remembering broken bodies: a reflection on the Lord’s supper

“the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” (1 corinthians 11:23b-24, esv)

 

 

“on the night He was betrayed.” that is, on the very night on which Jesus’ broken body was foremost on His mind. on the night when those closest to Him looked straight into His face and pretended they didn’t even know Him. on that night, Jesus took a loaf of bread in His hands, broke it, and said, eat up. it’s mine. it’s for you.

“and when he had given thanks,” scripture says. which is to say that even on the darkest night of His earthly life, when the promise of Easter was so distant it was not yet even a glimmer on the horizon, Jesus somehow found it in Himself, somehow found the words in His throat, to give thanks. on a night when, of all things to give, to speak, gratitude should’ve been the farthest thing from His lips. from His mind. on that night, He gave thanks. He remembered, even in the darkest darkness, that there is still something to give thanks for, Someone to give thanks to.

and “do this in remembrance of me,” He says. do this. that is, gather together. share a meal. a meal, of all things. a simple loaf of bread. something to drink. come around a table. together. share.

“do this in remembrance of me,” He says. in remembrance of Me. you’ll have plenty of your own broken bodies to remember, God knows. Jesus tells us to remember His. and in so doing, to take heart that His broken body means that we do not need to make any more broken bodies ourselves. to remember, in the end, that this broken body means our own broken bodies made whole.

and when you gather together, Jesus says, the lovely and the unlovely. the rich and the poor. the in and the out. the light and the dark skin. do it knowing that you are doing it, in some mysterious way, in Him. do it knowing that, somehow, His broken body makes our unity possible. that our meeting together in peace is only possible in the One in whose name alone there is Peace.

“peace I leave with you,” Jesus says, according to john’s gospel, as He was saying His goodbyes. “My peace I give to you. not as the world gives do I give to you.”

apparently He thought the word peace needed clarification.

this kind of Peace. not that kind.

not the kind of peace that comes in armored trucks. with guns and barking dogs, teeth bared. not the kind of peace that says, in a voice that comes from behind a face shield, ‘this is for your own safety.’

not the kind of peace that means you surrendering your will to mine.

not the kind of peace that’s an idea, the way to which is anyone’s best guess, but the kind of Peace that is embodied. the Peace that comes in a baby’s soft, penetrable skin and leaves with scars in its hands.

the kind of Peace that will one day wipe away every tear. will set every broken bone. on that day when there will be no more mourning. no more pain. the kind of Peace that remembers our broken bodies, even when we do our best to forget or ignore or explain them away.

come, Lord Jesus, come. and may You have mercy on us all.

but who do you say that I am? a devotional

i was recently asked to lead the staff of westside: a Jesus church, in portland, in a time of devotion. here are the reflections i gave on matthew 16:13-17, the story of peter’s confession of Jesus as the Christ.

who do others say that I am?

Jesus begins this episode by asking His disciples who other people are saying the “Son of Man” is. and if you’re familiar with matthew’s gospel, you know Son of Man is one of Jesus’ favorite titles for Himself.

and so what we find here is Jesus asking what the crowds are saying about Him. “what’s the watercooler conversation about me been like,” Jesus is asking.

what all of the disciples’ responses have in common is that people are saying that Jesus is one of the prophets. perhaps, even, one of the greatest prophets.

and the interesting thing to notice here is that Jesus seems wholly uninterested in their response. He doesn’t even acknowledge it, as far as we can tell.

which begs several questions: why does Jesus even ask in the first place? does He not know what others are saying? is He going through some sort of existential crisis and is in search of validation?

and why doesn’t he acknowledge their response? if He disagrees, why doesn’t He say so?

instead of acknowledging their response as we might expect, Jesus asks another question.

but who do you say that I am?

“but who do you say that I am,” Jesus asks.

and the thing i wish scripture told us is how much time passed from Jesus’ question and peter’s response.

you can just imagine the disciples–sensing the weight of this question, and not wanting to get it wrong–doing all they can to avoid eye contact with Jesus. staring at the ground, kicking the dirt. whistling to themselves.

of course, it’s peter who finally breaks the silence.

“You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God,” peter says.

and unlike before, Jesus not only acknowledges peter’s response, He praises it.

“blessed are you!” Jesus says, which is about as close as we get to Jesus giving an a-plus on one of His pop quizzes.

but He doesn’t stop there, which is the really interesting part.

in the same breath that He uses to praise this response, Jesus tells peter that he could not have answered this question rightly were it not for the Father giving peter the words.

“flesh and blood has not revealed this to you,” Jesus says, “but my Father who is in heaven.”

isn’t that odd? why would Jesus ask the disciples a question that He knew they could not answer rightly without God’s help?

“but who do you say that I am,” Jesus asks the disciples. and this is, i would argue, one of the most important questions in the entire bible. which brings me to my third and final point for reflection.

not a one-off question

the more i think about this story, the more confident i am that this is not a one-off question that Jesus asks and then leaves alone. nor is it simply a question posed to peter.

instead, i think this is a question that scripture, as the living and active word of God, and Jesus, as the living, resurrected Lord, continues to ask each one of us anew each day. moment by moment, even.

this is a question that we can never get away from, never get ahead of.

it is a question we must answer in the seemingly mundane realities of life, as well as the incredible highs and the tragically low points of life.

but who do you say that I am, Jesus asks, in your buying habits. in the television shows you watch. in your internet use.

but who do you say that I am, Jesus asks, when you finally get that job offer that you’ve been waiting on for what has seemed like an eternity.

but who do you say that I am, Jesus asks, when you’ve been trying for years to get pregnant, while everyone you know is welcoming a new child into their family, and all your efforts have been met with nothing but closed door after closed door. or when the lab results come back, and it’s cancer.

who do you say Jesus is then? In those moments?

the full, painful reality of the world

i was listening to the radio the other day when i heard what was easily one of the grisliest, most tragic stories i’ve ever heard.

apparently someone opened up a locker in a public transit station in canada recently after noticing a terrible smell. to their horror, they found several newborn baby bodies stuffed into the locker.

the worst part is that these bodies had been there so long that the police couldn’t actually tell how many were there. maybe three, maybe four. they couldn’t make out where one baby’s body ended and the next began.

friends, who in the world do you say Jesus is when you hear those sorts of stories? because whoever we say Jesus is, however we respond to this relentless question, our answer must be able to hold the full, painful reality of the world in which we live.

listen to your life

frederick buechner is a presbyterian minister, novelist, and memoirist whose work i have clung to after being introduced to it a couple years back. he’s incredibly thoughtful, beautifully written, and exceptionally honest about the painful realities of the brokenness of this world.

and one of the repeated themes in buechner’s writing is that of our need to pay attention.

