The sunshine streamed over the mountains bathing the beach front hotels in the warmth of its light. Soon the poolside attendants would be organizing the lounge chairs around the pool in preparation for all the sun worshippers that would soon be competing for the best spots to soak up the Mexican sun. “What a difference 12 months can make?” Alice thought to herself as she watched the sunrise from the balcony of her hotel room with a fresh brewed cup of coffee in her hands. Almost exactly one year ago, it was a cold, dreary day as she and about 50 other people stood around the final resting place of her husband, Bob. Their three daughters and their families were all there: Meagan, the oldest, her husband Rick, and their 2 boys, Mason and Jack; Julia, her middle daughter, and her 3 daughters, Emma, Kristen and Rose; and the youngest, Roberta, and her boyfriend, Colin. The urn with Bob’s ashes stood on the ground at their feet beside the hole in which it would soon be placed. The pastor’s words, “…ashes to ashes, dust to dust,..” rang in her ears as Alice looked into the tear-filled eyes of her daughters. There was so much more living that she and Bob wanted to do with their daughters and their families. But all those hopes and dreams for the future were cut short when Bob was diagnosed with liver cancer. Within three months he was gone.
The past year had been hard. The grief came in unexpected waves that washed over Alice. But as time passed, she started to feel her feet underneath herself again. She began to feel a strength she did not know she had before and an awareness began to grow inside of her that she was going to be able to carry on without Bob, even though she still missed him terribly. Because of who Jesus is and what he has done for the whole world—namely, live a perfect human life, die a sinner’s death on the cross and rise again from the dead—Alice knew that Bob was alive, safe and with Jesus. But she was concerned about where her daughters were at spiritually—that was the living that she and Bob had intended to do with them. So Alice invited her 3 adult daughters to leave the dreariness of winter in the Lower Mainland for 10 days of sunshine in Mazatlan. She didn’t have to ask twice.
Alice’s goals for this holiday with her daughters were simple: she wanted spend some time with them and support and encourage them as they grieved for their dad. But she also wanted to have a spiritual conversation with each of them. And she prayed that God would use her to encourage her daughters to have faith in Jesus or to grow in the faith that they already had. All the years that they raised their daughters, Bob and Alice taught them, through words and by their example, that being actively involved in a vibrant, mission-minded community of faith was an important part of life with Jesus. But as they left home, each of the girls drifted away from the church. Only recently, Meaghan had started attending a community church in her neighbourhood. And Roberta would attend church at Christmas and Easter when she was home to her mom. But Alice was most concerned about her middle daughter, Julia, because it seemed like she had not only drifted away from church. She may have abandoned her faith altogether. Alice had made it clear to each of her daughters when she had invited them that she wanted to have a good heart-to-heart talk with each one of them. They understood that that was part of the deal. After an hour of prayer in the Mazatlan morning sunshine, Alice decided that she might as well start with the hardest nut to crack. She would begin with Julia.
Julia was only 32, but she had already suffered more hardships than most women twice her age. Five year old Rose was diagnosed as having Down’s Syndrome shortly after birth. Her husband Chad was crushed by the news. An avid athlete and sports fan, he had been hoping for a healthy little boy that he could teach how to throw a baseball and that he could coach in hockey. The disability of his youngest daughter seemed to be too much for him to bear. Within a year, Chad left Julia for one of his co-workers and Julia became a single parent to three young girls, one with a disability. Alice understood why Julia might be angry with God. But she also knew that God had not given up on Julia, and she wasn’t going to either.
At breakfast that morning, Alice asked her daughters if it would be okay if she took turns spending the morning with each one of them. All agreed and Alice invited Julia to go for a walk along the beach. Seagulls swooped and soared on the ocean breeze as crashing waves submerged and then rinsed their feet. They walked in silence for several minutes. Alice knew that Bob and Julia had been very close. Bob loved all of his daughters equally, but the burdens that weighed down upon Julia moved Bob to do what he could to carry some of the load. “How are you doing?” Alice asked casually.
“I’m doing okay,” Julia replied. “It’s hard without Dad.”
“Yes, I know,” Alice answered.
“You know that better than anybody,” Julia agreed.
“We were married thirty-two years.”
“I only made it to six.”
“I’m so sorry that things have turned out for you the way that they have. Your dad and I had such high hopes for you and Chad.
“Me, too, mom, me too.”
Julia picked up a piece of driftwood and flung it into the ocean. Alice was reminded of how athletic Julia was when she was younger. A fierce competitor, Julia would not give up in the face of challenge. Alice admired her tenacity. “If you were to use a quality or characteristic to describe your dad, what would you say?”
Julia paused and squinted at the closest of the three islands off the coast of Mazatlan. “I think that Dad was always trying to bless people. He was a great Dad to me growing up. He really helped me out when I was going through that tough time with Chad. He always shovelled out Mrs. Kim’s driveway when it snowed.”
They came to a rock on the beach that was big enough for both of them to sit on, so they stopped and rested for a bit.
“Would you like to have that characteristic too, Julia? Would you like to be someone who blesses others?
