Jeremiah


“You will lose someone you can’t live without,and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.”
― Anne Lamott

Two weeks ago we celebrated Veteran’s Day. I woke up thinking of my Uncle S. I went to church thinking of him, cried, went home and thought of him some more. Uncle S was a veteran of Vietnam, an experience that contributed to his untimely and ugly death in 2006.

He was also one of those people who had never not been there – a constant through my childhood and into my grown up life. He had no children. He had two nieces and a nephew and for my brother, sister and me, he was our beloved uncle. He was gentle, kind, patient and encouraging. He always listened, no matter how inane our chatter or obnoxious our questions. He treated everything we had to say as if it was important and deserved thought (even if it didn’t).

His home in the mountains was always open to us: for family breaks, holidays, and when we needed to get away on our own. He dared us to dip into the icy water of the creek that ran through his property (and paid handsomely when we took him up on the dare), led us on off-trail hikes in search of old gold mines, and taught us how to map the stars and spot satellites moving across the night sky. I can still see his slow smile and hear his easy drawl.

So when he died, while it wasn’t wholly unexpected, it was devastating. It was and is painful. But I learned something through his death, as I watched as one of the solid looking pillars that I thought held my life together crumbled and disappeared. Although I could no longer see it, he was still there. None of the love he poured into me and into my life over thirty years went anywhere. It was still there, and so was he.

And the pain never goes away. I’m not even sure it diminishes. But even so, something else increases. I know I have a choice to make: to be thankful for what I’ve been given, or to embrace bitterness over what will not be. In choosing thankfulness, I also choose the pain – “the broken heart that doesn’t seal back up”. I also choose the joy of memory and of faith – of being sure of what I hope for and certain of what I cannot see.

I am thankful for my past. I am thankful for the love I’ve known – bound as it is to pain. I am thankful for friends who love me and for a church that supports me. I am thankful for the shipwrecks that have deposited me on unexpected shores and sent me down new paths. I am thankful for my work and those I know through my work, which constantly remind me to keep my own struggles and sorrows in perspective.

I’m so thankful for Uncle S. I am so thankful for all the others who I have loved who have gone on before me but who I will see again. I am thankful for a Maker who gave His life to give me a hope and a future.

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I’ve been inspired by many things this week: the faith of two friends as they deal with the sudden death of their daughter and wait to learn about the results of the husband’s surgery (he may have cancer); the faith of another friend who last month was diagnosed with a debilitating and incurable disease and then a few weeks ago told she may have been misdiagnosed and is still living in uncertainty; reading the story of Adoniram Judson – (who turned out to be a distant relative of mine!) – who was largely responsible for bring Christianity to the Karen and Karenni and the translation of the Bible into Burmese but who only saw real results after a lifetime of work that appeared to bear very little fruit, the loss of two wives and an infant child and almost two years in prison; reading through the words of Ezekiel and Jeremiah who lived their lives faithful to what God called them to do even though it appeared that no one took any notice of what they said (and frequently did the opposite).

I am reading Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline at the moment and adding to all the examples above, have had it reinforced that faith is a discipline. Many Christians have been taught to believe that faith is some kind of magical thing that you just have; that it’s somehow bestowed on us with no other action on our part than the initial decision to accept Christ. I’ve also been reading a book on the Great Awakening in the mid 18th century in the American colonies and have been struck by how people at the time deeply agonised over the assurance of their salvation. I think we’d have considered most of them Christians (and “saved”) but many seemed to be convinced that faith was something external that could be given or withdrawn at the apparent whim of God.

Faith is a funny thing and something we should never take for granted. I think many of those with whom I work would agree, that while there are times when our strength runs out and God miraculously refreshes us with faith and hope, most often faith is a decision. It is something we have to choose, sometimes over and over again, when faced with the impossible situations and cases we deal with every day in our professional lives and uncertainty, tragedy and daunting challenges in our personal lives. We are called to pray for our faith to increase, but so must we choose daily to believe.

How brittle are the Piers
On which our Faith doth tread —
No Bridge below doth totter so —
Yet none hath such a Crowd.

It is as old as God —
Indeed — ’twas built by him —
He sent his Son to test the Plank,
And he pronounced it firm.
Emily Dickinson

915

Faith—is the Pierless Bridge
Supporting what We see
Unto the Scene that We do not—
Too slender for the eye

It bears the Soul as bold
As it were rocked in Steel
With Arms of Steel at either side—
It joins—behind the Veil

To what, could We presume
The Bridge would cease to be
To Our far, vacillating Feet
A first Necessity.
Emily Dickinson