Over the holidays, our home was brimming with joy and laughter, a continuously messy kitchen sink and the rustle of wrappings. All of the chicks were back in the coop as I like to say, and it was heaven on earth! We had some family game nights, competitive family card games and even an adventure to an escape room in D.C. where we were forced to work together to unlock the clues (and the door) to our room.
But last week, my youngest adult child packed up his car and drove off to head back to college. My husband and I cried, as we have done as each child takes flight from the nest, even for a short while. It is always bittersweet when someone leaves you, regardless of the circumstances. The time you just spent together makes you miss them even more as they head out the door; you are keenly aware of the unique and wonderful person that loved one is, and you feel the emptiness of their absence even as you are still in their presence. It’s an emotionally charged moment.
Having recently studied the apostle Paul and learned more about his life and his travels, I imagine the pain and loss he must have felt when Jesus was no longer with him. He not only knew Jesus was the Son of God, the Truth, the Life, but Paul undoubtedly also knew what made Jesus laugh or the meaning of a glance his way while sharing a parable. The very God that made the sunrise and the sunset with all of its glorious colors, the God that made such an intricate and sustaining system here on earth—trees that can go barren and blossom with vibrant color over and over with each passing season, and something as small as an mosquito having a role in the circle of life—yes, that God, walked here, on this earth right next to Paul. And then he died, rose again and ascended into heaven. While I don’t mean to compare the infinitely more meaningful and memorable departure of Jesus to my son driving off with a carload of boxes, the point is that both left a hole for those standing back, both were filled with emotion none-the-less.
Paul was able to muster up his courage to go on, leaning into the trust, hope and love that he had not only in the teachings and miracles of Jesus Christ but also in honor of the man, the person that he came to love so deeply. Oh, it wasn’t easy for Paul. He encountered hardships of all kinds including beatings, illnesses and imprisonment, but his love for Jesus and the need to spread the good news was all the motivation he needed. The life story of Paul is one I feel a personal connection to, not because I too have had any level of suffering that even begins to compare but because I have met and ministered to people that have.
I worked for a prison ministry for seven years, and in that time, I learned so many valuable lessons. I learned that people go their whole lives struggling against the pressures and realities that come with trying to make a life for yourself that is sustaining and fulfilling, and they have to make choices every day that impact the next step in their journey. Many choices get made without a conscious decision; we just act on the next step on the path we’ve set ourselves on. And it is not until all choices are taken away from us—choices of when and what to eat, what to wear, where to sleep—that we are forced to realize that every choice that impacts our lives starts with choices of the heart and head. I look at Paul like so many of the men and women who unselfishly volunteer in prisons all over this country every day. They too met Jesus. Some, like C.S. Lewis, met him with their heads as they worked through a very intellectual process to get to him, and others, like many of the prisoners and ex-offenders I knew, met him with their hearts. But each one that did was touched deeply by a love that motivates them to tell others all about it.
When my children are near, I long to hear every detail of their day, their hopes, their concerns—usually to the point of making them crazy with all of my questions. But it’s because I want to keep a little piece of them with me, to ponder on what I can do to make a difference for them. When they are far away, I peek at their Facebook pages; I hope for a Snapchat or text; and I reminisce over their childhood activities, sayings or antics so I don’t forget any part of the wonderful and unique person each of them is. It’s the same with my faith. When Jesus is near, I can’t get enough—I want to hear more and more, feel his presence and seek ways to put his spirit into all that I am and do. And when I feel he is distant, I remember those times I felt close and work to get back to those moments.
I feel the love of God when I consider my children. The impact each of them have on me and others is not measured by their academic achievements, their net worth or the titles they hold, it is measured by their kind and spirited souls. They are each their own unique person, each beautifully and wonderfully made, and counted by God, the Father Almighty as one of his own.
When Jesus came to earth, it created a kairos moment, a moment when God chose to act and his spirit was and still is palpable. I believe the birth of a child is also a kairos moment, a moment when God acts, when heaven most certainly has touched earth.