Once again, we came face to face with death. It seems to stare at us all too often; sometimes it feels like death has won. We have all been here at one time or another, whether by personal experience or as in this week, through the devastating effects from the earthquake in Haiti. It is never pleasant nor is it ever pretty. It is a place God never intended us to be and an experience that He never equipped us for. Remember, He made us for eternity and put us in a Garden where we were meant to live–never to taste death. So here we are, centuries later, at the ugly doorstep of a Garden turned into a graveyard, and it reeks of death. No wonder we don’t like it. Our parents die, our spouses die, our neighbors die - it is awful. But it is something that pierces our heart a little deeper when a child dies.
Our heart is reminded and echoes of that longing for Garden days; the days before death - a place we do not know but where we need to go spend some time to put life back into perspective. Sit with me, if you will, and ponder this place. Walk in its beauty of complete perfection. Smell the fragrance of wholeness; taste of the abundance God provided all around us. Perhaps even see a tree with His initials and ours carved in a heart. It is here where we feel alive. A passion stirs as if we were meant to live here–it is exactly where we were meant to be! It is here, where we feel at home, loved, protected and surrounded by the very art of God hung, flung, and planted all around us. If you take the time, your heart will meet me there–it knows the way like geese find north and south; our soul can migrate there in just focusing without a flap of a wing. Home. Can you breathe deeper, feel closer, and know you are loved? Home. Hurts cease; pains flee; deaths–unknown? Home. But open your eyes, and it is all gone…except that hunger in your soul to be there again. That hunger is put there by God. God did not want us to think this is it, that this is where we were put by Him. This was our doing, our wrong choices, our believing a lie. Death is a billboard in life that we can’t miss, shouting out, “This is not where I put you!”, “This is not all there is!”
He takes us back to the tree where he carved our name and His, and reminds us of how things were meant to be. He beckons our hearts to remember. For that tree became the cross where Jesus died. Our initials were carved in His hands. It is through His death and His blood shed that our blood is no longer required, and our death certificate torn into pieces so that we no longer face an eternity without God. I understand that, and no doubt so do you.
But what do we tell our children? How do we help them understand this graveyard, this enemy of death? One, they understand more than we think. Two, give them a word picture according to their world of understanding. If they are in school, perhaps something like this… “Do you remember when I checked you out of school early?” (Their faces usually light up, even if they love school). “You know how all the other kids had to stay the rest of the day? Don’t you love being the one going rather than the one staying? I think that may be how it is with dying. Some people get an early checkout, while some of us have to stay all day”.
Or perhaps about dying… “Is the cereal box what we eat?” No, that would be silly. It’s the cereal that is the real thing we want. Well, our bodies are like the cereal box; it is the inside that is really us. The box may go, but what was inside is the part that mattered. The box may get buried, but the inside was the part that we wanted. Our bodies may get buried or burned, but our inside goes to heaven, and we get new bodies that never get messed up again.
Or perhaps if they are readers… “You know that favorite book? You know how worn and torn the cover has gotten? Is the story still there? Sure that the best part. A cover doesn’t make a book, it’s the story! Well, the body is merely the cover or jacket of the book; the book is the story that’s inside. Book covers get torn or ripped, damaged or removed, but the story lies in the pages inside. Our bodies may get diseased, broken or separated from our spirit but it’s our inside pages and story that tell who we really are”.
Or if they have experienced traveling a long distance, dropping someone off, and having to keep traveling… “Do you remember when we took Grandma home, and we had to get back in the car and come all the way home? Remember what it is like to want to get out of the car? Well, some people get to get out of the car earlier and others have to continue the trip”.
We experience many good-byes along the way, leaving our babies with a sitter the first time, sending them off to their first day of school, packing them into a camp bus and waving good bye through tears you hope they can’t see. Cheering at graduation when their name is called, but hurting inside that it means they are leaving home, or thrilling at the preparation for marriage until they walk down the aisle and you know that she/he is not coming home that night or any others to be in their room. All of these are temporary; all of these help us identify the hurt experienced by good-byes and the ultimate separation - death. We all hurt together as parents on these occasions. We all long for the Garden - and way things were meant to be…and will be again.
So give them hope. Give them the Good News. Hold up your hand and announce the Kingdom to them… “The war is over, and we have won!” Give that good news–we all get checked out of school! That good news–our box is gone, but we get the new and improved! The good news–this cover is a mess, but the Artist gives us a new cover and the story goes on and gets better… we DO live happily ever after! The good news– it is a long ride, but we will soon all be out of the car never to ride again! May we not only long for it, but also may we teach our children to long for it too. Then we will all say in our hearts of one accord “…Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done…”