Today is gray and chilly, and raindrops are sliding down the window slowly, like tears. It is the last hour before dinner, and I am scrambling to write this post for Grace Table. My husband is traveling for work this week, and I left the sitter with the kids and a big pot of slowly thawing soup.

I had most of the day to work, a rare thing, but I spent it trying to write a memorial for my brother-in-law, my sister’s husband. This means I spent too much of the day with my head on the desk, disbelieving and grieved by the words I was typing out. The words are black and white and irrefutable, but writing them, reading them, feels like walking into an invisible wall. It’s a shock, and it hurts.

I am writing this on March 14. He died on this day exactly two months ago, but I don’t think any of us believe it, yet. Most of my mind and all of my heart is still waiting to hear that he has come home.

When a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ, dies, we often say that he or she has “gone home.” But has he? Are we the homeless ones?

In 2 Corinthians, Paul writes, “… as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:6). Paul, at least, “would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord,” and on a gray, teary day like this one, I think I know just what he means.

It seems there is a tension between our earthly body, a home of sorts, and our heavenly one. Until the day of resurrection, neither one is perfect. One day God will make his home with us, heaven will come to earth, and both will be complete.

A Table of Thanks

I wrote an entire book about this earthly home of mine, a crumbling but beautiful old house called Maplehurst. Before we ever laid eyes on this place, we imagined a house for hospitality and welcome. I suppose, back then, I would have said our vision was of a table, heavy-laden, and everyone invited in. A house for celebration. A house for shared feasting.

I did not consider then these words of wisdom from Ecclesiastes: “It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart” (Ecclesiastes 7:2).

We have lived here nearly four years. We have feasted, and we have cried. I see now that we will go on crying. Some losses can never be erased. Some sorrows only grow. The shock will lessen, but the empty seat at the table will always be with us.

Yet we will go on feasting, too. Where the old wisdom of Ecclesiastes meets the new wisdom of the kingdom of Jesus we find this promise: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). In the house of mourning, the table is laid with comfort.

When my family gathers, the table is laid with that paragon of southern comfort, banana pudding. If I cast my mind back to the last family gathering before Shawn died, I see the men in my family still at the table and empty bowls smeared with pale yellow cream.

bananaPudding_GT

For those of you unfamiliar with southern banana pudding, please forget whatever flavors that name has brought to mind. The actual dish, while it does contain bananas, does not include banana pudding, and an instant pudding box with a banana on it would be a very big mistake.

I don’t make this very often, though it might be my husband’s favorite dessert. Our son is highly allergic to dairy, so banana pudding now tastes to us a little bittersweet. Perhaps this makes it the ideal comfort food for our house of mourning, caught, as it is, somewhere between heaven and earth.

If you cross this threshold, I will make it for you, and we will cry over the glass trifle bowl together. Perhaps we will cry for Shawn (because he was your husband, or Daddy, or friend). Or perhaps we will cry for some new sorrow (you lost your job, you can’t have a baby, your child can’t seem to get well). Even on the happier days, we will cry over newspaper headlines and stories of terrible but far-off pain.

Everyone’s grief is welcome in the house of mourning, whether neighbor or stranger. We will not bar our gates or close our door to your sorrow. Your unhappiness does not threaten our joy; in fact, it deepens our joy.

Like Paul, we have found that suffering is a privilege: “Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church” (Colossians 1:24).

Those tears we drop over the banana pudding are never wasted. Because we are one with Christ, our tears are added to his suffering.

In this way, our own all-too-human tears become powerful enough to remake the world, defeat death, and hasten the coming of that day when every tear will be a fading memory.

Creamy Banana Pudding
Serves 8
Southern comfort food
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Ingredients
  1. 1 (14 oz) can sweetened condensed milk (NOT evaporated milk)
  2. 1 1/2 cups cold water
  3. 1 (4-serving size) package instant vanilla pudding mix
  4. 2 cups whipping cream, whipped
  5. 36 vanilla wafers (my sister Kelli prefers to use chessman cookies)
  6. 3 medium bananas, sliced and dipped in lemon juice
Instructions
  1. In large bowl, combine sweetened condensed milk and water. Add pudding mix; beat well.
  2. Chill 5 minutes.
  3. Fold in whipped cream.
  4. Spoon 1 cup pudding mixture into 2 1/2 quart glass serving bowl. Top with one-third each of the cookies, bananas, and pudding.
  5. Repeat layering twice, ending with pudding. Chill.
Notes
  1. This is my mother's recipe, but its origins are obscure. She clipped it from a magazine decades ago.
Grace Table http://gracetable.org/
Christie Purifoy / Posts / Blog
Christie Purifoy earned a PhD in English literature at the University of Chicago before trading the classroom for an old farmhouse and a garden. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and four children, where she is witness to the seasonal beauty of God's good creation. Her book Roots and Sky: A Journey Home in Four Seasons is out now from Revell. She blogs at www.christiepurifoy.com
  • Sandra Heska King
    http://sandraheskaking.com

    Oh, Christie. Just. Oh.

