Crib to Casket

As a congregation, there’s a lot in store for Our Savior Lutheran Church in Hartland, Michigan over the next few months. Visits from prominent guest speakers, graduations, and so many other unique opportunities will land in our midst. And yet, two of the most important dates to which we’ll give deliberate attention will be Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. National holidays, yes. Still, as a church, we’ll embrace them as days for honoring the office of “parent,” which stems naturally from God’s divinely established institution of marriage (Genesis 2:18-25).

We’ll celebrate these days not by swapping out the appointed readings for the day or by forcing the topics of “mother” or “father” into the sermon, but rather by letting the parents among us choose the distribution hymns during the Lord’s Supper. We’ll keep to a stabilizing liturgy that continues to set our eyes on Christ and His person and work for our forgiveness. The Word of God will be given. The Gospel will be preached. And in the midst of this, the congregation will give a more-than-appropriate nod of reverence by way of the Church’s rich hymnody to the Lord’s gracious care for His world through the societal-stabilizing gift of the family. (Visit https://www.lutheransforlife.org/article/gods-design-of-family/ to read more on what I mean that the family is a societal-stabilizing gift of God.)

I don’t know about you, but when I became a parent, there’s one very important thing that I learned almost immediately. I learned that no matter how I might be tempted to consider myself an expert in any given field, I will never be tempted to think of myself as anything more than an amateur as a father. Yes, Benjamin Spock tried to stir confidence in all of us in his infamous book Baby and Child Care when he wrote, “You know more than you think you do.” Still, there are those moments with my own children—conversations, situations, circumstances—in which I’m at a loss for words or certainty. I just don’t know what to do.

In one sense, these moments are to my benefit. They keep me level. They set before me that I’m never above the One who established the office of parent. They are moments for me to know that there’s only one Father with all the answers for every situation. I am merely a steward of the little ones He’s put into my care. He remains their true Father, and so I am duty-bound to rely on Him for what’s necessary for raising them.

This reminds me of something else.

As a pastor, I’m guessing that I attend more funerals than most folks. It’s part of the job. Over the years, I’ve noticed it’s not all that uncommon for families to put things into the casket to be buried with their loved one—special things, trinkets and such of lifelong importance. When I see these things in the casket—things that journeyed alongside them through their lives—I am reminded of something very parental in nature.

Hovering above the casket takes me to those moments when I was hovering above my little ones lying in the bassinet. It’s a momentary reminder that even as our little ones fit into a crib, the things we give, the songs we sing, the practices we uphold all along the way of their lives have enormous potential for remaining with them all the way through to the day when they will be fitted to a casket.

The job of parenting isn’t an easy one. The devil, the world, and the Sinful flesh sees quite well to making the task a challenging one. I think it was Bette Davis who said that you’re not officially a parent until you’ve been hated by your child. Those, as many of you already know, are true words. And yet we go forward. We make our kids brush their teeth. We argue with them about turning off the video games and going outside to play. We demand that they be home before midnight. We duke it out over their messy rooms, and we tell them a thousand times not to throw wet towels on the bathroom floor after a shower, as well as to flush the toilet and turn off the light before they leave.

There are plenty of times we find ourselves grappling with them just to get them to the Lord’s house for worship. And then the combat continues as we wrestle to keep them immersed in the liturgy, hymnody, and life of what really is the fellowship of their truest family—the holy Christian church. It’s exhausting. In fact, it can sometimes seem far too overwhelming to be worth the effort, especially during the teenage years when the child believes there are much better things to be doing than sitting in the pews at church.

But Christian parents fight on. And why?

Crib to casket.

In families, the space in between those two points is divinely appointed to mothers and fathers, and as believers, we take these life-long roles as stewards very seriously. Sure, we’ll always be those fathers who give the boyfriends of our college-aged daughters a poker face adorned with stern eyes. We’ll remain those mothers who pester our middle-aged sons not to forget to send a thank-you to aunt so-and-so for the birthday gift. But most importantly, we’ll be those parents who are forever concerned for the spiritual wellbeing of our children. We’ll never be able to shake the urge to be both nearsighted and farsighted. Nearsighted in that our eyes are fixed clearly upon the baptismal font where they were washed clean in the blood of Christ and claimed as His own; and farsighted as we look beyond that gracious act to their falling asleep in the Lord and their blessed Christian funeral.

