Last week I received a gift–a precious gift, one that I will always treasure. But a gift that I never wanted.
My parents made the trip from Wisconsin down to the Missouri Ozarks for a quick visit. On the day they arrived, I found a bag on my bed. Before I even opened it, I knew what was in it. My mom’s old softball glove.
That glove holds precious memories for me. Memories of my mom playing work-up with us after the supper dishes were done on warm summer evenings. Memories of watching her play first base on the church softball team while I swatted hordes of mosquitoes on the bleachers. (She could catch anything. I thought she was a super-woman.)
Several months ago, my parents were visiting and we played a just-for-fun softball game on the empty lot out behind our church. Laughing and joking, we pulled Mom from the noisy spectators into the game. Everyone cheered when my 69-year-old super-mom made it to first base.
Unfortunately, the fun ended for Mom a couple of minutes later, as she ran from second to third base. She hit an uneven patch of ground and fell, tearing her hamstring. Though many months have passed, she still struggles with pain.
So when I found the glove on my bed, I knew what she was saying.
“I’m done playing. Softball is over for me.”
And that was hard. I hate that as my parents are getting older, time is changing them.
My dad was my hiking buddy. We used to walk miles and miles together along train tracks. (Dad loves trains. Inside the front cover of my baby book, he wrote, “The Brooks Northern Line has a new piece of rolling stock.” Yep, he compared my birth to a box car.) One night, we decided to surprise my mom at the hospital where she worked night shift as an RN. We walked nine miles from our house to the hospital. It was worth it for the look on her face when we walked onto her floor that night!
But now Dad battles heart disease and can only walk a few blocks at a time. Our days of hiking through woods and beside train tracks are over. My heart longs for just one more walk with my father, a walk on which his heart beats strong and his legs eat up the miles the way they used to.
Everywhere I look, I see the marks of a fallen and aging world.
Each Sunday at church I see precious elderly members battling pain and disease. When I see their bodies weaken a little more every week, my heart breaks.
My friend has a sister who continues her fight with cancer, even though she’s been told her body is no longer responding to the treatments. My heart aches when I hear of her battle.
And when I hug the weakening frame of my sister-in-law, a woman still in her 30’s, my heart splinters into a million pieces. Her terminal illness is slowly stealing her away from us, no matter how hard we try to hold on.
The truth is, this world is broken. Broken and hurting and fading away.
It’s easy to get discouraged in the face of all this pain and suffering. Why do I have to watch my parents weaken as they grow older? Why does disease threaten the lives of those once young and strong? Why are children left without parents, and spouses left without their life-partners?
Why do our hearts have to hurt so much, God?
And God speaks gently to my heart:
“This wasn’t the way it was meant to be. And it’s not the way it will end.”
“O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” I Corinthians 15:55
“Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.” John 11:25
The truth that we need to hold close is this: for Christians, death is not the end! All this pain and suffering? It’s going to be over–soon. Oh, it may seem like a long time to us, but compared to eternity, this life is less than the blink of an eye.
I remember several years ago when I lived in Australia, and a very dear pastor-friend was dying back in the States. His daughter sent me a message, “If you want to talk to Dad again, you need to call him now.”
As we shared one last conversation on the phone, we both knew this was the last time we would talk on this earth. I’ll never forget how he ended that call. “Goodbye, Sunshine.” (He always called me that, even as an adult. He was like a grandfather to me.) “I’ll see you soon.”
I remember thinking he spoke as if he would see me in the morning. And then came the revelation–to him, he was going to see me in the morning. Time would only proceed here in my world. In his world–in Heaven–he would see me in just a little while.
Last week, my pastor-brother preached on the victory that we have over death as Christians. It wasn’t a pretty, flowery sermon. It was gut-wrenching and authentic. He knows what he is talking about.
You see, he has watched as disease has stolen his once-vibrant bride and left her with a strong spirit, but a weak and broken body. I pray the words God gave to him will comfort you, encourage you, and give you strength to keep looking up. Death will not win. Jesus has made sure of that.
“Death, I know I face you, but I refuse to fear you.
O Death, I do despise you, but I will, through Christ, defeat you.
Death, you may claim this body, but you’ll never claim my soul.
Death, you may claim this body, but even that will be made whole.
Death, you want to hold me, in constant separation.
But Death, you must release me, because I have found redemption.
Death, you want to tell me, to fear my wife’s disease.
But I’m here to say, In Christ, we’ve got our victory.
Death, you may try to taunt me, but that’s all your power now.
Because through the blood of Christ, even that we won’t allow.
O Death, where is your sting?
What fear to me do you bring?
Your sting was by my sin, with the law condemning me.
But in Christ my sins are gone, by His blood I am set free.
Death, I know I face you, but I refuse to fear you.
O Death, I do despise you, but I will, through Christ,
–Pastor Jim Brooks