You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. James 4:14
I don’t often send cards. I prefer to write an email or phone, because I rarely find a card to suit both the message and the recipient. But last night I had to write two cards as it’s the only way I can contact these friends, two cards with very different illustrations and completely different messages, to be sent into two very different worlds. One of them went to a busy, successful, loveable and funny friend who’s moving house after a year of living in a temporary home. That one was full of fun and my own childish rhyme, the front a delightful cartoonish painting of dogs gambolling by the sea (the recipient is moving to the seaside). The second card is going to a friend who has just received the diagnosis of early stage Alzheimer’s. That one took some thinking, and praying and choosing and writing, and discarding and starting again… finally, the front showed a trio of puffins, their beaks full of tiny fish. We live in West Wales, where we do have puffins, and they’re one of those animals that make us smile, with their dinner jacket plumage, sturdy puffed out chests and wide-awake eyes, and I wanted her to smile when she saw it. I hope she did.
Writing that second card made me think a great deal about our understanding of our place in history, our life in God’s Kingdom, and that strange paradox, that we are hugely important to God, and yet, as James says, we’re a mist that soon vanishes. Lost in history. Some names linger for a bit, a couple of generations, but most of us slip away into the past, unnoticed. I think that’s wonderful. Do you? Or do you think I’m barmy?
I know that this could seem to some as down and plain depressing but it’s not! It really isn’t. It means that whatever we are going through in this world, there is going to be an end to it. My favourite children’s book, one that I give to many a new parent, is ‘We’re Going on a Bear Hunt’ by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury. A dad and his children caper through a meadow, a forest, a river, a snowstorm… and every time the refrain is ‘We can’t go over it! We can’t go under it! Oh no! We’ve got to go through it!’
And you know what? They do get through all those obstacles, and they even find the bear and what do they do then? They turn tail and run, all the way back to the warmth and safety of their lovely cosy bed. The anticipation of the story, the gradual build-up to the climax, the scary lovely eye-popping shock of the bear, and the excited flurry of fleeing back to safety – what a great story! I love it.
Why was I telling you that? Oh, yes…. Life is full of obstacles, things we can’t skirt around and avoid, but just have to go through, some are small and pernickety and annoying and all about selfishness, but some are huge and terrifying, and that’s the adventure. That’s the richness of living. That’s the challenge and sometimes the sadness and sometimes, too, the tragedy. There’s no denying the sadness of dementia, the cruelty of cancer and disease, the gradual progression of all life, from birth to inevitable death, so I try not to offer platitudes and ‘answers’ to people who are facing life’s hardest battles. There are no answers in this world. I didn’t offer any in my puffin card.
But through it we will go. And we will come out at the other side. Nothing lasts for ever, except ‘for ever’. Eternity. Ultimately (how strange our language is, when eternity denies the ultimate) all that matters is eternity. And eternity is all.
We have the greatest gift, not pie-in-sky-by-and-by, but eternity now. God now. Everything else will pass, but our relationship in God, with God, is here for ever. To mangle the bear hunt story – we can’t go under it, we can’t go over it, we’re going to live right where we are right now, in the centre of God’s love for ever. Immoveable.
My friend with the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s will be loved by her husband and her friends, held up in prayer, cared for and part of her church family until the end of the Alzheimer’s and the next stage of her eternal life. Her husband and friends will support each other. And all the time, whatever this earthly life brings, they will rest on the words of the Bible
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Why is her lot to be Alzheimers? Beats me. Why do some people sail through life and live to a ripe old age with no hurdles on the way, to die peacefully in their own bed, while others ricochet through life, from one tragedy to the next and are robbed even of their old age? Beats me. I dunno. But I do know that God holds creation in his grasp, that God is good, that his love is perfect and unchanging, and that he loves and cares for us all. And that he holds all things together.
Easy for me to say, eh? Is my friend afraid? Of course she is, and her husband too, facing this next phase in their lives. A terrible diagnosis. But they know that God is good, they know that he is love,
He will feed his flock like a shepherd. He will carry the lambs in his arms, holding them close to his heart. Isaiah 40:11
Nothing in this world lasts for ever
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
That’s the same passage I quoted in my last blog, from 2 Corinthians 4:16-18, but in the NIV translation.
I’m so glad I read that book last week. It’s been a great wake-up call to the importance of eternal life right here and now. ‘Kingdom life’ a friend of mine would say. I’m trying to get my head around the concept and meaning of Kingdom life, what it means to us right now, what Jesus wanted us to understand, the mustard seed, the treasure hidden in a field, a dragnet cast into the sea….
Kingdom life. I know many of the things that it isn’t, if only I could put my finger on exactly what it is…. I wonder if I’ll live long enough to find out? Or will the penny drop only when I step across the threshold into glory?
All life is like the grass.
All of its grace and beauty fades like the wild flowers in a field.
The grass withers, the flower fades
as the breath of the Eternal One blows away.
People are no different from grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades;
nothing lasts except the word of our God.
It will stand forever.
Isaiah 40:6-8 (the Voice version)