As I sit here waiting to see how much more destruction Hurricane Irma is going to inflict upon humanity, I can't help but wonder what my role in just these past two week's storms (or lack there of in the PNW of the U.S. which has been impacted by major forest fires) has been...
Yesterday morning the words of my massage therapist struck me so much that I've been thinking about them ever since. (Before you get jealous, I will tell you that the massage was just so-so...yes it was relaxing, to the point that I may have woken myself up snoring a few times, yep that happened...but still, you didn't miss anything.) When the massage started she said something like "these next 80 minutes (I mean it, don't be jealous, you didn't miss a thing) are all yours. You can escape the world and all its trials and stress and just breathe in good energy," or something along those lines. Anyway, I couldn't get her words about "escaping the world" out of my mind. My gut reaction was that I don't actually want to escape the world, why would I?
Don't get me wrong, I know that there are a lot of awful things that happen to each and every one of us and the people we love and hold dear to ourselves (save all the other atrocities happening all over the globe at this very moment). I've seen my fair share of tragedy in my own life from diseases to addictions to fatal drunk driving accidents to the affects of mental health issues, burglaries, and we're just talking about my family and close friends. I get it. There are things that happen in this world and in our lives that literally SUCK. As I type this, one of my friend's moms is on hospice from a rare cancer that has spread all over her body.
However, the truth is that we weren't created for all this bad stuff. The intent was never that we would experience all this pain, heartache and struggle in our lives. Yes, the chaos and evil in this world that we live in is very real and we experience it firsthand. But despite all of this darkness that can feel overwhelming and paralyzing at times, and likely the sound of "escaping" (if we actually could) is appealing, it is possible to experience joy, contentment, peace, hope, the fullness of life.
Because in fact, we were created to experience heaven on earth today, and an abundant life, not by escaping this world, but actually while being present and living in it. We aren't just supposed to survive this life and somehow manage to get through it. We're supposed to thrive despite what may happen to us, and those we love deeply.
And what if, we're not just created to thrive in the midst of the darkness of this world, but what if we're also supposed to play a part in bringing heaven to earth? See, I actually believe that that is part of our calling as humanity: to make earth like heaven (where tragedy, pain, suffering, oppression, tears themselves are absent). So instead of escaping life, what if we ran headlong into it?
A year ago today, this earth lost a beautiful woman who went to be with The Lord. A month previously, my friends Sara and Chris had been hit head on by a drunk driver while driving to a celebratory dinner to celebrate Sara's recent promotion at work. She spent a month in a coma before breathing her last. I remember that month like it was yesterday.
10 days before I got the phone call about their accident, I watched a young woman whom I'd mentored for years experience the onset of bipolar disease with an extreme manic episode. A few days later, I got a call from a close friend that her daughter had overdosed and was in a coma in the ICU. And just when I thought things couldn't get worse, I got the call about Chris and Sara's accident.
Having been an intern as a chaplain one summer, I'd spent my fair share of time in the hospital with patients, and especially ICU. But when I visited Sara for the first time, I was thankful I had already been warned about all the machines surrounding her, the tubes sticking out of her and how badly she'd been injured. Honestly, I don't know that I would've recognized her had it not been for her family in the room. She truly was unrecognizable at first glance. I had never seen someone so badly injured in my life. And here it was a dear friend of mine.
Time spent in the hospital those weeks by family and friends were filled with updating Sara on what was happening in life, prayers and books read aloud. Time spent outside the hospital was filled with tears, prayers and lots of questions, at least by me.
Those 3 incidents back-to-back left me reeling, angry, hurt and so afraid I'd lose a good friend who was just 33 and too young to die--who had her whole life ahead of her. I remember one Sunday being in church and standing while we were singing. But I wasn't singing. I was having it out with God. 'Why God? Why is there so much suffering and pain in this world? Why can't You just end it all? Take us all home now! I'm so sick of this world and all the pain, heartache, suffering and loss.' I was furious and thankful the people around me were singing so no one noticed how angry I happened to be. In that moment, in God's gentle way, He reminded me that that's precisely why Jesus came and lived and died and rose again. Because this world is broken and a far cry from heaven. And what Jesus did was begin to usher in the Kingdom of Heaven, to make all wrongs right. And that's why we are still here: to continue that work. We all know things aren't as they should be because we were clearly created for something better, like heaven, where there is no sickness, death, disease, injustice, nor even tears.
The thing is, true love requires the ability to choose to love, otherwise it would be a forced love, which isn't love at all. We all get to have the freedom to make our own choices in life, which makes loving God, each other and ourselves even possible. And this ability to choose also means we get to make choices that aren't life giving to us, nor to the people around us. Sara chose life and lived it to the fullest wherever she went. One day, a young woman didn't make a life-giving choice for herself, and she ended both her own and Sara's lives.
A year ago, Sara joined the cloud of witnesses in heaven. A year later, I'm just as reminded that things are not as they should be, and that our purpose hasn't changed either: to make earth like heaven. Here's to a woman who did that wherever she went. Remembering you, Sara.
Since the beginning, God’s desire has been that we would experience the same kind of life on earth as in heaven, in and through our relationship with God and our relationships with one another. Jesus said in John 10:10, “I came that they may have life and life to the full.” He was talking about our lives today, on earth. When Jesus was about to die, He said that it was better for Him to go away so that He could send the Holy Spirit who would live inside of everyone who believed in Him so that they could carry on the work that He started of establishing the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. 2 Corinthians 5:20 says that, “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.”
When Jesus lived on earth, He spent His time giving life to people, helping them connect with God in a personal way, freeing them from hopeless situations, healing them of their diseases and casting out evil spirits. Jesus spent His life freeing people of everything that kept them from experiencing the fullness of heaven while on earth. He is the definition of life, of hope.
God’s plan is that the Church would literally continue to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to earth today just as Jesus did. Imagine what life might be like if everyone in the world had the opportunity to experience the power of a relevant and real God in their life through life-giving churches worthy of their cities! This is God's desire.