Wednesday, November 21, 2007

lost and found

I went to my friend's wedding last weekend. We had lost touch for about 8 years, but in September I found him through Facebook and we started sending each other messages. Tim and I are actually second cousins (or whatever you call it when your grandparents are siblings) but in high school he was more like my big brother.

We met on the way to a Mennonite Brethren youth convention - Banff '89. He sat down with me and my friends in a food court in Saskatchewan. He had charisma. A month later we were on the same bus from MBCI to a youth conference in Winkler. (I took any opportunity to get out of Niverville!) When we said goodbye he asked for my number but I never expected to hear from him again.

He called me that afternoon. To say the words every girl dreams of hearing: 'My mom says we're related!' We laughed ourselves silly.

He called every week or two from then on (at 11:00 PM to my parents' chagrin). He listened to my sob stories. He offered to go after the boys who hurt me. And he always made me laugh. He called me Angel. I called him "my favorite coincidence." If you define coincidence as something only God could orchestrate.

The summer after my first year of College I moved into the city and got my first job pumping soft ice cream. (It smells better than gasoline.) Tim's house was within biking distance and (on the rare night he didn't have a date) he and I would lie on the basement floor listening to Nirvana or lie on the grassy hill of the Roblin overpass listening to traffic.

I felt weird going to the wedding. After all the church was full of people he'd gone to med school or church with over the past few years - people he saw every day. And there was the long lost "Angel" who had never even met his bride.

When I walked in he saw me across the room and came over, hugged me and said, "Welcome wedding. You look gorgeous!"

That night I woke up crying at 4 AM. Not just about losing touch with Tim for so many years but other friends I've lost. The friends who cared about me for no reason. Not because they had to work with me, not because I was in their Bible study, not because we were related. And definitely not because I had it all together.

Kindred spirits. Like Wanda. Wanda happened to give me a ride to another youth retreat (Man I miss those rock concert-slumber party-getaways) when I was 14. We happened (another "coincidence") to be placed in the same room for night. We both loved writing poetry, talking theology, and her brother. Even though we were 4 years apart we stuck together like glue for the rest of the school year, till she moved away.

Wanda really, really listened to me. She laughed at all my jokes even when I wasn't trying. Wanda doesn't do Facebook or email or letters. I haven't seen her since I went to Calgary 6 years ago and I don't even have her phone number. Now I'm crying again.

As I lay in bed crying after the wedding I savoured the memory of Tim's brotherly welcome - the way his eyes lit up when he saw me again for the first time. And I heard God whisper, "That's how I look at you...but not quite. Remember the way Tim looked at his new wife with tears in his eyes after they said, 'I do'?"

"Now you're closer. That's what you'll see in my eyes when we meet face to face."

Monday, November 05, 2007

How great our joy

I just submitted my column for Christian Week's Christmas issue. It's about dying.
It sounds crazy, not exactly a sleigh full of jolly "ho ho hos," but trust me - it fits.

I've never liked death. (I don't suppose I'm unique on that point.) The first person I lost was my grandpa who passed away ten years ago. Even though he called me "Angie" and always asked me how my flute lessons were going (I play clarinet), I felt an emotional attachment to him and didn't want to accept that he was gone.

A few months after his funeral I had a dream. In my dream Grandpa met me at a Burger King (actually he usually took me to Dairy Queen but who's picky in their sleep?). After we'd laughed and talked over our burgers he told me, "I have to go back to the grave now." It sounds bluntly morbid, but in my dream it finally felt alright. God was telling me it was okay to let him go. And in my sleep that night, I said goodbye.

But I still struggle with the concept of death. On one hand people talk about it as a part of life; on the other hand it's a destruction of one of God's precious creations. Yes, because Jesus came back to life, I can look forward to a new pain-free, grief-free (cellulite-free?) body after I die, but God put me on earth for a purpose and I don't want to go anywhere till I've fulfilled it! (I'm not sure I've even figured out what it is yet!)

This tension comes out especially when talking with my kids:
"Put your seatbelt back on. I don't want you flying out the window."
"But then I'd go to heaven."
"I don't want you to go to heaven yet!"

And then other times it goes the other way, when I have to convince them not to be so scared of death because heaven will be great. I'm confused. They're confused.

My column was inspired by two old friends I talked to recently. One is dying of ALS, the other lost her husband three years ago to a brain tumor. And you know what they talked about?


So I just had to dig deeper. How could people whose bodies or marriages were torn apart by a terminal illness be joyful?

You'll just have to pick up a copy of Christian Week Manitoba to find out!

But here's where the Christmas story fits in. Jesus was born to walk in our shoes, fall under our burdens, cry our tears, and die. No one else knows how we feel the way he does. He'll never abandon us, even in death. In fact, death just brings us closer to the Saviour we love. That's why my friend could talk about peace like a blanket wrapped around her in a hospital room. Or laughing as they planned their own funeral.

I'm not there yet. But the more I get to know Jesus (preparing to teach a course on the Book of Revelation helps), the less I'm afraid of leaving what I know behind.

To face what he knows already.