“pay attention,” buechner writes. “pay attention to your life.” to the monotonous, mundane bits just as much as the exciting or even tragic parts.

because if you listen really closely, buechner insists, you will see that your life itself is telling a story.

and that story, i believe, is the only answer we can offer to this question that Jesus asks each and every one of us over and over again: “but who do you say that I am?”

grief: reflections on loss

i wish to be completely forthright in saying this entry was written entirely to help myself deal with a deep amount of recent pain. to walk through the many thoughts of loss and hurt the past several weeks have brought. and to attempt to make some sense of the horrific loss of our dear sister, hayley dawn.

while hands&feet began as a way for me to simply capture my thoughts, it has grown to become more than that. however, this entry, in particular, returns to those original roots. it is full of loss and grievous remorse, and i make no promise that it will leave you feeling better. about anything. it is a bit like someone narrating the experience of their own surgery. if you are squeamish, i do not blame you in the least for looking away. however, if this narrative does help you. if this account somehow makes her — or anyone you’ve lost — feel close to you once again, if only for a moment. then praise be to God for that.

but, i am confident that these words will very likely leave some feeling as though they’ve just walked through a storm. and so i make the offer upfront: this is a dark cloud you may wish to walk around. you do not always have that option, but you do here, if you so choose.

to sit & listen

driving home from the hospital that first night, the night after we received that dreadful late-night phone call. the car headlights tearing through the darkness of that 2:30 a.m. morning, all i wanted to do was sit beside my sister. by the water. on the shore. and listen to her. i didn’t even want to ask any questions. i just wanted to sit shoulder-to-shoulder with her. again. tossing rocks into the waves as they rolled into shore. watching the water play with the pebbles underneath as it washed over them with each coming and going.

i just wanted to be there to lend a listening ear when she felt like talking. that’s all. and i prayed for that opportunity. to once again sit and talk with her. and it was then that i felt Him whisper to me that He was already talking with her, and that i need not worry.

feels like

what does grief feel like? it feels like a dry lump in the back of your throat that you cannot swallow away. it feels heavy, like a wet blanket on your shoulders that you cannot shake. weighing you down with each footstep. it fogs your vision and dulls your mind, so that you cannot see or think clearly. except for the pain and the memories, which shine brightly through the darkness. no matter how hard you try to push the former away, without sacrificing the latter.

and it lingers, like a deep, dense fog. consuming everything in its path. and you’re left wandering in it, lost. aimlessly. for days. weeks. and just when you feel like you’ve come to the end of it, you realize it was only a brief clearing in what seems like an endless valley, surrounded by the thick gray haze.

experiencing loss

there is nothing sexy, cool or desirable in any way about sitting beside the hospital bed of someone you love on life support at 2:00 a.m. there is only pain. there is only prayer and tears. wanting with all you have for them to blink their eyes. to grab your hand. to wake up.

i remember staring at hayley’s nearly motionless body during those early morning hours, as she lay there on the hospital bed. the only movement coming from the rise and fall of her chest with each robotic breath. aided by life support. by tubes and beeping machines. and all i wanted to do is talk with her. i wanted to whisper to her, that i loved her. and i did. and i hoped with all i had that she could hear me.

and i remember thinking how frail she looked. even her hair. each strand of it, strewn across the white linens. not a single ounce of her being showed even a hint of strength. and the only reason she was alive was because He had brought life and a pulse back to her lifeless body. i remember thinking how each breath was a gift from God, and how she was literally one breath away from leaving us.

and i remember telling jen He was going to redeem her. from all the pain of this situation. and somehow, comfort i can’t now describe surrounded me during that time. comfort that doesn’t make any sense.

impact on my faith

before all this happened, i had often wondered how my faith would hold up in the face of such loss and pain. i wondered if it would blind my vision toward His goodness. if i would feel distant from Him. or have a deep-rooted hesitation to ever approach Him again for help.

i am thankful that has not been the case. however, immediately following hayley’s diagnosis — which we had waited several days to receive — my faith was surely tested. and i was incredibly scared.

hearing her diagnosis from a doctor, a neurologist, was by no means easy. it was like having a biology textbook read to you when what you would prefer are the compassionate words of a sympathy note from a friend. or the loving arms of a well-timed hug. but that is not what we received. rather, what we heard were the cold, bleak, hopeless words from an unattached physician. someone who had never even had the pleasure of meeting hayley.

and it was after receiving that news, during the shock, that i was scared. i was scared because, for the first time i can remember, i honestly had no idea what to pray for. i felt as though there was nothing i could pray for that would resolve this situation. at that moment, leaning heavily on the windowsill and looking out into the deep blue sky through the icu window, i felt totally and completely helpless.

i felt as though the robe of this world had been pulled back, revealing the dark, ghastly flesh beneath. teeming with black machinery and hoards of crawling insects. i felt as though i was seeing all the dark evils of this world with clear eyes for the very first time. a darkness that had always been there, but that had been cleverly disguised. and once the mask has been removed, there is no forgetting what lies beneath. even if it is replaced. the image is forever burned in your memory. and, at that moment, it was for me a darkness i wanted to turn and run from with all my might. but i knew i would not fully escape it until that day i reached His Kingdom.

and so, it was at that moment that i desired His Kingdom — the paved streets of gold and fields of light streaming forth from His presence — more than i ever had before. i thirsted for Him in a way i never knew possible. but i also knew the path leading toward that day, the day when i would see His Kingdom, would be one lined with much pain and sorrow. the only way into the Light leads straight through the darkness. there is no other path.

painful aftershocks

when we lose someone dear to us, we really do feel like a part of ourselves is gone. like the entire world has changed overnight. like something is not quite right. and you almost become frustrated with others for acting like it is. for going on with life. i remember driving past a field of cows grazing the morning after hayley’s passing and thinking, “how can you possibly be eating at a time like this?!”

following the loss, you wake up feeling like someone covered you in a heavy, soaking-wet blanket while you slept. and even though your eyes are now open, the weight is constantly pressing down on you. so much so that you don’t even feel like getting up.

the tinge of death affects your palette, as well. it changes your tastes, both literally and figuratively. you do not want to eat. and when you do, it is not for the flavor or the smell, but because you know you must. your favorite food is no longer what it was. and what seemed so important before no longer does. what excited you before fails to do so now. i no longer spend my time as i did before. your priorities, it seems, are completely shaken up.

i’ve never been so confused about how i feel until facing this death. you are sad and hurt and angry, all at the same time. and it is incredibly confusing. like a diver who struggles to determine which way is up in the deep, cold, mirky waters.

and you feel like, no matter how hard you try, there are no words to properly communicate these feelings to others. and that inability to do so leads to feelings of isolation. creating a vast chasm between you and them.

the four words, “how are you doing?” have never been so confusing. for, even if i knew, i am not sure i would be able to communicate it. and, even if i could, i am not sure you would want to know.

leaving the hospital that last night we were all there together. just the six of us, walking out into the darkness under the clear night sky above. it felt as though we were going on a family vacation, and hayley was being left behind. and i knew there would be points on our trip when i would want to turn back. with every ounce of my being. to go get her. to grab her by the arm and run to catch up with the others. so that she might not be left alone. so that we might sing to her on her birthday. so that we could open presents together on Christmas morning. or spend our warm summer days together at the lake. so that she might enjoy this trip with us. but i knew i wouldn’t be able to. i knew that, even as i turned back. to turn to her. that i would be met by a face that assured me she could not go with.

when you’re at this point, the words, “i know how you feel” simply lead to feelings of distrust. for you could not possibly ‘know’ how i feel. even if you lost someone. that someone is not this someone. and your relationship with them is not this relationship. you may speak this language, sure, but this dialect is foreign to you. and i realize these words are meant to help, and i sincerely appreciate the sympathy and the consideration behind them, but they do not bring healing.

it’s a bit like wandering around in a maze with all the lights turned off. alone. blindly trying to find your way. and you can hear the voices of those on the outside, but inside, there is no one there with you. they cannot help point you in the right direction, for they can no more see anything in the dark blindness you find yourself in than can you who are in the middle of it. but the sound of their voices assures you that they are indeed there. that they know you are in the darkness. the mere sound of their presence — and their acknowledgement of your present circumstance in this dark maze — is all they have to offer, as you blindly stumble into walls in the darkness.

and this experience leads one to feel like a leper. the sickness in my life becomes so apparent, as does the health in theirs. and it almost makes me feel like asking to be put away from others, realizing no good can come from this pain. almost worrying that the pain in my life is contagious. and that, if i’m too close to others, it will wear off on them. contaminating their lives, as it has mine.

