Today* was one of those incredibly busy and wild days. I spent much of the afternoon trying to track down folks who were in and out of the hospital and whose rooms and floors had been switched. I enjoy this part of ministry. So much of what I do is Internet or big church stuff, that getting personal touch-time hospital ministry with people is restorative. However, I hadn't allowed enough time for all the moving around and tracking folks down, so I was running nearly an hour late on my tight schedule.
To save time, I ran by the post office to pick up the Heartlight snail mail while I was in the area. When I opened the box, there were two yellow claim forms for packages among the envelopes. I had no idea what was in the packages, but there was no line at the window — a miracle of sorts in the world of public post office boxes. So I turned in my two claim forms, picked up my packages, and hopped in the ol' Tahoe.
Now sensibility nudged me to leave the packages unopened until I took them to the office. But, I'm a curious type and I couldn't resist the urge to discover what these two unexpected packages might bring! Shortly after opening them, I immediately pulled into the car wash across the street to gather my composure — I hadn't planned to get my car washed, but it would help kill time. I was in no shape to return to the office. Tears streamed down my cheeks as I looked at these two packages.
The contents of the first envelope tugged at my heart as soon as I opened it. Five Compassion sponsor packets for kids in Uganda. The pictures were precious. I knew they had probably shared their clothes and shoes with others getting their pictures made the same day. They were dressed, pressed, and tidy hoping against hope that someone, anyone, might be their sponsor. It didn't matter to them if the clothes didn't quite fit or the shoes belonged to someone much older and bigger. My eyes moistened as I thought about the upcoming trip I would take with 15 other bloggers with Compassion to Uganda. I was cheered yesterday by the news that I would get to meet Doreen, the little girl we sponsor. Now my heart ached with the hope that we could find the 500 sponsors we have as a goal for our trip, and especially find five sponsors for these children whose faces captured my heart.
Then I opened the second envelope. I read the first part of the Mother's note attached to the book that was sent for me to preview for Heartlight. Then I noticed the cheery, inviting face of a college student on the cover. The title was simple: Melissa's Prayer Journal. The second part of the title was incongruous and a bit jarring: "The Power of Prayer in the Face of Cancer." As I thumbed through this book, I discovered copies of Melissa's own handwriting and pictures of her life as a young woman full of joy and life. This college student was about the age as my own daughter. I was intrigued to follow a young woman's faith as she struggled and overcame cancer at such a young age. I was not prepared for the reality: Melissa died after facing her battle with cancer after a little less than two years. I was stunned and shaken.
Emotions engulfed me. I had to get a grip. Too much flowing through my heart at once and not enough of whatever it is that carries emotions to release them appropriately. I scoured and devoured the book. Melissa's journal entries were suddenly electrified with a different intensity. I was laughing, crying, and flipping pages at the same time. I gathered in the images of Melissa's mom and sister and wondered how their hearts could not have burst with grief.
Then the tidal wave hit. In my world that values pretty people and heroic efforts, Melissa's story is a gripper. Powerful and moving and faith-inspiring, Melissa's words of faith would challenge any of us of any age facing such a hard battle. But underneath it all, I could hear this tiny voice beckoning me to put the book down and look again at those little children from Uganda.
In my world, Melissa's story has a tragic power touched with grace. I am thankful for it and I will recommend this book again and again. But to most in my culture, the other pictures are just a bunch of more sad and unfortunate kids from Africa. You listen to the talk shows and you realize that the general public is tired of what they see as the same ol' story. Hungry for a new angle, the media-drenched perception about the needs of Africa are quickly becoming old news. We are rapidly becoming desensitized and finding ways to rationalize away our responsibility to be involved.
But what is the greater tragedy? To die young, fighting to be courageous, sustained by faith, but lost to family and friends who deeply love you? Or, to die a different kind of death — denied the basic necessities of life and denied the opportunity to know Jesus, experience His grace, and never know the love of His people?
If I were Melissa's mom, I know what my answer to that question would be: my daughter's death would be a near-inconsolable tragedy. But, I also remember the powerful words of an old Phil Collins' song about the suffering in Africa. The song is entitled "Colours," and the line refers to seeing the pictures of those who are suffering and realizing that "Like a mirror, you see yourself, these people, each have a name." So I look at those little faces and read their names: Tumukunde, Apio, Daniel, Mukiibi, and Nakijoba. None of them have both mom and dad living with them — I'm not even sure they are still living at all. But their aunt, grandmothers, and friends who are raising them, would tell you what the greater tragedy is to them: losing another person they love.
So today, as I read the awful yet glorious words of Luke 23 again, and re-live the trials, crucifixion, death, and burial of Jesus, I am reminded why God came to our mortal mess. Without Jesus, without our hope, and our family of faith, we would be in a place where tears would have no reason to cease. Our trust, however, is that He remedied the stalking power of death and brought hope to families like those of Melissa, Tumukunde, Apio, Daniel, Mukiibi, and Nakijoba — and to me and my family. You see, when these people have a name and you know them, they aren't statistics or issues to be debated. In that moment, tragedy is more than a word, it is life — lost.
//Inspiration: Luke 23:46
Jesus called out in a loud voice, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit." When he had said this, he breathed his last."
How can I not share the love of God demonstrated in Jesus? How can I not want every one to know about this love — and not just know in words, but experience it in deeds? They have to know the Father — and His love — and know with confidence that they can commit their life, their spirit, into His hands and breathe their last, with great assurance of tomorrow's greater grace.
O Father, forgive me for being jaded and cold to the need, the real and ultimate need, of all people to know and experience your love in Jesus, in whose name I pray. Amen
*This was originally an entry in my blog, but seemed very appropriate to share with our wider Heartlight audience. I hope you are blessed by these thoughts and would love for you to be a part of the prayer team: http://blogs.heartlight.org/phil/?p=194
Or if you would be interested in commenting on these ideas, please share them on the blog response page:
To order Melissa's Prayer Journal, go to http://www.mbmpublishers.com.