- Death has no graduates. That is why faith is required. And friends.
My friends are white, 50-something year-old males who like cars, college sports and YouTube videos of people sticking firecrackers up their noses (do not try this at home). Like you and your friends, we have a lot in common. I resonate with these guys. I am familiar with them because they are like me. As a matter of fact, if I meet a guy with these qualities, chances are we’ll be laughing and talking like old friends in no time. Perhaps familiarity breeds friendship.
Over 20 years ago I was in a private plane flying to Santa Fe, New Mexico. As navigator, I sat in the front passenger seat with a pile of charts and maps. Air traffic control in Denver gave us a heading right into a quickly-developing winter storm. In minutes we were being slammed around the cabin as the mountain winds unleashed their fury. Out of the corner of my eye I watched the pine trees race by as the ice on the wings grew thicker and thicker. I gravely accepted the fact that I was going to die.
If you have ever been in a situation like this, you know how terrifying it is. And, like you, I prayed. But my prayer surprised me. I closed my eyes and said “God, I need you to find me. Please find me.” As I anticipated my death I was worried that I would be misplaced, drifting alone across the cosmos. “Come find me!” (spoiler: I survived)
But this incident taught me an unexpected lesson. That moment gave me a glimpse of the distance God has bridged to save me. I wasn’t part of God’s “in crowd,” I wasn’t “in the neighborhood,” God didn’t look at me and say “He’s one of us.” I was on the other side of the galaxy, selfish and lost as a goose – but God still found me. And that is what God does. He’ll cross astounding distances to love, forgive and encourage. Christ did the same thing – lepers, Romans, sex workers and smelly fishermen were never outside the range of his compassion. No one was too different, too broken or too far away.
Anyone who has enjoyed God’s barrier-crossing love should live the same way. Though we enjoy the homogeneity of our friendships, there are always others who need us. Others who may be invisible, ignored or alone. And we cannot always choose who they will be. Frederick Buechner wrote “If we are to love our neighbors, before doing anything else we must see our neighbors. With our imagination as well as our eyes, that is to say like artists, we must see not just their faces but the life behind and within their faces.” Chances are, our neighbors are not just like us. Rescued One, what barriers have you crossed to love others?
A decade ago a church friend received the phone call every parent silently dreads: “You’re daughter has been in a fatal vehicle accident.” I have not lost a child but apparently this was my moment. My moment to step across a barrier and get to know my “neighbors.” But instead of laughing at YouTube videos we talk, listen, weep and stand by one another in the raging storm of grief. Not only are these parents within God’s range of compassion and consolation, they are some of the most courageous people I have ever known.
If you are a grieving parent or grandparent, know that you are not invisible, ignored or alone. On Saturday, April 8, Parents Left Behind of NWA is hosting their third interactive conference for those who have lost a child of any age (you can register at www.parentsleftbehindar.com). Previous PLB conferences had over 100 parents and grandparents finding acceptance, empathy and support. Though the storm rages, there is shelter – and some amazing new friends and neighbors await you.