This year, my father turned 70. (Don’t tell him. He thinks he is forever 35.) What a huge milestone and we celebrate life well-lived. His children respect and revere him. His grandchildren are blessed by his life that is characterized by faithfulness and integrity. He is present. Present at soccer games and school plays. Present for new births, baptisms and graduations. He’s just there…and we know his laughter, his stubborn soul and the wisdom in his eyes…because he is there. So we have joy! Not only did he turn 70. He celebrated 50 years in full-time church ministry. We know his booming voice from the pulpit as he delivers the gospel of Jesus because we get to hear it. He is always present and always preaching. And perhaps, the most important celebration of the year is that he and and my mom will celebrate 50 years of marriage this December. 50 years of love, struggle and everything in between. 50 years of being faithful even on the hardest days, raising 3 kids, welcoming 8 grandchildren. It is just a beautiful time of JOY. We are filled with it, and actually, it overflows! Lots of life going on and we are trying to soak it all in….for life is strange in that is passes and leaves us quickly…
For you see, this year, we also carry sorrow that overflows as well. We have been without my father-in-law for 5 years. He would have been 66 years old this year. We miss his presence in our lives. 5 years is a long time to miss someone and boy, do we miss him. We continue to be blessed and amazed by the life he lived. We daily recognize that we live under an umbrella of the legacy of integrity he left us. He left us quickly, truly like a “thief in the night” and we’d be lying if we said we didn’t feel robbed. We grieve because he is not present. In the past 5 years, he has been absent from births of grandchildren, graduations, baptisms, holidays, soccer games, dance recitals, school plays, fishing trips, hunting trips, Ole Miss football, and everything else that makes up our lives. We still remember his laughter, his stubborn soul and the wisdom in his eyes…but he is not present. And so we still have deep sorrow. No matter how long it has been, we hurt and always will. We know there is a weird beauty in the sorrow because we were loved well and loved him well….but we grieve. We grieve with convicting hope that we will see him again, but we grieve.
The struggle between the conflicting emotions is not a new one. It’s always been but we never seem to grow accustomed to it. In a world that’s broken, joy and sorrow collide. But we can never forget this was not God’s plan. In great joy, God created man. With attention to every detail, with his own perfect image in mind, He beautifully created and crafted us. We were to live in abundance. We were to live in the safety of His rules and His care, never having to worry. We were not intended to be separated by death and sickness and war and hardship. We were to live and breathe and bring Him glory. The very fact that He created us, was for us to enjoy Him and for Him to enjoy us. My friends, we were created for a life of JOY. But let me break this down for us, since the fall of man, that’s not how it is down here. We were created for joy but the deep sorrow resulting from sin and disobedience creeps into everything in life. We live in conflict between the two and it is hard! SOOOO much Joy, SOOOO much sorrow. Currently, while I live in comfort, much of the world lives without. I currently have healthy children, you may have just buried yours. I worship in freedom, others are being murdered for their faith. How do we reconcile these things???? In other words, the very definition of “reconcile” is “the action of making one view or belief compatible with another.” So….. joy and sorrow….how do we make them make sense in regards to each other?? Well, I do not fully know the answer to that anymore than the next person…but I do know that I am learning to rock back onto the One who created all things, for He alone can reconcile all things. AND HE WILL. I don’t know when, but I know its a certainty. 2 Corinthians 5:19-21 gives us a glimpse of the assurance we have in Christ Jesus. He has and ultimately will, reconcile joy and sorrow and make all things new. It says this, “For God in Christ, reconciled the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. We are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us! We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.”
5 years ago, in the days following our family’s loss, I journaled these words and I quote them in my head often. “Christ’s incarnation, death, and resurrection have became more relevant to me than ever before. For when death stings you, (and oh, how it stings!!) you realize the depth of what Jesus came here to accomplish. I am overwhelmed with the fact the Jesus absolutely CONQUERED the grave. Death feels so wrong because it is so wrong. It was never meant for us. But because of the death, burial and resurrection of our Lord the fear of death is no longer an issue. When you take away the fear of death and all that it entails–the grief, the separation, and pain–Is there really anything worth being afraid of? What is there to keep us from living life to its fullest in the amazing abundance of Christ’s victory. Even death was no match for Him so what have we to fear??!!!!!”
Without question, we should be overwhelmed with JOY! But to be quite honest, life is just a difficult journey and one that we must travel and faithfully trudge through until we see our Jesus. Forgive the lack of appropriate context but Charles Dickens perfectly put it, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.” This life is all of those things, simultaneously! In the moments when I’m able to step back and see a larger, more beautiful weaving of God’s faithfulness, this is what God is teaching me…..
“Satan comes to steal, kill, and destroy us. But Jesus came that we would have life and have it to the fullest. In this life, we will have trouble, sorrow, tears, death, disease, but we are to take heart for our Jesus has overcome the world! In all these things, we are more than conquerors through Jesus who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (John 10:10, John 16:33, Romans 8:37-39)
Throughout our lives, as we become well-acquainted with death, we become keenly aware that our heritage and our roots are no longer here on earth but in eternity. As much as I have always known about heaven and that I want to be there with Jesus when I die, I can’t even begin to explain the ever increasing longing for heaven! I long for our whole family to be reunited before the throne of Christ. I long for no more separation. I long for all of us to be free of the sting of death and to know that there is life forevermore. In the midst of the longings, I know that this is just the beautiful picture of how we are to crave the presence of God.
I am reminded of a story my dear friend Emily recounted to me about the last days before she left for college. Her parents just didn’t understand anything and she couldn’t wait to have some distance from them! In a dramatic teenager moment of frustration she asked her father, “Dad, why does it have to be this way? Why do we just struggle all the time? Why is it just so hard to live here??!!” To which he replied, “I don’t know why, but it just has to be or else you would never want to leave.” Truer words have never been spoken.
Now… I do know that I have much more that I want to do on this earth while I’m breathing it’s air. For all the pain we have, it is compounded exponentially by the amazing JOY our God is pouring out. I pray that we will live everyday in the fullness of Christ–whether in pain or in joy– that we will live this life abundantly! Reminds me of the songwriters lyrics, “There is a place of thirst and hunger where the roots of faith grow deep. And there is rain and rolling thunder when the road is rough and steep. There is hope in desperation, there is victory in defeat at the cross of restoration where joy and sorrow meet.”
Amen and Amen.