Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Doubling Down On Love

I am doubling down on love.
That might sound like a safe bet. But when life experiences teach you that where there is love there can be hurt, you may not be willing to take the risk.
Recently as I looked into the smiling eyes of my son Reade, who I’m pretty sure is the cutest baby in the history of all humankind, I reflected on the new roots of love for him that have grown out of my heart, roots that have grown right next to the love I have for Jessica, a love I never thought I’d see. And having lost great love five years ago today (12/23), I didn’t think I’d ever want to see love again.
Too risky.
But, now, I am doubling down.
I have a son and a wife whom I am loving with abandon, without fear of losing that love. There is only one way that’s possible.
It’s not simply belief in God, but His merciful reminders that He is near. Reminders that we’ve come to call God stamps.
In a recent post I referenced the rainbow story that launched the whole “God stamp” phenomena and journey. I tried to link that reference to the post that first described the rainbow story. I then realized that I had never actually written about the rainbow, but had always linked to a local newspaper article about the rainbow, an article that was no longer available.
So, in the vein of encouragement through the “word of testimony” I’d like to share a story: a story that kept me upright in the anxious days of the cancer fight, that kept me out of the fetal position in the heavy days of grief, a story that makes it possible for me to double down on love. It’s not a story about me, it’s a story about God and it seems to be the appropriate story to share at the five-year mark.
And it goes like this.
The month that Dana was diagnosed with her recurrence of breast cancer (August, 2006), our longstanding Tuesday night Bible study group, the Group Formerly Known as Zelos (TGFKAZ), with Zelos being our beloved college-age ministry, was in the middle of a “march through the Old Testament” Bible study. On the Tuesday night before our first chemo appointment in the recurrence battle, we happened to be studying Noah. We ended the study time focusing on the rainbow. I pointed out that I’ve always loved how God described the rainbow reminder in Genesis 9:16,
Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant…
Whenever we see a rainbow we can take assurance in the fact that God sees that same rainbow. It’s like we’re having a moment with God with the rainbow serving as a wonderful bridge between the physical world and the eternal.
I asked the group to share their rainbow stories, suspecting that everyone would have at least one, which they did.
At the close of the evening our dear friend Sue, noting that the next day was chemo day, said, “Tomorrow I’m going to look for a rainbow.” That sounded like a good idea.
However, the next day, chemo day, was a cloudless, blue-sky, “severe clear” day. No chance for a rainbow. I did still take a peek out the window of the doctor’s office, because, well, you never know.
The next day, however, was a rainy, stormy day. That afternoon my cousin Carl had stopped by the house. As we were talking at the dining room table, I noticed out of the dining room window that the sun was peaking through the clouds while it was still raining. Perfect rainbow conditions. I had never been a rainbow chaser or a sign seeker, but I said to Carl, in mid-sentence, “Hold that thought,” and stepped onto the front porch and looked to the sky where I saw the biggest, boldest rainbow I had ever seen. I called Dana out. I called Carl out. We stood in awe, and then stood in tears. Soon our phone was ringing off the hook…Bible study folks calling to tell us they were looking at the biggest, boldest rainbow they’d ever seen.
While Dana fielded the phone calls Carl and I kept staring at the rainbow, attempting to interpret its ordained timing. I remember saying to Carl:
“I am definitely taking this as a sign. But, you can take it a couple ways. Either, A.) Everything is going to be okay; or B.) God is with us no matter what.” I was hoping for “A.”
At that moment, good friend Chuck said to Dana on the phone, “Where I am it’s a double rainbow.”
We looked a little closer, and sure enough, a double rainbow. This led Carl to say, “So, it’s both! A and B!”
That sounded good to me.
In the ensuing months, rainbow reminders came fast and furious. And they always came at divinely appointed times: when we’d just received bad news, on days when both of us were down, or times when our fears were gaining momentum. That’s what made them such powerful rainbow reminders; they came in almost immediate response to hard turns in the journey. I even started keeping a journal of rainbow sightings. Entries were anything from phone calls from friends and family as they were seeing a rainbow (my mom driving home from our house with a rainbow in her rear-view mirror the whole way home; Dana’s uncle Jon calling to say he was looking at four rainbows at the moment) to divinely-timed coincidences such as being handed a notebook in the oncology office with a set of colored pencils in ROY G BIV order, to staring at the computer screen, momentarily paralyzed at all we were processing, only to notice the rainbow-esque nature of the Google logo. I was able to start tapping on the keyboard. All of this was uncanny enough for the city newspaper to pick up on the phenomenon and write up a story.
A couple weeks after that first rainbow sighting, after having already collected enough reminders to think that something special was going on, we experienced something that gave the rainbow the official stamp of “God Stamp” status. Our neighbor, Star, from a couple doors down was at our front door on a Sunday afternoon. She was standing there with some pictures in her hand, saying: “Did you guys see that rainbow the other day? I took some pictures of it and I thought you might like to see them since they include your house. ” I responded by crying. I shared the significance of that rainbow: the recurrence, the Tuesday night Bible study, the looking for the rainbow, to which Star replied: “Wow. That explains something. I have never felt more compelled to do something when I thought about giving you these pictures. I just felt that I HAD to bring these to you. I’ve never felt that way before.”
