This beautiful 31-year-old is teaching me how stunningly beautiful the resurrection life of Jesus can be in us. Even (especially?) in the valley of the shadow of death.
For six years now she has been living the reality of brain cancer. Three surgeries, chemo, radiation, a marriage, a baby boy born six weeks early so she could have her third brain surgery, and through it all, fear giving way in the presence of God to faith and courage, joy and peace and beauty.
And March 30, the day before Easter, this facebook message from Christina:
“Well, I am very peaceful. I’m thankful for the beautiful sunny day and I love my pain patch. Everyone should get one. So…early Wednesday morning, I had a grand mal seizure in my sleep, and Doug woke up and cared for me and called 911. My parents arrived—I woke up in the hospital to a paramedic (good friend) telling me what had happened. I had an MRI which showed a brain full of tumor lesions. This explains a lot of my struggle with pain and energy. I am at the end of my treatment and starting hospice care. I am at home and loving it. I feel better than I’ve felt in months. (Good drugs☺) AND I have a GREAT GOD! A most kind, heavenly Father. Please pray for peace for my friends and family and to be able to use time with people to its fullest. And pray that I stay in a really intimate place with the LORD.”
I read the words and my heart fills. . . with sadness for baby Isaiah who will grow up without his mother. . . with gratefulness and awe at the beauty of Jesus, palpably present even on the other end of Facebook. . . with longing for Christ’s life to be so visible in me. And, if I'm honest, with inadequacy: with this life lived so brightly among them, what does my story have to add when I go down to share in two weeks?
I sit down to pray. My hands want to do something. I reach for clay, find myself forming one after another tiny person, Christina, Doug, Isaiah, JoDee, and others in their life and mine, a brother, a friend, a mentee. I hold each in my hand, pray for the one imaged, and place each back into the Hand that never lets go, hugging them to Jesus. There’s a tiny figure for me too, reminding me that we’re all together in this place before the Father, all small, all vulnerable, all treasured.
Each tiny figure is just an inch long, lacking arms and legs because my skill with clay is elementary. The lack of limbs makes the tiny persons look more like embryos than adults, and God reminds me that we’re all as helpless as embryos when it comes to making anything significant happen in or around us. Oh, we can wiggle and squirm and move a lot, but the actual growth? Everything that really matters? It’s His work. All we can – and need – to do is to stay connected to that Other who nourishes and cleanses and gives life.
Christina lives this. Part of the beauty of Christ in Christina is her willingness to share not only the victories but the struggles, the deep, intimate places where Christ meets her. The resurrection life of Jesus has been just as present, just as visible, in those moments of fear and insecurity when she chose to let him into the struggle as in these more recent moments when His life has flooded in with a settled joy and a peace beyond understanding. And these later moments could not have happened without the earlier moments of struggle which made space to learn to trust.
That's the point of resurrection life. It's new-creation life. And that means (at least) three things.
1) The way for new-creation life is always paved by some kind of death. Someday it will be that death when we leave behind these crumpled caterpillar bodies. Until then, it's each little death, each moment of facing into the fear of our vulnerability and opening hands clenched around control. We enter life only by embracing Christ in death.
2) We can't make life happen. All we can do is open to it, receive it by receiving the One who lives it in and with us.
3) This new-creation life is being slowly, perfectly formed in each of us who are hidden in Him. We live now in a thirty or seventy or one hundred year gestation, cushioned in the love which protects us in this vulnerable time of formation until we are born into face-to-face living, seeing the One who has borne us. Then, for the first time, looking into His face, we will truly see. Him. And ourselves.
“Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” (1 John 3:2)
Christina – Thank you for living so open to Jesus. Thank you for letting us see His beauty in the hard places of life. When you see Jesus, give Him a hug from me and tell Him I’m so looking forward to being born into His face-to-face presence too. And in the meantime, we’ll keep hugging your family to Jesus. Love you!