It has been a rough few weeks here. The end of the year tends to be a bit crazy; this was my fourth such year and I’m accepting that this is part of the end-of-school season. Tom traveled more than normal, and my hat goes off to single parents, because it’s a rough gig. I’m so grateful for friends who took my children at 7am so I could dash to work. But really, what threw me for a loop was the tragic death of a friend and realizing the severity of another friend’s cancer.
I knew Mandy (not her real name) had cancer. I knew it was Stage IV. I even made the mistake of reading about it on Wikipedia and looked at prognosis. But it wasn’t until I met up with her, saw her with her tiny newborn, and listened to details about making agonizing choices regarding her treatment while pregnant that I got how terribly sick she was. That the fact that she was still here to care for her baby was a miracle in and of itself. I held (and hold) tightly to the fact that the tumor has stabilized and that she’s doing some really hopeful-sounding treatments now. I pray for her and her baby, that they would both grow and be strengthened and healed by the God who can heal anything.
Echoes of that prayer linger as I think about Emily (not her real name, either). The same week I visited Mandy, Emily ended up in critical care after a freak bicycle accident. My heart is still too heavy to go into details, but suffice to say that Emily never woke up. At 40 years old she passed into the arms of her savior. Many in our school community are mourning the loss of this vibrant light.
I went to Emily’s memorial service. There were parts I loved. Here’s what I would add to what was said:
I know that there are lots of people in mourning right now, and it makes sense. When God made this world He never intended death to be a part of it. We mourn death partly because we don’t see a bigger picture, sure, but mostly because there’s something amazing and wonderful about life. There’s magic and beauty and laughter and love and music and art and relationships–why wouldn’t we cry when someone is removed from that? And even if we believe in heaven, where we’ve been told it will be even better than it is here, it’s hard to let go of our people, who make this world all the more amazing.
There’s a tension I want to acknowledge right now. I believe God is sovereign over all things, that he knows the number of hairs on our heads, that he loves us more deeply than we can imagine. I also believe that we live in a broken world, where awful things happen and tragedies occur. I can’t explain why it seems like God intervenes in some situations and not others. So I grasp both realities, knowing that they at times feel in opposition to one another.
In the midst of that tension, here’s the promise I claim and that I offer: God promises to never leave nor forsake us. Never. Ever. In the midst of tragedy or in the midst of triumph, God is with us. Emmanuel means “God with us”; Jesus came into this world and paid the ransom for all of us. Because of Jesus there is hope, there is reconciliation with God, there is grace for all who want it. It’s in times like these that I tightly grip these promises and lean my weary head (and heart) on him. Feel free to join me.