This past July, summer of 2019, we made a big change and moved our lives to northern California. We had been in the LA area since college...which might not sound like a long time, except that I started college in 1977. That’s crazy math...42 years. Mercy.
Moving up here to what I am going to now call “the farm” was in many ways a dream come true for me. We live close to my mother and sisters...which is mind boggling and wonderful. Also, I grew up in Virginia. Mowing, gardening, trees, pastures, animals, green beauty...these are my happy places. I would say God sustained me and stretched me as we lived in the San Fernando Valley and raised our three children. And now, today, we live in Big Oak Valley, on 2.5 acres with a pond. I LOVE it!
One of the really fun parts when we first got here was slowly having the courage to let our dog run free in the big yard. We weren’t sure about a lot of things on the property...and he was used to a small backyard and always being walked on a leash. It took us a few days to unleash him. But once we did, watching him be free was so great...he just looked like he was smiling all the time. He was happy and so were we!
On August 13 though, about three weeks after we moved in, he disappeared. We found him hiding in some of the bushes in the garden, in distress. It was around 11pm and we were in a completely new area. I found a 24-hour vet about 40 minutes away. I had a feeling this was going to be a very hard and sad trip...he did not look good. It just all came on so suddenly, though, I couldn’t make any sense of it. The people were wonderful at the clinic, very kind, very gentle. But he was a very sick pup...and the remote possibilities of a $6,000 surgery being successful led to that very hard decision to put him down. Excruciating. So very sad...I cried all the way home.
When Covid-19 started changing our world and threatening the United States, I have to tell you, I was afraid. I don’t worry about health issues really...I don’t think about dying very much, though at my age it does begin to creep in. As more things were cancelled and more people were getting sick and dying so quickly, my mind started to get stuck. I became more and more unsettled and thought more and more about death...which led me to think about my death. Honestly, I also thought of our sweet dog Elvis, and I found myself asking God if my joy at living in the country would be cut short just as his was. I’m 60 and pretty healthy, but I was identified in those early days as an at-risk person because of my age. My heart was anxious, and I began to settle on this thought, I might die from this virus. It could happen. I couldn’t shake the fear that was rising up in me. Finally, one day, I went and sat on the swing in our yard. I needed to gather myself.
I think when fear rises up, we can tend to try to run from it, or push it away, to escape, one way or another. I certainly did...but that day, I just couldn’t do it anymore. I needed to face it head on. So, I sat still. I let the fear come.
The process went something like this: What am I afraid of with this pandemic? I’m afraid that my life is going to be over soon. Why does that scare me? I’m not really afraid of suffering...it’s more the finality, the end. It makes me sad...I thought we were starting a new chapter, not ending one...I’m not ready to say good-bye to people...I don’t want to die. I’m not ready to not be alive. It occurred to me somewhere in this monologue that I should pause and think about what I really believe about death.
I thought I had settled in my heart that I believe in eternal life. Right? Yes, yes I do. Death is a passage, not an ending. I believe this body is a temporary tent. My soul will live forever. I believe what the Bible teaches...about life, and about Jesus. He died and rose from the dead. On the other side of this life, is face to face with Jesus. I will see Him. And I do also believe that God is the one who decides when my time has come. I’ve wrestled with these things for many years...searched and read and prayed and listened and talked...and decided.
Honestly, what got me in all of that, what hit me the most and stopped me in my reasoning wandering thoughts, was the thought of seeing Jesus. I really do want to see Him. This is not theoretical theology; this is real love for this real man who was God in the flesh. What happened on the swing was...ohhhhhhhhhhh...that’s right. Jesus. To live is Christ and to die is gain. Lots of Bible verses started coming to mind...and the fear inside of me melted away. I will be ready to see Him when He says it’s time. I don’t need to be afraid.
Facing my fear and reasoning it out, coming to truth, has made all the difference. It doesn’t mean this is easy. It doesn’t mean I want to die. It just means I’m not living my days in a place of anxiety and fear about death.
I was reminded of all of this today as it is “Good Friday” though I prefer “Holy Friday” because calling the day Jesus suffered and died on the cross good doesn’t seem quite right to me. He died right around exactly this day, after Passover, about 2,000 years ago. That’s a long time ago...but we still remember. He lived thirty years or so of life, which is just not that long. And yet what an impact his life and death had on this world. It’s remarkable. To me, it is part of why the resurrection is so logically true. Something more than a good life and a sad and tragic death must have happened here. A lot of great people have died, and most of them are forgotten. I’m not here to argue apologetics, I just want to say, I believe He conquered death and that I’m invited into that, by Him, by faith. He is alive and I will be too. What a miraculous thing that is.
There is so much death around us right now. And so many people are dying alone, with loved ones kept away for safety sake. I’m not at all wanting to or trying to minimize the awful tragedy of all of what is happening. This is devastating. This is horrific. We will be grieving for a very, very long time. I just do want to say, this Easter weekend is also about death and resurrection, and that helps me to not be afraid. I pray this brings you some comfort as well.