I pray regularly for the stamina necessary for being a Christian parent in this day and age. Admittedly, in comparison to America’s history, Christian parents are facing unprecedented challenges to raising Godly children. Knowing this, prayer is a big deal. But even more importantly, regular worship is essential. In fact, it is the lifeblood for a Christian family. If parents and their children are not connected to Christ and the gifts He gives in holy worship, they are being starved of not only what saves, but what preserves from the crib to the casket.

My prayer for you is always the same—that you’ll never give up in this regard, that you’ll muscle through every obstruction to being with Christ in worship, that you’ll love your kids enough to use the time you have now to shepherd them into the presence of the One who loves them more than any of us ever could.

The dividends of such an effort are immeasurable. You’ll know them in the fullest sense in heaven. It’s there that you’ll look side to side and see your family. And in that eternal moment, I guarantee you’ll bear an equally eternal smile, one to which the frowns of struggle in this life will just never compare.

The Wind Just Keeps On Blowing

Isn’t it strange how we do what we do as humans, and still the earth just continues to spin, doing what nature does?

Here we are in Michigan in February enjoying temperatures that could get as high as the mid-fifties—almost as if it were a spring day. Just four days ago the wind chill was registering at -35 degrees. Just four days ago it was eighty degrees colder and the entire state was facing a natural gas crisis of catastrophic proportion. The whole scene reminds me of a line in one of my favorite movies as a kid, “Red Dawn.” During a brief moment of quiet from what has already been a long and exhausting war to take back their home soil from invading forces, the character Matt says to his older brother Jed, “It’s kind of strange, isn’t it, how the mountains pay us no attention at all? You laugh or you cry, and the wind just keeps on blowing.”

The wind just keeps on blowing.

During those very cold days, while I managed to make it out and around to visit a few folks, I found it necessary to be home with my family to help tend to their needs. During the quiet times, I took the opportunity to do something I’ve been meaning to do for a very long time: Get my email inboxes a little more under control.

I spent an entire afternoon reading through countless email messages, many new and just as many old. I saved some. I deleted most. In fact, across three accounts I deleted no less than six hundred or so.

There was one that I discovered that I ended up deciding not to delete. In fact, I don’t think I ever will. And now because of its date and time stamps, it’ll forever be the last email in one of my accounts. All the rest have been sent into virtual nothingness.

The message I saved was from Lorraine Haas. She sent it on January 26 of 2017, and it was in response to the eNews she’d received the day before. Little did I know that thirty days later I’d be preaching and presiding at her funeral.

The thing is, Lorraine responded to almost every single eNews she ever received from me. Had I kept all of her messages throughout the years, I’d have hundreds. And what was common to them all (at least the ones related to the eNews) is that, first, she commented on this or that news item, making sure that I knew that she’d read the entire email; and second, by her words she was sure to have a brightness of commendation to share for what her congregation was doing. She was a perpetual encourager for the Gospel. She knew all of the volunteers and staff were working as hard as they could to accomplish the mission, and with that, she never spoke a negatively critical word.

Well, let me rephrase that. She never spoke a critical word by way of email. In private, face to face and a little whisky in our glasses, she more than shared her mind on things. I always knew what mattered to Lorraine. But still, you and I both know that the written word hangs around a lot longer than the spoken word. I’m pretty sure Lorraine knew that, and so whatever she put into permanent print, you could be assured that it would always be an uplifting bit of phraseology meant to make your day better and not worse.

This particular (and unfortunately only remaining) email I kept from Lorraine was very short. I share it with you exactly as I received it. Re-reading it, I know why I’ve kept it sitting in my inbox for so long. It’s only a few sentences long, but it’s a tome of God’s grace.

And the Lord be with You also dear Pastor…May God Bless and Keep You, with Courage and Strength in the coming Day…He loves You, and Me and our Church…..His Church! Blessings dear Pastor, and your dear Family…..Lorraine

“It’s kind of strange, isn’t it, how the mountains pay us no attention at all? You laugh or you cry, and the wind just keeps on blowing.”

