[I begin by taking off my shoes, for this is holy ground.]
Someone I know and love is dying. At this moment his wife and daughters gather around him as his fierce battle with cancer draws to an end. The veil between heaven and earth becomes nearly transparent, and his eyes fix on the beautiful face of his Redeemer welcoming him home.
For those of us who love him, we wait, we weep, and we pray.
I first met Craig a dozen years ago at a women’s retreat in Colorado. He and his wife spoke that weekend, and they captured me with their love and tenderness. In the years that followed, I began to volunteer for these retreats, and I had the honor of coming to know this precious couple. Their love and tenderness extended to me, and they have blessed me in ways they don’t even know.
As a pastor, teacher, speaker, and writer, Craig has poured into thousands of people, including my husband and me. He plays a significant role in two of my stories. One is an embarrassing moment that has become legendary among my friends. The other is a moment of great disappointment. I’ll share the embarrassing story first since I know Craig loves to laugh (and to make others laugh).
After the retreat each year, the leaders and a small group of others gather for a meal and a time of sharing. For me, an introvert, I enter this evening with a good bit of anxiety, so it was a relief when my friend Leslie began to attend with me. On this particular night we prepared our plates and went to sit on a couch in the large gathering room. Soon Craig joined us on the sofa. When he greeted me, I said the first thing that popped into my head: “Hi Craig. I like your mustache.”
Now, to be fair, it was an admirable mustache; however, I do not know why I said these words. They hung in the air like a speech bubble that I desperately wanted to snatch before it reached his ears. He graciously received my compliment (though I think his brow furrowed quizzically), and then he turned to Leslie. “Tell me about yourself,” he said to her. She responded with something more articulate, interesting, and, well, sane.
“I like your mustache” has become an oft-quoted punchline, and I suspect when I see Craig in heaven it will be the first thing I blurt out. Craig, I’m sorry. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.
The other story took place four years earlier. In 2009 I applied for a job with the ministry where Craig works. It was a bold move for a shy, stay-at-home mom, and after waiting several weeks, I received a phone call from Craig. I remember hearing his familiar warm voice when I answered, and he gently explained that they had hired someone else for the position. He then took the time to ask for my story, to listen, and to encourage me. My tears didn’t deter him, and I hung up the phone feeling heard, “seen,” and so well loved.
Later that afternoon my doorbell rang, and I opened the door to find a deliveryman with a lovely arrangement of flowers. The attached card held these words from Craig:
“Beauty helps the waiting. You live well, we’re grateful for you, your heart…your patience.”
Sigh. It was a gesture of extraordinary kindness, and these were words of blessing, affirmation, and hope that I desperately needed. I kept the card, and I’ve come back to Craig’s words many times in the ensuing years. When I read them, I hear his warm, gentle voice speaking over me.
This has been a hard week: one friend buried his father yesterday; another friend said goodbye to her mother today; and all the while, I’ve been thinking of Craig, his wife, and his daughters. Death seems to be all around, stalking us like a persistent black cat, and grief begins to feel a lot like fear. Like the psalmist, I weep and wonder, “Lord, where do I put my hope?”
Then I hear words of resurrection hope, from the pulpit this morning, from Craig’s writing, which I have been revisiting, and from Scripture. In one of his blog posts, Craig writes, “The coming Kingdom will be a wholly other experience with every tear wiped from our eyes and there will no longer be any death, mourning, crying or pain (Revelation 21:3-4)”. The preacher declares it; Craig believes it; and the psalmist rests in it: “My only hope is in you.”
We have resurrection hope that death does not have the final word. Eternal, abundant life is coming, and redemption—the exchange of death for life—is just a breath away. I know that soon Craig will breathe his last breath and experience this beautiful exchange. I imagine that he will be greeted immediately by a voice as warm and gentle as his own, saying, “Welcome, my good and faithful servant. Well done. Enter into the joy of your Lord.”
For the rest of us, “beauty helps the waiting.” As we wait, let’s claim, proclaim, and celebrate resurrection hope by taking off our shoes, turning up the volume, lifting our hands, and singing along…
Susan Tucker spends her days mothering her two teenage sons, teaching middle school English, and savoring rare moments of quiet and solitude. She lives in Knoxville, Tennessee, with her sons and her husband of 21 years. Susan finds life in a beautiful story, an authentic conversation, worship music, and ultimately, in Jesus, the giver of all good gifts.