The other day when the sun was shining, Marnell suggested tennis, which just happens to be my favorite sport. We met with some friends on the courts beneath the hospital and above the St. Joseph’s River. As the river glistened white and the sea gulls circled overhead, we tried out our rackets, or, I should say, our muscles, clumsy with winter disuse.
I had made a point of asking Marnell if he played. Even in my most independent moments, I had always thought that if a person were dating or married (not to say that it was a good idea) the one perk would be playing tennis with that person, if that person a.) played tennis and b.) enjoyed playing tennis.
I was highly relieved, then, to find out that Marnell a.) had played numerous times in his life and b.) enjoyed playing.
Because we had an uneven number the other night, Marnell and I played against Justin. We were all rusty, and I apologized to Marnell when we lost, since I had neatly handed the last game to Justin by serving consistently into the net.
We landed in Justin and Laura’s back yard a bit later, where the fire was crackling as the darkness began to trade places with the sunlight. Somehow we got on the subject of teenagers.
“I’m pretty sure when we were teenagers we were more mature,” Justin said with a smile as he poked the fire.
“Well, you had some life experiences that may truly have made you grow up faster,” I said, remembering the accident.
This started us recalling the fatal crash, and the fact that Justin’s parents had thought he had perished as well. When they arrived at the hospital, they were told he was back in surgery.
“Oh, he’s alive!” they said.
The roller coaster continued. The doctor told them next that due to the swelling on his brain, Justin would probably be in a vegetative state if he survived.
“It’s just so sobering,” Justin said. “It makes me think about how much different some people have it. God has blessed me so much. I mean, He does that every day. But other people have such difficult situations.”
“You mean like other people who have had accidents?” I asked.
“Well, anything,” he said. “Life just isn’t fair. I’ve been blessed so much. I know God is just though. And I know that to whom much is given much is required.”
I looked at Marnell beside me, but other than agreeing, he said nothing.
However, I had heard almost those exact words from him one time when he was telling me about having bone cancer as an eight-year-old. After chemo and an-above-the-knee amputation, in the best possible measure to save his life, he went from winning foot races at school to learning to walk again. The 1980’s were an era when more people with this cancer died than survived. One of the casualties was the boy who was his roommate on the pediatric cancer floor at Mayo Clinic.
“When I look at some of the things that other people go through, I realize how blessed I am,” he had said to me.
As the fire crackled, I fell silent, thinking.
What a conundrum! Two of the people in my life who from my perspective experienced great suffering, had very similar things to say about it.
Why? Is it a coincidence that they both know the Man we commemorate this weekend? That they saw their own suffering in the light of gratitude?
I remember days at work, quoting Scripture to myself: “He was despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” Somehow, this Scripture was the only thing that ever helped me face some of the things I was going through.
Perhaps, this is the only way to truly embrace suffering well, to know the Man who chose it. To know the Man who went to Gethsemane, on purpose. To know the Man who walked toward Calvary, because that’s what He had decided to do in obedience to His Father. To know the Man who said, “No man takes my life. I give it up myself.” To know the Man who said, “Not my will, but yours be done.”
Above, Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives. Below, reading in the garden of Gethsemane. Both 2015.
Perhaps, in looking to Gethsemane, we find the only place of true relief, somehow. We find there the truth from Isaiah 63:9, “In all their suffering, He suffered.” We find there, not an explanation, or a list of reasons, but a Person. We find in the words, “Not my will, but yours be done,” a life goal.
I don’t know if that was the exact ticket for Justin, or for Marnell. The topic of conversation moved on, and I didn’t ask Marnell about it later.
But I feel that somehow, Gethsemane must be part of their secret. I think it is part of the secret for anyone who has suffered, and taken that suffering to Christ. And I don’t understand the mystery, but I know what happened after three days. I know the suffering didn’t last forever, that it was eclipsed–no, transformed!– by a blinding light of victory and glory.
We can’t fully imagine what Jesus went through, and we can’t fully imagine His glory. But I am beginning to wonder if people who know more about suffering, also know more about glory, just like Christ.
Sometimes, when I look at the river, white with light, or walk through the park when the sunlight is falling in long bars through the leaves of the trees, I think that, with a few more steps, I could wander out of the path of gravity, and on to celestial territory. Perhaps that’s what it will be like some day when we forever shed our griefs, our sufferings, our pain, because of Christ!
What a thing He has done for us! What a way to reach across the centuries to every bedside of pain or grief or rejection! What a triumph when the suffering turned to glory! What a blessing to sit around a campfire with people who know these truths and live them out in their own lives!
May your Easter be bright with sunlight!
Below, Laurel Street, Elkhart. Photo credit: Velinda Miller. 2017 🙂