My husband and I visit this site each December and May. As impossible as it sounds, we find comfort here where our nephew, Jon, is laid to rest. As long as we are living and breathing, it is the closest we can get to him. We bring flowers, a flag. We talk to him as if he’s listening, reminisce about good times, fill him in on family news, tell him how much we miss him, how much he would have enjoyed this or that. We sit and gaze. Listen to the birds. Hope for signs that he knows we’re there. Inevitably, the dam bursts and we are blubbering fools. We hug – to offer comfort, hide embarrassment. When we are drained, we gently caress his headstone. Carefully arrange any pebbles that have been placed there. And whisper goodbye. This has been our ritual for 8 years. 8 years of hidden sorrow and outward smiles and bitter questions that slowly turned my insides into cold hard stone…
like Jonny’s marker.
8 years that feel like 8 days – since the thief took Jonny’s life.
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy…
– John 10:10a (NIV)
And for 8 years I have wailed.
“This is it for that precious infant who was born in one wing of the hospital while his great grandfather lay dying in another?”
“This is it for that little toddler whose fall from a ladder produced an egg-sized knob on the center of his forehead, yet he didn’t flinch? For the youngster who looked so much like one of his grandmother’s Hummels?”
“This is it for the child who built tent-cities with his boy cousins, and fished and canoed and swam and roasted marshmallows and rode his bike into the pond and made mischief during countless summer camping trips?”
“This is it for the kid who spent so many weekends at our home to hike and boat and snowboard? Who proudly donned the silver helmet we jokingly dubbed the chrome dome?”
“This is it for the teen who came to live with us that summer and was up at the crack of dawn to get the Thompson ready for a day on the lake. The one who laughed as he aimed the garage door opener at house after house to see how many doors he could open. The one who microwaved everything he could get his hands on to see what would happen?”
“This is it for the high school junior who went to Young Life camp and gave his life to You and was so excited he wrote to tell me about it later?”
“This is it for the grad who enlisted and got his tender heart sent to the front lines of Iraq? And for the soldier who returned from war with an even worse enemy to fight?”
“This is it for the warrior with PTSD who came to live with us hoping for a fresh start? Who put a frozen turkey in the oven and cooked it for a day. Who invited his friends over while we were away, and lit fireworks until the neighbors summoned the police? Who chased 3 year old Kaylee in so many circles around the house I feared for her health. Who slip-slided through the mud with 3 year old Keller?”
“This is it for the young man I counseled, consoled and encouraged…? The one who always greeted me with a sing-songy “Aunt-ie Sue-ue”? Who loved bonfires, and Chinese food and the family Christmas party and his BB gun? The one who needed alcohol to escape the torment? Who was held captive by a thief who slowly, meticulously, stole his joy, killed his spirit, destroyed his life?”
“This is it for the nephew who loved his parents, his brother, his grandparents, his cousins, aunts, uncles. All of us. The one I was on my knees praying for the very night he…. the very night he… ?”
“This is how it ends!?”
For 8 years I have fired out questions and waited for God to answer… Finally I tire. I shut up. I quit talking. I quit asking. It is then that His wait is over. It is then that I hear…
Read the rest of the verse.
(I know it by heart) “…I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” But that didn’t happen for Jonny.
Read it again.
“I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” But it didn’t happen…
Read it again.
Why? I’ve read it! But it didn’t happen for Jonny…”
His story isn’t over. You’ve only seen part of it.
Not over? His story isn’t over?
It isn’t over.
The switch is flicked. The light goes on. The truth sinks in. It isn’t over. We measure life as the time between two dates, birth and death… beginning and end. We will never see fullness in that span. Never. Not in this broken, burdened, sin filled world. The promise is for later, for all who have called on the name of the Lord (Romans 10:13). Jonny is no longer in the here and now, he is in the later. He has passed from death to life. He is healed. He is whole. He is happy. He is seeing – what no eye has seen; hearing – what no ear has heard; grasping what no mind has conceived; and living what God has prepared for those who love him ( 1 Cor 2:9). No longer threatened by the clutches of the thief, he is safe in the presence of the Savior. He is home, Susan.
He is home.
I do not know why it took so long for the promise to penetrate my soul. Why I fixated on that second date as if it were the end. But it is one thing to know something in your head and quite another to learn it in your heart. And in your soul. The process can be long, and painful. And often we shut the book or turn off the TV or leave the theatre because we don’t like where the story is going. And we never get to the ending. And often we do the same in life. We stop reading, we lose hope, we abandon faith and we miss the best part.
I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
– John 10:10b (NIV)
The morning fog lifts and the sun gently warms the cold hard stone. So too, the mourning fog lifts and the Son gently warms the cold hard stone.
And for the first time in 8 years,
the spirit within me finds its song. And I sing along the sweet words of Stafford’s beautiful hymn –
“It is well, it is well, with my soul.”
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son,
that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life. – John 3:16