Thursday, March 17, 2016

{Waiting for Death}

My heart reacted to each notification. Each "ping" had me anxiously checking messages, wondering if the time had come, wondering if my uncle had been called to his eternal home. My parents were on the other end in Nevada, sending us updates. Hours passed. Days passed. The "pings" continued.

We passed the time here at home, trying to go about our normal routines. Music soothed our spirits. Aidan suggested that we listen to Crowder's Neon Steeple, and it quickly became an integral part of the prayer-worship-supplication that filled the atmosphere of home.

I was especially moved by the Crowder-Gaither rendition of "Because He Lives" and sent the Amazon link to my dad. Perhaps they could listen to it at some point.

Because He lives, I can face tomorrow,
Because He lives, all fear is gone,
Because I know He holds the future
And life is worth the living
Just because He lives!

A few minutes later, my dad wrote that they had just listened to it all together. It was one of my aunt's favorite songs. "Give Uncle Harry a kiss from his Jules," I texted. Auntie Cher kissed him for me, and we continued to wait.

And then on a Tuesday night, my mind elsewhere, I quickly checked my messages before helping the kids get ready for bed. My heart stopped. Tears filled my eyes as I read and then re-read that my uncle's struggle was over. It was finished. And I had missed it. I had missed the final message. Really only a handful of minutes had passed, but in a way my delayed grief felt like a betrayal. I thought back over the last half hour. What had I been doing? What had distracted me from the waiting?

I recalled my prosaic activities. They were not worshipful, they were not prayerful, they were not driven by imminent loss. I was doing the laundry and making some bread.

But as my eyes brimmed and my throat constricted, the Lord whispered to my spirit: water and bread. I was washing, I was baking bread. I was living. While waiting for death, I was living.

And then I thought of Jesus' ministry. The Living Water and the Bread of Life. He, too, was waiting for death. His own. But with each intentional, passion-driven step He took toward that cross, He was living. He looked into the eyes of those He loved, He met their needs, He embraced them, He wept, He walked alongside them, He washed them, He broke bread with them, and He lived.

I thought of my uncle. He, too, had lived. It gave my Uncle Harold great joy to share with others. Often he'd call me out of the blue to recommend a book, share a Bible verse, or ask about Jamie's work. When we'd visit in person he delighted in giving us experiences, whether it was a swim at Tahoe, a drive in his Jeep, or an intense round of croquet.

It was hard to imagine that now the song "Because He Lives" had been fully realized for him. The stanza that always seems to dwell somewhere in the distant, unimaginable future, had happened.

And then one day, I'll cross the river,
I'll fight life's final war with pain;
And then, as death gives way to victory
I'll see the lights of glory and I'll know He lives!

What could I do, but live? Death gives way to life, to the bread and water, the washing and renewing. Because He lives, we can face tomorrow. We can wash the laundry, we can bake the bread, we can put the children to bed. We can even wait for death as Jesus did: walking, loving, washing, living, eating, laughing, crying and embracing.

Today is my aunt's birthday. A celebration of life, even in the shadow of death. My mom -- her sister -- is with her now, and I can just imagine the mingled tears and smiles, the stories and reminiscing, the Italian eccentricities we proudly embrace, and maybe even some laughter, too. There's joy in spite of the sorrow. And there's purpose in the waiting. All because He lives.

* * * * * * *

One of my favorite childhood memories is watching the Nevada lightning storms at my aunt and uncle's house. I was given the opportunity to write for my Uncle Harry's memorial service, and this poem was born as I waited for death and rejoiced in his life.

A Marvelous Light

You held out your hand with that gleam in your eye, 
Saying, “Come, little Jules, your Auntie and I
Want to show you the sky
Breaking open tonight.”

We walked to the window, each one in awe, 
Witnessing splendor we seldom saw:
Flashes and peals,
Unleashed, wild, and raw.

Standing in wonder, sky-fire in our eyes,
Such glorious power caught us each by surprise,
Though harnessed, we knew,
By the King of all Light

Who holds out His hands with the Light in His eye,
Saying, “Come, My child, your Father and I
Want to show you the radiant
Love from on high.”

We rest in this love as we gaze on His face,
And He carries our burdens -- amazing grace! --
Even holding the tears
We have shed in this place.

For He held out His hand with that Light in His eye,
Saying, “Come, precious jewel, my Father and I
Want to welcome you home
Where no more shall you sigh.”

You walked through the window, healed and in awe,
Grace broke wide open; you finally saw
Flashes and peals,
Unleashed, wild, and raw.

So we hold out our hands -- though tears dim our eyes --
Saying, “Thank you, dear Jesus: our praises shall rise! ”
And the skies will break open
With marvelous Light.

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