you will see them again

saying to those in pain, to those dealing with the loss of a loved one, that they will see their loved one again one day is a bit like telling a child they must go to bed early so that santa claus may come and set out their gifts. surely, every child enjoys gifts, but that does not make the act of going to bed early any more enjoyable. nor does it make closing one’s eyes and finding rest any easier. if anything, it only makes it more difficult.

i may see them again one day, sure. but i want to see them now. and, when that day comes that i do see them again, i find it hard to believe my focus will be on them. for it will be overshadowed by His presence. no, what i want is her. now. returned.

a better place

would you say to a child who misses their parents while they’re away on vacation, away on a cruise, or sitting on a beach in some tropic location, that, “it’s okay, they’re in a better place.”? hardly. for the issue is not so much their location, or their current state. it is that their location is not with them. they are missing their loved one’s presence. and so the point that they’re in a better place or not is hardly the issue.

are they happy their parents are enjoying themselves? probably. and their happiness at this thought grows in magnitude as their gaze falls less and less on their own desires. their desire to be with them. and more on their desire for their loved one’s well-being. or to put it another way, the less one’s focus is on them self, the greater one’s joy at knowing their loved ones are enjoying themselves.

however, those feelings of missing one’s vacationing parents are very real. and pointing out that their loved ones are in a better place hardly addresses those feelings. rather, it feels like an attempted distraction.

process of pain

and the experience of this pain goes through different phases. at first, it feels like a deep bruise. dull and hard. it steals your energy and makes you feel sore and weak all over. so much so that you do not want to move from the hurt.

but then, as the weeks go on, the painful loss seems more like a laceration. like a deep cut. where the painful realization begins to set in clearly and sharply. and it comes and goes. but when it comes, it comes at a moment’s notice. it comes with a sting that takes you by surprise. sharp and cutting. deep, leaving your wound open and revealed.

and all you want to do at that point is find somewhere safe. somewhere comfortable. where you can let your wound air out. in the open. without fear of more pain being inflicted. you seek solace. escape. and sometimes words, no matter how well-intended, only feel like salt in this open wound.

rather, you come to appreciate the simple presence of someone just being there. not trying to talk away the pain, as if words could heal these wounds. but just being there. in the darkness. their presence a reminder that you are not totally and completely alone. even if they cannot understand. even if they cannot see the twists and the turns of this dark maze you now find yourself in.

a good friend is willing to let the tears fall, without feeling ashamed or embarrassed at your pain. pain is not orderly. it is not clean and tidy. it is messy. a good friend is willing to carry the weight of your tears simply with their presence.

pain is a heavy heart. heavy from taking on water. from the weight of your tears. so heavy it feels like it could fall out of your chest from pressing against your rib cage so hard.

and then, as the days go on, you begin to realize you haven’t thought about your lost loved one for a while. not days, by any stretch of the imagination, but hours. and then you almost feel guilty. as if not thinking about them for a period somehow dishonors their lost life. and that thought comes with pains of guilt.

roller-coaster in the dark

and it makes no sense, the pain. it comes and goes without any warning. like a roller-coaster in the dark. you feel as though the bottom falls out from under you at a moment’s notice. and you’re left grasping for something. anything. to hold onto. to hold you up. to strengthen you. for you feel so very weak.

a friend of mine recently lost someone dear to her. a long-time friend. a boyfriend.

it was a highly publicized tragedy, receiving much media attention. particularly in our region. three friends in oregon set out for a hike on a snow covered mountain. nothing out of the ordinary. something they had done many times before. but this time, they did not come back. and friends and family waited. for days. to hear something. to hear some hint of good news. but it never came.

and she shared with me about how she resp0nded to others during this time. while she waited. the words she spoke to co-workers. to friends. to the family members who aren’t yet believers.

“Christ is my hope.”

when she didn’t know what to say or how to brace herself for support, her words pointed to Him. and her weight fell upon Him. hoping He would hold her up.

no magic pill

naively, i thought the healing process would progress in a linear manner. that each day would be a little easier than the last. i was wrong. the 17th day could, and did, feel very much worse than the third day. there is no rhyme nor reason for it. no predicting it. it simply comes and goes as it pleases. as quickly as the memories. entering without any hesitation. or any concern for your current circumstances. and you’re left floundering.

grief, after a time, is like a guest who has overstayed their welcome. your irritation with its lingering presence grows greater and greater as each day progresses. you want to throw mud in its face. kick it in the shins. curse at it. and tell it to leave. but it doesn’t. it loiters. and the frustration mounts. until finally the tiniest things make you snap. from the anger and the frustration and the hurt. and you’re left looking around, wondering to yourself, “where did that come from?”

and, no matter how much you want to change it. no matter how much you want to deal with the pain all at once and make it go away. to leave you, and never to return. you cannot. this is something you cannot overpower or simply “deal with.” no matter how hard you try.

you cannot intellectualize away grief. you cannot outthink a feeling. for, where the feelings trod, the intellect cannot approach. it is a place untouched by the mind. there, if nowhere else, the mind has no power. it is burned away in the fiery presence of the heart. of love. of warmth. of feeling. of dread. of fear. the mind knows not what to do. it cannot. and so you’re left, blindly, feeling your way in the darkness.

no amount of power or wealth can help in this situation. death is the great equalizer, as they say. for you cannot buy back what you’ve lost. not in this case. no matter how much you want to. no matter how strongly your desires are to barter with God. “i will give you this… i would give you it all, just to have her back.” but those offers are met only with silence. for there is nothing you can offer Him to return this life that is now no longer here.

nor can you order someone to fix it. you may spend money and time and resources on the road to recovery, but there is no pill to take. no magic wand can break this spell you’re under. as lewis puts it, “there is nothing we can do with suffering except to suffer it…” (c.s. lewis, a grief observed, p. 33)

and so i pray. and i remember. and i grieve. and i cry. sometimes the tears come with laughs. sometimes they simply come in sobs. overpowering, heaving sobs that rock my body and prevent me from doing anything else at all. leaving me to simply wait them out.

healing in pain

pain allows certain things to come alive. for the first time. song lyrics. even those cliche sayings we’ve all heard a million times. for, in the experience of pain, those words now have meaning. they have ground to stand upon. and, from that ground, they rise up to eye view, so that you can see them for what they truly are. whereas, prior to the pain, they seemed so very meaningless. lacking any context. floating by without any hint of consequence.

for me, this pain has helped illuminate parts of scripture that previously seemed intended for someone else. specifically, Jesus’ power to heal.

a significant portion of the attention Jesus received during His ministry was from people who came to Him to be healed. they had pains. they had diseases they could not shake. and they had heard that, somehow, this Man, this nazarene carpenter, had powers that could help them.

the book of luke, in particular, focuses heavily on these healing miracles. luke was a medical doctor, so he was naturally intrigued by the accounts of how Jesus had brought health where there was sickness. life where there was death.

and, as much as i think these healings served a practical purpose — revealing Jesus’ power — i think they also served as a metaphor for the ultimate Healing He intends to bring all of us. and reading about these healings serves as a reminder to us, even now, 2000 years later, of why He came. of why He was written into humanity’s story. and, lately, i have come to see that it is only in true pain and brokenness that we can see the incredible value in His healing power. and our need for it.

someone who has no thirst cannot appreciate the life-giving benefits water offers the human body. it is only someone who is truly fatigued and lacks proper hydration who can appreciate what water offers. and our true need for it. however, inviting someone to run 10 miles so that they can appreciate a drink of cool water will not likely be met with much excitement. this offer is only appreciated by those who are already fatigued. by those who are already thirsty.

in the same way, He reveals different attributes of His character to us based on our experiences. based on our current situations. however, that does not make us want to put ourselves in those situations so that we can experience these particular attributes of Himself.