Actually, no. The mountains, as sturdy as they are, will pass away. The winds of this world will eventually cease. The laughing and crying of this life will one day be left to the archives of what once was. But the Word of the Lord stands forever. Even now, by way of an email sent by a friend who died years ago, that Word of the Gospel alive in her continues to breathe life into a guy like me—and now into all of you.

It’s as if it reaches to us from the sphere of the divine. In a sense, it does.

Analyzing her sentences, I sometimes wonder if she capitalized words for the same reason I capitalize certain words. I do it in sermons all the time. I have the tendency to capitalize words that are either incredibly important or are in some way an extension of God’s divine work. For example, and as I’m sure I’ve shared with you before, I almost always capitalize the letters “d” and “s” in the words “death” and “sin.” I capitalize them because they’re no small thing to us. They’re dreadful powers in this world. If they weren’t, then Jesus’ work on the cross would be less needful to any of us. Equally, I’ll sometimes capitalize words like “redeem” or “love” or “salvation,” especially when they are connected to the person or work of Jesus.

I could be overanalyzing Lorraine’s note, but I wonder if she did the same thing. For example, she capitalized words like “bless” and “keep.” She also emphasized the first letters of “courage” and “strength.” Most interestingly, she capitalized the words “day,” “you,” “me,” and “church.” Why? Well, as peculiar as it may seem, I’d say that each and every one of those words is an offshoot of the vine of Christ. He blesses and keeps us. The courage and strength we need from day to day comes from Him alone. And with that, each one of those days belongs to Him. Each one holds the promise of His great love that is carrying you, me, and the whole church to the Last Day.

With this perspective, go back and read all of Lorraine’s note one more time. Take it in carefully. I’m sure you’ll get a sense of the ever-living faith that surpasses all understanding, a faith built upon and strengthened for eternal resonation by the powerful Word of God that keeps hearts and minds in Christ Jesus; a Word so powerful that, in fact, not even death can silence it.

Yes, the wind just keeps on blowing. But the war will eventually end. And when it does, when the wind rustles its last leaf, we’ll be gathered into the nearer presence of Christ. In that place, we’ll see all those who’ve died in the faith—all those for whom we’ve shed a tear while the mountains looked on with disinterest and the breezes continued to blow. We’ll see Lorraine again.

Most importantly, we’ll see our Lord, the giver of life, face to face.

Till then, as long as I can help it, I’m never going to delete that email from Lorraine. In fact, I’m going to store it away with several messages like it that I’ve kept from my dearly departed friend and pastor, Jakob Heckert. Personally, these Gospel-driven notes are far too valuable as divine sources of encouragement to this particular pastor.

Auschwitz. Cambodia. New York.

The extent of our lives, while filled with countless moments of ease, is also filled with moments of discomfort. We’ve all experienced such moments.

Some occur because of something we’ve said or left unsaid, done or left undone. Other such moments have been thrust upon us by the arrangements of others. But no matter the wellspring, when the whitewater has settled, we often come to the same realization of regret.

We wish we’d have done something differently to change the situation.

There is a moment in William Hazlitt’s “Sketches and Essays” when he writes so penetratingly, “We never do anything well till we cease to think about the manner of doing it.” His words need little interpretation, especially when coupled to another gathering of words he offers only a few short paragraphs later: “Reason may play the critic, and correct certain errors afterward; but if we were to wait for its formal and absolute decisions in the shifting and multifarious combinations of human affairs, the world would stand still… They stay for facts till it is too late to pronounce on the characters.”

On January 22, 2019—the anniversary of Roe V. Wade—the State of New York passed a law allowing abortion until the moment of birth. In response to this, New York City celebrated the new law by illuminating the World Trade Center’s tower in pink. Thousands of photos of Governor Cuomo’s delight while signing the bill have already been captured, perhaps matched only by the images of Hillary Clinton’s equal exuberance and the videos of the legislature offering a standing ovation at the bill’s passage. Lawmakers throughout the land have been emboldened. They’ve stepped up in support, which means other states will soon follow New York’s lead.

