December 26, 4:20 am, Levi Ryser Spainhour was born. He was not breathing. He was rushed to the NIC-U scoring a 1 out of 10 on the APGAR newborn assessment scale. I stood and watched helplessly, constantly, desperately. With rubber tubes and wires laying their hands on him, I prayed. Now we would have to allow time–the greatest gift and the greatest terror of the human spirit–to move us into the unknown . I stood over him and began to really understand the great burden of life’s greatest gift. I began to understand that the unspeakable depth of love we are given for our children has a commensurate capacity for sorrow in the face of human mortality; that pain is the sharp edge of love.
Sunday night, January 19, Brevard, NC, after a sermon in which I talked about my dad catching me with a stolen Peppermint Patty but walked with me to the store to return it, to ask for forgiveness, and to take care of any punishment I might incur, Jake shared with Josh Hurst and a few of his life group members in tears that he was reminded how his father, Jeff, had been so generous and taken care of so much for him throughout his life. He shared that God had helped him see all his father had done in a new way, a way that pointed to the reality of how his Heavenly Father ultimately takes care of all our needs, even the need of salvation for our sins against him.
Early Tuesday morning, I read this from the Psalms:
“Do not remember against us our former iniquities; let your compassion come speedily to meet us, for we are brought very low. Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of your name; deliver us and forgive our sins for the sake of your name!” (Ps. 79:8-9).
Tuesday afternoon, January 21, after gravity had prevailed on my phone on Friday (i.e., I dropped it), and after Keldy finagled the Verizon guy (in the way only Keldy could) into dropping me off a new one–already activated–at my office just before leaving work at about 5:20, I got into my car, pulled out of parking lot, and at 5:26 reached down to answer the first call on my new phone. It was Pam Cunningham–I heard sirens.
Just before 6:00 pm, I arrive at UK Emergency. Under the weight of helpless uncertainty sat Pam, Jeff and his parents, Ella, Alex and Brett–with the hospital chaplain. As a man sent by God, there is no other person who can bring hope like the chaplain. As a man sent by the hospital, there is no other person who can bring despair like the chaplain. The situation was serious, the outcome uncertain. Modern technology and medical experts with all their sophistication had to recognize at this point that things were out of our control. Hospital chaplains are there because of the humble concession that ultimately things are out of our control.
But things are not out of control. So we prayed, acknowledging as we do every time that we pray that there is One who is in control, and that He works all things together for good. We prayed, hoping against hope that God is indeed here in our suffering, in a place that feels so opposite of God, but we know that if God is really here, then hope is really here. Jesus said, “with God all things are possible” (Mt. 19:26), and because of Jesus we are always “with God.” As a pastor, I know that is certain. But as a human, I also know that death is certain. As a pastor, I know that God heals today. But as a pastor and a human, I know that sometimes he does not; that while he is absolutely committed to the ultimate healing of his children, we have no guarantees this side of the resurrection. But he has told us, nevertheless, to “cast our worries upon him, because he cares for us” (1 Pet. 5:7), to “pray for each other that we might be healed” (Ja. 5:16), that “whoever would approach him must believe that he is and that he rewards those who seek him” (Heb. 11:6). So we banged on heaven’s door: “Heal him, Lord, for the glory of your name!”
10:00 pm Tuesday evening, I went back with Jeff to Jake’s room. As I stood over him across from Jeff, I looked down at Jake and saw Ryser. I looked ahead at Jeff and saw myself. I felt the terror of the moment but remembered the joy of seeing Ryser delivered from such a moment not even than a month ago, when I saw Ryser’s Heavenly Father care for him when I could not. I wanted to inspire confidence, but no words seemed appropriate–except for Jake’s words from Sunday night. And I couldn’t help but think in that moment that those words were as much for Jeff–for us all–as they had been for Jake. Jake knew that Jeff had loved him and taken care of him, that his dad was a good dad, and because of that he was able to see that God loved him and had taken care of him, that God too was good. I told Jeff that maybe God was trying to say something through Jake. Maybe he was telling Jeff that even though he couldn’t take care of Jake like he wanted to in that moment, he has a Father who could take care of him in that moment–and he would. Jake saw the love of his Father through Jeff on Sunday evening, and now we would see the love of our Father through Jeff’s son. It was just a matter of time.
2,000 years ago a man named Lazarus died. When his family wept, Jesus wept with them. And then he raised Lazarus from the dead. When his family rejoiced, Jesus rejoiced with them–Lazarus was going home. But Lazarus would die again, and when he died again, what would matter most was not that he had miraculously gone home many years before, but that because he had gone home many years before he could trust the promise that he would one day go Home again; that the One who had done it would do it again. Two days ago, it was uncertain whether or not Jake would live, and if he lived whether or not he would live a normal life, rather, an abundant life. When his family wept, the Suffering Christ no doubt wept with us. And then the Suffering-but-Risen Christ healed Jake. And now he is no doubt rejoicing with us, because today Jake is going home!
But Jake was always going home. And today’s miracle points to the certainty of just that, the greatest miracle of all–that we are all going home!–because the One with the power to raise us up from a hospital bed is the same Who has promised to raise us up from the dead. It is therefore fitting today to celebrate with great joy that Jake is going home to be with his family. But as we do, we should also celebrate with great confidence that a day is coming when we will all go home together to be with our family, indeed, a day when we all see the One who is called Father, who loves us with an unspeakable love, with a love that endured the sharp edge of a cross so that we could all come home together!
So let’s move into today’s celebration enjoining ourselves to the Psalmist’s declaration, when he predicted that “future generations will declare the deliverance of the Lord to a people yet unborn, saying that He has done it!” (Ps. 22:30). Amen!
He has done it! He has done it! For the glory of His name, He has done it!