From Diabetes To Stuffed Animals

washed-in-the-blood-of-the-lamb“That was an interesting approach you took in your sermon this morning,” God said and took up a spot beside the fireplace. “And by the way,” He said with what seemed to be a slight irritation, “why do you keep it so cold in this house?”

I was only a few paces away and in the middle of pouring myself a whisky from one of my better bottles.

“I don’t control the thermostat around here,” I said. “Jen does. I just put on a sweatshirt or do what you’re doing.”

“That whisky will warm you, too,” He said and gave a point and a nod. “Ta hagia tois, hagiois.”

I didn’t answer. I took a sip and walked over to stand beside Him.

“That sermon…” He said again and then went silent. I didn’t respond right away, but instead took another sip from the dram.

“We took the scenic route to the Gospel, today,” I offered and looked down at my feet. I was wearing the thick blue and gray socks that Jennifer had given to me for Christmas a few years back. I only wore them when it was really cold. They’re still in great shape because I don’t wear them very often. With my bad back, they’re really hard to pull on.

“Yes, it was the more scenic way,” God answered, “but I think it was worthwhile.”

“The usual suspects probably thought I was just rambling.”

“But you put a lot into that sermon,” He affirmed and patted my shoulder. “It was a little more winding than usual, but the Gospel was more than preached.”

“I wanted the folks to understand the importance of Christian recognition,” I said and took another sip. “I wanted them to know that because the Holy Spirit is alive in them, they have the ability to see and then make certain points of connection that no one else can.”

“A good portion of my Church seems to be in the process of losing this,” He said, His voice trending toward sadness. He pushed His foot up next to mine as if comparing sizes. “The more they push the Church’s heritage away,” He continued, “the further they get from being able to recognize some very important things.” He paused for a moment. “I like how you used the Pharisees as an example.”

“That was easy,” I said and looked down at my socks again. “Those knuckleheads…” But then I stopped and gave Him a glance. I reconsidered the title I’d just given.

“That’s alright,” God chuckled comfortingly. “That’s what the word ‘Pharisee’ means in the original language. It means ‘head of knuckles’.” I laughed and He did, too.

Still grinning, I tapped at my glass. “They wanted a sign,” I continued. “Jesus told them the only one they’d get was the sign of Jonah—someone who was, for all intents and purposes, dead for three days and then suddenly found alive again and giving a message of power that saved the worst of the worst. The Pharisees couldn’t put two and two together. They couldn’t see what that account was pointing to.”

“But the seven-year-old girl with Diabetes can see these things,” He added. “And that is very important.”

“She sure perked up when I said her name from the pulpit and shared the story about her.”

“She sure did,” He said. “And I’m glad you told the story. It brightened Evelyn’s day to be a sermon-worthy example for the rest of the church. And, by the way, I know for a fact that it clicked for some folks.”

“It did?”

“Yes, it did,” He affirmed. “You’ll be getting an email about it on Tuesday.”

“Good or bad?”

“Don’t worry,” He said. “It’s a good note.” I asked the persuasion of the forthcoming message because I already knew very well that preaching the pure Word of God results in both good and bad responses. It stirs thankfulness, but sometimes it also ricochets from stony hearts and causes trouble.

“I didn’t intend to tell the story in the sermon,” I said and took another sip. “It just seemed to fit when I was editing it before worship this morning.”

“Tell me again what happened,” God pried.

It was Saturday afternoon. Jennifer and Madeline were gone. The boys were upstairs doing something—probably playing video games. Evelyn was sitting at the island in the kitchen and checking her blood sugar. I was making her lunch.

“Momma told me you had a rough day on Wednesday,” I said while twisting off the lid of the peanut butter jar.

“She did?”

“Yeah. She said you got a little tired of the whole Diabetes thing, and that you were sad.”

“Yeah,” she said with a sigh.

“What’s bothering you these days?” I asked.

“It’s boring,” she said. This didn’t make sense at first, especially because I know that Diabetes is anything but boring. But then she explained, and as she did, I knew that what the seven-year-old meant was that she’d had enough of the regiment and wanted it to go away. She wanted something new. “I always have to poke my fingers,” she started. “You always have to wake me up and do it at night. I always have to get shots. I’m tired of Diabetes. It’s boring.”

