“Are we done? Can we go now?”
They seemed such poignant words when I discovered that they were 10-year-old Anna’s last words to her family. She lapsed into unconsciousness soon after and was taken home to God. Anna had suffered an unexpected severe asthmatic attack while the whole family was serving out on the mission field.
My immediate conclusion was that she’d had enough of being in hospital and, in her semiconscious medicated stupor, was pining for the security of familiar surroundings. But Richard, her father, said that she was mature beyond her years and had stoically endured her hospitalization and treatment. So her final words made no sense at all to them. And in the raw intensity of the moment, with their loss unfathomable, they didn’t have a chance to process her words.
After a death, there are many pieces to pick up and loose ends to tie…when you can find the energy and courage to do so, of course. I should know. I’ve said farewell to one mother-in-law, one husband, and my own mum, in that order. Each time, when the edge to the pain had blunted a little, I would force myself to sift through personal effects that needed to be given away to bless others and items that had been willed to specific people. In the process, you end up looking through journals, random notes kept through the years, and all sorts of memorabilia. When you think your tears have dried up, you weep some more, and then some. But when the departed loved one was a believer, we “do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13b, 14 NIV)
But when it’s a sudden unexpected death like Anna’s, there will still be much to question God about. The marvellous thing was, when Richard, his wife and son sifted through Anna’s things, they had a moment of epiphany. They read in her writings of her sure hope in God, and that’s when it hit them — Anna’s last words were not addressed to them, she was talking to God! She was asking Him when she could go Home. What reassurance that was for them, to know that God had been with Anna during those final moments on the mortal side of her journey. And the two questions implied a familiarity and intimacy with the Person she was speaking to. It was comforting to know that she was ready to be with her heavenly Father.
How many of us have had our theological wars over whether the dead in Christ will rise at the trumpet call of God (1 Thessalonians 4:16) or whether, like the thief on the cross, we will be with Jesus in paradise when we die (Luke 23:43)? For me, Anna’s words laid to rest, once and for all, any doubts I may have had about who will be at that airport in the sky when it’s my turn to wing it over there.
There are few things that beat seeing a familiar welcoming face at a strange airport. A familiar face waiting for us at the airport. I see this as a metaphor for dying in Christ.
… And as we ponder on our own mortality let us be reminded that when it is our time to go, we will not travel alone. The Lord that we know is the same Lord that awaits us and who will lead us home. We know who is waiting at the airport. (Soo-Inn Tan, Thinking on the Run, Singapore: Graceworks, 2009, 141–143.)
It also gives a whole different complexion to the life that I choose to live in the here and now. Growing up, I used to be afraid of, well, most things — authority figures, the dark (hmmm…maybe there was some correlation there…), what others thought of me, and what the future might hold, to name a few. But, since knowing the Jesus who died for my sins out of love and obedience, and more importantly, who broke into smithereens the shackles of death, I’m learning to approach each new day with a wholehearted thankfulness, fearless of what the day may bring.
As Richard and two others (including my beloved hubby) continued with their sharing during the Christian Medical and Dental Fellowship’s annual thanksgiving dinner last Saturday, we all learned how God can take even the worst of situations and turn it into good. And how it really isn’t a platitude to say that “God will take care of you”. When Richard and his family chose to relocate back to Singapore after Anna’s passing, he was afraid that his years on the mission field, away from the practice of medicine, would place him at a disadvantage in looking for a job. He received nine offers.
The inspiring example of other people may represent the only way for a person to climb out of hopeless despair. … But hope is such a crucial ingredient in coping with pain that I wonder if realistic “success stories” can ever be overemphasized. Someone in despair needs a person or an idea, something to grasp onto that may provide a lifeline out of the currents of gloom. … Hope means simply the belief that something good lies ahead. (Philip Yancey, Where Is God When It Hurts?, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1990, 210.)
I sure hope you have a sure hope!