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.

A note to the girl on campus, crying outside the gym

I saw you curled up in a corner outside the gym. It’s a spot where only someone desperate to escape the crowds would go. The window you were sitting next to is deceiving. You probably couldn’t see in, but I could see out. Don’t worry, I don’t think anyone else even noticed.

There was an undeniable look of pain on your face and tears were rolling down your cheeks. At first this startled me. I felt like I was peering into a very private moment.. Then, a sense of compassion hit me. I wanted to stop my workout to go outside and make sure you were OK. If it wasn’t for the fire alarm door standing in the way, I would have done it.

Then I began to think of what else I could do to help. Only one thing came to mind…pray. I don’t want to seem weird but it seemed like you could really use it. I also made up my mind that if you were still there in another minute or two, I would make my way out of the gym to where you were. It only took you about 30 more seconds for you to pick yourself up and move on. The gym is a complicated maze to escape. Even if I left when I first saw you, I probably wouldn’t have made it to you in time.

When you got up, many emotions filled me. I was sad to see you in pain. I was worried hoping that you would be all right. Interestingly enough, one my primary emotions was anger. I was angry at that door for separating us. There was someone in pain who I couldn’t reach because a barrier stood in the way.

I don’t assume you would want to talk with me even if I was able to make it past that door.   Still, it made me think of all the obstacles that stand in the way of me seeing and reaching out to people in need. Sometimes it’s self-centeredness. It is easy to look in the wall full of mirrors in the gym and stare impressed (or depressed) at what I see. Similarly, when my focus is on myself, I don’t consider what is happening in the world around me.

Other times, the fire exit doors are things like busyness or the next “important” thing on my calendar. I’m sure there are times when I miss people in pain because I’m too caught up in making it to the next meeting on time. It turns out, you taught me a very important lesson.

Most likely, you and I will never meet. I’ll probably never get to tell you this face to face but I want to let you know that at least for a brief moment in time, you had someone praying for you in your pain. Whether you realized it or not, you were not alone.

The same thing is true now. Even in the midst of your sorrow, you have someone who you can’t see who knows what you are going through. Unlike me, His love is unconditional and He can break through any door to meet you where you are. I pray that no matter what dark time you are walking through, you will experience the hope, joy and peace that only He can bring.