Fall has been a challenging season for twenty-three years. My youngest of four children was born in the winter of 1999. I experienced postpartum depression as a mom feeling overwhelmed with babies, toddlers, and school-age children. In the fall of 2000, my mentor and mother-in-law, Lois, unexpectedly died from a blood clot in her lung after outpatient surgery.
I cried most of that fall as grief was added to that year of postpartum depression. I spent the following autumn seasons with dread. Winter meant seasonal depression, darkness, and lingering grief. As my children got older, the fall meant my children leaving home for college. In the fall of 2016, my firstborn moved to Mexico as a missionary and weeks later my father-in-law died. Four years later, during the fall of 2020, my father died from covid-related complications. My grief that fall was compounded by quarantine and isolation.
In the fall of 2021, my husband had a near-fatal accident when a tree fell on him. Last fall, we held private burdens of loss. Then on September 10, 2023, I had a bad accident on a Missouri freeway when traveling alone. By God’s grace, I walked away with nothing but the post-traumatic scenes and anxiety that hangs around.
As I approached my fall break last week, I asked God to redeem fall. I no longer wanted to dread the endings of summer and feel ungulfed by the darkness of a Midwest winter. I wanted to enjoy the trees changing colors without the heavy presence of grief, loss, and sadness.
I planned a special day trip last week with my grandsons, age 3 and 18 months. They live in Alexandria, Indiana. We started our day of adventure by eating donuts at the bakery owned by Bill and Gloria Gaither. It is the remaining facility that used to host tours for gospel music lovers.
The boys and I were leaving the bakery when a white car pulled up beside us. An elderly woman with a cane got out of the car. “What beautiful children!” she said across the parking lot as we approached. The boys rambunctiously ran and tried to answer her questions about their names and ages. Looking at the woman’s face, it seemed familiar. I dared to ask if she was who I thought she was.
“Are you Miss Gloria?” asking cautiously. She said yes. I stood there awkwardly saying something like I was from Shipshewana (the Gaithers often sing in my hometown) and our Mennonite church’s men’s chorus often sing their songs. I don’t remember much else about the special space as I stumbled to get words out. I finally just said, “May God bless you.”
Words Finally Arrive
I planned on sharing my special encounter during sharing time at our church on Sunday, knowing our congregation would enjoy the story. We have a rich music tradition filled with gospel music and a men’s chorus who sing many Gaither songs. We also sing many Gaither songs during Sunday morning worship.
Our men’s chorus sung this Sunday morning. During their song set, words finally arrived for the awkward moment with Gloria Gaither. I realized Gaither music wasn’t just part of my church’s experience, but many of their songs were present with me during intimate moments of grief. The Precious Memories video was one I often watched the fall my mother-in-law died. It was one of Lois’ favorites. It made me feel connected in the thin space between earth and heaven.
I’ve often listened to other Gaither songs when missing loved ones. I was listening to their rendition of Beulah Land while sitting in my father’s recliner at the exact moment he died in the hospital from covid.
Sunday morning, God showed me the parking lot encounter was deeper than a starstruck meeting. It was a moment in which God was redeeming a season of loss. The speechless moment between me and Gloria Gather was a palatable moment that mirrored how God bridged the gap between heaven and earth; loss and hope; sadness and comfort.
Redeeming the Tears
God showed me he has not forgotten the tears I’ve shed over autumn seasons full of loss. He sees them, as he sees yours. When grieving, I’ve often taken comfort in Psalm 56:8:
You keep track of all my sorrows.[a]
You have collected all my tears in your bottle.
You have recorded each one in your book.
When we experience grief, God bears witness to our tears and loss. Rarely do others see the moments in which our hearts break. But God does. He cares about these moments, even when he seems far away.
I recognized the awkward, tongue-tied moment wasn’t because I met a Christian legend. It was an experience of awe for a sacred moment that God gifted me.
I now have a new, happier memory of autumn. It doesn’t mean I won’t experience sadness or loss anymore. Instead, it reminds me of God’s presence in both good and hard times. It was his gift of redemption, love, and grace that’s available to us no matter what season. All we need to do is ask.