We’ve known this day was coming. NARAL has been openly lobbying for this for decades. The National Abortion Federation has, too. Planned Parenthood, the best known of the bunch, has been an advocate for such devilry, although it would seem they have betrayed a knowledge of the more sinister nature of such things because, for the most part, this arm of their efforts has been off the public grid.

Still, we’ve known this day was coming. At least the church has. How could we not? Knowing the truth regarding the unchecked human condition, as soon as the Roe v. Wade verdict was cast in 1973, we should have anticipated this day. The fellowship of humanity has more than proven that the pit from which it mines its wickedness has no bottom. One needs only to look at the last century. Auschwitz. The population transfers in the Soviet Union. Cambodia. Choose your genocidal atrocity.

Now we can add the State of New York to the list. It is now legal to kill a baby before the moment of its full-term birth. Very soon we’ll be adding other states.

But again, we’ve known this day was coming, and so Hazlitt’s words are piercing. They are piercing because so many continue to cogitate. We think on these things, but do not act. The world of our efforts to stop the atrocities stands still. We behold the resultant facts unfolding and only then do we pronounce on the characters. “New York is terrible!” “Governor Cuomo is a horrible person.” “The New York Legislature should be ashamed of itself!”

All of this, and yet we do nothing to actually stay the hand that slays. They continue to kill. We complain.

Perhaps worse, many of the Christian preachers are often the faultiest cogs in the machine. “The church needs only to pray,” they say, “God will handle this.” “Pastors, stay in your lane,” they warn. “Brothers, preach sin and grace, but do not discuss the government’s affairs.”

Nonsense. Utter nonsense. The pulpits are crowded with Christian preachers announcing that there is forgiveness available even to the abortionist (which of course is true), but there is an ever-dwindling number occupying the pulpits who are willing to urge their listeners to actually be who God has made them—to be those who exist in this ferocious world as ones armed with other-worldly courage for taking up a position between evil and its victims. This contingent of preachers, not the other, knows that the church—the body of Christ—is more than a theological think tank producing eloquent sermons, intriguing Facebook and Twitter posts, and cerebral committee meetings between the popular theologians sitting around drinking coffee while every now and then broaching the topic of how Nancy Pelosi and Governor Cuomo should be excommunicated.

The church is more than an ethereal collection of beliefs congealing into what can only be described as disembodied mush—an arguing for good theology without ever actually engaging in it. By the power of the Holy Spirit through the Gospel for faith in Jesus Christ, the church has the muscle for action.

Behold the words of Jesus in Luke 10:25-37, the story of the Good Samaritan. Behold the man lying in his own blood beside the road—beaten, robbed, dying helplessly. And yet, as Priests and Levites with churchly things to do, we pass him by.

Do something. Act. “We never do anything well till we cease to think about the manner of doing it…”

Many of the religious among us are quick to pronounce judgment on New York’s governor and legislature, and of course this is certainly appropriate. They are monsters. They’re eating children. That’s what monsters do. But do not forget the ones among our own who continue to ring the dinner bell for the monsters by their fluent excuse-making and pious complacency, the ones who sit idly by as the body parts pile. Do not forget the Lord’s words to those church leaders:

“For with you is my contention, O priest… My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me” (Hosea 4:4,6).

January 22, 2019 was a moment of incredible discomfort. It was a moment of monumental regret. Could we have done something to change it? Yes. Unfortunately, in order to close this ever-widening gateway of legalized slaughter, it may take action requiring the same verve of the men and women throughout the generations who’ve heard the call to combat evil—slavery, genocide, and the like—and have responded with a willingness to put their lives on the line. I hope it hasn’t arrived at this.

Either way, I’m not going to sit around “hoping” that abortion will end. I’m going to pray and act. I’m going to pray that you will pray and act. I’m going to continue to engage in this way. I’m going to do this because I know that whatever is to be next, it’ll never happen until we come to the realization that we actually need to stop talking about it and act.

