When you marry into a family, you get what you get.
My new family got a multi-colored sock wearing, politically independent, chaotically abnormal, minimalistic, nature-loving hippie who sees no reason a shirt should ever have buttons. And I got, well, the opposite of all that and then some and I definitely got the better end of the deal.
Bless them, for having me.
This became evident when we were recently down in Mississippi for an extended family reunion, over 200 people smiling and hugging and claiming the same genetics willingly.
I’m here to tell you folks, there’s a lot of nice people in this world. I didn’t know their names and they hugged me as if I were their own. At first, I was skeptical, this tribe being strongly Southern, would likely embrace even a skunk if it rang their door bell and asked for some sweet tea.
But over time, I became convinced of their genuine kindness as they continued to talk to me throughout the day; so much talking, in fact, that at one point, I escaped to a bookstore and sprawled in the Psychology section with only my coffee in hand to read excerpts from a favorite book called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.
Upon my return, Southern Gal sits beside me, continues to whisper, “That’s so-and-so. He’s the one I was telling you about that’s going to school for… or she’s the one who was diagnosed with…” And so on. Clearly invested, I became invested in these people also and there was one man in particular who stood out.
Time has a way of reducing us all. Vibrant, we come into this world. All cries of joy and screams of hunger we arrive and then one day becomes two and so on until wrinkles appear and our bones protrude through thin skin and what’s left is a life lived, mere memories holding our shrinking bodies together.
I notice him right away. An erase marker board in hand, family members are writing their well-wishes to him since his hearing is impaired and a stroke had made it difficult to speak.
“I’m an emergency nurse,” I write to him while waiting for a burger. “It’s nice to meet you.”
“You too. I’ve been to the emergency room many times,” he replies.
“I’m sorry,” I scribble.
“They saved my life a few times. It’s good.”
And there it is. A body wracked with cancer, tired, and still saying, “It is good” can only be the murmured when we grasp the greatness of God, can only be uttered in seeing the bigger picture in the grand scheme of this one little life we’ve been granted.
Gratefulness in this world’s darkness shines brighter than any other testimony one could give to the goodness of our God.
The next morning, we gather for Sunday devotion and this man stands, shuffles quiet to the front and tells us his story. Many of us know it’s also his goodbye, the prognosis of cancer very likely not allowing him to attend another reunion.
He holds his hand to his mouth, his face twisted with life’s circumstances and he mumbles the words, telling us about how he woke in the ICU, hooked to cords and IV lines keeping him alive. And how in one of those IVs, the steady drip of red blood fell straight into him, a life giving life.
He told us about another blood spilled, on his behalf, and ours, about a man who was hanged a sinner so we didn’t have to. He mentioned a life of many regrets and how in that moment, nothing mattered except his acceptance of that blood, how it gave him new life, how the restraints of this physical life meant nothing in the face of the freedom he gained.
“Oh, what a Savior,” we sang after, our voices harmonizing together, bouncing off the low ceiling of that sunlit sanctuary, “Oh Hallelujah. His heart was broken on Calvary. His hands were nail scarred, His side was riven. He gave his life blood, for even me.” (Marvin P. Dalton)
For even me. Yes. For even me.
I look around, so many here also, their faces fighting the same emotion I’m fighting and why are we so scared, as a people, to be vulnerable? Why do we swallow the lumps in our throats when tears are a way of cleansing the soul, of letting others know we’re in this together, that this life we’re living isn’t an isolated experience but instead a dirty and grace-filled march toward Home?
A few tears fall. Some are whispering the words to the song. And then there are those, wracked with emotion, not singing at all and I wondered if God looking down didn’t think they were singing the loudest of all, the cry of their heart ascending toward heaven because they too realize:
True redemption is ugly. It looks like scars and imperfection laid raw; like nails ripping through flesh and blood spilling. It looks like dirt on one’s knees and tear-streaked faces turned heavenward. It looks like a man lowering his hand from his drooping face and letting the tears fall, letting us see his sagging face, how no matter what we go through in this life, how beautiful it can be if surrendered to God.
Later that day, the sun starting to set, we stop in at this man’s house to say goodbye. Exhausted from a tiring weekend on a tired body, he sleeps in his chair. I scribble a note, leave it on the armrest of his chair. I don’t remember what I wrote. I just remember feeling the emptiness of words in that moment, how I could write a thousand amens to the testimony of his life and it still not be enough. So I write it simple, thanking him for being him, for allowing God to work miracles and sharing those miracles with the rest of us.
He sleeps on, his gentle snores the only noise in the house save for the subtle, ever forward ticking of the clock on the wall.
Don & Elaine and family… we are praying for you in this difficult time. And won’t you, friends, pray also for these beautiful people as their dad, their spouse, their grandpa and friend takes his final breaths on this earth and inhales deeply the first of many breaths on the other side of eternity?