life and death

"For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. 

So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord."

2 Corinthians 5:1-8

five short years ago my then-24-year-old cousin Jason was diagnosed with uncurable brain cancer. we prayed for a miracle. we prayed for God's will. we prayed for peace and understanding. we prayed for life.

Jason married Heather a few years ago. we celebrated in the new mexico sunshine without a care in our hearts. we all know that our days are numbered, yet none of us know the number. we prayed for many days together for Jason and Heather.

a few months ago, after many promising treatments, the cancer began again to grow. spread. suddenly it was in Jason's brain stem.
and now we are down to the days. the numbered days. the count-on-one-hand the days we have. this pain is unspeakable. when i think about Heather, and my aunt and uncle and other cousins sitting with him now, reading to him, singing songs of worship, praying, and crying, my own grief for their pain is overwhelming and immeasurable.

on april 24, 1985, my mother gave birth to a perfectly healthy, albeit a little loud, baby girl named rachel lynn. someone picked up the phone to call california. my aunt Sharon, who several weeks earlier had given birth to Andrew, answered the phone in a panic and said, "Andrew's not breathing. we're going to the hospital. i'll call you later."

my aunt sharon never forgets my birthday, because it was the day she nearly lost her youngest son. and though Andrew's had his share of medical fun, he not only survived that frightening moment, he thrived. and he now sits at his brother's side as Jason slowly expires from this world.

how can i celebrate my 28 years of life when Jason is losing his? do you know, today my aunt emailed me to wish me a happy birthday. today, while her eldest son is spending his last moments in her arms, she came to share her love with me. how? how is that possible?

we have an unshakeable hope. yes. we a Savior who has gone before us, who has made a home and a body for us in eternity. and for those of us left behind, while Jason sheds his failing body of death, we soldier on, marching down our numbered days until we join him. what great joy and what great sorrow are held in this moment. death and life are held in the same hands.

Jason. Go under the grace. Go see our Savior's face. The angels point your way.


timelessness in time

there is this moment at the end of tchaikovsky's sixth symphony, as the basses draw their bows to sound the last note, when the physical waves of sound have stopped but the listener could swear that she hears the heartbeat bass line continue. it is a moment frozen in--or rather, unaffected by time. the listener is suspended, untouchable, breathless... subsumed. the song continues within, and she is never the same.

then the conductor lowers the wand, cuing the audience to applaud, and the listener is snapped back into reality, separated into autonomy again. the soloists stand. the orchestra vacates the stage, the audience dissipates into their cars and cabs, the lights are turned, the doors are locked, and the only song that remains is the hum of the janitor's vacuum over the lobby floor.

sometimes i feel like i'm supposed to live in that moment. that's where i'm supposed to remain. i was made to be there. subsumed. but then, as with the thunderous applause, i get pulled back into time and space, unwillingly, and i am shoved into the menial demands of survival, like one of so many cogs in a great, unknowable mechanism. and i can be a good cog, too. but even a good cog is still not alive.

i know that i'm still living in the world of a dim mirror, a world where i am surrounded by so many shadowy copies of the Heavenly Truth. i know that i am wrapped in flesh, i know that i have ashes in my mouth, i know that my breath is fleeting and the work of my hands is chaff that will be burned away. but there is something even more fundamentally true, and that is that even though everything i have ever known is temporary, i was made for the eternal. for permanence. for literal breathlessness. there is something in me that is more real, more true than the marrow in my bones and the words in my mouth. this flesh will melt away, this mortal shell is a servant to the space and time that it occupies. and what will remain?

i have this mental image of coming up for air. i was made for permanent union with a perfectly good God outside of time and space. but as i am bound by these fetters He has put on me, i can only catch a glimpse here and there. and each glimpse is a life-giving breath. with each glimpse, i am subsumed. i want to stay here forever, but i can't do that and live. no man can see God and live, right Moses? either i am caught up, or i am just caught. and while i am caught, i am sustained by each break in clouds where i can draw that life-giving breath.

oh, for the eternity that already is: come soon.

the best story we can tell

My family is full of storytellers. On both sides. And they never forget the really embarrassing stories, of course.

Some of these stories have garnered such great fame that they begin to tell themselves. Little cousins who weren't even born before the actual occurrence of events can tell the stories just as well--if not better than--those of us who have lived through them.

These are the stories of the moments that have made us who we are. There's the story about the catfish at Hamilton Lake, which made my sister and I afraid of swimming for a least a few summers. The story of the Chevy at the bottom of Oliver Lake, when some teenage boys (my uncles) pushed it out onto the ice. Then, of course, the time I got "married" to my four-year-old buddy and his sister pronounced me his "awfully wedded wife." Mom's surprise 40th birthday party, which she figured out 30 minutes before a cried the whole drive home before arriving to a houseful of guests. The time I sunk the speed boat. The time Grandma shot two holes in her wood floor because someone rang the doorbell. The time my dad passed some liver pate to my mom, thinking it was cinnamon butter. Now, if we ever think he's making something up without evidence, we ask him if it's cinnamon butter. These are the stories that bring us joy with every memory. Only a few sentences into these stories, and suddenly the room is filled with laughter.

Then there are the stories that bring a fresh wave of grief or pain. They are the stories that make us who we are, too, but these are the ones that reveal the true fortitude of our character. There was the time we found the drugs. The time the anger poured over into a rage, grandmother hurling abusive words at a cowering daughter while the grandchildren looked on in fear. The day the babies died, the day they were buried, and the cold, silent thanksgiving dinner just days later. The arguments at night, punctuated by a kindergartener waking up to say, "please stop, kiss and make up!" The time I took away the Christmas presents from under the tree and blasted Everclear's "I will be hating you for Christmas" on my stereo. The time our van broke down in Georgia and our nuclear family nearly exploded. The phone call about the pathology report, and the words, "there is no curative treatment, only palliative care."

These are the true stories of my life. These are the places where my identity was forged, where my character was tested, where my worldview and sensibilities and passions were shaped. In many ways, these stories are my center, my ground. I'm not sure who I would be without these stories. In a word, these stories are home.

And then, the truest story of them all. The story of a world wrecked by destruction and brokenness, of humanity full of rebellion, distress, turmoil. The unsettling inescapability of death. The absence of God. And then, the dawn of hope in the face of a baby, God in the flesh, God with us. The baby who became a teacher, a healer, a leader, a controversy. The man who set his face toward the city of his death and marched on fearlessly. The man who prayed for relief from the burden, but prayed even more than that for the will of God to be done, no matter how bitter or painful. The man who became obedient to death, though He was God himself. The man who defeated death for us, who repaired the broken world, who redeemed the rebellious humanity.

As much as any other story is my center, my identity, my home... this story is only story that gives me a new name, that adopts me into a new family, that has the power to change my very character. This is it. This is the one that makes me who I am, really and truly. This is the story to tell all other stories, this is the only one that can make sense of all the others, put them into clarity and give them purpose. This is the story that all other stories are telling.

May it be the best story we tell to each other, and may we tell it often. May we tell it always. May we never stop telling it. May it be the first story we learn and the last story we tell. And may it tell us who we are, may it be the place we make our home. May it be our center.