed comfort, promise, and bolster the hope we have been given.

—death, even thou shalt die.

Brothers and sisters:
Christ has been raised from the dead,
the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.
For since death came through man,
the resurrection of the dead came also through man.
For just as in Adam all die,
so too in Christ shall all be brought to life,
but each one in proper order:
Christ the firstfruits;
then, at his coming, those who belong to Christ;
then comes the end,
when he hands over the Kingdom to his God and Father,
when he has destroyed every sovereignty
and every authority and power.
For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.
The last enemy to be destroyed is death,
for “he subjected everything under his feet.”
-1 Corinthians 15:20-27

Things Happen When You Become A Mother. All The Things.

Thing #1. 

You, who were once so naively in control of the radio, find yourself resorting to playing an ever-changing roulette game involving any and all children’s albums you can think of, no matter how obnoxious you may find most of them, in search of that elusive car nap. (for the baby, not you, though you may in fact be falling asleep at the wheel—this is not to be encouraged.) 

Thing #2.

You, who were once so blissfully unaware of things like sleep training debates on the internet, are suddenly sucked into a vortex of screaming angry mothers on the web (SAMOTW) who are ever yelling at each other about when to introduce solids (and when not to) and whether or not ‘cry it out’ is okay.  You find yourself accidentally consulting these women en masse in your head. “So, SAMOTW, I decided to let my baby fuss before bedtime tonight.” :cowers in the corner as they throw things:  This is not to be encouraged. The SAMOTW are not allowed to bully you. And they could really use a drink. And so could you, probably.

Thing #3.

The Holy Grail in your life used to be a good hair day. Now it’s the specific baby pajama situation that perfectly facilitates middle of the night poopy diaper changes.

Thing #4. 

The baby monitor becomes your television set for a while.

Thing #5 

Your heart grows ten sizes, which is convenient because you’re still wearing baggy t-shirts to cover up the leftover pregnancy belly. (real talk…I totally still wear maternity jeans right now.) 

This is by no means a comprehensive list. And SAMOTW, if you’re reading this, go grab a margarita and come back and let’s work this thing out. Thx. <3

They didn’t tell me: blog on motherhood, the first.

They told me I’d be tired—that I’d be really tired. What they didn’t tell me was that “tired” would not describe how I felt during the first few weeks with you around. I really haven’t experienced much sleep deprivation in my life, aside from the odd sugar-fueled high-school youth group lock-in, or the occasional all-nighter for some project or deadline or other. Sleep deprivation at those levels is ugly, but manageable, and easily fixed by a nap and a couple of nights’ full rest.  

So yes, they told me I’d be tired. But what they didn’t—and couldn’t—tell me was that I would experience the sort of exhaustion that manifests itself in near hallucinations—the sort of exhaustion that overrides most normal human daily needs, like using the bathroom or eating; that you would be tongue-tied, and spend the first weeks of your life nursing for up to three hours at a time, desperately trying to get enough food; that I would wonder if it was normal, if there was something wrong with me; and that I would stumble about for a few weeks in a fog as thick as gravy. They didn’t tell me that naps would be both as alluring and as elusive as a white tiger.

They told me I’d have my hands full. What I didn’t know is that you would be the kind of little one that would persistently refuse to be put down—ever, day or night. You would scream in the car seat, the bouncy seat, and the bassinet, the ring sling, and all other baby carriers—and you would only sleep if I held you, or laid you so close beside me that I could feel your tiny breaths on my collarbone. I didn’t know that, for a full month and a half, I would not have a hand free to type an email or make myself a meal or fold a stick of laundry unless I was willing to lay you down and listen to you scream yourself hoarse. I didn’t know that I would get good—creepily good—at picking up things with my toes; that I’d learn to wash one hand at a time and to do my hair and makeup in the car every single day because I couldn’t get to it before we left the house. 

So yes, they told me I would have my hands full. But I couldn’t possibly have understood what it would really mean until you came hurtling out of me after 21 hours of labor and into my arms; not until, during our full stay in the hospital, you never slept in the bassinet beside me, not once—you insisted that I hold you all night long, and the nurses insisted that I not sleep while holding you due to liabilities and safety. They didn’t tell me that after a 21 hour labor on 1.5 hours sleep, I would only get 5 hours of sleep spread out over two nights in the hospital; that I would spend most of the nights following your birth staring down at you, mystified as to why I couldn’t put you down while you were sleeping, and being poked and prodded by nurses to stay awake. 

