On Saturday March 31st, I was at work when I realized I didn’t think I could go through with Easter Sunday. Everything concerning graves, death, miracles, Heaven–it’s all a source of mixed pain. Where was our miracle? We asked fervently, and more than two or three asked with us. We spent four weeks and five days asking, and then a day plus eight more watching him not be returned to life. Contradictory to my plans so suddenly ruined by cancer, we put him inside a beautiful box, which was put into an ugly cement box, which was covered expertly in soft brown earth and laid over with sod. But he looked like he was sleeping during those eight days; I kid you not and I’ve never been fond of people housed in funeral homes. So I often think…my dad…in the ground…
What the hell!?
Once many, many long years ago my heart was broken, and attending church was torture because the love of God pours from hymns and praise songs like a sweet, warming balm. My broken heart would take in the loving words and soothing melodies, and tears would cover my face. Weeping in public is a pain in the neck with all the salty water blurring my eyes, other grosser fluid coming from my nose, and finding I’d used my supply of Kleenex. Then there’s the awkwardness of wanting someone to care, but not wanting to scare them with my emotions. Yesterday, these memories came back, but that broken heart was explainable and even, if I was truly honest back then, needful. That relationship ended as it should have, not for dark reasons, but because it simply didn’t need to go any further. It hurt, but it was something to be accepted. This broken heart today is still trying to tear away from a blue, cloth easy chair where someone has stopped. Not just someone’s heart. Oh how foolishly simple it would be to say, “His heart stopped.” Why yes, and a million other functions that happen simultaneously every day and every moment in every person who hasn’t stopped. How does a living person suddenly stop?
What the hell just happened around here!?
I texted my friend, “I don’t think I can do it!”
She texted back, “I understand. I was the same way. It’s very hard.” Her words filled my soul with comfort as she shared her sorrow, and then she texted, “I hope to see you there.”
What? I thought. You can’t just let me off the hook? You hope to see me there? But that means I have to come. I can’t let you down, I’m expected, wanted, looked for.
Not only that, my kids. My husband.
We love our church people. We love the effort everyone makes, the tiny scale of our activities, trusting God to bring the increase if we are faithful. We have an interim pastor right now. We have ladies who used to be rocked in the nursery, who grew up and rocked other members who grew up and have grandchildren now. We have a family who drives a mini-bus to church. We have wives with husbands who don’t come. We have us, the Chronically Late Family. We love the oldness of the building, except the echoing in the fellowship hall. We don’t care what color the nursery was painted although it was probably painted in the 1980s.
I remembered that I wanted to be there, for them and for myself. And now someone was expecting me; I had it in writing. Someone who knew recently what it means to sit in a church pew and listen to the love of God being poured as from great, clay cisterns. She knows what it is to silently gasp and grasp for the cleansing, gushing love while also reaching for another tissue, and thinking in spite of herself, Where was my miracle?!
What the hell!,,, happened to my miracle!?
So we got up at 5:30 in the morning and put on our non-matching, not new, not even particularly easter-y outfits and headed to church for the Sunrise Service. Josiah’s dress pants, I saw as I pulled them from the closet, had something that looked like flour and grease on the pant legs, but I reasoned he would soon be eating breakfast at church and they would look much worse within the next two hours. I sang, I listened, I diverted the attention of our small boys. And running in the back of mind was the thought, “I should be much happier about Jesus. I should feel much more excited about the resurrection. I should be thinking how joyful my dad is. Right up there. In Heaven.”
None of this was reality though. I couldn’t conjure it. I sort of denied knowing anyone from my nuclear family was there in Heaven; I was numb in a way. Again.
Back in the day when my heart was crushed by the man who probably should have known better to make promises he couldn’t keep, I couldn’t grasp the love of God. I was saved by grace, but I couldn’t grasp His unconditional love. It seemed conditional upon my fervency, the depth of my feelings, my ability to rise up in joy no matter what happened to me. Something so amazing should also be overwhelmingly emotional; at least that’s how I felt then even knowing it’s inadvisable to trust feelings. That’s probably why the hymns written out of the depths of hearts fully resting on Him, also flooded my mind and soul with the warmth and safety of God’s love–it was more of a longing for this to be true for me than it was an acknowledgment that it is true.
No tears happened at church during the singing today. What changed? I was expecting a continual flow of tears and annoying nose wiping and suppression of sobs. For one thing, no one chose “I’ll Fly Away” or “Like a River Glorious” for today’s music. And for another thing, I have never been as secure in the knowledge of God’s love as I am today. It doesn’t matter what I’m doing, feeling, not feeling, avoiding, struggling with, or rejoicing over. His love is constant, abiding, solid. It is security. Warmth. It is immutable. When I cannot be carried away on torrents of joy because my Jesus sacrificed all for me, God’s love is still constant.
He says, “My son carried His cross for you. Now you carry your cross. Bleeding you carry it. Crushed in spirit you carry it. Ugly, bloody, beaten in soul you carry it. Staggering you carry it, up the hill. I will send my Comforter to help you bear your cross. I will send my daughter to say, “I hope to see you there.” I will send those who can bear your agony to ask, “How are you” and not vanish when you can only turn your teary eyes away.”
Oh God, and what about my dad for goodness sakes? I love him, I needed him here with me.
“And, your dad, your only dad, precious in your eyes for all his faults and his love and his desire to be with you, yes grieve for him. But I AM your Father, your ABBA.”
I don’t actually hear God, like Moses did. But His love is a whisper in the crashing, colliding, burning, shocking aftermath of watching my dad, STOP.
What the hell happened…I will tell you what I believe happened.
Hell is full of death, and death is always hungry. Satan reached up to get my dad, but knowing his soul was already safely kept by God, death beat upon his body striking the head, the lungs, the bones, the kidneys, the heart, destroying the marrow and ruining the million simultaneous activities of my dad’s flesh. Remember Job. Remember Satan walking to and fro? My dad was another man humbly following after God, struck down in the midst of his good and faithful work. I don’t know why. But I know this, Death does not win. Satan does not win.
My dad wasn’t Billy Graham or Paul the Apostle or the pastor of a big church or the brightest star on the mission field, but he was faithful. He bought his jeans on sale, drank his protein in water, worked harder than the forty year olds, and still felt that men should not curse in front of women, and women should not curse. He drove down his fear of what people might think of him and cultivated a way of talking to anyone who would have a conversation. And the conversation always needed to come around to the point. And the point always was, God loves you. He wanted people to know–ugly, proud, beautiful, wealthy, arrogant, humble–You are loved by God, and He made a way for you to spend eternity in Heaven with him. And anyone who knew him at the end of his life, knew this about him.
And, would I be writing this if he was still here? Doubtful. May the grief of this cross, my broken heart, help his message go far even to the ends of the earth.
Matthew 10:28 And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.