Preparing for that Last Breath

Throughout the year I hold worship services in various places offsite. One place I go to regularly is a retirement community in a nearby township. I’m there the third Tuesday of every month. I suppose, technically, I’m not necessarily obligated to go there, especially because it’s been five or so years since anyone in my congregation has been a resident there (although I should say that within the last year, family members of folks from my congregation have moved into the place).

Still, members or no members, I continue to go. I do this, first, because of the attachment. I’ve come to know the people there and it would be really hard to just sheer those lines, especially since most of them don’t see or hear from their own churches for what seems to be years at a time. However, I’ll admit to feeling a bit conflicted knowing that there are so many other things to attend to during the week here in my own congregation, and doing what I do there takes an irretrievable chunk out of one morning a month—a chunk I can rarely spare.

But still I go.

I suppose another reason I keep doing this is because of what I, as a Christian man, am so often privileged to behold there.

Take for example Helen. She’s 98. She’s completely blind. When she comes into the little room, she knows her way to the back left corner where she always sits. She can’t see the order of worship or the hymn page that I hand out before the service, but she asks for them anyway. And then all through the service, her head somewhat lifted up, an obvious happiness about her, she sings along with the liturgy, being sure to give the appropriate responses, singing the stanzas of hymns she knows, speaking the confession, praying the prayers. She knows it all. I love seeing just how deeply the Word of God by way of a memorized order of service can be embedded in a human heart and at the ready when the senses are failing.

Then there’s Margarete. She’s a 95-year-old German. Literally. Her accent is thick. She was born and raised in a village outside of Berlin. She came to the United States after World War II, so as you can probably guess, she lived through some of the worst of times in history. She’s a dear woman who will sometimes call me just to make sure I’m coming for worship as scheduled. She got my number in a roundabout way. I didn’t see her one month at worship, and because she never misses, I asked the facility director about her absence. I discovered that she’d broken her leg and was in a rehabilitation facility nearer to where her son lives. Later that week after visiting one of my own members in the hospital, I made a quick trip down to see her to say hello. She was so happy for the visit, and she expressed an incredible sadness for missing worship and not telling me. No big deal, of course. She’s 95 and her leg was broken. The fact that she was so concerned was heartwarming, and so with that, I gave her my number to ease her worry.

What a sweet lady.

Then there are the married couples who attend. We have a few. One couple in particular (relatively new in the last year) is Wally and Edna. Wally is 88. Edna is 95. They’ve been married for 63 years. This past week they sat side by side so humbly in the less-than-spectacular setting of the little room in which the service occurs. Always a kind thing to say, Wally makes small talk with the folks around him. Edna smiles. The service begins and their reverence follows along in stride. They are absolved together. They pray together. They listen to the preaching together. They receive the Lord’s Supper together. This past Tuesday I saw the Christian togetherness of this couple take another form—a beautifully human and yet still Godly form—as Wally reached over and took Edna’s hand, even if only for a moment before letting go. A simple touch, a reminder from a loving husband to a dear wife that God continues to bless them with the joy of being together in worship.

I like seeing those things. They are revealing moments.

For me personally, they stir a holy jealousy. I want what they have. If I live to be 98—like Helen—I want to do so knowing my place in the Lord’s house. I want to be able to lift my head and rise up into the Lord’s immersing grace in the liturgy, still retaining its eloquence, still holding onto all of it within the innermost chamber of my heart. I want to continue to love it so much that, like Margarete, if I’m ever unable to be present there, I want the uncomfortably nagging sensation of the absence. I never want to become comfortable with being away from worship. I want to thirst for Word and Sacrament. And like Wally and Edna, I want to be before the Lord, sitting beside the ones I love and leaning into the forthcoming decades with hands close enough to grasp if the moment requires it.

The Athenian poet Solon said so plainly, “I grow old ever learning many things.” As I get older, I’ve learned to want the things that the Christians hovering near the century mark down at Independence Village in Brighton have. If I stop going to see them, I fear I might be distracted by other, less consequential things.

And so I keep going, because these people are continual reminders to me of the prominent rank that the regular receiving of God’s grace in worship is to have. They emit the essentiality of being together as a Christian family to receive God’s gifts of forgiveness. They beam the stamina that these gifts have for meeting the twilight hours of one’s life.

