I know God is trying to teach me something when the same theme comes up over and over again.
The week Elias was born, our good friend Avis from church passed away. She and her husband, Fred, sat right behind us every Sunday and were dear friends. She had been diagnosed with cancer for 2 weeks prior to her death at the age of 74.
A month before that my friend Tiffany, who I taught women’s Bible study with for 3 years, died of an aggressive cancer. She was 38 and had five kids. Just like me.
I remember sitting in church when Elias was just two weeks old. That morning our church sang the song “In Christ Alone.” I could see Fred pacing in the back. The pain of his loss was so raw. He was openly crying.
And we sang the lyric, “from life’s first cry to final breath, Jesus commands my destiny.” I stopped singing while that lyric overwhelmed my thoughts. I had heard life’s first cry just two weeks earlier. I recalled that moment and how it was actually Rory’s cry that I heard first. He was laughing and crying as he yelled loudly and with great wonder, “It’s a boy!!!!” Then we heard the cry of a tiny life that somehow in that instant went from lungs in liquid to lungs in oxygen and let out a wail to tell us he was here. What a miracle.
I looked back over at Fred and thought of how at the funeral he told me of Avis’ passing. He said it was three in the morning and she was uncomfortable. They read a favorite passage of scripture and at the end “every cell in her body was no longer alive. She simply was not with us in that room any more.”
That lyric turned over and over in my head, “from life’s first cry, to final breath.” I had these first hand accounts of both experiences and I realized with a new understanding, the veil is so thin.
Sometimes I begin to think that heaven is far, far away. Like on some distant planet light years away. But just like Jesus is teaching me right now in my Bible reading, the kingdom of heaven is near. And the veil is very thin.
More recently when talking about Santa Lucia with Elsie we were discussing the more graphic part of the story, how Lucia was set on fire by her persecutors but, it is said, she would not burn. This brought up Daniel who was untouched by the lions, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the flaming furnace who did not burn, and Stephen who while being stoned, “saw heaven open up.” Naturally, these accounts can be overwhelming to a seven-year old girl. For me too. I told Elsie that I think all of these friends in the faith were able to see the angels surrounding them. That maybe they didn’t even feel fear, because they had angels on every side. And angels always begin their greetings with, “Do not be afraid!”
Elsie and I prayed that we would remember this, so that we would not feel afraid even if we had to give our lives like Lucia did. Because we would surely have angels on every side.
A few nights ago when I was up late wrapping presents, a video popped up on youtube. I watched as the story was told behind the hymn ‘It is Well with my Soul.” I was familiar with the story of the songwriter’s four little girls being lost at sea, but had never heard about the life the husband and wife had after the shipwreck. I encourage you to watch it, because they had a remarkable life with even more loss…and yet they continued to pour themselves out because of their faith in Jesus.
The last scene was the most powerful. As the choir sang, “Oh Lord, haste the day when my faith be made sight…” it showed the family reuniting in heaven. The little girls ran into their parents arms and the whole story really did have a happy ending.
It wasn’t just a feel good ending. It was the truth because we have all been created for eternity. I watched the joyous reunion on the screen and I imagined the day Tiffany will run to embrace her five kids. And I imagined Fred weeping with joy as he holds Avis once again.
The veil is so thin, but clouded by our own eyes to see only the earthly things around us. Yet one day, our faith will be made sight! Isn’t that a wonderful thought! And we will see all the angels around us, realizing that our life’s first cry to final breath and all of the pain and sorrow in between was just a blink.
Because now God is with us. Emmanuel.