We do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of [mankind], who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words. (1 Thessalonians 4:13–18, NIV 1984).
My Musings – “The world is too brutal for me – I am glad there is such a thing as the grave – I am sure I shall never have any rest till I get there.” (John Keats). For some, like Keats, this is the only hope they have, which we know is no hope at all.
Since last Wednesday I’ve been on a “staycation,” catching up on a few households chores that needed attention (I’m ready to go back to the office) and editing some of my writings. I also spent time digitizing some audio tapes that my wife Eileen made of our oldest son Joshua. We have albums of pictures of Josh (and Joel, our youngest), but being blind Eileen decided early on that she needed audio albums to memorialize the lives of our two boys (digitizing Joel’s tapes are next).
I had never listened to those tapes of Eileen (and sometimes Joel or me) interacting with Josh until I digitized them. If you knew anything about Josh (see my musings entitled “Cain’t Leaves His Mark” and “Heaven’s Very Special Child’), you would know that his life was just about everything a parent would not wish for their child. Despite all that, and paradoxically so, I would relive it all in a minute. His life was that much of a blessing.
Reliving the past through listening to those recordings was a poor substitute for living them, and the emotions that they evoked were not as intense as when they took place. But the last entry came close. Almost too close, affecting me more than I expected after nearly thirty years. Through uncontrollable sobs, Eileen recorded, “Saturday, January 9, 1983, Josh died yesterday.” He was nine years old. She went on to relate our last few days, hours and minutes with him. The recording is too emotional, and frankly much too personal, to share here. But here is my recollection, as I wrote in the musings referenced above:
It was at the end of Joshua’s life that the sufficiency of God’s grace was most important. It was sufficient for Eileen as she held Josh in her arms as he took his last breath. These were the same arms that a mere nine and a half years earlier had held him for the very first time as he drew some of his first difficult breaths. All mothers experience the miracle of giving life to their child. Few mothers, by comparison, experience the sufficiency of God’s grace as He asks for that child back.
It was sufficient for me, as I held his hand trying so desperately to hold onto his life, helpless to stop it from slipping away. One moment I would gaze at his face, so peaceful and calm. The next moment I would gaze at the monitors that recorded his heart rate, respiration and blood pressure. Watching them get slower and slower, until finally they were no more and he was gone.
It was sufficient for Josh’s brother Joel, who later that day came rushing home so excited to show us the get well card he made for his brother at school. It was sufficient when we had to tell an eight year old that his brother was not going to get well. That, in fact, Josh had died earlier that day.
At the time I suppose we thought that God’s grace was barely sufficient. Our hearts ached so much. But we knew that God’s heart felt our ache. For we knew that He also had a Son that died and knew firsthand what we were going through. And if that were the end of the story, that’s all that would remain of our memories of Josh – heartache.
But, we know that the story of Christ did not end on the cross. The real story, what gives us hope is the empty tomb. Because of the empty tomb we also know that Josh’s story did not end with a flat line on a heart monitor. As surely as Christ rose victorious over death, we know that we will once again see Josh. He will no longer be the prisoner of a broken mind and a broken body, but whole.
My Advice – “The only thing worse than remembering the past is the fear of reliving it.” (Brad Meltzer). Unlike this quote, I am not afraid of remembering or reliving the past. Nor do I “grieve like the rest of [mankind], who have no hope.” At 67 years old, without the aid of photographs and recordings, the past has gotten a bit fuzzy. But in all likelihood, the next time I see Josh is closer than the last time. And the future hope is coming into a clearer focus. Do you have that focus? Do you have that hope? You can, “according to the Lord’s own word.” Read my musings, “The Born Again Experience,” to learn what His words are.