It might sometimes seem like the worship here at Our Savior in Hartland is not all that important, let alone impressive, at least not in comparison to so many other things. But when I’m with these gem-like people who dwell in the midst of humanity with the rest of us, I get a brief glimpse into just how important and impressive for the soul all of it truly is. Every last bit of what we do here is preparing us for the moment of our last breath—the moment we will step into eternity to be with Christ forever.

What could be more impressive or important than that? Not much, that’s for sure.

I’m Halfway Through My Life

I’m supposing that most of you are just like me and you get somewhat existential sometimes, almost feeling as though you’re hovering outside of your own body and contemplating certain things at certain times in life.

Okay, so maybe that’s an over-the-top description.

What I mean is that I turned 46 this past Friday, and while I suppose that’s no big deal, Jen and I somehow found ourselves talking about how I’m most likely more than halfway through my life.

Halfway. Just saying that out loud made us both a little tense.

The uneasy feeling came because, even though statistically speaking what we’d said may be true, the truth is that we are both well aware that neither of us knows the day or the hour. I doubt anyone at Our Savior expected to hear the news back in August of 2007 that our then 46-year-old pastor, William Thompson, had suddenly and unexpectedly died. I remember when Pastor Pies called me to tell me the news. It was as if my phone wasn’t working, as though the words coming through the wires had suddenly become scrambled and the phone needed to be shaken before replying, “Say that again, because what you just said didn’t make sense.”

Jen and I both agreed that we’re not afraid to die. The nervousness comes when we consider each other’s sadness, and the sadness of the kids. For anyone who has ever lost a loved one, the sadness of Death is formidable. My brother Michael died back in July of 1995, but even so, the memories are still very vivid. I was there at his bedside when it arrived. I remember feeling as though the world had suddenly lost all of its oxygen. It was hard to breathe. And when I eventually found myself outside of that hospital room, it was as if the wind had stopped blowing and the days were already starting to fade from one to the next with hardly a memory of the sun rising or setting. For the longest time it felt like one long and never-ending day of aimless wandering.

None of us wants to experience such things. But we do. The wages for Sin is Death, plain and simple. One of the paychecks that comprises those wages is sadness.

But that verse doesn’t end so starkly. Paul adds, “…but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). I think it’s great that anytime the Paul touches on the subject of Death, he almost always reminds us that we have a conqueror of the ghastly specter in Jesus. In fact, in the very next chapter, Paul does what I did this past weekend with Jennifer. He betrays a bit of nervousness when he considers the reality of his own binding to Death in his flesh. But he’s quick to recall Christ as his deliverer.

“Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 7:25).

Still, there’s the sadness. And Jesus knows it’s real. He reveals the blast radius of Death’s sadness-inducing power in His own self while standing at the tomb of His friend Lazarus. He wept there. He wept because Death was not in the schematics for His world, and yet it wormed its way in through the tempter, Satan, and found a resilient foothold in the lives of every last man, woman, and child. But again, we do not see the Lord weeping without having first heard the promise of the conquering of Death and the gift of eternal life through faith in Him. He gave this very promise to Martha in the middle of her petrifying sadness. “I am the resurrection and the life,” He said to her. “He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” But then before the Lord makes His way to the tomb to call Lazarus out, He asks Martha, “Do you believe this?”

In the midst of that conversation with Jennifer a few nights ago, by the power of the Holy Spirit streaming through His Gospel alive within us, He asked us both this question. Martha’s answer was, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God who has come into the world.” In not so many words, that was our answer, too.

I pray that in those moments where you may be contemplating these heavier things—whether in the midst of a family crisis, struggling with your own health, or anything else that might bring to mind the reality of Death—I want to be there (for as long as the Lord allows me) to remind you of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection for you. Death is always a moment of sadness. Nobody’s fooling anyone by saying it isn’t. But it is as anything conquered—in complete submission to its master. Christ has conquered Death. He has it on a chain that does not reach into your eternity. It’s trapped in this life, not the next. Take comfort in this.