if you do not see your need for healing, His offer to heal will likely mean nothing to you. and you are not likely to desire losing someone close to you so that you can feel His healing presence. however, if you are in pain. and if you feel broken. you will grasp at His healing power with everything you have. reaching out to Him in hopes that even if you were to only touch the corner of His robe, He would somehow mend the stump where a hand used to be.

always there

not long before hayley’s death, i was going through a rough time. a death in the family. a birth in the family. balancing an awkward combination of feelings. unsure of what to do with it all. and i remember texting hayley. just to tell her about it all. and i told her i didn’t even know why i was bothering her, except for the fact that she was my sister. she replied, right away. to tell me she was sorry. to tell me she loved me. and to tell me she was there for me. no matter what.

and so many times during these past several weeks, i’ve gone to those words. wanting to cash in that promise. i’ve wanted to go to her. to tell her how hard this is. losing her. to tell her how it hurts. to ask her if she remembers when…

but i can’t. i can’t go to her and get a response. and that is so incredibly difficult. so painful. but i do it anyways. sometimes. aloud, to myself. in my car. and it helps. to get it out. the words. the tears. all of it.

and sometimes i even feel like she’s there. just like she promised.

to feel close again

when we’ve lost someone close to us, we find ourselves turning to things that remind us of them, hoping to somehow feel close to them once again. we turn to a song. to a place. to something. anything. that you once shared.

i’ve found myself listening to lots of hip hop lately. songs i knew hayley liked. new songs i thought she’d like, and that i wish i could send her to listen to. we loved sharing music with each other.

the week following hayley’s service, i picked up flowers and a card. and i returned to the hospital. the same place we spent the week waiting. hoping. that everything would turn out all right.

i wanted to find the nurse who was there for us during those long nights. who let us sit by her bed and watch. who would talk with us. who would be real with us. rather than just doing her job. rather than just checking hayley off her to-do list.

she was helping out in the er that night i visited. rather than the icu. so the icu secretary helped me find her. she called. then called some more. and as i waited for this nurse to respond to the phone calls, asking her to come up to the icu, i sat at the front desk. waiting. flowers in one hand. card in the other. sitting. staring straight at the door to hayley’s former room. the last room i saw her. the last room i talked to her.

and i thought, naively, that somehow being there would make me feel like i was closer to my sister again. that i would be reminded of her presence. but that was not the case. it simply felt like a hospital. like a room where someone else received treatment. not her.

and when the nurse finally appeared, that did not make her feel closer either. but it was nice to see her. she approached with a warm look of sympathy and compassion. with a look of knowing pain at our loss. and she received me with a hug. she told me she was so sorry. and she told me she had been thinking about us.

after some time, i left. i walked out of the icu and, while waiting at the elevator door, i overheard the conversation that followed, “that was her brother-in-law.” … “we should take your picture!”

no, it did not make her feel closer. i walked out of the hospital that night into the cool air of the evening. just as i had so many times the week before. and the tears fell. slowly at first. but then stronger. knowing, perhaps more so than i had before i entered the hospital that night, that there was no longer a place where i could find hayley. that no matter how much a place reminded me of her, it would not bring her back.

we’ll visit you

after a while, you find yourself just wanting life to go back to normal. to “the way it was.” but, the truth is, it won’t. it cannot. for it has been forever changed. it is a bit like wishing a snow globe would be just as it were before it was shaken. that each tiny snowflake would fall in the precise place it had previously been, prior to being shook. it cannot. but that is what we desire. with all we have. we want things to be as they were. and there is nothing worse than thirsting for a drink that does not exist. to have a thirst that cannot be quenched.

i recently grabbed dinner with a friend of hayley’s. a close friend. they had dated for years. so he knew her like we did. closer than most.

it was the first time i had stepped foot into a local restaurant since her passing. and, as i did, i felt the eyes of those familiar with our loss fall heavy on me. as if to somehow gauge my temperature. i spotted hayley’s friend from the door, already seated at a table across the room, dropped my head low, and found my seat.

we talked. for quite a while. sharing memories. and that brought so much joy. it almost made her seem close again. and it was comforting because we shared these similar experiences of her. these memories of the hayley we both knew and loved. those who enjoy cars do not get together with those who have no interest in cars to share stories about their vehicles. rather, they get together with other car enthusiasts. the closer their interests (by make, model, year…), the more enjoyable their conversation. the tighter their bond. so it is with those missing a lost loved one.

so there we sat. in this restaurant. sharing memories. laughing, mostly. and it was refreshing. then, at one point during this meal, he mentioned visiting hayley’s grave the week before. and it was the first time i had even thought of visiting hayley’s grave. to go see her. to remember her.

but the cemetery hardly fits the description of something i turn to remind me of her. for we never spent time in the cemetery then. we never shared a laugh there. you never gave me a hug before leaving there. i never tossed you in the lake there, shouting and laughing at the same time. you never sprayed whipped cream in my face or insisted that you could in fact carry me there. that is not where i saw your smile or heard your laugh. that laugh we used to tease you for, until you would shout, “it does not sound like leanne’s!”

your body now rests there, sure, but that does not help me remember you. it all feels so foreign. so, “for someone else.” but don’t worry, hd, i will visit you. we will visit you.

the wrong question

the truth is, hd, when you left, it felt like a piece of our joy left with you. and we cannot get it back. not matter how hard we try. which makes sense, for you were filled with it.

and, in the middle of this all, we find ourselves asking if it would’ve been easier to never have been given this life. this relationship. so that, when this loss came, it wouldn’t hurt so bad. so that we wouldn’t ever have to experience this overwhelming pain. we find ourselves wondering if a life of complete isolation would not be the safer route.

were we to never be so close, we would never feel this distant. this distance that i now feel would not feel so great.

i remember going out to lunch with a good friend of mine a year or so back. a good friend from high school. from middle school, really. his mom had fought — and won — a battle with cancer while we were still in school. which made the return of the cancer years later that much more difficult.

and i remember, at this lunch, something he told me. i don’t think i’ll ever forget it.

we were talking about how his mom was doing. an incredible woman. a woman who felt much like a second mother to me for so many years while in school. a Godly woman. the kind of woman who, when she says she’s praying for you, you know she’s not simply allowing words to pass from her lips to make you feel good. a woman who anyone would be proud to call, “mom.”

and i remember my friend talking about how things were getting more and more difficult for her. and how he was handling this.

“you know how i get through this? he asked me, rhetorically. “i ask myself, if God gave me the choice, to either have an incredible, Godly mom for the first 26 years of my life, or to never have one at all, i would choose to have her for those 26 years. every time.”

and i just remember thinking, “that is an incredible perspective.” in the face of one of the most difficult experiences of your life — losing your very mother — that is the perspective one should have. that of being thankful for the gift you have received. rather than damning the God who blessed you with that gift in the first place.

and so, faced with this pain. faced with the question of, “would it have been easier?…” i realize i’m asking the wrong question.

would it have been easier to never have that relationship? would it have been easier to never have become so close — to have cared for someone else so much — so that it doesn’t hurt this bad when they’re gone? perhaps. would it have been better? doubtful.

for those memories. those priceless memories. they are more valuable. they are worth far more than this pain is deep — no matter how deep these wounds now feel.

if it would’ve been better for us to never be so close to another soul so that this pain is not felt in the face of loss, i doubt very much He would encourage us to love one another as He does.

if He says, “I am going to break your heart over this loss,” which is no less than what this has been, then we must trust that the relationship that precipitated this loss was worth having in the first place.

