My beautiful oldest child, William, was diagnosed with bone cancer when he was just a boy, age 12. My little family battled cancer for 5 years. After my William died and after my husband went to work and my two remaining children went to school, I crawled into bed for three years. I would rouse myself to get everyone off and then I would lie down and sleep; I was so very tired. We were all so very tired and broken. This is what grief looks like. The remaining family members living under the same roof, and yet each of us are so alone in his or her personal heartbreak.
One of the things that kept me somewhat grounded was my church’s Wednesday night high school bible study. I started helping teach after William died. My two remaining children were part of the group, most of the kids were really questioning God after the death of a brother and a friend. My dear friend, Jean, was our minister’s wife and a powerful youth leader. She and I led together for some 15 years.
There’s a funny ebb and flow to high school youth groups. Some years the kids are very interested in really digging into the Word; other years a group may be full of troubled kids and only able to grasp small bites of God’s manna.
For several years, we had a high school boy named Patrick. Every Wednesday night, as we started our study, he would sigh and say, “You do know that I don’t believe in God?” And we would say, “And yet, here you are back at bible study?”
We had bought a disco ball as a visual illustration of the Son of God. It was made-up of little light reflecting mirrors glued to a large orb. I would hold the ball up and we could turn off the lights in the room and point our phone flashlights at it and witness the hundreds of prisms emanating from it, filling the dark with brilliant light. “This must be what Christ is like, full of light and reflecting light throughout His entire creation!”
“In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:4-5
Another visual illustration was a beautiful large glass globe that I had been given by my mother as a Christmas ornament. It was a gorgeous amethyst purple. I treasured that globe because I had had a difficult relationship with my mother and that globe had meant a lot to me after she died. Every Christmas, it would serve as the centerpiece for our Christmas Eve dinner.
At one of our bible study evenings, as I held up the globe, I said, “Think about God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, overflowing with love, and deciding to create a perfect, exquisitely beautiful world, the Kingdom of God.” Here I paused for effect. “ Now think about this beautiful creation falling and breaking. Of course I’m not going to drop this beautiful glass globe to show you what it would look like if I did because it is so important to me but think about what it would look like if I did.” Here again, I paused for effect.
“Now, on this broken Kingdom of the Earth, separated from God and His Kingdom of the Heavens, we, as part of that creation, have two choices. We can walk through the dirt and cut ourselves on the broken shards of glass or we can look down, pick one up, clean it off, and hold it up to the light and see the rainbows of color. We can choose to bloody our feet or we can look with wonder at the fragmented broken beauty in our hands.”
I passed that beautiful glass globe around the room, cautioning the group to be careful with it because it was dear to me. When it had almost made its way around the room, our youth minister playfully tossed it into the air. He failed to catch it and it shattered on the floor! There were gasps all around the room. I caught my breath and said, “How do you think God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit felt when their beloved creation fell and broke?“
Later in the year, Patrick, our agnostic “atheist,”said to me, “So, Salley, what if I wear army boots and crush those shards of glass into the dirt?” I had to think a minute. “Well, if you bother to gather a handful of what is at your feet, you’d still have glitter mixed in with the dirt?”
Most of us as christians learn the bible beginning with the middle of God’s perfect story. We begin with the birth of The Son of God as He becomes The Son of Man, lying in the manger. Christ made incarnate as the babe, Jesus, our Emmanuel.
The Christmas Story
My son, William, was a beautiful child. He was our firstborn, winsome but wise. He was an “old soul”. William was 12 when he was diagnosed with bone cancer. The Jewish faith believes that a boy becomes a man at the age of 13. If that is true, William was just on the cusp of manhood. Every discussion that was ever made about William’s treatment was addressed to him. Through numerous surgeries, chemotherapy, and radiation treatments, we, his mother and father, discussed our thoughts and options, but the ultimate decisions were made by William. These decisions were brutal: do we continue to fight this demon cancer or do we prepare to let go. At age 17, William was tired of fighting but full of hope of going home to God.
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
When I teach bible study with our high schoolers, I try to stretch them beyond our physical boundaries. I try to help them to see the world through God’s eyes. Our physical world began with the creation of our earth, but God -the Trinity, the Holy Family- existed before that, before the creation of the heavens, and before the creation of time itself. The creation itself is the royal, mysterious Kingdom of our holy God.
We have a big coffee table in our bible study room. It’s sturdy enough to support three actors. Three of us, the three persons of the Holy Trinity- the Holy Family- climb up on it so that we are literally above everyone else. I get to be the Father. The discussion goes something like this:
Up on the table, the Father says, “I love you two so much that I am overflowing. Are we ready to share this love and create our beautiful perfect Kingdom of God? Are we ready to expand our family? You do know that evil will enter in? But we have a plan for that. We could prevent evil from marring our Kingdom but is that fair for our creation? We will have to allow our creation to choose us over evil. That’s the only way that we can ultimately adopt our creation into our family. We are the perfect family. Our creation will come to know that, everything will be perfect in the fullness of time. “
Then the Father turns to the Spirit and says, “ Are you ready? This will be painful for you, because you will be apart from us and will have to hover over the earth to watch over this new creation. We know that this will be horrible. You will have to witness perversion and degradation. In the fullness of time, you will be able to indwell in some of the creation. You will see glimpses of beauty but your home there will be will be harsh as well. You will often be silenced and ignored.
And turning to the Son, the Father says, “Are you sure you want to do this? Are you prepared to leave me, to be away from me? You will be with the Spirit, but you will not be with me. You, The Son of God, will empty yourself to become the Son of Man. You will also see glimpses of lovely things but you will be down in the perversion and pain of a fallen, broken, inhospitable place. And that place will reject you and taunt you and hang you on a cross. But for the Spirit, you will be horribly alone. The prince of the earth will be brutal and relentless. But what joy you will bring! The creation will need a light in that darkness. And you will then come home to me. And in the fullness of time, the Holy Spirit will return to us, with your lovely bride, my beautiful daughter.”
And the Father says, “Time will be painful. But won’t it be lovely at the end of time to welcome in our family! We will be so full. We will overflow like a river, like a cup full of wine, like one heart full of love and blessing. Are we ready to create this beautiful kingdom? “
Purple is such a rich color; it is the color of royalty and of mystery. Every 29:11 Story begins and ends with a purple bead: our absolutely perfect, mysterious, royal God - the Father, The Son, and the Holy Spirit. The purple bead represents the perfect family that has a perfect story. The Holy Family has always been. This is where our story begins, in the presence of the Holy Family discussing their future. This is also when our story begins, as Christ, The Son, speaks the creation into being.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:1-5
Returning to the top of the 29:11 Story, joining the end of the Story, each purple bead represents the coming home of the Holy Spirit back into the presence of the Father and the Son. But now, in the fullness of time, the Holy Spirit brings the bride of Christ, us, the church, into the perfect Holy Family. The Holy Family has always been and we, made in His image as sons and daughters and outside of time, have always been with Him.
“It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children... “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” Rev 21:6-9
If my husband and I could have known the future, if we had known of the suffering that our firstborn son would have to endure, would we have chosen not to have made him? What a horrible question to ponder. But I can’t imagine our world without William. That one child brought us so much joy! He affected so many even with such a brief life that was cut short by evil. He was a light in our darkness because there is a light in the darkness. There is a perfect plan and a perfect story.