This past week, a member of our congregation died. Gerry was a servant-hearted man with a huge smile and three kids, 14, 8, and 2. His wife loved him dearly, in spite of his many flaws, just like my wife loves me. We celebrated his life last night. Today, his body was buried in the ground.
Today, we prayed for a friend at our school, Tom, who is flying to the US to receive treatment for the cancer that is in his lungs. He has a wife and young child. He is scared and trying to trust God and he wants more time to be with his family. He wants to live.
Last week, we read with horror and despair that a young man who had been identified in every way as a threat planned and carried out an attack on the school from which he’d been expelled, killed 17 people–14 of his former classmates and 3 staff. He shot them to death. At least 14 others were injured and taken to area hospitals. He had bragged on YouTube “I’m going to be a professional school shooter.”
People around me, people in my life, people dear to me are falling apart beyond my capacity to put them back together. Admittedly, that capacity is woefully limited; I mostly rely on God’s power of redemption to healing. But sometimes I feel like I can help. Sometimes I’m praying hard and I can’t see anything but things getting worse.
That’s all this week. One week. There’s more, of course. A few major things going down with my family that even I, open window that I am, must choose not to share.
Also this week: I shared the story of Isaac and Annalise with my senior Bible class. It was the first class session in which they all stayed awake and all paid attention the entire time. I think I’m a decent teacher in my own unorthodox way, but this class has been challenging thus far. After going through Gerry’s very rapid decline and death, after discussing whether Jesus really heals people and if it’s as easy as it seems in the Gospels, I decided it was time to tell them my experience of God not answering our prayers for healing and of God answering our prayers for healing.*
So I find myself thinking about life and death right now. It’s in my face. People shared this testimony at Gerry’s vela (memorial/wake): “He loved his family. He loved his kids. Everyone could see how much he loved them!” Gerry had some problems and his life was not easy, but that is how I hope and pray that I am remembered.
Some kids went to school and never came home; a mechanic, a friend, a father was diagnosed with leukemia and died a few days later; a fellow teacher, a guy who loves our students with God’s love is fighting for his life. I’m praying, we’re all praying, that he lives. I don’t know what will happen, not because I lack faith, but because I’ve seen one of our children die who we were told would live and one live who we were told would die.
I’m taking a deep breath, another one, and I’m going to tell you what I think is important, because life is too short and too uncertain.
Nothing can separate you from the love of God. Nothing.
I’m encouraged recently that people I’ve been trying to love get that I love them. We are here to love one another. We are here to learn to love ourselves and become people who can love one another. I’ve struggled my whole life to love myself, but I’m getting there. That’s making it easier to love other people.
[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]I’ve struggled my whole life to love myself, but I’m getting there. That’s making it easier to love other people. [/pullquote]
This life you live is grace and that breath you just took is grace and your eyesight and your ability to read are grace and your mental capacity to ponder how (or if) this fits in your worldview and applies to your life is grace. The old woman who sells me avocados so I can give them to my wife, the old woman who smiles at me with such a wrinkled face and talks to me though her throat can barely make sounds, the old woman who today charged me ten cordobas less for my avocado and I have no idea why, she is grace in my life. Getting to love young people who have energy and hope and believe the world can change even though they get knocked to the ground when their beloved dumps them,** this is grace in my life. My children are grace in my life.
Grace is greater. God doesn’t hate you, dislike you, or find you mildly annoying. God loves you, not “in spite of” how awful you think you are, as if that were a pretty big hurdle for God but somehow, somehow… Grace is so wildly much greater that God delights in you and can’t get enough of you, never tires of your company, loves hearing from you no matter how you communicate, and would like to hang out with you for the rest of time.
[pullquote align=”left” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””] There won’t always be one more. There just won’t. There will be a last one and after that, no more. [/pullquote]At Gerry’s vela, his daughter Sasha sang a song for him. She said, “Well, Poppa, I guess this is the last time I get to sing for you.” That wrecked me. It reminded me of giving the eulogy at my dad’s memorial, which was my last chance to honor him. I start to breath heavily and feel my throat closing just typing that. There won’t always be one more. There just won’t. There will be a last one and after that, no more.
Don’t get stopped by the need to do something “big” or paralyzed that this isn’t “enough.” Use what you have to do what you can. “Justice is what love looks like in public.” Cornell West
Fight injustice in whatever way you can. Side with the oppressed and the persecuted. Take the side of the lonely kid and the single mom. Care more that there are people poorer than you than that there are people richer than you. Don’t get stopped by the need to do something “big” or paralyzed that this isn’t “enough.” Use what you have to do what you can. “Justice is what love looks like in public.” Cornell West
[pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””] Don’t get stopped by the need to do something “big” or paralyzed that this isn’t “enough.” Use what you have to do what you can. “Justice is what love looks like in public.” Cornell West [/pullquote]
The struggle to stay alive, to overcome depression and anxiety, the daily and hourly choice to stay sober, the work to become healthy and live healthily, these matter because you matter. They don’t matter “if…” or “so that…” You matter. Your. Life. Matters.
“The grace of God means something like: Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are because the party wouldn’t have been complete without you.” Frederick Buechner
One of my biggest privileges in life is that I get to stand up in front of people on a regular basis and tell them God loves them. I’m told, fairly often, that I’m gifted at this, that people like my preaching, etc. You know what’s cool about that? Not that it strokes my ego or even that it contradicts my ridiculously low self-esteem. What’s cool is that means they are listening. That means God has gifted me so that sometimes, when I tell people God loves them, they hear it! How cool is that?
Nothing can separate you from the love of God. Nothing.
*I swear, if you tell me “God did answer your prayer, the answer was just ‘No'” about the death of my child… Deep breath. Deep breath. I’ve been told that before. Yes, really.
**Daniel: “Well, I mean, I’m a little relieved.”
Daniel: “Well, because I thought it would be something worse.”
Sam: “Worse than the total agony of being in love?”
Daniel: “Oh. No, you’re right. Yeah, total agony.”