nineteen years

hayley dawn. you are an angel who visited us for nineteen years. some splendid. joyful beyond what it is easy to capture in words. some more difficult and painful than we would care to now admit. but, even in their imperfect moments, you were here. with us. in a very real way. more real than our memories will now permit. real in a way we would never try to change. for doing so would change you. and that is what we desire. more than a memory. what we want is you. in all your imperfections. just as He created you.

hd, i am jealous of Him. that He now gets to enjoy that smile. that laugh. that contagious grin. we all are. when we miss you. we miss those things about you that showed us your love. and now, we know, that He is the One enjoying those traits of yours. that those gifts He created you with are now being given back to Himself. in a way that glorifies Him.

and we’re jealous. because that’s what we miss. you. and, in our most honest moments, we hope He enjoys you as much as we would. we hope He deserves it. is it fair of us to feel this way? no, probably not. is it right? of course not. but is it how we feel? yes. absolutely.

back from Perfection

but what good is it for me to want you back, hayley? to beckon you from the presence of Perfection, as it were.

for we can’t, on the one hand, find comfort knowing you’re in the presence of the only eternal Love you were made for. but then, on the other hand, beg that you be returned to us. it is no good for us to want it both ways. we will get nowhere with that. we will find ourselves paddling in circles in the middle of this dreadful lake of loss.

no, there is not even a hint of (true) love in that thought process. in wishing you back to us from Him. there is only selfishness. and, when i realize it, i despise myself for wanting you back at that cost.

but, as they say, the truth hurts. and there is nothing more true than admitting we want you back. at all costs. at our deepest, darkest, most selfish moments. for one more hug. for one more laugh. for one more smile. for one more memory that we can bottle up and store away.

and, every once in a while, we think we’ll get just that. turning to the door. or an empty hallway. half-expecting you to come walking in. wearing that smile of yours. wiping away all our tears of loss. laughing it away, as if the whole thing were some bad dream. the white of your teeth and scrunched corners of your eyes from your smile a sign that our glimmers of hope were not all for nothing.

but that moment never comes. instead, we find ourselves staring into an empty hallway or a doorway longer than we should. hanging our head at the painful realization that our deepest pains are real. we can put our hand there and find blood. the wounds are not yet healed. and we’re left wondering, “will they ever be?”

life in death

in a paradoxical way — just as so many things are with Him — we see that in death, there is Life. life of the fullest sense. not half-inflated, as we experience here. but life in the clearest, most full sense. as He intended it to be.

after hearing of our loss, a friend of mine — the same friend who lost her boyfriend to that terrible mountain — reminded me that hayley is alive.

through these words, she wrote to me, “hayley may have died, but she is alive…she has life… so even more i affirm you with the fact that hayley is alive and well! she is well, ryan…”

and the words set in heavy, like an oversized helicopter settling into a field of long grass to land. and, while i knew this to be true, it somehow shook me to the realization that, even in the painful experience of death, there is life. and, particularly in this death, that reminder of Life was incredibly encouraging.

for the first time in years, she is well. for that which hayley was unable to experience here, she is now experiencing in full. “…through [death], increase of life now comes.” (a grief observed, p.229) whereas she was unable to see it fully before, now she sees His love with eyes wide open. as He pours it out over her. she is loved. now. completely. totally. in a way she was not able to be before.

what previously held hayley back from living life as He intended it to be lived no longer can, because of death. because of God’s built-in safety device, as lewis refers to it. while the world may have slowly blinded her vision to His love for her from time to time before — as it does for so many of us — she is now experiencing it clearly. hearing it from His lips. in a way we do not yet have the benefit to hear.

and, in that thought, we receive a hint of comfort.

is she in “a better place?” no, she is in The better place.

to put Him in His place

and yet, in the pain of our loss, we want to pound away on His chest. even as He holds us. through tears, through short gasps of breath. we want to ask Him, through shout-filled fits, “why?!” why would He allow such pain. why He wouldn’t do anything about it. we want to push Him. to shove Him. to put Him in His place, so to speak. demanding that He answer up to our questions.

and all the while, we forget that He knows of this loss we are now experiencing. we forget that our love for her pales in comparison to His love for her. for, with our gaze so fixed on our own pain-filled loss, we cannot begin to comprehend His love for her. and we forget that all we’ve done for her pales in comparison to what He has done for her. even laying down His own Son’s life to save her’s.

and, when the tears slow. when we stop shouting long enough to catch our breath. when we relent from the pushing and flailing. we find Him patiently waiting. speaking to us,

do you really believe I do not know pain? do you think the sacrifice of my own Son did not grieve me? to sit back and watch Him hurt, holding back so that your loved ones might not feel such terror and torment. so that they might be saved. so that you might be saved. do you think that was easy on Me?

who are you that you would make such demands of Me? to try and test My love, as it were. it is true, I most certainly love her. more than you know or can comprehend. but in My righteous love, My vision is not blurred. even when yours is. and My goal is still fixed on her good. and yours. and even when you cannot see it being worked out, I can. but you must never question My love. for in that love — My love for My sons and My daughters — no questions remain.

who understands

no matter how deep those pains go. no matter how fresh the wounds feel, even after the passing of weeks, of months, of years, we must never forget, He has experienced our pain. we worship a God who understands.

so that, even when we are driving back to the hospital, completely unaware of the painful news that awaits us, He knows what is coming.

even though it feels like someone took an eraser to the pages of the story we have been reading, leaving us to try and make sense of this revised version. the truth is, those are not revisions on the pages we have already turned. rather, they are the pages we had yet to turn. but which we had imagined. reading ahead in our minds even after putting the story down. so that it feels like a revision, but the truth is, it had always been there. waiting. no matter how strong the shock.

and even though the coolness of the dove white clouds floating in the burnt orange sky during the drive back to the hospital that week seemed to hang like a promise that everything would be okay, we must remember that our ‘okay’ and His ‘okay’ do not always look the same.

we must remember that, where we are weak, He is strong. and that, in our weakest moment, He is hard at work. that He loves us. even when our own pain and tears blind us to that fact.

relief from our tears

my prayer for you is that your tears would fall. day after day. until they can hardly fall anymore. and then, when the nights seem long. and the days seem as though they run right into each other. when it seems like nothing could brighten the darkness, i pray He would. for you. i pray your gaze would turn from yourself. from your pain. and that it would turn toward Him. so that you can see, for the first time, His open arms.

this God is not a toy. He is not a divine wishlist created to give you what you want. were we to get from Him only that which we desired, He would seem much like something we had created. but that is not what we find. not at all. He is not a genie to be beckoned. He is not a servant of our imagination who sits in the clouds, waiting upon our every request.

but He is Love. of the deepest sort. the kind of Love who knows our good. even when it comes in pain. like a loving Father who holds back, even at the most difficult moments, so that we can learn on our own. or, as lewis puts it so well, like the Great Surgeon, creating incisions that will ultimately bring healing. at the moment, they simply appear as cuts. but, when He is finished, we should be on our road to recovery. the kind of recovery that will mean our good, in the fullest sense.

