Home is so good for my heart. There are familiar faces—so many faces that I dearly miss in Albany. There are long coffees with best friends and hours spent laughing over nothing. There are runs with my brother, back-to-school shopping with my sister, breakfasts with my Dad, morning coffees with my Mom. A myriad of things for which I am deeply and profoundly grateful.
And then, there is Ian’s room. The shoes that he wore on their closet-door hanger, the striped scarf he tossed around his neck as the weather chilled, the brown hat that sat atop his curly hair. I find the brightly patterned superman blanket that followed him from hospital room to hospital room, pictures that he drew, playbills from shows that he performed in, the cologne that he wore every day after I urged him not to underestimate the power of smell. I find notes that he scribbled—meaningless scraps that I scour and carefully catalog as though religious organization might somehow bring him back. But nowhere do I find my little brother.
My Mom asks me what I would like to keep to remember him by, before she goes through his room. And suddenly I can’t breathe because there is nothing Ian enough to ease the sting.
I see Ian everywhere. I see him standing beside the grand piano where we used to sing, bounding down the stairs towards the kitchen, laughing in the red chair. On most days, I still expect him to burst through the front door and laughingly wake us all up.
Trying to understand, several days ago a sweet friend asked me if I simply felt an ache all the time since Ian died. No. It’s like there’s a weight that’s crushing down on me every second. I imagine that one day this will evolve into an ache, and that will be an improvement.
Ian was diagnosed with cancer on October 3rd. Shortly thereafter, I compiled a list of songs that I entitled “The Cancer Playlist”, and gave everyone in my family a copy. At the time, I imagined that these would be the songs that would remind us of truth as we fought and beat cancer. I had no idea that in fact, they would be the songs we would play on repeat in the ICU, as Ian slipped away and all of us forgot how to breathe.The thing about grief, with all of its wrestlings and longings, is that sometimes the little energy that you have left must be directed towards the exhausting work of reminding yourself to breathe in and out all day long. Hope feels like nothing more than a morphine induced hallucination on the days when you barely remember how to get out of bed in the morning. Grief is many things, but she is always a teacher—and one of her primary lessons is that a shattered heart can always break just a little bit more.
It is on those days, the days when opening a Bible or speaking to God feels like a veritable Mt. Everest of the soul, that I need truth the most. And that is where the gift of music has proven to be invaluable. Those days are less frequent now, but I still have them. I could not always stomach a Psalm in the ICU, but I could push play and allow the Lord to remind me through music that He is good simply because He is God, and not because He writes happily ever after endings to my stories. Music reminds me that I can get out of bed when it feels impossible, because there is new grace every single morning. Believing truth in the midst of grief is a fierce battle—and music helps me to combat the lies my heart wants to believe.
I know a number of you reading are in the midst of your own battle. In hopes that music might help you fight, too, here are some highlights from my Cancer Playlist—and a few of the lines that I cling to.
It Is Well With My Soul: Chris Rice
Christ has regarded my helpless estate, and has shed his own blood for my soul.
Give Me Faith: Elevation Worship
Give me faith to trust what you say. That you’re good, and your love is great. I’m broken inside-I give you my life. I may be weak, but your spirit’s strong in me. My flesh may fail, but my God you never will.
The Search Is Over: Hank Murphy. [Hank is a good friend of mine—he wrote this song for his own brother. His music and his life point me to Jesus.]
The search is over, you are the answer. You are everything that satisfies, Jesus Christ.
No Sacrifice: Jason Upton [Ian and I used to sing this song together.]
To you, I give my life-not just the parts I want to. To you, I sacrifice these dreams that I hold on to. Your thoughts are higher than mine, your words are deeper than mine, your love is stronger than mine—this is no sacrifice, here’s my life.
Open Hands: Matt Papa [Matt is a friend of mine, and another musician that you need to check out!]
Free at last, I surrender all I am with open hands.
You are God Alone [Not a God]: Philips, Craig & Dean
Unchangable, unshakable, unstoppable, that’s what you are.
Unraveling: Shelly Moore [Shelly is a dear friend who got to spend some time with Ian while he was sick. While she’s never formally discipled me, the Lord has used her music to teach my heart to treasure Him and believe truth about Him. You need to check her out!]
I’ve heard You say ,wait for a better day. There is purpose even in the midst of this, and just as sure as the sun will rise, tomorrow I’ll get you through the night
Without Words: Shelly Moore
Hallelujah, you are worthy.
Jesus, I Come: Shelly Moore [This song became so meaningful to me that Kellan and I asked a dear friend to sing it at our wedding.]
Out of my bondage, sorrow and night, Jesus I come, Jesus I come. Into thy freedom, gladness and light, Jesus I come to thee.
And finally, I would add this one:
I discovered this in the ICU waiting room, and it played on repeat.
May these songs help you fix your eyes on, and adore the God who is incapable of being anything but good to you.