There are some days that float into and out of view inconspicuously, without a second thought. And there are other days that carry a significance and impart a surge of perspective that makes each moment meaningful. Such days make an indelible mark on your heart. For me, Monday July 29, was such a day.
The Serendipitous Gift
It was my last morning home alone before our family would reconnect. Soon I would fly to Denver to meet up with Doug and Becca to attend a Chris Tomlin concert at Red Rocks that same night. The invitation to the Denver concert was a serendipitous gift from some friends who couldn’t use their tickets. When I heard about the possibility it seemed impractical, expensive for one night, and absurdly spontaneous. It added a few days to Doug’s road trip after his first Kansas City doctoral class and I would use southwest points and join the car ride home to arrive just ahead of Ian’s flight. I remember thinking how crazy, reckless even. When was the last time I was this spontaneous? It could work.
I woke to a text message on my phone. I blinked. Uncertain I read it correctly.
“It is with great sadness that I let all of you know that Jake lost his battle with cancer early this morning. Not what we had hoped for, but the last two months have been a bonus for us. His passing was peaceful and with much grace.”
Jake was 24. Ian and Jake were grade school pals and Jake’s family who attended our church in Illinois, have remained dear friends.
Good morning, Lord
Damn. Unfair. Why God?
Those were my words to greet the Lord that morning. I cried and prayed. Delighted to have complete confidence and stand in agreement with Jake’s family as his dad relayed on caring bridge… knowing he was already in heaven, breathing full deep breaths and making new friends. But still.
Damn. Unfair. Why God?
Millions had been praying. Jake’s family relentlessly pursued every possibility. His faith-filled mom and I shared a unique orientation of living in such a way to stay in constant step with our health challenged sons. Her comprehensive focus on Jake and his latest sickness/wellness had persisted for five + years — a new trial, insurance approval, the latest drug, another hospital, one more procedure.
Damn. Unfair. Why God?
I didn’t receive any prophetic answer from the Lord. But then again, I know better. “Why” is an un-answerable question. It wouldn’t make sense even if God explained it. He sees the forest. I can only see the trees. But still. Nothing could stop the wonder, the confusion that it makes no sense. Instead, I received a sense of His presence and peace and the undeniable conviction that God is still God and firmly on His throne.
Proceeding with my day, though, was different. Intentional. Urgent. Thoughtful. It was as if God said… don’t waste this.
The concert did not disappoint. What a bonus to connect with close friends from thirty plus years ago when we led young life together. It was a spectacular Colorado evening and the place was packed with people singing praises to the Lord.
The Diverse Crowd
The audience was diverse — presbyterians, baptists, catholics, pentecostals, mega church attenders, and those with no church affiliation, young, old, rich, poor, male, female, republican, democrat, black and white and red and yellow, tattooed and not. A taste of heaven.
As I took in the crowd and how unique everyone seemed, my mind drifted back to how the day began — with news that Jake went to heaven. My eyes welled up again with tears just as Tomlin’s words took shape in my mind.
“This world is not what it was meant to be
All this pain, all this suffering
There’s a better place waiting for me
In Heaven Every tear will be wiped away
Every sorrow and sin erased
We’ll dance on seas of amazing grace
In Heaven I’m goin’ home
Where the streets are golden
Every chain is broken
Oh I wanna go
Oh I wanna go
Where every fear is gone
I’m in your open arms
Where I belong
One by one, like the spontaneous wave that bubbles up at a baseball stadium, each person stood and joined in singing, dancing and praising —the music upbeat, the mood not somber, but joy filled.
Feeling small and insignificant, a spec in a sea of humanity, I was overwhelmed with a revelation. Jake is already home!
I can’t remember when I felt such joy. Such assurance. Such certainty. “Oh I wanna go, oh I wanna go.”
We’re the Same
I thought again about the mass of people around me, every one with their own story. This time though, they didn’t seem all that unique. Nope. I concluded we were all very much the same. Every one of us broken. Each of us sinful. Every one of us suffering in some way and still expectant for home.
The evening ended with the timely truth, that God is a good, good father. With the crowd pleading for an encore, Tomlin closed out the night singing Good, Good, Father. And in spite of the tragedy of the day, the tragedy of this life… in the cool mountain air, I felt an undeniable warmth from my Good Father. A father who I will never fully understand, but one worthy of my trust.
Back in ABQ
Once back in Albuquerque my significant day lingered. I met a very tired ginger at the airport. (Thanks for praying!) All of his travel logistics, while hairy at times, were ultimately successful. Most importantly, Ian had a great time! Soon though the conversation turned to the sad news about Jake.
“I don’t like thinking about it,” Ian said.
“I understand,” I responded. “It is tragic. But Jake’s no longer suffering.”
“I don’t like thinking about it,” Ian repeated.
I didn’t waste it
And then… in the din of a quiet car I courageously said… “you know buddy, just maybe God spared your life after your accident to give you more time to figure out what you believe.” Ian didn’t argue, or deflect. He didn’t retort with some clever come back. My extrovert had no words. The conversation ended abruptly. But Ian heard me. I know he heard me. And I didn’t waste it.
Our family was very sad to not be able to attend Jake’s funeral. Doug had visited Peoria, IL urgently in May when Jake scared everyone and we thought that may be his last week. But Jake rallied and managed to eek a lot of living out of two short months. No matter how “prepared” you think you are… the end is still a shock.
Thank you Jake
But thank you Jake for your testimony. At 24, you lived more life than many eighty year olds. I’m especially grateful for your outspoken faith and how it has influenced your peers. While we can be confident you are home, my heart breaks for the close family and friends you leave behind. You have left a crater in our hearts.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Psalm 23:6
Dear Heavenly Father, stuff happens in this life that makes no sense. But still you are a good, good Father. It’s who you are. And I’m loved by you. Help me to stand on that truth. Help me to trust you in all of it. Thank you for your powerful presence on that dark day. And help me to be ever mindful to not waste it, any of it.
For Your Glory,