Tuesday, March 09, 2010

It's all temporary

It was with great sadness that I saw that Michael Spencer, AKA The Internet Monk (one of my all-time favorite bloggers) has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Barring a miracle, he is expected to live for only 6 months to a year longer.

That, along with my own father-in-law's brain tumor, has made me focus once again on the brevity of life, and how quickly everything passes.

Don't worry... this won't be a morbid post!

I found myself thinking back to my horrid 6-month long panic attack of last year. As horrible and hellish as it was, I came away with something good (even though at the time I saw it as anything but) -- that is, the awareness of how nothing here is eternal. All the things that I took for granted as "normal" would one day pass away... goofy things like TV shows, or trips to the coffee shop, or sitting in the library. I realized that I was truly CLINGING to those things that I considered to be normal, as if they would somehow remain and would hold all the evil at bay. Of course, if you had asked me I would have denied it, but going through that 6 months when I had to envision the horror of everything I took to be normal, routine, and comfortable ripped away from me made me realize just what I was holding on to: nothing.

OK, so HOW is this not a morbid post? Bear with me.

It was during this time that I came across a book... I think the Internet Monk recommended it, actually... called SURPRISED BY HOPE: RETHINKING HEAVEN, THE RESURRECTION, AND THE MISSION OF THE CHURCH (whew! What a title!) Now, I have to start by saying I'm not exactly recommending this book. I thought he took a lot of cheap potshots at Catholicism, and there were some parts that I had great problems with.

So why am I even mentioning it?

Because before I read it -- if you had asked me about the afterlife -- I would have mentioned Heaven, of course, and some vague bit about the resurrection of our bodies, but that would be about it. In my mind, however, I still had visions of fluffy clouds, everything white and sunshiny bright, and... well... foreign. There was nothing in that picture that appealed to me, nothing that made me "long for home, " and nothing that brought joy to my heart. Sure, I would have told you that I would see God face to face, and it was supposed to be amazing, but my heart really wasn't in it. THIS place, THIS life, is home to me, and to pretend it wasn't was just a sham.

So last year was incredibly hard for me, because while I was dealing mentally with the end of everything I hold dear down here, I was faced with my only hope being a place that didn't really appeal to me. I felt lost, alone, and a total failure as a Christian on top of everything else.

After reading this book, however, I came away with a real glimmer of excitement. For some reason, the resurrection of the body, which I believed in wholeheartedly, never really sunk in before on an emotional level before then. Coupled with that was reading about the author's excitement about a new earth... something that we confess we believe in, but somehow I never thought about before. A new earth. Not some glowy, ethereal cloudlike existence, but the promise of a new earth. Once I let myself just meditate on that for a bit, I came to realize that all those things that CS Lewis mentions that bring us great joy... all those moments in our lives that speak to us of what our hearts are really searching for... will be there. I may be crazy, but a new earth to me speaks of seasons, of sunrises and sunsets that just take your breath away, of a cool autumn breeze blowing in your face as you bundle up in your favorite sweater and crunch leaves beneath your feet.

These are some of the joys that God has created, and the thought that I wouldn't have to say goodbye to these forever brought me a hope that I never had before. There is a joy in being human, and our bodies are incredibly important to God. Matter... matters. I don't have to envision some glowy, cloudlike, entirely spiritual existence (like I said, I didn't realize I had mentally painted that picture for myself, but over the years the bits and pieces of people's ideas, mixed with cheesy artistic renderings of the afterlife coupled with vague "beyond-and-back" stories had done quite a number on my vision of what is to come). We were made with bodies to run, to laugh, to hug, to create, to cook, etc. I am human, and always will be human -- not some vague spiritual blob.

I can get excited by the prospect of not only seeing the Lord face to face, but of spending eternity in a resurrected body with surroundings that don't look so foreign after all. What will it be like? I have no idea... but for the first time in my life, I do have hope, and that is worth the pain I had to go through last year.

So will I grieve for Michael Spencer and my father-in-law if the Lord chooses to take them soon? Of course I will. I'm in tears now just thinking of life without my father-in-law, and what a huge hole will be left behind if he goes. But I know that IT IS ONLY TEMPORARY. As hard as that is to see right now, all of this will one day be no more, and I will see all those that have gone already. And on that day, I won't have to worry about ever saying goodbye again. I won't have to worry about all this garbage that we are faced with on a daily basis. I won't have to worry about my children, or about all the evil in the world, or about everything disappearing one day. I will finally have that security and stability that I have always craved, and I won't have to fear it being taken away from me.


Rebekka said...

Such a lovely, hopeful post!

I have a special place in my heart for patients with brain cancer and their families as I've worked on a neurosurgical ward (and I loved it). It's a disease that has very special challenges for everyone involved. I will be praying for all of you!

Ouiz said...

Rebekka, what an amazing gift you must have, to work in such a (what I would consider to be) difficult place, and yet see the joy in it. You must have a very special charism!

Do you still work in a hospital?

My f-i-l's disease has been shocking and sobering, of course, but I have been amazed at my husband's reaction to it all. He is the one who has been able to look squarely at it without flinching, and yet boldly proclaim, "this isn't the end."

Yet another reason why I love him so much!

Rebekka said...

Yes, I still work at the same hospital, but now with patients who have lymphomas and multiple myeloma (hematology).

It sounds bizarre but I find working with cancer patients very life-affirming, although of course it can be sorrowful, too, and that's ok. Sorrow is part of our life here and now. Like your husband says, this isn't the end. :-)

Ouiz said...

Like I said, you must have an amazing charism to be able to minister to those who find themselves in that situation. It's a horrific time, and I think God puts just the right people in those hospitals to care for them.

You must be one of those amazing people!

I think charisms are just fascinating. Whenever we are cooperating with the Holy Spirit and using the gifts He has given us, we find it easy to do whatever the task is... even if it's something that others would find difficult to do.

Abigail said...

I lost my Father-in-law in September, less than 90 days after his first cancer diagnosis. It hurts. I miss him.

I've got to say that my FIL's funeral was one of the most beautiful moments in my marriage. I got so close to my husband during this joint loss. I've watched my husband's Catholic faith grow so much from the pain of losing his Dad and I've watched this only son really grow into a strong head of the family.

Pray hard, be extra kind to your husband and have lots of hope. Even if God does have a firm plan to call your FIL home soon, there will be more than enough grace to help everyone during the rough time ahead.

Ouiz said...

Abigail, I am so sorry for your loss!

I really appreciate what you said about God's grace being there, and about it bringing you and your husband together during that very difficult time. I know that God will bring us all through it, but still... well, this is a path that none of us wants to be on.

We keep praying, we continue to have hope, and we remember that this life isn't all there is.