He knows when you’ll come to Him. He is not surprised. there is no surprise ending with Him. but He will still smile. He will still welcome you with a party. for you are His child. and He loves you. just as He loves our dear hayley dawn.

where do we find relief from our tears? at that thought. no, we cannot have it both ways. there is only one way we can have it. precisely the way we find it. knowing He is in control. that He can love her better than we can. and that He is. even now.

what are we to do with grace

i recently grabbed dinner with my brother. pizza. at a very eclectic pizza place in my hometown. where the menu is just as eccentric as the town it resides in. the pizza is prepared in an open kitchen, so you can watch it tossed in the air, spinning and stretching. then placed in an open brick oven. flames ‘kissing’ the crust until the staff say it has had enough.

my brother had never been there before, so we took a seat by the window and perused the menu. choosing water over soda, he drank deep as we talked. movies, mostly. a shared interest in movies can keep us talking for hours. this newest release leads us to a classic comedy, through the common thread of an actor or actress. and we laugh loudly as we recall quotes that weren’t nearly as funny the first time through.

and it was after our pizza had arrived that i shared with him something i had been turning over and over in my mind for the past week or so. i had been thinking about the forgiveness that i have been given. i was thinking about His grace, and how much it has covered over in my life. and i was thinking about what we’re supposed to do with that.

my brother and i don’t talk about God, or religion or Christianity. we just don’t. my brother likes cars. and movies. so we talk movies. but this time, for some reason, i felt inclined to ask him for his thoughts on the subject. so i did.

a non-pastor response

“so i’ve been thinking a lot about God’s grace lately,” i mentioned over a mouthful of fresh-from-the-oven pizza.

“yah?” he responded, showing signs of half interest. so i continued.

“yeah, i guess i’ve just been thinking about the fact that He didn’t have to forgive me for all the times i’ve messed up, but He did anyways. i’ve been thinking about the fact that His Son gave His life so that the Father could give me grace, and how unimaginably great a gift that is. and i can’t help but wonder, what am i supposed to do with that?”

i let my words linger in the air a few moments before asking, “what do you think?”

he took another bite of his pizza and stared out the window toward the dark street outside, with only the lights of storefronts and headlights standing out from the darkness of a mid-winter’s evening. i could tell he was thinking about my question, gathering his thoughts before he spoke.

and, after finishing his thought, he asked, “you ever ask your pastor about that?”

and i was so let down. i was so hopeful to hear a pure, unadulterated, man-on-the-street response. instead, all if found was someone wanting to hand the job off to “the professionals.” and i let the question pass into the darkness of the night as we finished our pizza.

“i checked out that movie trailer you told me about,” i said. the conversation picking right back up where we had left off.

in a coffee shop

my best friend and i get together on friday mornings, before work. starting the end of the week in a coffee shop to catch up, to dig into His word and to pray for each other. in a coffee shop, though not over coffee. i take my conversation with hot tea, he always with orange juice.

and we were recently talking about the topic of grace and forgiveness. and, feeling overwhelmed by the idea of such a gift, i explained how i thought it completely unlike anything else we have ever received or ever will receive.

“it’s kind of like you owing me a debt,” i began. “an incredibly large debt, the kind you’re not likely to be able to pay back any time soon. and, because of how significant that debt is, we can’t hang out until it’s paid. but because i want to hang out with you, because i want to be with you once again, i pay that debt for you. that’s what God’s grace is like.”

and we both agreed that Christianity’s response toward such a gift is rarely what it should be. i know mine almost always falls short of what He deserves.

like spoiled children

we were recently at some friends’ of ours house. my wife and her talking in the living room, he and I choosing the kitchen. the conversation as different as our locations in the house. he and i talking about our common interest in the things of the faith, while they talked about family and life. it’s nice when everyone wins.

and, during part of this conversation, he made a point about our lives as those who believe in Him, and what He has done for us. he talked about how different groups act, and live this out. and, while i am not usually a fan of making sweeping statements with such a large brush, he mentioned one particular religion, and commented on how they’re some of the nicest people he knew.

“you compare that to Christians, and we’re so different. we’re so complacent,” he said.

i mentioned that i thought it was because we don’t have to do anything to earn it. that His grace, His love is just a gift He gives us. he agreed.

“that’s it. we’re like spoiled kids whose parents give to them, but not because they’ve been good, or because they deserve it,” he said. “so we’re ungrateful. we become complacent.”

i agreed, knowing he had just described many, many Christians i know. including myself, much of the time.

the response He’s looking for

but what is that supposed to be? what is our response to grace supposed to look like?

and i think that question is so very difficult to answer because we have nothing to compare it to. we don’t regularly experience people giving their lives to make right our wrongs. if i have a debt, i am typically left to pay for it. but, even in the rare instance i need someone else’s help, it’s never with their life. except this one time. expect in this one instance.

and that’s what makes grace so incredible to me. that a perfect life, The perfect life, was given once and for all, for all the times i fall. for each time i choose my own way over His. every time, it is His perfect blood that was shed, in my place. His perfect life, laid down for mine. because of mine. and i can’t help but think, “so what does that mean for my life?”

lives laid down

what we find, when we look at Jesus’ life, is that He was constantly humbling Himself to serve others.

He who, as we’re told, was before all creation, came down and took upon human flesh, who was born. as a baby. The Miracle entering our world, being written into our story, through the miracle of birth.

and, time after time, we see Him as an adult, going against tradition to show His love. we see Him taking a wash basin and bathing His disciples’ feet. feet covered in dirt and sweat and blood and animal feces… the King of Kings, volunteering for a job reserved for the lowliest of slaves. and how does He finish? by telling this group of men, “as I have done for you, go and do likewise.”

and all of this, of course, is a foreshadow of the events to come. He is preparing these men for when He will ultimately humble Himself by giving His life for the purpose of grace. by surrendering His own life. by allowing His flesh to be bruised, beaten, torn, punctured and crucified. for the purpose of grace. and, in so doing, He is telling these men (and through them, us a well), “you better not love your life more than you love Me.”

and they saw that. and they lived like it. their lives lived out for the purpose of sharing Him.

more than nice people

and, being a constant, more constant than anything we know, i think He wants the same thing today. people who aren’t just nice, but who love Him more than they love their very life. people who thirst for Him with an unquenchable thirst. people who know they will find Him when they surrender their lives for His glory. and i think that’s what we’re supposed to do with grace. i think we’re supposed to fall deeply in love with it. i think we’re supposed to drink it in until we’re drunk, and our senses are overwhelmed by the depth of it. to the point where we simply cannot help but living, intentionally, to show others His grace.

for those who have heard it said so many times that it’s simply lost its meaning. to those who never felt as though it could actually apply to them. i pray that His love, grace and mercy would crash through the walls around your heart, spilling into your soul, filling you to the point of overflow. i pray that you would feel the cool, healing of His living waters touch every ounce of your being as it washes through you and over you, and that you would humbly allow it to pour from you and into those around you, so that they too might experience His goodness.

we are to let His grace in, to live in it, and to allow Him to satiate us with Himself. so that His work in us does not stop with us, but reaches others. for His glory.

prayer: the Savior who saves

“so she’s cool?” i asked.

“tow-tally,” he said, drawing out the “tow-” for emphasis on just how cool she was.

“in middle school, she was smoking hot. the first time i saw her, i was like…” long silence, to emphasize how attractive she was. “i could hardly speak.”

“He saved her, man. if it wasn’t for Him, she’d be dead,” he said.

a co-worker of mine had been talking about a girl he knew growing up. i knew her husband, now, but i had never met her.

he told me about how this incredible girl had entered high school and was struck by an eating disorder. how it began destroying her life.

he told me how he came home one day from school and told his mom about this girl. how she was weighing really heavy on his heart.

“she just came to me and was like, ‘well, let’s pray for her.'”

“and He saved her, man.”

and i love that. i love that image of God, swooping in, like superman, and rescuing this girl from herself. rescuing this girl from the lies she was being fed. and i love knowing she now has several beautiful children and a loving husband. i love knowing she has a wonderful life, and that she loves the Lord.

i loved hearing that story. it was a story about redemption. and it reminded me that He hears us.

