But then I had to go and fall in love with the world's biggest fan of Christmas. And as these things often play out, over the six holiday seasons we've shared (five as husband and wife), I have found increasing measures of real joy and anticipation in myself on December 1st. Add to this the fact that our 22 month old daughter kind of knows what's going on now, and I can say I genuinely enjoy Christmas. But I've gotta tell ya, this year I got my ass handed to me on a holiday-themed platter.
It's been a hectic semester for the Pintos. I started the internship for my counseling program, which means I am being a therapist for the first time -- doing all different kinds of therapy with different combinations of people and problems. The understatement of the century is that this has been hard on my emotions. I've written on here about brokenness, and that's really what I keep coming back to. Guys, our world is broken. Things are not going the way they were meant to go. I have always had sufficient evidence in my own black heart of the need for a Savior, but now I've got more. Like, a shitload more.
I was so looking forward to Christmas because it meant a respite from grad school and my internship, and lots of quiet family time with my man and our girl. Last Sunday, Dec. 18th, I had turned in my last papers and I was looking at a two day work week and then vacation. I woke up Monday morning feeling a little funny, and by noon I was laid out with a stomach virus. It was miserable and humbling (and nobody is ever as sympathetic as I want them to be when I'm sick...are you this way, too?), and I wasn't back to 100% until mid-week.
On Thursday morning, Dec. 22nd, I received a phone call that a precious girl I knew had lost her battle with cancer. She was 28 years old, just out of the starting gate in so many ways. For about three months before she had to stop working, we had done cotherapy at one of my internship sites. While I only knew her for a short time, we bonded quickly simply because this is often the nature of cotherapy and, of course, because my cotherapist had cancer. Generally, people come to therapy because they have big questions; they want to talk about life and death matters. So Kendra and I kind of jumped right in to some very real stuff with people. And her own diagnosis led to some pretty intense conversations between the two of us, over lunch or in between appointments, during which she displayed an iron will and an unshakable zest for life. I will not tell you much more, because remembering those conversations feels holy and sacred and like none of your damn business. But I will tell you that she was beautiful and graceful and strong, and she was too young to die.
The funeral was yesterday morning. I didn't go. People almost always say really stupid things at funerals, and I do not yet trust myself to respond graciously. She was too young. That's what I keep coming back to. Death and disease. These are surely the purest forms of evil on our planet. They do not discriminate; they are cold and heartless and blind. And I swear if anyone tries to talk to me about the sovereignty of God, I will probably slap them across the face. This is not what God intended. If I'm going to trust Him, then I have to believe that He is grieving now with me and with people who knew her much longer than I did, and with her family. Her family. Lord, have mercy.
Is there a way out? Where is hope? Unfortunately, there is not a way out of dying. That is one of the few guarantees of life, and I do believe we would all be wise to get more comfortable with that fact. It would, in reality, make life better and more precious.
But the answer, it's on the other side of death. I was pouring my heart out that Thursday with a trusted advisor, wondering if I had been a "good enough" friend to Kendra, and just generally feeling utterly helpless. He asked me if I believe I will see Kendra again. I said, "Yeah. Yes, I do." He said, "I believe when you see her for the first time in eternity, you will exchange knowing smiles. No words will be needed, for she will know what it was like to have been you, and you will know what it was like to have been her...and you'll just smile at each other." There is real comfort in that for me.
I do not believe death will get the final word. I do not believe that disease gets to have her body - or any of our bodies - forever. We will be redeemed. Surely it is a powerful God who can defeat death. It is a mighty God indeed who will demolish and decimate this evil away from us and for all of eternity.
This is the God I believe in. This is the hope I have: that whoever got us into this mess in the first place, it won't matter, because He has provided, is providing, and will provide a way out. He is the only real game changer. And He did it in the unlikeliest of ways. He "became flesh and made his dwelling among us." (John 1:14) God came as a man in the person of Jesus Christ. And as things go around here, He came as the infant Jesus Christ. Wait a second. A baby? Seriously?! The almighty, infinite, all-wise Creator of everything...as a baby?! Diapers and drool and learning how to walk. The whole bit. That's how He did it.
So if this is how He defeated such powerful adversaries as death and evil -- in humility, in quietness -- how am I to follow His example? Well, I'm gonna need to get back to you in about 50 years because that's probably how long it's gonna take me to really unpack that. But for now I will tell you that I am going to keep calling the brokenness what it is, not excusing it or accepting it, and in fact fighting against it with all I am. But I am going to really try to carry humility in my heart at the same time. I'm going to try to be gracious, and I will love whoever is in front of me as best I can in any given moment. Because moments are really all we have, and they pass so quickly.
O come, o come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice, rejoice! Emmanuel has come to thee, O Israel.