Family Ties

It was a very long day.

Almost nothing was crossed off of the list.

There were a few hours on the road. There were a few hours in waiting rooms. There were a couple of meals shared with family. There were painful phone calls and some heavy wrestling with reality.

We had breakfast with son #3 and our soon-to-be daughter-in-law to celebrate her birthday this weekend. It was an early but sweet time of talking with them as they wade through what promises to be a heavy semester as they both approach the end of their college journey in the next year and a half. We’re blessed by the way they love and look after one another and we eagerly await their marriage in just a few months. That’s the plan. But nobody knows what tomorrow will bring.

My mom had a fourth neck surgery to re-do a previous one that just didn’t take. We were there to cut up with the various surgical folks before they took her in and got the usual strange looks in the waiting room as we dealt with things the way we usually do in stressful time – through random absurdities and oddball memories.

The surgery was smooth and successful… but that’s never a guarantee, is it?

We enjoyed a late lunch with my dad and my sister before we got to see mom back in her room. She did seem to come through with both her sense of humor and ability to roll her eyes well preserved—both of which are naturally put to the test when we are together.

We left mom in good hands and went on to see Tori’s grandfather in the Veteran’s Center. He volunteered to join the Navy late in World War II and received a Medal of Victory. This dear man, despite his flaws and mistakes and deep regrets, has been yet another example of God’s grace to use broken tools. Even in his frailty and waning health, he was an encouragement to me to press on—asking about my ministry, my education, my family. It would not be any surprise if that were the last time we were to see him.

As we turned back toward home, we soon received word that my most memorable and earliest childhood playmate, my cousin Molly, had passed away after a long, miserable struggle. She was 48 years old—just two months younger than me. She left a loving husband and four kids behind and big extended family as well.

Molly and I were the first of Grandma’s brood of grandkids. I was the oldest by just a bit (and, of course, always Grandma’s favorite—there’s really not anything to debate there).  Our biggest feuds back in the day came when I found her perched in my spot on the right arm of Grandaddy’s chair. The audacity of this usurper knew no bounds!

There on the wooden arms of that red, rough-upholstered rocking chair, Grandaddy would read to us from the “smoke-a-pipe book” until Grandma’s “bowl-a-soup” was ready to eat. And we’d race for the stool at the corner of the dinner table. “That’s my seat, Chichael!” Molly would point out to me. (For some reason Michael came out of her mouth with a k sound as small children sometimes do.)

Last night I called and talked our Grandma, now 96 years of age, who is so heartbroken to hear of the passing of her oldest granddaughter, the one named after her. My heart hurts.

In the midst of all of these family ties, I realize something of great importance. I am so very rich to have family. And the thing that makes them so much richer is the fact that our ties are not just genetic—they’re spiritual. My cousin Molly, flawed and broken as all of us are, had placed her trust and hope and confidence in Jesus Christ who transformed the grave into a dark doorway to something far greater. Death is no longer a dead end.

I am forever grateful for family ties that go beyond this world. 

While we do not know what will happen today or tomorrow, we have our family meeting place appointed. What a great family reunion awaits all of us who have simply believed.

Will you be there?

But Wait… There’s More

I have on a number of occasions been in a position to sit with a family while they conferred with a doctor about the difficult diagnosis of their loved one. In those moments it is important for me to listen well to what is said and to help make sure the family is not simply listening with their emotions. In such times it is often very difficult to swallow the news and the pain of the situation can keep us from understanding clearly what is going on.

In times like those, I have witnessed some wise doctors trying to be as plain and simple as possible. I’ve even seen a few instances where they had a nurse come with them or an assistant that might be better at explaining things in a more understandable or accessible way. Its an important role to help them understand, amidst the all of the emotion of the moment, what is really being explained to them.

When Jesus was preparing his disciples for His pending departure, He was trying to prepare them by assuring them that their circumstances, thought they could not understand it yet, would be better. He has assured them of the coming of His helping, comforting Spirit to dwell in them—which is most certainly better.

But Jesus offered more insight:

I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you. (John 16.12-15)

It must have been overwhelming to them. The things Jesus was telling them, though they sounded like amazing promises, were surely strange and uncomfortable for them to hear. But do you see what He promised that the Spirit would do?

The Spirit would guide them into truth and help them to recognize what was and was not from God. He would speak anew to their hearts so many of the things Jesus had said to them already but could not possibly understand.

The Spirit would, according to Jesus’ teaching here, always shine the light on Jesus the Son according to the very will of God the Father. The Spirit would be their means of having an all-the-time and everywhere connection with Jesus. The Spirit would help them see, understand, and process things through the lens of spiritual truth.

So Jesus was promising His disciples that, with the Holy Spirit living within them, they would have an ongoing relationship with God that could not be separated by distance or circumstance… or even by death.

But did you notice how that passage started? He said, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” He had imparted to them so many rich, powerful, wonderful truths… but their tender hearts couldn’t stand much more.

Though He taught them much about how things would be, He seems to say, “But wait… there’s more.”

Walking with Jesus—which every one of us as believers in Him are called to do—is a life of hearing that sentiment time and time again.

He has blessed us so incredibly much with life and breath and wonderful people with which to share the journey.

But wait… there’s more.

He has given us the Scriptures, His very Word, to help us know Him.

But wait… there’s more.

He has promised us a home with Him forever without fail.

But wait… there’s more.

He has promised to place His Spirit within us to teach us, guide us, and show us the way.

But wait… there’s more.

How has He lavished His love upon you today?

Wait… there’s more.

A Promise of Better Things

It’s hard to see through painful things.

When we realize that someone dear to us is about to be taken away from us, it’s like our tears distort our vision of the circumstances. We only see the hurt that’s right in front of us and not the comfort, peace, or joy on the other side.

In this extended account of Jesus’ teaching in John 14-16, Jesus is trying to prepare his followers for His pending departure. And the biggest preparation He made was to promise them something better.

Jesus begins this lesson by explaining some things:

I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, “Where are you going?” But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. (John 16.4b-6)

They really didn’t need to know these things while He was sticking around, but, now that He is about to return to the Father, they seem more upset that He is leaving than curious as to where He is going. He knows their hearts are heavy.

But look at the important words He speaks next:

Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. (John 16.7)

Do you see it? Jesus is trying to get them to see beyond their feelings of loss. He points to the better things to come. So… what is that?

It’s the Holy Spirit that will come and live within each of their hearts in a very powerful way. But the promise cannot be fulfilled until Jesus has gone away.

But still… He assures them it will be better than what they know.

Jesus loves these people that have walked with Him so very many miles. He Has seen them struggle for understanding and wrestle with some very hard truths. He has seen their eyes filled with wonder as they reached back into the basket again and again until all of these thousands of people were completely satisfied with their meal. They had helped pull the grave clothes from Lazarus and tasted the wine at the wedding.

But he assures them of more.

He is leaving, but He will leave with them a promise of better things.

I don’t know what the pain in your life may be today. Maybe it’s the painful reality of a loved one soon departing. Maybe it’s the inevitable end of something you’ve fought so very hard to retain. Maybe it’s just the crashing in upon you by the reality that those sweet moments you have shared simply cannot last forever in this life.

But for you—if indeed you are a follower of Jesus—there is always this great promise of better things yet to come.

It doesn’t make the hurt go away. But it does remind us that the hurt is, even at its very worst… temporary.