They told me I’d be emotional. What I couldn’t have possibly anticipated was the specific cocktail of emotions I felt when we brought you home from the hospital, and all I wanted was to run away, far away, because I was so overwhelmed at the prospect of taking care of you, and so thoroughly, mind-numbingly fatigued already. I thought to myself that it was impossible, and I was incapable of caring for this clawing, clutching, tiny creature who had my uncle’s widow’s peak, my husband’s eyes, my family’s olive skin…

So yes, they told me I would be emotional. But there was no way I could have known how deep the feelings of inadequacy and fear would run, and how immediately so—that I would look longingly at the car and wish I could get in it and drive away, and realize that I couldn’t. I felt immeasurably guilty for feeling trapped and overwhelmed by somebody so tiny and helpless and beautiful. I felt ashamed that I didn’t feel bonded and connected to you instantly. How could I have known that I would not know how to articulate those feelings to anyone, even my husband? I spent so many silent hours during those first few weeks looking down at you and wondering how I was ever, ever going to do it—how I was ever going to be your mama, when all I felt like was a frightened little girl.

But there were a few more important things they couldn’t prepare me for; they didn’t tell me about the gut-wrenching need I would develop to care for YOUR every little need; the unutterable joys of experiencing your first real smiles, and what a shot in the arm they would be on days when I could barely scrape together matching clothes for myself; the indescribable sweetness of your tiny fingers against my skin as you nestle and feed in the wee small hours; that I would be deeply gripped by a love for you which no words could ever reach; that you would burrow down into the depths of my heart, never to be removed, come hell or high water. I love you with a fire and a fierceness hitherto unknown to me.

I would fight a lion to protect you; I would wrestle any serpent, slay any dragon, battle any dark and dastardly force to keep you. Love is not an adequate word for this, but it is all I have. I love, I love, I love you.

So no, they didn’t tell me. They couldn’t; I just had to see for myself.

***edited to add: my husband tirelessly cooked and cleaned and served me hand and foot for the first six weeks of Will’s life. so I *did* eat…I just couldn’t cook. :) thought it might be good to honor William and let the internet know… ***

This is probably my favorite text in the Gospels. “…He was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.”

So he went in to stay with them.

And it happened that, while he was with them at table,
he took bread, said the blessing,
broke it, and gave it to them.
With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him,
but he vanished from their sight.
Then they said to each other,
“Were not our hearts burning within us
while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?”
So they set out at once and returned to Jerusalem
where they found gathered together
the Eleven and those with them who were saying,
“The Lord has truly been raised and has appeared to Simon!”
Then the two recounted what had taken place on the way
and how he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.”

The painting is The Supper at Emmaus by Rembrandt.

Growing old.

I grew up in New Jersey, and my grandparents lived (and continue to live) near Norfolk, VA—a harbor town where the naval shipyards rattle and hum.  We took frequent road trips to visit them, Emory and Bertha Nixon, known better by their middle names, Bill and Marie.  Mightily possessed of that charm particular to the South, they lived on Virginia smoked ham and stewed green beans, grew cucumbers and tomatoes in their backyard, and drove very, very slowly. 

My grandfather used to perch his trucker hat so lightly on the top of his balding head that even the hint of a breeze could - and often did - blow it clear off.  He putted golf balls in the backyard each morning and filled the bird-feeder…made the same joke every night about taking out his dentures and brushing “both his teeth”, and faithfully performed a routine of calisthenic stretches that looked just about as strenuous as sitting down in a chair.  He gripped my elbow with a vice-like protective hand any time we crossed the street.  In the evenings he brought out his guitar and strummed in the darkening living room, softly singing the old hymns until there was no more light left in the day.

And my grandmother, as spunky as the day is long, has that marvelous combination of a sharp tongue & a gentle heart. She’s sick now, and spends most of her time in a wheelchair (begrudgingly, I might add) and waiting for others to help her with everything from meals to bathing and getting into bed, but when she was younger she took matters into her own hands all too readily—like the time when she got fed up with telling my grandfather that she wanted to call a contractor to come and shorten the counter space in the kitchen and finally grabbed a chainsaw and just sawed the end off herself.  She didn’t let grass grow under her feet. For a lady made of that kind of sass, life with Parkinson’s is a real challenge—she has had a lot of trouble accepting that this is her life now—a hospital bed at home, a wheel-chair, a bevy of medications—and worst of all, in her mind, people doing everything for her.

I haven’t been back to their house in a couple of years, but each time I’ve visited, I’ve grown increasingly aware of my own mortality, in the light of theirs. My childhood memories of their vigor and activity are persistent, so much so that I almost have trouble reconciling those memories with what I see before me now—a man and a woman, grown fragile and tired, in the evening of life. 

Time feels like it moves faster with each passing year. I just know I’m going to blink and (unless I die younger than they will) I’ll be sitting in that same evening. I hope my husband and my children are still around me then. And I hope that, like my grandfather, I’m still singing the old hymns. 

New Lyrics.

Death, be not proud, though the whole world fear you:

mighty and dreadful you may seem, but death, be not proud—

for your pride has failed you— you will not kill me.

Though you may dwell in plague and poison, you’re 

a slave to Fate and desperate men—

so death, if your sleep be the gates to heaven,

why your confidence?

You will be no more — you will be no more — you will be no more.

Even death will die.

Even death will die. 

- “Death, Be Not Proud” inspired by John Donne’s lovely poem.