And I suppose in the meantime, share this Gospel message with the ones who will be there at your funeral. Be sure they know that you believe it. Be sure they know that you have peace in this truth. Be sure that they know that you want that same peace for them. It’s not up to you to convert or convince their hearts, but you’ll know that same powerful Gospel that moves you to faith will have been planted in the ones you want within arm’s reach in the glories of heaven. In the face of inevitable Death, that can and does bring peace in this life, too.

A Fish on the Side of the Road

As many of you who are familiar with social media may already know, every now and then Facebook will show you something you posted years ago in order for you to share it again with a comment. They call this “memory posting.” When it comes to the posts they suggest to me, sometimes I appreciate the virtual recollection, and sometimes I don’t. For example, one post popped up a few days ago from five or six years ago, and as I read it, it felt a little existential, like I was reading something from someone who’d suffered a concussion and was struggling to spell correctly. I’ve always been a pretty good speller, so the only thing I can say is that perhaps I typed it as fast I could (on my phone, of course) without actually going back to read what I’d written before pressing the “Share” button. Certainly this was no big deal, but still, in response to this particular memory, rather than sharing it, I deleted it. I didn’t want to see it ever again.

That’s the way it is with our bad memories. We wish they’d go away.

Not all that long ago a memory popped up that I didn’t want to forget. I don’t remember the particular destination to which Evelyn and I were traveling, but I remember that it happened as we turned onto the south bound exit to US-23 from White Lake Road. It went something like this:

Evelyn: “Daddy…”
Me: “Yes, honey?”
Evelyn: “I saw a fish wayin’ in da gwass.”
Me: “Why on earth would there be a fish laying in the grass?”
Evelyn: “I dunno. But he’s got big pwobwems.”

I think that one thing I like about this particular post is that it not only recorded a moment in time when Evelyn was much smaller and a bit cuddlier, but it was a time in her life well before she ever became burdened with Type 1 diabetes. In that moment, she was just riding along in the car seat with little more to care about than what she thought was a fish out of water on the side of the road with “big pwobwems.” She certainly wasn’t faced with a never ending regimen of injections or the terrible nighttime specter of the possibility of going to sleep and never waking up.

But do you see what just happened here? It was a subtle and almost effortless shift. A good memory was infiltrated by a bad one, and in a way, it proved the breadth of Sin’s reach. This is an important thing for us to consider. I suppose that in one sense, it means Paul was right when he said so emphatically in Galatians 3:22 that “the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin…” When he wrote this, he wanted the reader to be clear that the Word of God understands that nothing of this world is free from Sin’s sinister grip, and so it must unequivocally declare with divine power that everything this world has to offer is in its very nature infected by Sin and shackled to it as an unstoppably hostile force. Everything in this world is destined for undoneness.

But notice that Paul didn’t end verse 22 at the word “sin.” He kept going, adding, “so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.”

These words are of great import to me, both as the father of a Type 1 diabetic and as a sinful human being. They mean that the things I’ve done that I want to forget—particular sins, memories, or whatever—they’ve already been snatched away from me and pinned to Christ on the cross. I no longer own them. He does. But these words also mean that even while we’ll never escape the overarching effects of Sin in this life—the fact that even the things we may consider good are tinged by Sin—the gripping nature of a Gospel promise heralding our rescue through the person and work of Jesus Christ is given to those who believe. Yes, you read that correctly—the nature of the Gospel becomes our nature by faith.

So, what is the nature of the Gospel? It is nothing less than the baptismal fearlessness that emerges from the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. That becomes our own. We die with Him in His death. Death is no longer the end-all consequence for the believer. We are buried with Him in His burial. The capstone seal of our own gravestone is nothing more than a moment of rest for our mortal flesh while our soul awaits the resurrection of all flesh.

Yes, the resurrection. We are raised with Jesus in His resurrection. Our fallibly ill bodies are sowed perishable and raised imperishable (1 Corinthians 15:42). No more sickness. No more struggle. No more Sin. No more bad memories born of Sin. No more good memories vulnerable to streaks of Sin’s sadness. All that the Lord has accomplished is accounted to us and we are made new. All things are made new.

