My tomb

I know what it’s like to live a privileged life. Sure, I was born with certain advantages but I have also put a lot of effort into my success.

I’ve dedicated myself to working hard and living a moral life. In return, I’ve been blessed with resources and respect.

There is only one problem. All that striving and all those possessions don’t bring me joy. There is an ever-present ache inside my soul that won’t go away. Like a cancer that spreads silently underneath the surface of my skin, this gnawing pain is always with me.

In desperation, I turned to a man who seemed to have a peace that evaded me. His life was not dominated by the pursuit of wealth or status. He was clearly not anxious or driven by the opinions of people.

It took courage to ask him a question. My tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth but I managed to blurt out, “What do I have to do to have a life of true meaning?”  Underneath the question was a longing to make the aching pain stop NOW. 

His response was nonchalant. I’m used to people paying me more respect. He simply listed off commandments that I needed to follow.

Frustrated, I replied, “I’ve done all that since I was a kid!”

I think he heard the desperation in my voice. He turned and looked me directly in the eyes. It was only a few seconds but it felt like hours. An expression, I can only describe as “love” radiated from his face. Somehow I knew he truly cared for me.

Like a good doctor, he saw the disease that was destroying me. “Go, sell everything you have and give it to the poor. Then you will have the life you are seeking.”

Tears filled my eyes. He knew the one thing that was in control of my life. How could I give up the comfort and safety I had worked my whole life to attain? He could have told me to fly to the moon and it would have been easier.

I couldn’t look at his face anymore. I was seen for who I truly was. I bowed my head and walked away weeping.

My story could have stopped there…but it didn’t.

That look of compassion continued to haunt me. I secretly began to follow him. I watched as he cured the ill and cared for people that no one else thought worthy of respect. THIS was the life I desperately craved!

Just as I was about to leave my successful life behind, I was shaken again. He was sentenced to the brutal death of crucifixion. The hands that healed the sick were nailed to a piece of wood. The body that embraced outcasts was beaten so badly that you couldn’t even tell he was human.

Yet, as I stood at a distance, I saw him look at his tormentors with the same love that he showed me. He never cursed them or demanded justice. He forgave them.

He willingly gave EVERYTHING he had.  In his death, he showed me how to live.

I watched in stunned silence as he gasped his last breath. Once again I wept the bitter tears of regret as I thought about “What could have been”.

Suddenly a feeling of resolve came over me. Today is the day it all changes! No more being dominated by the expectations of others or pursuit of wealth.

Even if the entire world is ashamed of him, I won’t be. I boldly went before the governor and asked for Jesus’ body so that I could bury it. Yes, associating myself with a convict could have cost me my life too, but I didn’t care anymore.

My relationship with my possessions began to change as well. One of the first things I did was buy as many burial spices as I could. I spared no expense. It was a small way for me to symbolize that money was no longer my priority.

Finally, I put him in MY tomb. I thought I would be the one laying here one day. It was a way for me to represent the truth that a part of me really did die. It may sound odd, but in dying, I found that I could truly live.

There is someone laying in my tomb yet somehow I’m more alive than I’ve ever been.

For Finn

Three year-old boys aren’t supposed to die of cancer…but in this broken world sometimes they do.

Recently, our family attended a memorial service for a super hero named Finn. Finn’s parents (Dan and Brandi Lee) are very special to my wife and me. We had the opportunity to mentor them during their time in college at Syracuse University. We even had the amazing honor of being in their wedding.

Now we were in a crowded church for a different type of service. As I sat in silence, a question came into my mind, “What if Dan and Brandi Lee came up to me right now and said, ‘John we need you to say a few words’?” What in the world would I say? How could I possibly convey anything that would be worthwhile? What follows was the first thing that came to my mind. My words truly don’t do justice to their love, their faith or the struggle of their courageous boy but it is the best attempt I have at speaking from the heart…

“Jesus wept”.

Those two words are more than just the shortest verse in the Bible. They give us a picture into the heart of God. Jesus didn’t need to cry. He knew he was about ready to raise his friend from the dead. Yet, he looked at all the people in pain around him and experienced the grief of losing someone so close to him and he cried…not just a tear running down his cheek. He bawled his eyes out! 

For those of us here who are following Jesus, it’s not just OK if we weep today. It is a sign that we truly have the heart of the person we claim as our King.

So today we choose to weep.

We weep for Finn. No three year-old child should experience the ravages of cancer. We were not intended to have our childhood ripped away by a devastating disease. Three year olds should be playing with cars, not worrying about colostomy bags. They should be outside soaking in the rays of the sun, not going through rounds of radiation. They should be hopping around their house, not shuffling through a hospital. Young lives were not designed to be shattered like this. I believe Jesus isn’t apathetic toward Finn’s pain. Something tells me that as Finn suffered, Jesus wept. As we think about Finn’s strength in the midst of this horrific battle, we weep too.

We weep for Dan and Brandi Lee. How many of us would have the courage and grace to endure what they have gone through as parents? Place yourself in their shoes for a moment. They were already under the intense pressure of raising three boys, one of whom has special needs. Add on top of that, a cancer diagnosis for their youngest. They gave everything they could over the last couple of years emotionally, physically, financially and spiritually. They emptied themselves in order to find healing for their child. In the end, their child was still taken away. How many of us here could still muster the faith to sing, “It is well with my soul”? Dan and Brandi Lee, the level of sorrow you are experiencing is like walking through hell. Jesus knows. I believe he weeps with you. We weep with you too.

We weep for ourselves. Finn was courageous, independent, optimistic, wise and loving. Boys with those qualities grow up to be men with those attributes. As we look around at our world today, who wouldn’t want more men with that type of character? When we lost Finn, we lost someone extremely precious. We didn’t simply lose a boy. We lost a future leader and inspiration. Jesus weeps with us in the middle of our grief too.

The Bible tells us that because of Jesus we don’t have to mourn like people without hope. We cling to the hope that Jesus brings today. For that very reason, we are able to enter into our grief without fear. We serve a king who cried and today we cry too.

*FYI, If you don’t know Dan and Brandi Lee personally, I’d highly suggest visiting their blog. This will give you a firsthand look at their journey. You’ll also get the opportunity to meet the avocado-loving super hero that inspired this post.