Today, I am interrupting my series, Journey of Faith, to write real about yesterday and the grappling we all must do . . .
I sat in a pew on an exquisite summer day watching friends and family come down the aisle. It’s hard to know whether to smile or cry when you see people you haven’t seen since Christmas and the one who is always there at the company party . . . he won’t be this year.
Our friend, a year older than I, died unexpectedly last Thursday. He died of a bleed on his brain stem and spinal cord while sitting up in his hospital bed. A couple days prior, he had intestinal surgery but was recovering as expected. His wonderful wife, whom we’ve known for years, left him the night before in good spirits, planning to return in the morning. But by then, he was gone. The nurse had checked him at 5:30 AM and all was fine. At 7:20 AM, his surgeon came in and found him gone. Just like that. Gone.
Family holding each other weeping and walking to their reserved pews—who could bear the sight without shedding aching soul tears. Because we all know this could be us. This will be us. None of us escapes the crush of death.
Another dear friend sat to the left of us and forward, across the aisle. In his sixties now, he buried his daughter last September after a two year battle with breast cancer.
Another friend sat behind and I wondered her thoughts as cancer came calling in her own life recently and stripped her of both breasts. I thank God she’s still here, looking radiant, somehow strangely more beautiful to me than ever before. Is that because I now know how fragile her life is, my life is?
And an uncle. His cancer is spreading fast, now in pancreas. We know. We know he probably won’t see Christmas lights again. So we’re letting him do all he wants and giving him all he wants, like potato chips and raspberries. My garden is just about ready to give all-he-can-eat raspberries.
I sat in the pew and all I wanted to do is hold my husband’s warm hand and touch his arm and feel his life. I wanted to feel warmth because I have felt the arm of the dead where blood flows no more through channels and the whole empty shell is hard and cold. And I kept dabbing my eyes with crumpled and kneaded tissue because I hate—this—reality—of—life—that we all must go through death that robs without heart, without care. How death delights in wounding deep, causing suffering unspeakable, separation unthinkable. And I want to shake my fist in rage and stomp my feet in defiance and fight like hell to stop Hell!
But we don’t stop Hell by fighting like hell . . .
We stop Hell by loving like God . . .
Jesus said . . .
For God loved the world so much that He sent His one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16
The shadow of the cross overshadows the darkness of death. God conquered the grave with love.
And Paul said . . .
We are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8: 37-38
This world? Our bodies? All of creation? We’re just a big broken mess, the preacher said. I nodded. We all know this truth. We’re all just a big broken mess, really. And no human, no institution, no philosophy is going to fix us. We are not going to fix our planet and right the wrong we find everywhere, in everything, in everyone, in ourselves.
So what hope do we have? When a widow’s skin is ashen from bottomless grief, when fathers bury their daughters, when women have their feminine slashed clean off, when crime escalates, when racial tensions soar, when children die of starvation, when babies never even have a chance for a life, when powerful subdues weak and makes them suffer and I could go on and on . . .
But I can also go on and on about the power of love . . .
When family holds one another up because none can stand alone in the pit of grief, love overcomes.
When friends and family give and keep giving to widows until they can stand on their own and the days stop hurting oh so bad, love overcomes.
When husband stands by his wife through surgeries that steal and scar and rebuild and she wonders if she can bear to be bare again, love overcomes.
When children carry good memories of a mother who loved but lost too early and left them to grow on without her, love overcomes.
When we refuse to be inflamed by hate when race cards are played, love overcomes.
When we say yes to the dignity of life—all life—and give life a chance, love overcomes.
When we send our dollars or ourselves or both to the starving and to the organizations that get to the bottom of the problem and start turning things around, even a little, love overcomes.
When we pursue justice, no matter what, love overcomes.
Simply put, when we seek God, love overcomes.
I felt torn, yet somehow whole, in that pew yesterday. Torn by the pain of death yet whole in knowing, more than I know anything for sure, that this—this life—this body—this planet—this creation—this whole messy, crazy, ugly, insane will not be left broken. We are already on our way home—all of us who believe. We’re already on our way home where there are no more tears, where there is no more pain, where there is no more death. And until that time, we’re not left alone is this mess. We are left with the very Spirit of the Living God who is love. And love heals. Love conquers all. And there still is beauty. There still is insanely exquisite beauty to be found everywhere. Right here. Look around. Look within. But always, look to God, the source of all beauty.
We will miss you while we’re here, Bob. But we will see you again in glory. Until then, rest in peace and may our Savior Jesus hold you in His perfect love.