Evelyn had once again come to a moment that previous Wednesday night—when it was just she and her Momma rocking in a chair before bed—a time when the demands of her Diabetes had worn her little body very thinly. She was tired. She wanted to be rid of it.

“You know,” I began with as passing a tone as I could, “things like Diabetes won’t be around forever.”

“Will there be a cure someday?” she asked.

“I don’t know. Maybe. What I meant is that when we’re in heaven, Diabetes won’t be around to bore us anymore.”

“It won’t?”

“Nope, and that sure makes this guy very happy—this guy right here making your sandwich who has a very bad back that likes to bore him every day.”

“Will your back hurt in heaven?”

“Nope. My back will be strong.” This made her smile.

Now, I didn’t have a Bible nearby, although I didn’t really need one. I’d read the particular text so many times it was already as familiar to me as my own name. I scooped out the strawberry jelly and began to recite for her a portion from Revelation chapter seven. She perked up and listened intently as I spoke.

Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where they have come?” I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. “Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

“That’s a vision of heaven that Saint John wrote down for us in the Book of Revelation,” I said. “That’s going to be us one day. Everything that’s wrong with our bodies in this life will be gone in heaven.”

“It will?”

“Yes,” I said and licked the jelly from the butter knife before setting it into the sink. “And God Himself will reach out with His own hands and wipe away all of the tears caused by the troubles of this world.”

And then she took the conversation in a slightly different direction. Within her began the engagement of a full-on assault against her mortal worries. Her Christian recognition was stirred and a very important connection was made—one worthy of being included in the Sunday sermon.

“Those people in front of the throne,” she said rather confidently, “they were baptized.” I didn’t say anything just yet, but rather let the seven-year-old’s wisdom be displayed. “Their robes were white. They were washed in the Lamb’s blood. Jesus is the Lamb of God. Baptism is being washed in His blood and it makes us clean. Those people were baptized.”

“Yes,” I said. “That’s exactly what that part means. Those people were baptized Christians.”

“I’m baptized, too.”

“Yes, you are.”

I could see that the wheels were beginning to spin in her head even more rapidly. She was making the connections in her mind that her Diabetes and my bad back—both terribly “boring” issues with which we both struggle—had already been sentenced to eternal death by the shedding of Jesus’ blood on the cross. She’d been washed in that blood in Baptism and made an heir of heaven—a place where she’d be forever rid of Diabetes and her dad would feel better.

“She got it,” God said. “Christian recognition is pretty great, isn’t it?”

“Yes, it is.”

“What else did you talk about? Did she say anything else at lunch?”

“We talked about her stuffed animal, Fluffers,” I said, “and how she thinks he’s probably her favorite right now.”

“Yeah,” God smiled and gave me one of His signature elbows. “Remembering the promises given in Baptism has a way of bringing that kind of ease—you know, the kind that goes from the painful challenge of Diabetes to the comfort of stuffed animals.”

I looked back down to my socks, a pair I enjoyed wearing but, as I said, have always been so challenging to put on.

Yeah, That’s What the Doctors are Saying these Days

When you cry yourself to sleep, you sleep hard and still, like a corpse in an open coffin. And once the exhaustion finally sets in and the mind begins to fade into the uneasiness of dreams that turn what you’d expect to be solid rest into nightmarish distress, the blood retreats from your face—your nose and ears and cheeks and forehead—they all settle into a placid paleness rivaled only by that same cadaver in the soft and silk-lined casket.

I know. I’ve seen it. So has God, which is probably why he began as He did.

“How’d you sleep last night?” He asked and then waited.

I didn’t answer. I was already annoyed. But eventually the silence was too burdensome.

“Fine,” I said, took a sip of my coffee, and then reached down to tie a shoelace that had come undone.

“You went to bed early,” He continued.

Again, I let silence govern the pace while I pretended to take a little longer with the shoelace than was required.

Sitting back up, “Yeah. Eight o’clock seems better when you have a 5:30 AM start time and you know you’re going to be up all night.”

“Jen got up with Evelyn last night,” He noted. “She let you sleep since you had an Elder meeting this morning. That was nice of her.”

I held the moment uncomfortably.

“Yeah, it was.”

“She didn’t sleep well, though,” He offered. “She moved a lot. Had some pretty bad dreams.”

