Love showed up (a story and a series announcement)

Today I want to tell you a story, talk about light and then introduce a new series I’ll be hosting here for the foreseeable future.  


It all felt like a nightmare, one I half believed I would wake up from.  Denial at it’s finest, or worst rather.

I stared down at my ruffled ballet flats pressed together on the funeral home carpet and marveled at the turn my life had taken. Just days before I had been laughing with my Dad on the phone and now I was standing 5 yards away from his body, laid out in a casket.

I couldn’t find the strength to approach it, to see him in his stillness, his glasses still and speckled with paint. As I stood there I felt a tap on my shoulder, it was my Grandpa, the one who had stepped up to pay for the costs of my Dad’s funeral.

It’s all a blur in hindsight, but I know I heard something like this: “I think it would be really nice if you and your siblings pitched in to cover your Dad’s headstone.  It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, just a stone to go visit.”

I told him that yes, I would take care of it. Silently I wondered how I’d pull it off, I was in college, my brother was in High School and my sister lived in a group home in Texas, not a lot of money in that equation.

A few days after the funeral Kel (at that time my boyfriend who’d flown in to support me) and I headed up to the monument place recommended by the funeral home to figure out our options, headstone-wise.  The worst shopping trip ever.

Over the next few weeks my mom and I decided on a black granite stone with the words of Romans 8:28 etched along the bottom.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.”

I chose a scripty, non deathlike font for the main text along the top and a pond scene with loons to be etched across the entire front.  I took great care to make it something that didn’t feel like anything I’d seen in the cemetery before, something that felt more like life than of death.

It would be pricier than expected, but it was what I needed to do, it was the only design I could deal with.

I repeatedly assured everyone in my family that I’d take care of the headstone and I was determined to do just that. I was the oldest, I wanted to prove myself reliable, capable, strong.  I didn’t even bother my siblings with it, they had enough on their plates.

My mother called repeatedly to ask when it would be delivered, the temporary marker card made her anxious.

How was I going to pay for it?  I was 22, I had no idea. I supposed I would take out a loan against my beat up old car and give plasma to cover the rest. I’d figure it out, I had to.

I was mulling it all over one evening as I returned from my job waiting tables at On the Border. I walked into my ghetto apartment doorstep and fiddled with my keys until I found the one that opened my mailbox.

I sifted through bills, coupons and junk until one letter caught my eye. I waited to open it until I’d plopped down on the futon in my apartment and removed my apron, which reeked of tortilla chips and margaritas.

Inside there was a card from my friends from church, the one I did youth group with. As I opened it to read the text a check dropped out. A check which covered the cost of the headstone nearly to the cent, which was exactly their intention when they pooled their money.

I set the check and torn envelope beside me on the futon and stared at the wall, my eyes welling up with tears. I couldn’t believe that people would come through for me like this, that they’d gone out of their busy ways to lift this huge burden off my shoulders.

They’d gone ahead and met my biggest need in a way that I never could have asked for.  To this day, as I write these words I’m overwhelmed just thinking about it, the cold of that season met by the warmth of their love.  

When I think about the miracles of my life, this is one of them. When I look back on the painful seasons surrounding the deaths of my parents I remember the light of love in the darkness of death. That light was always there and as such I reflect on those seasons with a sigh but also with a smile.

In the midst of the darkness, the light of love showed up over and over again never letting me feel hopeless or alone for long.

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light, for unto us a child is born.  Unto us a son is given.”

When we walk in the darkest of night and encounter the light of love through the hands of people, our stories connect all the way back to Isaiah don’t they?  When we walk through darkness and encounter light, it’s His light.  And when we get a chance to bring this light into the darkest places we are proclaiming his birth and resurrection, just as he said we would.

As much as we resonate with grief clichés I hope we also resonate with stories like this one. Times in which love showed up to carry us through in moments where our legs would have otherwise collapsed under the weight of our lives.

I want to share more stories like this, stories where in the midst of the worst seasons of our lives, love showed up again and again.

These stories reassure us that Christ is alive in the hearts of his children and they make us want to go and do more of the same. I don’t know about you, but I need that… I need it repeatedly.

So, along these lines I am starting a new series called “Love showed up: The best of people on the worst of days” and I’ve asked some of my friends to share their stories of love in the midst of grief and pain.

I think we will do it on Mondays, yes?  Mondays could always use a bit more light.

I hope you’ll tune in and even consider sharing your story, I hope these stories warm you and fuel the fire that sends you into the darkness.

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There’s always twitter and Facebook too, you can join the conversation on all fronts. Join the conversation on all fronts, that’s my favorite.

  • Rea

    I still remember the woman (a stranger) who stopped and bought me gas almost exactly 23 years ago when I was down to…well, not enough for a tank of gas even when it was under a dollar a gallon. I don’t remember her name (something Dutch sounding), but I was just remembering her this past weekend. She was love personified in one of the darkest times of my life.

    • Leanne Penny

      That’s awesome I live in VERY dutch West Michigan so I can absolutely picture and imagine the name.

  • kat

    Two weeks ago my dog needed surgery and I had no way of paying for it as I am barely making enough to survive. People from my bible study ended up paying for it and I cried tears of joy as my dog is my companion and best friend. I may be poor and don’t have a whole lot by the worlds standards but my cup over flows and I’m rich indeed with love and forever grateful

    • Leanne Penny

      Oh Kat, thank you for sharing that story. I hope your pup is on the mend! I love how stories like this make the world suddenly seem a better place.

  • Susan Schiller

    I’m involved in a similar project, for the same reason – 101 stories of “love wins” even in your darkest days… I would really like to get to know you better, Leanne – I will read more here. Excellent article!

    • Leanne Penny

      Thank you Susan. love your project concept.

  • Brenda W.

    Love the idea behind this series. If you’re in a tight spot and need more contributors, I could put something together! No pressure. :)

  • Catherine Flores

    Leanne, your blog was shared with me by a friend of yours (Jillian) and I can’t thank you enough for YOU. I just lost my mom suddenly in January while 17 weeks pregnant with our first baby and the grief is a treacherous storm at times, punctuated so frequently by the most calming skies of people doing incredible things to step up and be amazing. Friends, family, strangers – the capacity for kindness is boundless and ever more noticeable when I am barely holding it together. I’m so sorry for your losses. You share about grief in a way that connects you to people suffering similarly, and it comforts so deeply. Thank you. Thank you for YOU.