Posted by: pmarkrobb | December 28, 2015

a bit of an odd place to land

For my last post of 2015, I want to revisit one of my personal stories.  A story that connects back to what many scholars believe was the first Bible story ever written.  It may seem a bit of an odd place to land (the book of Job) in the post-glow of Christmas, but I suggest that “glow” is not what everyone experiences during the Christmas season.  For some, the season of Christmas is more suffering than celebration and more of a journey through, or reminder of, deep pain, loss or sadness.

We all have opportunities to be a friend to someone who is suffering.  The story of Job is one we should sit with repeatedly and allow to speak into our own opportunities to be a friend in those moments.  His story can teach us much about the heart of someone enduring deep suffering and genuinely questioning God.  Job’s life is a great illustration of how to do that and never lose trust in God or stop believing that He is good.  The full narrative also exposes the kind of friend that someone DOESN’T need as they navigate great pain and deep loss.  A friend who starts out well (by simply sitting with their friend in their grief and not speaking) but eventually falls into a pit of self-righteousness, rebuking and judging.  How tempting it is to insert ourselves into someone else’s suffering armed with our own “wisdom.”  How easy it is to choose the sound of our own voice over the small still one that wants to speak through us.  We come bearing presents in the form of our time, our words and our wealth, and we forget the most valuable gift we have to bring is our presence … showing up and sitting a while in the season of a friend’s suffering.

I do not offer my story from a place of pride.  I do not elevate it as an illustration of any grand “point.”  It was simply an occasion where my wife and I showed up and shut up and experienced a moment where the kingdom of heaven touched earth.  A sacred slice of place and time where our story became intertwined with that of the ancients.  I offer my story about carnival colors:

Last April my wife Kristyn learned of a dear friend whose father was in the hospital, likely in his final days.  Kristyn reached out to her girlfriend to see if she could bring her family a meal.  Her friend was spending nearly all her waking hours sitting with her mother, comforting her father as he suffered with multiple painful ailments.  In responding, she asked if Kristyn might just come and sit with her the next day in the hospital.  A gracious and courageous request in the face of what she was enduring.  It is courageous to welcome someone into such a deeply personal space, and it is exceedingly gracious to allow someone to come alongside at a time when you’re at your most vulnerable.

Kristyn quickly agreed, and from each of their reports later, it was a beautiful day spent together.  As her friend would tell me later, Kristyn’s presence allowed her to begin grieving.  Kristyn would later share that she felt like the one who was blessed.  It was an abundant serving of daily bread; bread from the very hand of the Father whose ingredients were the time Kristyn gave and the invitation her friend offered.  A kingdom of God moment, for certain.

I texted our friend later that afternoon to see if I could bring her some dinner on my way home from work, or maybe I could just come and sit for a bit.  She was gracious once again and said she would love a cup of soup and coffee … one cream, one sugar.  I arrived with her order about 20 minutes later.  We hugged, she thanked me and then invited me to sit with her in the common area just down the hall from her father’s room.

As I sat and listened, I was overwhelmed by the truth that we were sharing a sacred space.  She was doing what she could to love her father fully to his very last breath, and gift him dignity in the midst of a scene that seemed everything but.  Sin authored death, and sin is equally responsible for pain.  Sin was fighting for the headlines in that space, but her father’s belief in Christ, and the love of Christ that his wife, his daughter and his family were actively living in that space outshined the darkness.

As we sat and talked, I asked my friend to share a story about her and her dad; one that might give me a deeper sense of who he was.  She shared how, as a young girl, she would ride in a pickup truck with her dad to his job sites.  He was a construction foreman, and she loved riding in that truck with him.  She shared how he loved to take his kids to the Thanksgiving Day parade in downtown Detroit.  How he would set up scaffolding so they could be up higher to see everything.  How he loved photography and music.  My friend is a soloist with a beautiful voice.  She explained that she got her love of music from her mom and dad.  They used to sing (loudly) in the car, and her parents would always say, “Sing louder Kimmy, so we can hear you!”  It was not easy to watch my friend share those memories, because intermingled with the smiles and chuckles was a deep sense of sorrow in the here and now.  It was sacred time in a sacred space, and I was so thankful to be able to share it with her.

As she finished her soup, she invited me down to her father’s room.  It was no small invitation, and I was beyond honored and grateful.  As I entered the room, I saw her mother sitting at her father’s bedside, holding his hand, smiling at him.  What an amazing picture of both earthly and godly love.  I was introduced, and stood at the foot of her father’s bed silently and reverently.  I was reminded of times in scripture where people were speechless in the presence of God.  It would be my nature to say something.  I am rarely shy with words.  But in that moment, and in that space, it felt right to simply stand in silence.  I felt the urge to take off my shoes (I had the strongest sense I was standing on holy ground).  I wish I had followed that urge.

Very soon after we arrived, my friend’s mother began to sing.  The song was Amazing Grace, and it was, indeed, a sweet sound.  After the first few words, my friend joined her mother in flawless harmony.  There they were, mother and daughter, honoring their dying husband and father in a way that was so genuinely who they all were together.  It was as if they were sitting on the bench seat of dad’s old pickup truck all over again.

I closed my eyes and listened prayerfully … and then found myself joining in a verse later. I put my arm around my friend and my other hand on her father’s foot.  I don’t know how long we sang, but the world around us seemed to dissolve away.  If holy could get “holier,” it did.

As I rode the elevator to the first floor on my way home that evening, my heart and mind returned to our conversation in the common area.  There were two words that came flooding back and repeated themselves over and over.  I seem to recall she shared them either in the context of her parade memories, or her father’s love of photography.  He had a phrase which has taken a forever place in the vernacular with which my heart and life speak, and she only had to speak it once for it to land and settle there.  My friend shared that her father had been fascinated by the colors which were revealed by a cleansing rain.  The faded and worn hues of the everyday burst forth with new life after a good rain, and her father had a unique and beautiful way of describing them to anyone who would listen.  The words he used were burned into her memory.  He called them “carnival colors.”  Carnival colors … I will never forget those words, or what they meant to me in that moment.

I prayed as the elevator descended.  I prayed that my friend would see those colors after the cleansing tears that would come when her father met Jesus face to face (just a few days later).  I prayed that she would associate those colors in her life with the memory of her father, as a gift from her Father in heaven.  Just as God gave the gift of a rainbow so we would all remember, He gave the gift of carnival colors so she would.  May we all live life in full recognition and awareness of the carnival colors all around us … the colors which are revealed after cleansing and healing rains.  Let us take the opportunities we are given to show up and shut up in the season of a friend’s suffering.  Let us be the friend that our “Job” needs.

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