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  • Avery Garn

Life in the After

Originally published on

"My life before my son’s suicide was like a beautiful stained glass window, and then it shattered. I spent so long trying to put the pieces back together the way that they were before. But when I finally stopped trying to recreate what it used to be and just started to put the pieces together, I realized the new creation could be just as beautiful.”

I am sitting in a group of a hundred or so survivors of suicide. I listen to this mother describe her grieving process and internally roll my eyes. She’s got it wrong. Life in the after is not beautiful. ln the after of my dad’s suicide, the incessant refrain that plays in my mind is I don’t want this life. It’s far from beautiful.

But no matter what divides the before from the after in our lives—death, divorce, diagnosis—we can spend a lot of time looking back at the before. A before that, in hindsight, can feel perfect and beautiful.

And yet Paul writes to the Philippians, "But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead.” Philippians 3:13

And yet.

Paul encourages the Philippians that spiritual maturity does not lie behind them, in their befores. It lies in ahead, in the after.

I like the word straining. It implies that looking ahead is not easy; it takes effort.

We usually think of strain in relation to pain. And maybe that is what Paul is implying: looking ahead is hard, requiring effort and maybe discomfort. But we must strain forward to what lies ahead, though it may feel better to look back.

Now, seven years after my dad’s suicide, I do see beauty in the repaired stained glass window that the grieving mother described. My life doesn’t look like it used to, but there is beauty to be found here, too. But now I have a new divide: my life before and after facial paralysis. This After feels, once again, far from beautiful.

Once, a few years ago when I could still smile, my pharmacy passport photo was so bad that the passport agent said to me, “I’m not gonna do that to you” before snapping a new photo of me.

Now I look back, and prefer that awful CVS photo to my now.

I spend a lot of time now looking back at my before, longing for the time when smiling and blinking and chewing did not require a second thought. But aren’t we all guilty of this at times? Of longing for what lies behind? A time before pain, before heartbreak, before grief?

But Paul encourages the Philippians to strain forward, and we should do the same. When we find ourselves dwelling on the before, may we ask our Heavenly Father to show us the beauty in the after.

And may we strain forward to what lies ahead, because God’s plan is as much before us as it is behind us.

So as I cringe at my half-smiling photos, I strain forward, trusting that what God has in store for me, for all of us, does not lie behind, no matter how beautiful before or behind may appear. His plan lies ahead. May we all strain toward it.

1 Comment

Dec 14, 2021

I loved reading this again on here and seeing the new pics with the baby!!! You are amazing!



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