This weekend was one I was looking forward to. It was the weekend of Hills Alive—a free outdoor music festival in its 29th year put on by my radio station. It’s an amazing feat. Through local business sponsors and donations from our listeners and churches, this two-day festival hosts over two dozen Christian bands and artists on two stages and nobody pays a dime to get in. No tickets. No fences. It’s amazing. Artists who come for the first time are astonished by our organization, our hospitality, our crowds, and the overall fantastic feeling in the air.
I’ve worked Hills Alive for six years now. I usually act as an assistant to my friend and coworker, Tanya, in the product tent. As Hills Alive approached, I began to wonder how I’d do this now that Kraig isn’t here to help. I usually work 13 hours each on Saturday and Sunday of Hills Alive. What should I commit to? What could I do? I talked to the kids about the lineup and discovered the main two bands they wanted to hear this year were For King and Country and The Newsboys—the final two acts on Sunday night. Perfect. I figured I could still be there to help. The kids are old enough to stay home—especially if I called to check in.
Plus this year, I had something special I wanted to attempt. I wanted to personally thank a few of the bands for songs of theirs that God used to help me walk this last year of grieving. I wanted to give them encouragement that these songs weren’t just nice music—God used them. Usually if I can meet an artist, that’s nice but I don’t make it a goal. This year I had a list.
First I wanted to thank The Afters for the song Broken Hallelujah that reminded me that even in my brokenness, I could offer God the best that I could muster. I discovered a band member setting out t-shirts, so I explained my story—the loss of my husband and what this song had meant. I thanked him. He looked incredibly touched as he said he was one of the authors of that particular song. He asked me to stop by later and share that with the rest of the band. They were encouraged.
Next, I needed to thank Unspoken for their beautiful song Lift My Life Up. This song begins, “You’ve brought me this far, so why would I question you now. You have provided, so why would I start to doubt?” This song points us to the faithfulness of God as a reason to give Him all we are. I ran into two guys from the band and thanked each. Both thanked me for sharing, telling me when they give up so much time from wives and families to do this job, it’s stories like this that keep them going.
One of the most challenging artists I needed to thank was Steven Curtis Chapman. After 26 years of playing, he is pretty big in Christian music. His one-on-one time is limited. I knew I might not get a chance but when one presented itself, I thanked him for Glorious Unfolding (that I’ve blogged about). He smiled with the understanding loss has brought to his life. Then, I thanked him for an older song, Meant to Be. I shared with him that though I knew he’d written it about adoption, my son with autism had heard something different there. Ryan, years ago seeing it on a Veggie Tales, had come to me and said, “This song makes me think of my autism and how I’m meant to be touching the lives I touch.” Wow. Steven’s jaw dropped and you could tell that blessed him. He gave me a hug.
Last on my list of artists to thank was a newer band called Love and the Outcome. This delightful husband and wife team arrived with their merchandise and I was bursting to tell her my thank you. Their song He is With Us was one of the first songs I reached for the week Kraig died. “We can trust our God, He knows what He’s doing. Though it might hurt now, we won’t be ruined.” Amen! God can be trusted. She was touched, as was her husband. They were sweet and enjoyed Hills Alive immensely.
Those were the high points of the weekend. The low points caught me off guard. Why does the unpredictability of grief still surprise me?
As Saturday progressed, the kids did OK. But with each call home to check on them, I now realize my stress and guilt at leaving them was rising. They were fine but I felt conflicted.
As Sunday arrived, Lucy begged me not to go back. I promised I would come get her in the afternoon. As they day went on, someone pulled me aside to gently tell me about a mistake I’d made. I was mortified. They were worried I’d be offended. I wasn’t, but I felt terrible I’d screwed up. I realized my emotions, like my stress level, were high and I needed to go for a walk to calm and try to let it go. Mistakes happen. Learn and move on. Easier said than done sometimes.
But when I picked up the kids later, grief sucker-punched me hard and the emotional dam overflowed. It was the simplest of things. I took them to eat in our food tent. As I walked to the table with them, I realized the last time I’d done this with them Kraig had been here too. A knot settled in my stomach and the food lost its taste. I wanted to finish eating and escape. I let the kids go explore and confessed my grief to my friends, Tanya and Julie, and received assurances it was OK to cry. So I did.
After I composed myself, I headed back stage to prep for introducing For King and Country along with the other DJs on stage. I had met this wonderful band last year. I greeted Joel, one of the singers, and asked about his wife. He remembered me and gave me a kind hug and asked if I’d had a good year. The emotions, already so close to the surface bubbled up and I blurted out, “No. My husband died.” This compassionate man gave me another side hug, this time saying, “I’m sorry…At least we know where he is.” He only had minutes before he needed to be onstage. This gesture was kind. I thanked him.
The rest of the evening was a mess of me trying to be a mom and help in our increasingly busy area. I felt like I wasn’t doing either job well. Lucy was clingy until she found Tanya’s kids were fun to play with. The big kids scattered but kept needing my attention. Before I knew it Julie was trying to relieve me from helping in an artist’s booth because Ryan needed me and then I was sobbing.
I missed my helper! I missed being able to do this and not have to worry where the kids were or what they needed. I had two jobs to do and both were pulling at me. I had come into the weekend feeling as though I might tear up thanking artists. I did not expect dinner and keeping track of kids to reduce me to tears! Why is this still hard?!
Why am I surprised that taking a six-year-old and an autistic son, plus two other kids, to an outdoor music festival with 50,000 people is going to be stressful? Why am I surprised that my Kati wanted me to come sit and enjoy music with her when instead I was manning the tent? Why am I surprised that as the evening wore on, my answers to Lucy and Ryan were not as patient as they should have been?
I realized this was hard because this is another first. This was another new thing to figure out without him here. I have to figure out how this should look next year. I have to learn and move on. Maybe that lesson applies not only to the mistake I made this weekend but to my juggling act.
Maybe in order to let the mistakes of the weekend go I need to follow the advice of For King and Country’s newest song and “Fix my eyes, on You.” If my eyes are fixed on Him, hopefully I will take the learning moments from it and let the rest go. Hopefully the kids will look at the good from this weekend. Hopefully I will be able to focus on those amazing moments with gifted musicians and the incredible support of good friends. Hopefully moments of grief overwhelming me will continue to get further apart. Hopefully this will continue to get easier as I keep returning my gaze to the God who hasn’t left me once this year.