“What do you expect?” I snapped. “She cried herself to sleep.”

“I know.”

“Well,” I said sarcastically and laid my palm bare to the sky. “Are you expecting something else from us, right now?”

“She’s worried,” He said calmly.

“You think?” I mumbled with the same sarcastic tone as before and decided to untie and then tie the other shoe.

“And so are you,” He added. “You both learned something new last night—something kind of scary.”

“Whatever,” I said with a rasp. I was tired of the conversation. I took another sip of my coffee.

God was quiet. So was I. But then I sighed my concern.

“Men with Diabetes live eight to ten years shorter life spans than normal men. Women live thirteen to fifteen years less.” It hurt to say this out loud.

“Yeah, that’s what the doctors are saying these days,” God answered.

“I don’t want this for Evelyn,” I said and went to pour what was my third cup of coffee into the sink. The pour was abrupt—a throw. “I don’t want this for her.” I noticed how the thick black liquid had swept up and onto the backsplash beyond the sink. “I don’t want this for her husband or her kids or her family.” I gritted my teeth and did all but toss my porcelain cup to the countertop sounding a hollow crack. “I don’t want this.”

“Why does this worry you?” God asked easily.

“I want her to have a long and full life—as long and as full as possible.”

“Of course you do,” God acknowledged. “You’re her dad. You want what’s best.”

Hearing Him say this, I knew exactly what He was going to say next. He’s pretty predictable.

“I’m her heavenly Father. I have a stake in that ‘best’ too.” He moved a little closer to me and nudged, “Chris, do you remember how happy you were that day you baptized her?”

I didn’t answer, but instead put my head into my hands.

“Oh, my friend, I know how much you love baptizing babies. It was the day of all days watching you baptize your own little ones. But no matter which child it is, let me tell you, there’s a joyful ruckus in heaven when those baptismal waters are flowing.”

I stared at the floor and closed my eyes. I could see her as an infant—so fragile, so small.

“You brought her to the font—to Me—to change what it means for her to have a long and full life. ‘Long’ doesn’t mean what it meant before. And ‘full’ is now altogether different.” He nudged me again, “You’re scared for the future, I know. But to be baptized into the death of my Son meets this fear in ways that make little sense to human flesh.”

I turned my stare to the portrait of Christ welcoming the little children which hangs on my wall near the door.christ-and-the-little-ones

“And while you’re thinking about Baptism and how she has been joined to Me,” God continued, “have you ever considered what it means that I’m omnipresent?”

I kept silent.

“I won’t get too deep here, but it not only means that I am everywhere, but also everywhen.”

He paused this time. He let His words do their work.

“Maybe this will make sense and maybe it won’t, but I’m going to tell you, anyway. First, it means that I’m always with Evelyn. She’s been made my child. My name has been placed upon her. There is nowhere she can go that I won’t pursue her. And second—and this one will be a little harder to get your head around—I’m with her right now just as I am with her in the future—right now.”

He paused again before continuing.

“Chris, I’m with her right now and in her future—right now. I’m already there. I know the number of her days as I know your’s. And I know that beyond either of these blinks, there is an endless day unhindered by time—a place where none of the clocks made by man have the power to tick—and I’m carrying both of you to that eternity.”

He was right. I couldn’t quite get my head around it. A tear began pooling. When it finally fell, I brushed it away.

“In the death of my Son, all of this was accomplished. It was given to Evelyn in her Baptism. It was given to you in your Baptism, too.”

He nudged one last time. “I can assure you,” He said taking a much more tender tone, “a life is only as long and as full as it can be with such Gospel truth in faith’s pocket. By this truth—the truth of my Son’s death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins—my people, so strangely, become less and less concerned in their guts with regard to how long they live in this mortal life. They have eyes to see everything, surprisingly, in a very different way.”

He paused again.

“You’re struggling to see this right now. I know this. And we’ll keep at it together, just as I promised. In the meantime, don’t try to ‘feel’ it. Just keep listening.”

I didn’t say anything. I simply grabbed my Bible and a push-button pencil, my monthly parochial report, and then headed to my morning meeting and Bible study with the Elders.

“My blessings to you, Chris,” He said as I walked out the door. “Just remember, don’t try to ‘feel’ it right now. Just listen.”

I tapped the light switch and left.