“Yes, I would,” she replied.
“Julia,” whenever her mother used that tone of voice Julia knew that something serious was coming, “you cannot really be a blessing to others without having the proper posture towards God.”
“I was wondering when the God talk was going to come. I don’t really believe in all that stuff anymore, Mom. No one can really know if there is a God and if there was, why should I believe in him with all the bad things that have happened to me?”
“I know that you have suffered a lot. And I am sorry about that.”
“Thank you.” If there was one thing that Julia could count on it was that her parents loved and supported her.
Alice put her arm around her daughter and enjoyed the warmth of the sunshine. “Do you remember when you were little and Dad and I took all of you girls to see the Lion King?”
“I sure do.”
“Do remember how sad and scared you were when Mufasa died?”
Julia laughed. “Yes, I wanted to leave the theatre right then and there. But Dad picked me up and held me on his lap for the rest of the movie.”
“What would have happened if you had left the movie when you wanted to?”
Julia smiled. “Well, I wouldn’t have found out how things all worked out in the end. I wouldn’t have known that Simba defeats Scar, becomes king and life in the Pride Lands is restored.” Julia and her sisters must have watched that movie dozens of times on the family’s VCR.
Alice prayed that the Holy Spirit would give her the right words to say what she wanted to say next. She spoke tenderly to her daughter, “Julia, in a way, your life is like that movie. And right now, you are living in the part of your movie where Mufasa has died, Scar is ruling over the Pride Lands, you are in exile and there is drought and suffering in the land. But if you judge your life and God by what you are experiencing now, you will miss the best part that is yet to come.” A few moments of silence passed between the two of them.
“Well, I have certainly lost my Mufasa and it seems like Scar is has turned my life completely upside down.”
“Is it okay if I read some Scripture to you?” Alice asked. Julia nodded her head. When Julia was a little girl, Alice used to read a picture Bible to her at bedtime.
Alice pulled a Bible out of her beach bag and turned to Revelation, chapter 21.
Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
5 He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
“One day Jesus is going to come back and make all things right, Julia. One day Rose is going to be completely healthy and whole. One day, your Dad is going to have a resurrected body that will never grow old, never get sick and never die. One day, Jesus is going to heal your broken heart completely and you will find in him the unconditional love you have always been seeking.”
“It sounds like a good story Mom, but how do you know that it is true?”
“It all hinges on the resurrection of Jesus.”
“And how do you know that the resurrection of Jesus is true?”
“You just apply the same methods that historians use to determine whether other events in history are true. If the results indicate that the resurrection happened, then believe it. If not, then don’t. For me, there is no other explanation for the dramatic change in the lives of Jesus’ followers. They must have had an encounter with the resurrected Jesus. There is no other reason why they were willing to face all kinds of things, even suffering and death, as they shared the Good News of Jesus’ resurrection with others.”
“The rest of the story is the reason that your Dad and I believe that God is both good and great. And it was because your Dad believed that God is both good and great that he was able to be such a great blessing to others. If you don’t believe that God is good, you won’t trust him at all. So you will hang on to every good thing in your life for yourself, because you will believe that you need to provide for yourself. And if you don’t believe that God is great, you will never be generous, because you won’t really believe that he is able to provide for your in all aspects of life.”
“Is it okay if I read something else from the Bible to you?” Alice asked. Julia nodded her head. Alice turned to Genesis, chapter 12 and she began to read,
The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.
2 “I will make you into a great nation,
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
3 I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.
“You see, Julia, you are part of a long line of people that are blessed by God to be a blessing to others. You can opt out of that line if you want, but then you are going to miss seeing how the movie ends.”
Alice and Julia began walking back to the hotel for lunch. There were other walks on other mornings with Meaghan and Roberta. They both believed that God was good, but they didn’t really see him as great. Alice was very grateful for the opportunity she had to spend time with her daughters and talk with them about the important things in life.
Several months later, Alice sat in her living room having coffee with her pastor. “How are your daughters doing?” he asked.
“Well,” Alice replied, “I would like to tell you that my daughters are fully following Jesus in every aspect of their lives, but that isn’t the case. But I am starting to see some positive changes in their lives. Meaghan’s oldest, Mason, went to a youth conference this summer with some other kids from his church and Meaghan and Rick supported him so he could go. Roberta and Colin sometimes go to an Anglican church in their neighbourhood. And Julia lets me pick up the kids and take them to Sunday School and most of the time she also comes with me to church. And I still have a good relationship with my daughters and they still let me ask them questions. God is at work.”
When the visit came to an end, Alice’s pastor prayed for God’s comfort and strength for Alice. But he also prayed a prayer of thanksgiving. He thanked God for Bob and the great blessing that he was to Alice, Meaghan, Julia and Roberta. He thanked God for what he was doing right now in the lives of Alice’s daughters. He thanked God for being so good and so great that we were free to love and bless others. And he thanked God that the best is yet to come. At the end of the prayer time, there were tears in Alice’s eyes, but they were tears of thankfulness and joy. Amen.
(This message was shared at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church, Langley BC on January 20, 2013.)