The part of the newspaper I most look forward to reading is the obituaries. I love obituaries. As in, sometimes I save them for last like dessert.
There is something profound about the entirety of a person's life reduced to a short column. I'm fascinated by what the family or designated writer chooses to include in the brief summary of their loved one's life. Do they focus on achievements? The facts? Do they give a rundown of various places lived and survivors? Do they capture characteristics of the person? Their passions or their faith? I feel the sorrows listed- they fought in war, they lost a child, they lived with debilitating illness. I study the small black and white picture, imagining reasons said and unsaid for every wrinkle. Can I read between the lines at what their purpose was? What drove them?
It's the impossibility of it all- attempting to sum up a person's life in a blurb for the public to peer at; the complexities, the strengths and weaknesses, the elation of their highs, the desperation of their lows, the grief that will never subside for those left behind.
What would be included about my life? "She liked to read obituaries"? "She was nice"? (Please, oh please say what you will about me but don't reduce it to "nice".)
I know I'll be gone and I don't get a say in the wording of my obituary but I must insist on one more thing. Please, oh please don't say, "She died too early" or "she still had so much more life to live". I believe God in His sovereignty knows exactly how many days I have. That's as many days as I've ever had, regardless of my own idea of what a "full life" should entail.
"Lord, make me to know my end, and what is the measure of my days, that I may know how frail I am. Indeed, You have made my days as handbreadths, and my age is as nothing before You; certainly every man at his best state is but vapor. Surely every man walks about like a shadow; surely they busy themselves in vain; he heaps up riches, and does not know who will gather them. And now, Lord, what do I wait for? My hope is in You." Psalm 39:4-7
God designed us for eternity. Sin entered the world and brought death, which is unnatural to our initial design. Death is caused by sin in the world, whether indirectly like dying of cancer or heart failure, or directly like murder or disobeying the law and driving drunk. Death is always sure yet we're always surprised. We live with it imminent yet largely ignored.
The problem isn't that death comes too soon, it's that it comes at all.
This week, reading the obituaries in our small town paper was painful as I knew three of the deceased. One was the mother of a friend. She battled cancer for over a decade and leaves behind children and grandchildren aching in her absence. One was a young woman who was a student in our ministry when she was in middle school and her death is being investigated as a homicide. One was a young man who spent years in our ministry. He was a kindred spirit to my husband as both had lost parents in their teen years. Both were outgoing, well-liked, creative types who make people wonder, "where will he end up and who will he end up impacting?" It was a difficult, emotional week for us personally and in our town. Staring at the obituary page brought the reality and enormity to it.
I was about to respond with the rest of the community in saying, "too young! Too heartbreaking! Too unfair!" But then... it always is.
If my grandma died I would say the same thing. She's a newlywed. She's traveling, investing in her great-grandchildren, and what would we ever do without her?! Never mind that she's in her 80s. It will always be too soon.
It was too soon with Miles. My cousin's son lived less than a day and we cried, "too young! Too heartbreaking! Too unfair!"
But I've witnessed something in the almost eight years since Miles moved to heaven. First, Miles moving to heaven doesn't mean it's over for him. God will use his personality, his gifts, his story, unhindered in heaven. He gets to live out his purpose in eternity and although that came too soon for our grieving hearts, who am I to say?
When God was crafting Miles' long fingers, He knew it would be a short day. When He was sculpting his head and each hair on his head, He knew the very few hours his parents would have to kiss and rub it. When God was softly forming little lips, He knew they would never speak on earth. God in His majesty still created a dimensional, handsomely formed, prayed over, carefully grown little boy for His glory. His glory is not robbed nor His sovereignty less because the number of days (or day) given to one of His own.
Second, God is still using Miles on earth, even in his absence. Miles impacted the way my cousins parent and the younger siblings he never met. He impacted my parenting, my view on life, my intimacy with Christ, the way I see redemption in the deepest aches. Obviously his life is helping me process and pray through the deaths this past week.
God doesn't waste. We do a bang up job wasting our own lives, but He does not. In fact, He's the Master at transforming our waste into what still reflects Him. He uses every day He gives.
My mom drove me to surgery for a wisdom tooth last week and I instructed her that if I never make it out of surgery (maybe that was a severe statement but hey- it was my first surgery.) to never say about my life that it was too soon or too unfair. Go ahead and cry about anything I wasted. Go ahead and cry because you miss me (I am super fun). But know God is going to give me the exact right amount of days for what He has intended. Know He can redeem my waste. Know He isn't done.
I still cry. Death is still horrible. No matter how we try to prepare to lose someone, we never quite are prepared. But I've changed my own cry. Instead of, "too young! Too soon! Too unfair!" I cry, "God- You knew. Wow, it was sooner than I expected. But You always knew. And now, Lord, what do I wait for? My hope is in You."
Just throwing myself out there a bit...