    April 4th, 2016 9:48
    Reply
    01
  • Caryn Christensen
    http://carynchristensen.com

    Mourning with you Christie, at the loss of your brother-in-law… And praying for grace to swallow you up in its comfort as you grieve the empty place at your table and in your hearts. <3

    April 4th, 2016 12:51
    Reply
    03
    • Christie Purifoy
      http://www.christiepurifoy.com

      Thank you, Caryn. I appreciate your words and prayers very much.

      April 4th, 2016 14:42
      Reply
      04
  • Kris
    http://kriscamealy.com

    Christie,

    This post is so beautiful, in the achiest of ways. I grieve with you and your Sister, Kelli, for her children and for yours. The impact of Shawn’s death is felt here, though I never knew him. You all are living a beautiful legacy that we are fortunate to witness. Praying for you all continually, that you would feel the comforting hand of Jesus, and enjoy whatever moments He gives you together. The brevity of life is a certain mercy. XXOO

    April 4th, 2016 15:39
    Reply
    05
  • Shelly Miller
    http://redemptionsbeauty.com

    Grieving with you Christie. I just kept thinking as I read your beautiful words, how hard it must’ve been to write this and yet, writing helps to make some sense of our pain. This banana pudding sounds so decadent and delish, like the sweetest thing to release sorrow’s grip.

    April 4th, 2016 17:18
    Reply
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    • Christie Purifoy
      http://www.christiepurifoy.com

      “… the sweetest thing to release sorrow’s grip.” Yes! Well said, Shelly.

      April 5th, 2016 10:00
      Reply
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  • Lynn D. Morrissey

    Christie, I don’t know you personally, and so I can’t believe that you have invited me, a perfect stranger (and other strangers), to take a seat at this most intimate table of mourning. You have bared your soul as you have shared your feast. It is a rare gift, and I feel so humbled and honored. I am so sorry for the death of your beloved brother-in-love, Shawn, and for how the configuration of your family and table-settings has been irrevocably altered. At the next family dinner, someone will sit in his seat, and yet, somehow you know it’s really always reserved for him. You do expect him to come bounding in the dining-room door. Yes, putting his name and the fact of his passing in print usher in the permanency of what has happened, and yet I see that through your writing, you are also writing your way to a truth that supersedes death, that surpasses it by leaps and bounds. You have written your way to heaven, where Shawn and his Savior dwell. There has been another seat saved for him at a blessing-laden table, where the extravagant feast will never end. How I pray that this gives you comfort as you seek to carry on here and as you seek to comfort others as you are doing now.
    Love
    Lynn

    April 5th, 2016 8:44
    Reply
    09
    • Christie Purifoy
      http://www.christiepurifoy.com

      We can write ourselves to truth, even to heaven, can’t we? Writing as pilgrimage. I am grateful for your prayers, Lynn, and grateful for your words. They have given me much to ponder. Thank you.

      April 5th, 2016 10:02
      Reply
      10
  • SimplyDarlene
    SimplyDarlene
    http://www.simplydarlene.com

    In mourning’s house, we
    abide with Christ, love His kin,
    retell hope’s glory.

    April 5th, 2016 11:20
    Reply
    11
  • Danielle Jones
    Danielle Jones
    http://www.danielleayersjones.com

    So sad and beautiful. Writing a memorial tribute must be such a hard thing.

    Even so, this post made me smile. Banana Pudding IS one of my favorite comfort desserts too. I rarely have it. It makes me think of my grandmother–we call her Mom-mom. She made this dessert regularly, so just saying it or seeing it takes me back.

    April 9th, 2016 13:27
    Reply
    12
  • Diana Trautwein
    http://www.dianatrautwein.com

    So hard. So lovely. Such a privilege to read. Thank you, Christie.

    April 16th, 2016 0:50
    Reply
    13
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    June 4th, 2016 5:59
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