Let the God Stamp journey begin.
As a side note, it was during the final hospice months that a series of divinely-timed, weirdly-coincidental events occurred that caused Dana’s mom, whom I affectionately call “Mama Sue,” to say, “It is so evident that God’s stamp is all over this.” This gave us our personally coined phrase of “God stamps.” They started with the rainbow.
That rainbow, in September 2006, was eight years ago. Dana passed away three years and three months after that rainbow. And now, here we are, five years since Dana passed. With five years of perspective, I can see that Carl was right with regard to the double rainbow: it was, and is, both A and B, but not in the way you might think.
During the cancer fight I obviously had my own thoughts on how to define “everything is going to be okay.” In total candor, my definition did not involve heaven. My definition involved complete physical healing. Heaven was not yet needed. Obviously, as we all now know, complete physical healing did not happen.
From the perspective of today, enjoying a great deep love as a husband and a great deep love as a father, I might be tempted to say, “So that’s what God meant by ‘everything would be okay.’” But I don’t think that’s what God meant. Everything being okay had nothing to do with how the rest of my life would turn out. It has everything to do with the end of my life, or, more specifically, heaven.
Throughout the Bible you can pick up on a theme of “hang in there, there is great payoff in the end.”  Some verses say it outright, like Galatians 6: 8-9, …whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Jesus alluded to this theme in John 16 with these words: In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.
You also see this theme in the big picture of the book of Revelation, as paraphrased by our good friend Chuck, “It’s going to suck, but it'll be okay.” Chuck, who's leading our Revelation study, speaks with authority in that he and his wife Sue lost their beautiful 10-year old daughter Natalie to an unfair brain disease, just over a year after Dana passed.
What I’ve come to learn, and slowly embrace, is that God’s definition that “everything is going to be okay” is all about heaven. Here’s why: heaven is that good.
This was reinforced through my “conversation” with Dana about six months after her passing (you can see it here). To this day that experience has been one of the most profound moments in the journey. I’d love for you to check out that post, but here’s the gist: As I imagined Dana comforting me from her perch in heaven, I was assured (either by her words, or God’s words, or something supernatural, including the uncanny confirmation along the trail I was hiking) that the Place where all this is headed is so mind-blowing that it is worth all the pain and hurt and suffering that we have to endure to get There. That’s how everything can be okay. God has such a confidence that heaven is so freaky good that He can say to us, when we are facing our most horrific fears, that everything is going to be okay.
But the “okay” comes in the end, not, necessarily in the way we want it in the now.
Admittedly, this is not a fun concept to grasp. It’s the ultimate delayed gratification—literally. You can’t get more delayed than “the end.” This doesn’t seem helpful in our moments of fear. And in true confession, I never found much comfort in “eternal reward” and “ultimate healing” while navigating the tortuous days of chemo and scans. The promise of heaven could not penetrate the prospect of loss.
What I’ve since had to press through is that to embrace this definition that “everything will be okay” in the end, we have to endure the now. Curiously, this is one of the most prominent concepts in the New Testament. It’s like God knew what we would be facing. Hmmmm….
Which brings us to Part B of the double rainbow: God is with us no matter what. This is real. And it matters.
He’s told us this all through Scripture. It’s the biggest guarantee in Scripture. It’s even a favorite Christmas title of Jesus: Immanuel, God with us.
God was merciful with me in His relentless reminders of His presence. He didn’t have to do that. Rainbows. Deer. And then a heart cloud. This is why I can double down on love, to not only put myself over a barrel of possible hurt in loving a wife, but now to add a second barrel of possible hurt in loving a child (said child is on my lap as I type…hmmm…can drool short-circuit a keyboard?) because I know that God is with us, all of us, no matter what.
By nature I have tended to protect myself from hurt—we all do this to a certain extent, some of us more than others. As Jessica and I moved through the early days of relationship at warp speed, I never felt one pause of “But what if…” Any thoughts along these lines were fleeting and met with, “But God is with us no matter what.”
I feel that I am a walking testimony of 1 John 4:18, “There is no fear in love.” I wonder if one of the biggest miracles in this journey is simply the fact that I have been able to love again. This, I believe, is the evidence of God’s presence.
I would hope that this story might be an encouragement to your story, that you might be less inclined to take the safe, protective path and more inclined to take the path that counts on God’s presence no matter what.
I even feel that God has doubled down on love Himself. First, He has lovingly prepared this mind-blowing, heart-dancing Place for us. Secondly, He has promised to be with us until we get There. Someday I may explore why we throw tantrums when He doesn’t fix things the way we want before we get There. I’m pretty sure that when we see ourselves from the perch of heaven we will be embarrassed.
To that end, let’s love without fear, dance without embarrassment, sing without shame, create without limits, laugh till our fillings show, cry till we’re ugly.
I invite you to, with me, double down on love. Why? Because everything is going to be okay. And, God is with us no matter what.
Thank you.
P.S. I leave you with three pictures. The first two, pictures that Star brought to our front door of that first rainbow. The second? Giving us a stamp upon a stamp, the night that Jessica and I invited Chuck and Sue to our house to ask them about being God parents to Reade, this picture happened. The rainbow is nearly in the exact same spot. You can’t make this stuff up.