He listens

He is so good. and i think we sometimes doubt what He can do. at least, i know i do. sometimes.

i think to myself, “well, yeah, of course He could do this. if He wanted. but will He? probably not.”

and i don’t even give Him the chance. i don’t even ask.

at one point in His ministry, Jesus told His disciples that if they had faith, even the size of a mustard seed, that they could move mountains.

was Jesus’ point to tell these guys that they could have a prosperous career in the mountain moving business? no. probably not. i think it was probably to remind them – and us – that faith-filled prayer is powerful. and that He listens.

pregnancy clinic

“thanks. idk if it’s gonna happen. the doc called in sick.”

after what had been an incredibly stressful stretch, this text message came through as something of an answered prayer. a friend of a family member had been considering an abortion. her second. and she had yet to celebrate her 20th birthday. the first was really tough on her. the second probably wouldn’t be any easier.

so we’d been praying. praying for this girl. this young girl. that her eyes would be opened to Him and His desires for her life. that she would find comfort in Him, even in this incredibly difficult decision.

and i can’t tell you how much relief this text brought. that, if only for a short while, there seemed to be a light at the end of the tunnel. because of this doctor’s sickness. because maybe He was giving her a second chance.

answers – sometimes how we imagine, sometimes not

God answers prayers. He asks us to come to Him with our requests. and He acts on them. not always. and maybe not always how we’d like. but He does. and so we must pray. i couldn’t imagine not.

some people would laugh. some people would shake their head and call such beliefs primitive. but i believe in it. i believe in prayer.

i wish i could tell you that this doctor’s illness caused this girl to reconsider. i wish i could tell you that this girl found comfort in His presence, and that that comfort reassured her that things would be okay. that she didn’t have to go down this path again.

but i can’t, because she didn’t.

but He did give her the choice. He did give her another chance. and i’m not sure we could’ve asked for much more than that.

a simple reminder

“he saved her, man… if it wasn’t for Him, she’d be dead.”

i can still hear those words. and it brings a smile to my face every time i remember them.

it reminds me of the deep love of our heavenly Father. and it reminds me that He loves to hear from us. with our pains. with our praise. with our requests. and there’s comfort in that. the kind of comfort i would like to roll up in, like a warm blanket on a cold winter’s day.

the bicycle: God’s humbling patience

i picture a young boy learning how to ride his bike. standing it upright, stepping over and placing his foot on the peddle for the first time, his face full of pride as His father speaks gently, “now, remain focused. keep your eyes straight ahead of you and you’ll do just fine.”

and as the boy pushes his free foot off the pavement below him, laughter fills the air. he is doing it! he is actually riding on his own. barely balancing, but riding nonetheless. it doesn’t take long for this ride to end, though, and he soon finds himself toppled over beneath the weight of the bike.

just as soon as he can look for his Father he finds Him crouched by his side, waiting to help him up. “you were distracted, weren’t you? you took your eyes off the goal,” He says matter-of-factly, with more truth in his voice than any hint of accusation. “but you can do it again,” He says as He rights the bike and hands it over. “let’s try it again.”

and after what seems to be the 100th time of doing this, the boy looks up from another painful fall, looking for His Father but not necessarily expecting Him to be there this time. for how could He continually be so patient with him? and yet, before he can even finish this thought, His Father is there, by his side once again, with a warm embrace and open arms to encourage the young boy. wearing a warm look of sympathy and understanding on His face, He says reassuringly, “I’m still here, and I’m not going to leave you.”

and the grace of His presence, as welcome as it is, is almost more shameful than the fall itself. his Father’s words are just what the boy needs to hear, but he secretly wonders to himself, “how could He be so patient with me?”

a place of clarity

it’s a challenge to put the feeling into words, but when you begin to see just how much you’ve been forgiven, with just how patient The Father has been with you, it’s hard not to be completely overcome with joy. overwhelmed by feelings of inadequacy and undeserving of such patience, certainly, but consuming feelings of joy nonetheless.

and it’s a rare place to be.

sometimes it’s after you’ve fallen off the bike for the 100th time. sometimes it’s just being in God’s Word and reading about his deep commitment to grace and forgiveness toward deeply-flawed people such as yourself. sometimes it’s seeing your own sin displayed in the lives of others. wicked, ugly behavior. the kind of behavior you can’t stand in others, yet which goes unnoticed in your own life.

whatever your path to this place of clarity, it’s an invaluable place to be. for, when we truly begin to comprehended the depth of His grace that is made available to us through Christ’s blood, we can’t help but fall deep in love with our Lord and Savior. thankful for His sacrifice, and for holding steadfast in obedience, even to the cross. and thankful to our heavenly Father for orchestrating our redemption, even at the price of His only begotten Son.

when we’ve reached this place of understanding, His love for us begins to come into focus, as well as so many other things. we begin, perhaps for the first time, to see just why someone would sell all they had to buy a field containing this buried treasure. we see how ridiculous it would be for us not to forgive the grudges we’ve been holding onto for so long, when the level of forgiveness that has been granted us from our King is infinitely greater. our feelings of pride and superiority toward others who are running the race alongside of us, those who are trying but failing, are replaced with compassion. for we realize that we are no different. try as we might, we too become distracted and fall. time and time again. and yet, His patience persists.

picking up my bike

i’m the boy in that story. and that’s my bike that His two hands are constantly placing right-side up after yet another fall, His calm voice encouraging me to give it another shot.

His patience astounds me, each and every day. it astounds me to the point where i truly can’t understand how He could be so patient. and yet, He is. whether i understand it or not, there i find Him, whispering to me, “I’m not going to leave you.”

and when i truly consider His patience, i find it’s not because of me at all. it’s not because of anything i’ve done or anything i will do. it’s because of what His Son has already done, for my sake. He paid the price of my shortcomings, so that The Father might have reason to be patient with me. so that He can give me another try. no, it’s not because of me. it’s because of Him. and for that, my heart overflows with gratitude.

Kingdom currency

growing up, we used to go to canada for a number of things: swimming, watching movies, shopping and dining. the canadian border was actually closer to us than the next largest U.S. town at one point, so it was more convenient to go to another country many times. and, when the dollar was doing very well and the canadian dollar was not doing so hot, it was quite a bit cheaper as well.

i always ended up with a pile of loose canadian change after these trips, though. something i had little use for in my home country (the exchange rate was terrible). and something i usually forgot when a trip across the border did come up. so, what typically happened was i would accumulate this pile of useless change on my desk, and it would just sit there. left as forgotten.

worldly currency

it was this image of the loose canadian coins left on my desk and how they had become useless to me that helped wake me up to the realization that one day all of the currency i’ve worked so hard for will be of no use to me. my bank accounts, all the material goods i have chosen to spend my money on, all useless. when i die, truly, the number on my bank statements will be of little matter.

another thought that helped illustrate the depravity of worldly goods came through the movie schindler’s list. one scene in particular from the movie still stands out to me, even after so many years of seeing it. that is the scene where the jews are taken to the concentration camp and literally stripped of all they have. everything. from the jewelry on their fingers to the clothes on their back, to the hair on their head. and cramped into a room together, shoulder to shoulder. this image, burned in my mind, was of great importance. for, if we were all someday stripped of all we had, every last one of us, then what would stand out? what would differentiate me from those around me when all we have is the skin on our backs? this image helped open my eyes to the fact that i cannot place my value, my worth in things that can so easily be taken from me. if i were to be in such a circumstance, painful as it may be, i would want to know that i had not wrongly placed my value in my possessions, but that the character of my heart and my relationship with our loving Father would be worth far more than anything that could be taken from me.

