I have been complicating pain more than unusual lately, perhaps more than I have ever contemplated this unavoidable aspect of life on planet earth. This is due to watching my father endure terminal cancer. To be fair, I readily admit that my father’s type of cancer, though terminal without divine intervention, is not particularly associated with pain, so I should be clear from the outset in stating that I am using pain in a broad sense (e.g., the pain of being robbed of any sense of independence, the pain of not being able to enjoy retirement, the pain of not being able to do any of those trips you had hoped to do, the pain of realizing you won’t be able to see your grandchildren grow up, the pain of realizing a good portion of your grandchildren won’t know you, the pain of watching your wife serve you with great difficulty though with a consistent positive spirit, the pain of not being able to care for your wife). Although pure physical pain has not been a prominent aspect of dad’s difficult journey, he recently fell face forward, which was I am sure quite painful, though he is not able to remember what happened nor has he communicated a great deal regarding the incident.
Of course some of my contemplations on pain extend to other family members, particularly my mother, and some are selfish. In fact the manner in which the whole journey affects me ranges from frustration to deep emotional pain. This past July 4th weekend, 2014, is more on the frustration side. A bit of context is required to fully communicate these melancholy reflections (keep reading–it gets indescribably more hopeful below). Over 30 years ago my father started a rich tradition that has been repeated each Christmas: the Woodward family shrimp boil, which always includes the Trolios (mom’s sister’s family.) Not knowing how much time we have left with Dad, we decided to do one more boil this past Friday. It was a last minute plan and woodward.nola was zipping up I-55 when we found out that Dad had fallen face first and was not responding verbally. He was rushed to the hospital where we met mom. And yes, it was very difficult to see this precious man with a huge protrusion emanating above his left eye. Mom decided that we should go forward with the shrimp boil while she sat at the hospital for most of the day Friday keeping watch over Dad, but needless to say this was not exactly the celebration we had in mind.
For those who have walked with someone they hold dear through the valley of the shadow of death, you understand there is a certain deep and heavy fog that you learn to breath when in the presence of the dear one who is decaying. To be honest, it feels like a suffocating reality, and I actually get breaks from the reality with two brothers who are faithfully seeking to provide assistance to mom; particularly the youngest but quickly aging Charlie is bearing a good bit of the responsibility of helping mom–Charlie lives just a few miles from Mom and Dad. Mom lives constantly in this reality.
I was beginning to emerge from this latest round of the fog of death this morning as I engaged in corporate worship. Then, at some point after the Supper as my wife Michelle was leading the congregation in “Worthy Is the Lamb” a chin raising idea emerged within my innermost being. Perhaps it had been read earlier in the service but the painfully descriptive phrase referring to the Suffering Servant was prominent in my mind: “He was bruised for our transgressions.” My thoughts were partially turned to Dad–for those who knew him (forgive me for referring to him in past tense as he is now a shell of the man we knew) the process feels so unjust–he was indeed so seemingly innocent. Of course, we know–those who know him best know that he is not actually innocent in a theological sense but he is a model of one who truly pursued holiness and selflessness, which go hand and hand.
I was reminded by the Great Teacher in that moment that my Lord Jesus was bruised and passionately as I would defend my father’s honor, I know that in reality the Messiah was infinitely innocent and was bruised in a magnitude of injustice that is incomprehensible. I am reticent to admit that seeing one who sought so earnestly to look like Jesus endure and endure and endure brings our Lord’s reality to more vivid color. I am reticent to admit this truism because the words should leap off the pages of the Word embraced in their fullness through faith, but perhaps there is a certain comprehending that comes only through living.
I also realized in this same moment the greater reality only Our Lord is capable of bringing to fruition: Only our Lord could rise above the injustice of death for the truly innocent, only our Lord could despise the inevitable decay of flesh, and only our Lord is capable of being Christus Victus, Christ the Victor over death.
There are many many things to live for as we see our father diminish: there is a rich family legacy, which Dad has exponentially increased through my rose colored glasses; there are the lives of these precious grandchildren to celebrate and press to excellence; there is the fruit of changed lives and the fruit of life changers. But what makes all of this possible and what gives these good things an enduring quality or at least the sparkle of the eternal . . . yes, you know the chorus: “He’s the Lily of the Valley, the bright and Morning Start, He’s the fairest of 10000 to my soul.”