December 27, 2016
“Nothing can kill my faith.”
She said it softly, fiercely, as her eyes searched mine in the middle of the hospital cafeteria. We were sitting in a building filled with doctors who specialize in cancer treatment, hands wrapped tight around coffee and soup, clinging to what we had in that moment – but she just smiled and reminded me that she was getting baptized that weekend.
She was diagnosed not even a year ago and she’s already in Stage 4.
This year has been one of doctors appointments and wigs and exhaustion. It’s been a year we didn’t expect and we still don’t understand. But it’s also been a year of family and grace and restoration beyond belief – because where Jesus is, there is always redemption.
And we learned this year that Jesus always shows up.
It’s been a year of waiting, hoping, praying, for the breaking through of life.
Now, it’s the middle of Advent, and it’s all about the breaking through of Life into our lives by way of extreme brokenness. And, on the day before churches everywhere began lighting the candle of Hope, she found hers.
She took her last breath of dying-life, of the life that had an expiration date stamped on it, and sank into the holy water that brings about everlasting life. For a split second, she was gone, released from this world, fully submerged in Grace, and then she rose up again – breaking through the surface of the water into Life Eternal.
It’s all about the breaking through of Life, and what better way for Jesus to break through into our world than to come through the breaking of an earthly body in preparation for her breaking through into Heaven?
Because, when the Word became flesh, when the Creator of the Universe decided to pull on skin and come into the world through the holiness of a woman, He came to make us whole. Jesus brought grace and truth into the world – not for the righteous, but the sinners; not for the healthy, but the sick.
Sometimes we need to be reminded that Jesus is always for the broken and on the side of the brokenhearted. He lowered Himself to live with us and walked this earth, dirt caking His heels, hunger pangs through his core, oppression bringing tears to His eyes, and all the while, He continually chose to love us more.
He sank into the dirt to spend time with the marginalized, the outcasts, to prove to us again that He loves us all – to remind us that we are worthy, not because of who we are, but because of who He is.
He called out a mob of angry men who wanted to kill a woman and trap Jesus so that we would understand that He believes in second chances – Grace always reigns, and we should pick it up like a holy shield against the poisonous swords of Shame and Hate.
He healed a blind man to remind us that we are broken – so that God’s glory may be displayed through our lives.
He lived among us, loving the least of these, dying the most painful death He did not deserve, to rise again, on the third day, to show us His most magnificent love and grace.
He showed Himself to the women and then to The Twelve, probably laughing at Peter jumping into the water, swimming the rest of the way to shore – and then He stopped to reinstate Peter so that we would know that we are worthy, even when we’re sopping wet, exhausted, sitting at His feet, smiling up at Him stupidly because we know that we love Him but we accidentally took the long way there again.
She was baptized on a warm December afternoon, in the middle of Advent and the mountains of Appalachia – and we felt the breaking through of Jesus. There’s a reason John Denver sang about almost Heaven, West Virginia. It’s a state of rocky mountains and wild undergrowth and trees that seem to reach straight into the clouds.
On that day, I watched her die and come back to life through the holy water and the grace of God – and Heaven fell upon us.