Kingdom currency

it was through this process that the term Kingdom currency came to me. it came to me as i was chewing on this idea that one day everything i had spent my money on would no longer be mine, and that it would make little difference as soon as i was gone. and it was then that the importance of Kingdom currency came to me. for, if the currency of this world is no good in the next (Heaven may be the only place that doesn’t accept visa), then i must begin working on accruing my Kingom bank account. now, before i am misunderstood, let me explain.

accruing my Kingdom bank account

C.S. Lewis once explained that we are made for eternity. as such, what we start here on earth is only just the beginning of the rest of our eternal lives. he went on to explain that if our nasty habits and characteristics are not washed by the blood of Jesus, changing us from the inside out, then Hell truly would be Hell, for our ill manners here on earth would be terrible, terrifying traits that would torment us and others forever in Hell.

now, if the dark parts of our lives are left untreated to gradually grow bigger and bigger into eternity, then the opposite must also true. as we begin to grow in our relationship with Jesus, and as He changes us more and more into His likeness, then our nasty traits will be exchanged for His holiness. we will grow in His ever-increasing likeness. being made to reflect His goodness, His holiness. it is this holiness, this right way of living, that we ought to strive for now. as we begin this process here on earth, and as we continue walking in the light, it will continue to grow on into eternity. at least, that is the promise i believe to be true: “…he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (philippians 1:6)

now, back to the bank account. if our money, our possessions are no good in His Kingdom, then we must ask the question, “what is?” it is only after i asked this question that i was comforted with the knowledge that it was my love, gratitude and obedience toward Him, combined with a deep-rooted love for others, that would actually be of any value after this world has passed. but it doesn’t stop there, i thought of the “fruits of the spirit,” and the characteristics the apostle paul said we, as followers of Christ, should portray: love… joy… peace… patience… kindness… goodness… faithfulness… and self control.

so, i had it there before me: if in fact i have an eternal soul, and if in fact this life is only the beginning of an eternal life in a Kingdom where all that this world tells me i must have is no longer worth anything, then my goal in this life should be to accrue as much Kingdom currency as possible. it was this realization that opened my eyes to the meaninglessness of accruing worldly currency for my own comfort. for my own prideful, selfish reasons.

day by day

does this mean i never thirst for more worldly possessions? (a new car, new clothes, larger savings accounty…) hardly. those desires are still there. but i now see these things in a different light. i see them for what they are: temporary.

new clothes will only satisfy for so long. a new car will lose much of its value as soon as it rolls off the car lot. and, while a larger savings account will make me feel secure for some time, it too will pass, and i will be left with only one thing: my impact on the lives of others, and my relationship with the one, true living God.

“Here comes the sun…”

living in the pacific northwest can be so incredibly wonderful at times (skimming across a snow covered mountain in the winter, and enjoying the ‘just right’ warmth of summer), but it can also be quite painful at other times. the fall sometimes seems to stretch on, and on, and on. leaving us to wonder if we’ll ever again see a break from the persistent rain, if we’ll ever again experience the heat of sunshine, the clear blue skies that highlight snowcapped mountains in the horizon and never-ending evenings by the water.

i’ve been feeling this way a lot lately, longing for the sun. and I know others have been too. you can see it on their faces. we all need it.

the sun and The Son

i found myself walking downtown the other day, in the rain, of course, wishing for the sun to just come out and put an end to this weather. and that’s when this parallel came to my mind. the parallel of our longing for the sun and The Son. we all do it, believers and non-believers alike, whether we realize it or not.

on more than one occasion i’ve found myself looking around at the pain in this world and just feeling overwhelmed. i feel it when i come across the homeless man or woman welcoming the morning on the side of the street after spending the night resting their head on the concrete. i feel it when i see the disabled person forced to face a life immobilized, in a wheelchair, living life out in a world that idealizes being fit and active, and how much they must crave what i take for granted every morning, being able to stand on my own two feet. i felt this way when we visited cabo san lucas on our honeymoon, and i saw the extreme disparity between wealth and poverty, immaculate waterfront resorts and shantytowns literally within a stone’s throw of each other, and how each day these locals have to beg and barter with the vacationers (tourists like me) just to get by. and, thanks to the blessing of my birthplace, i have experienced very, very little of the pain that actually goes on in this world.

it’s not supposed to be like this

it’s during these times that i find myself thinking, “it’s not supposed to be like this.” i know i am not the only one who feels this way. believers and non-believers have to sense this disparity between our current state and the way things should be. and it’s during these times in my life that the longing for God’s return, the coming of His kingdom, is overwhelming.

i realize what an easy fix this seems like, “sure, play the God card. He’ll make everything better, right?” well, yeah, that’s what i am banking on. His word tells us that He is light, that in Him, there is no darkness. and right now, i can tell you, i am so sick of the darkness. i am so sick of the pain, the pain that comes from loved ones making poor choices and wanting better for them, the pain of being face-to-face with poverty and having to wonder, “why in the world did God decide to bless my life so that i never have to experience such hunger?”

so yes, i do lean on His return as the solution. i long for His return because i believe His promise that at that time, we will no longer be faced with the pain, it will only be a terrible memory.

C.S. Lewis paints a beautiful picture of His return by putting it this way:

“the bad dream will be over: it will be morning.” (Lewis, Mere Christianity, p.200)

torn

and yet, when i really begin looking forward, anticipating and even longing for His return, it’s at these times that i feel most torn. why? because i realize what His return means. it means that for some of us, it will be only light, only goodness as we are brought into His presence. the Source of our greatest joy. yet, for others, the very same event means the coming of our worst fears, that we’ll be held accountable for each of our decisions, those decisions we wished we could take back, knowing we cannot. and the resulting punishment, i fear, will be much greater than we would ever dare to imagine.

that’s why i am torn. because on the one hand, there is nothing i want more than the coming of His light, and the resulting end of this darkness. yet, i realize the instant that happens, many of the people in my life whom i love so very much will be faced with a surprise so great, so excruciating, that i cannot begin to imagine the sorrow that day will bring.

“for this time it will be God without disguise; something so overwhelming that it will strike either irresistible love or irresistible horror into every creature. it will be too late then to choose your side. there is no longer use saying you choose to lie down when it has become impossible to stand up. that will not be the time for choosing: it will be the time when we discover which side we really have chosen, whether we realized it before or not. now, today, this moment, is our chance to choose the right side. God is holding back to give us that chance. it will not last for ever. we must take it or leave it.” (Lewis, Mere Christianity, p.65)

here comes the sun

and that’s when i realize just why He allows us to linger in this painful state, in this darkness. he’s giving us just a little more time, just one more opportunity to choose His side. to choose His light.

i pray that when that day comes, that you will be able to look upon the dawning of the sun with joy and with great expectation and say, “here comes The Son.”

where’d we go wrong?

a friend recently lent me a book to read while traveling to irvine. it was my first time there (irvine); california is always nice to those of us who live without palm trees.

the book’s first page hit me square in the stomach. here’s the quote:

“As He hung on the cross, Jesus probably never thought the impact of His sacrifice would be reduced to an invitation for people to join and to support an institution.” (The Present Future – Six tough questions for the church; Reggie McNeal)

this line has stuck with me ever since i read it nearly a month ago now, more so than anything else i picked up in the book’s remaining 147 pages. is this really what we’ve made of Jesus’ death and resurrection? a way to separate us from them, the believers from the non-believers? like some worn out, unfashionable ‘members only’ jacket? something that’s really unattractive to those without it, and yet something those of us with it hold on to just because we’ve been doing so for so long?

i know i’ve been guilty of this. a few years back i got up the courage to talk about my faith to a non-believing friend, and what did i do? i invited her to church; after all, they had really good music. not surprisingly, she turned it down. she said “that is fine for you, but not for me.” looking back, what i really wanted to introduce her to was Jesus, and what He has done in my life. instead, i offered her some cheap invitation to a club. a club that’s probably hurt her many, many times.

shame on me for reducing the Cross to a club invite. He is so much more than that.