I like this. And why is that? Well, for the same reason I prefer write the word Sin with a capital “S” and the word Death with a capital “D.” These words deserve capital letters because they stand to represent the most formidable and destructive powers in this world. And yet these powers didn’t stand a chance against Jesus. His sacrifice—a sacrifice that defeated them both—is the greatest thing this world has ever seen.

This is the Gospel, and it’s ours to claim by the power of the Holy Spirit in faith.

I pray this Good News will lift and sustain you this week as you inevitably make what you would consider to be both good and bad memories, all the while remembering that there is a hope that reaches to us here in this life and it extends far beyond this world’s boundaries to the world to come where we will live with the Lord forever.

The Death of My Type 1 Cousin

Type One Diabetes is a stupid disease, and I truly despise it.

My cousin, Rick Boyd, was called into the nearer presence of Christ this morning at 12:45 am. He was 47.

In his youth, a stocky comrade, he was someone you’d want on your team when the neighborhood kids got together for a game of football. Flag football? No, that was for the weak. We were out for blood. And Ricky, when he had the ball, was pretty much a juggernaut. On more than one occasion, it took both my brother Michael (RIP) and myself to take him down, and that was only after he’d dragged us twenty yards.

Back in the day, no one used the term ADHD. There was no such thing. But if someone ever used the words “hyperactive,” Ricky came to mind. In fact, at some point along the way he’d been coached by someone to vigorously shake his hands when he could feel the energy building, except as he did this, it was less of a tool of release for him and more of an indicator that we’d all better get the heck out of his way. For those of us on his team, that was the moment you knew to hand him the football.

Ricky was a counterpart to so many of the adventures of my childhood—camping trips, late night gatherings with family and friends, endless biking around Danville, Illinois where we grew up. You name it, Ricky was often there somewhere. He didn’t have siblings. We were his siblings. His dad left when he was very little, and so we filled that void, too.

He also didn’t have a pancreas that worked the way it was supposed to. Like my daughter, Evelyn, he had Type 1 Diabetes. As a kid, I didn’t necessarily know the breadth of the disease my aunt would refer to when giving him a shot, but I knew it was there. It was the only thing that ever seemed to bring Ricky, the powerhouse kid on the team, to a halt.

I never really fathomed the seriousness of his plight.

Even as he grew older and we lost touch, having lived so far away from one another, I wasn’t kept unaware that his body had begun to succumb to the darker prospects of the disease. A few limbs were amputated and he eventually went blind.

Again, he died last night. Complications from Type 1 Diabetes is what will be printed on the certificate.

Having said all of this, it wasn’t all that long ago that someone said to me that there are so many children out there that have it far worse than my daughter. In the moment, I was really rather angry for the statement. Of course I know it’s true. Things could be worse. But still, it was a heartlessly ignorant thing to say. In a sense, I’ve held onto that ignorant lack of understanding of this disease, and I suppose it was for a moment like this.

Yes, we Christians know that no one knows the day or hour of one’s death—only the Lord. It could be fifty years from now. It could be tomorrow. But there is a statistical “normal” we have as humans, and the terrible truth is that people with Type 1, on average, live much shorter lives than those whose pancreases are intact. To be specific, they live an average of sixteen to twenty fewer years than others.

In this situation, Ricky lived thirty years less than a man my age probably will, and as you might expect, this is a terror that lurks in the minds of parents of Type 1 children.

Yes, I trust Christ. Still, when I look at my daughter, this little bit of ungodly information twists my insides in ways that result in the feeling of needing to micromanage the little things. I know Jennifer feels it, too.

With that, I’m not really sure what to say from all of this. I suppose I could offer that if you know the parent of a Type 1 Diabetic, know also that there are hidden concerns that might cause them to seem overly dramatic. Don’t tell them it could be worse. They already know it, and the hovering is the evidence. They already know that while they’re in charge of the care, every little bit of micromanaged success in the fight against this monster means a changing of the odds. To me, it means that for as long as I can, I’m going to work to make sure my little girl has a better shot at outliving me, and not the other way around.