I wanted to have some good words for us for 2016. I tried to think of some, wracked my writer brain for hours to find the best. But in the end, none would come.
And then, a few days ago, circumstances had me opening up I Want God, again, and reading. It had been months, maybe longer, since I read the words. (Writers don’t revisit our writing as often as you may think.)
When I did, that thing in my spirit clicked, and I knew no new words were needed but the ones written there.
It is my prayer they will also mean something to you, my friends, family and faithful readers.
For us all: may 2016 be the year we resolve to want God the most.
“If I could sit real close and hold your face in my hands I would whisper, Let’s do this thing together. Because we are traveling close, friends, closer than we think, and it has nothing to do with mere miles. It has to do with the road all of us are traveling down, if we are believers in Christ, that is bumpy and full of stupid potholes we didn’t see coming, and yes, twists and turns that sometimes have us throwing our heads back with laughter and other times have us clutching the door handles in fright. This is the truth. This is real life.
And what I can tell you for sure is that tomorrow, I will fail. And the day after that, I may gain some small victory. And the day after that, I may behave poorly or really well. And then I will lay my head down on the pillow and close my eyes until the next day I wake, facing new mercies with the sun or rain or whatever God sends. It is the journey. If only it were simple.
But though it is not simple, it is sure. We will be here until He’s ready for us to be gone. We will never have a perfect day, no, not one, even when the wind blows at a perfect speed and the air hangs at 68 degrees and we have tasted good food and laughed with loved ones and gone to bed feeling fully in love with it all. On this journey, we will have friends who leave us and ones we meet in our gray-haired years who we are surprised to have lived so long without. We will have moments that seem to last 89,000 hours and ones that go by in a millisecond that we wish to freeze and hold awhile longer. We will dream and some will be silly and some will come to pass. We will find hope in small things, like birds that sing on top of dumpsters and stories from children who grew up in darkness but rise to become lights of the world. We will grow and then, just when we think we are through growing, we will grow some more and it will feel harder. And we will watch ourselves, as through a window peeking in, do that one thing we never thought we could. And though it is much smaller we will feel, just for a moment, like an Olympian or mountain climber or runner who completes a marathon without two good legs because we, too, are overcomers. And then, just as surprising, a new possibility will creep in and we will count the gifts and find ourselves sinking into joy and smiling a little bigger.
And most of all, we will be with God. We will step heel-clacking paces behind a silent step up ahead. We will be cared for, like the Israelites who despite their long travels were reminded by God, “For forty years I led you through the wilderness, yet your clothes and sandals did not wear out” (Deuteronomy 29:5). We will sway to music He orchestrates and even when that music plays too fast or loud for our liking, we will keep swaying because it is innately born within. We will have tears fall that He wipes with fingers we can’t see and feel the gift of being cradled without physical hands holding us.
We will be with God. He will be with us.
And then, one day, it will be for real. And the glory of the One who is Everything will be fully in our sight. And all this other mess we have settled for will not be longed for, even if it was our favorite thing to do in the whole wide world, because it won’t be Him. And that is the moment we will no longer have to say, I want more.
I write these words just minutes before engaging in a mad rummage in my office filing cabinet for something I am trying to find. I am caught off guard when, in my search for something completely different, a card brushes my hand. I have tucked it away in a place I don’t often visit because the sight of it makes me cry. It is a card about my friend. Months ago, she died.
Her name was Jennifer, and even as I fight to type the word was I know in my head it is so. She made it to the age of 40, which makes me smile because somehow, even though that is painfully short, it feels like she got to be a grown-up. I loved her. I love her. I wish so much she weren’t gone.
About six months before she dies, Jenn asks me to do her eulogy. The question comes to me late into the night when she has insomnia, and night owl that I am, I am playing Words with Friends on my phone. Lisa? she types. I want to ask you something but then I never want to speak of it again, ok? As I read the words, a part of me knows where this is going, and I don’t like that sad place. But I feel duty. And I feel love. My fingers type ok before I give them permission. Jenn’s two and a half years into her battle with cancer, and she is far from giving up the fight, but she’s also wise enough to know to make hard plans.
I want you to speak at my funeral, ok? Don’t argue with me. Just please say yes. You are who I want to speak. I gulp hard as I read the words. It doesn’t take the tears long to fall, for they have for months been held back like racehorses behind a gate, wanting to run. I don’t want to hear this talk of funerals. I don’t want to think of my beautiful friend going away. I want us to keep texting late every night like we have for two and a half years—keep talking about yoga and the kale shake her husband just made her and how handsome our boys are and what kind of new skincare she’s trying out and how, when she gets better, we’re so gonna go somewhere tropical for a girls’ weekend and celebrate. I don’t want to hear the Beaches song playing and replaying in my head or picture myself all in black, standing at a church podium, trying to find words that are worthy of a life because God knows, there just aren’t any very good ones then. I want my friend to live. And I don’t want to say yes to anything but that.
And yet I know it is not my choice. I know it is in the hands of her Maker, who loves her far more than I. And so, through my fears and my tears, I let gratitude in. Gratitude for the honor of knowing her, for the God who knows best, for being asked to represent her in a moment I know, as a non-family member, I don’t deserve. Slowly, purposefully, I type the words I know she is waiting to see. Yes, I text simply. Yes, I will.
Some months later, after Christmas and the turn of the New Year, Jenn goes home to be with her Jesus. On a beautiful Saturday afternoon, the sun shining bright as if to say She’s all good now, I find myself standing at a church podium trying to find words worthy of Jenn’s vibrant life. So many things I want to say. So little time to say them.
Before I speak the personal words of my eulogy, I read a passage from my favorite book. They are words I have tucked away in my heart for just this moment.
O Lord, I live here as a fish in a vessel of water, Only enough to keep me alive, But in heaven I shall swim in the ocean.
Here I have a little air in me to keep me breathing, But there I shall have sweet and fresh gales;
Here I have a beam of sun to lighten my darkness, A warm ray to keep me from freezing;
Yonder I shall live in light and warmth for ever… Here I can have the world, There I shall have thee in Christ…
Here are gross comforts, more burden than benefit, There is joy without sorrow…Rest without weariness.
Give me to know that heaven is all love… Heaven is all peace…Heaven is all joy.
The end of believing, fasting, praying, mourning, humbling, watching, fearing, repining; And lead me to it soon.*
I speak the words, and the room is breathless with Jesus. I feel Him. We feel Him. He is very much there and speaking, calling us all to His side. We are swept away in the moment of life and death and purpose and passion and Why, God and Oh, God, help and Please, God, make my life matter. We are a collective heap of tears and mucus-filled noses.
And I know, in that moment, Jenn is smiling. Because she is in that place of wanting no more.
My friends, we are still here. We are still on the journey. We are still needy and grasping and desperate for more of God than we even know. We are still trudging through bad days and soaring through good ones.
We still have hope to be better than we were yesterday and the promise of grace if we are not. We still have the ability to influence. We still have the capacity to dream. We can still get this thing right, still say I’m sorry, still forgive, still pursue, still believe, still remember.
And until the day we go to swim in that big ocean, we can still love God more than we ever have and give Him more than we’ve ever given…and have the most amazing life of more than we’ve ever known.”
(Excerpted from I Want God, copyright 2014 by Lisa Whittle/Published by Harvest House Publishers)
* Arthur Bennett, ed., The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions (Carlisle,PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1975) 370-371.