I’ve grown accustomed to the feeling that something awful will happen to my husband and daughter at a young age. Every once in a while, it hits me that something could happen—an illness or injury that takes them from me all too soon.
Recently, however, I’ve felt a relatively new fear: that illness or injury could happen to me. My life could be cut short. I could miss out on seeing my daughter find her passions, get married, or have children of her own. The thought of it lowers my heart into the pit of my gut.
A few days ago, our world lost a spiritual giant. Eugene Peterson, beloved pastor and author, took his last breath before entering his heavenly home. A statement released by his family referenced some of his final words:
When I read that, sitting side by side with my fear of an early earthly departure, everything in my being seemed to be put on pause.
Intellectually, I know that I will spend eternity with Jesus. But somewhere in this human heart of mine, I feel like my earthly death is the end of the journey.
But then, I think of Eugene Peterson’s final moments…
These were the words he said while drifting between heaven and earth. He seemed to have known that the real adventure was just getting started.
Several years ago, I ran a half marathon with some friends in Vancouver, Canada. We had to wake up before the sun in order to get to the starting line on time. We scurried around the house that morning, getting our clothes on and our protein in before realizing that it was pouring rain outside. In an attempt to stay somewhat dry before the race, we covered ourselves in gigantic trash bags and headed for the train station.
We took a busy train ride to the neighborhood where the starting line was painted. Pressed for time, we started jogging to the bag drop-off, our last stop before finding the START banner. Raindrops were pouring down on us as we dodged in and out of large groups of people, trying to make it to our destination with time to spare.
We couldn’t find our bag drop-off location. Then we found it! We couldn’t fit our belongings into one bag. Then we did it! We lost a member of our group. Found them! We were cold, tired, and breathless as we finally stepped into our place at the starting line. Now it was time to run over 13 miles.
Our road to get to the starting line was bumpy, to say the least; and it lasted for months before race day. We had been training for that marathon for months. When my friends and I made it to the starting line, our words mirrored Eugene Peterson’s:
In the weeks after that race, I began missing the marathon training that my friend and I immersed ourselves in. As difficult as it had been, we had so much fun taking the challenge on together. And yet, I can’t imagine having stayed put at the starting line. This is what we had trained and waited for! The road to get there had been long and arduous, though incredibly worthwhile. We were bursting with an anticipation. With every fiber of our being, we chanted it:
I think that’s what Eugene Peterson must have been experiencing a few days ago, when he finally made it to the most exciting leg of his journey. Unlike my experience in Vancouver, he has already run the race, but in many ways, his hard work has brought him to the starting line we’re all actually waiting for. It couldn’t have always been easy as he traveled the road to get to that moment but oh my goodness, the glory of it all!
I am so grateful for the work of Eugene Peterson. His words have blessed me—both the words he wrote years ago, and those uttered in his final breath. His last words have shifted my perspective of my own death, whenever that may be. Whether I’ve seen my baby girl walk the aisle at her kindergarten graduation or her wedding ceremony, I want to have embraced the journey I’ve taken to get to the starting line of eternity.
Mallory Redmond embraces anomalies–she is an adventure-loving homebody who keeps a clean house yet always makes a mess while eating or brushing her teeth. She loves dry humor, clean sheets, and gathering around the table with friends. Mallory and her husband, Darren, live in Ohio with their beagle, Roger, and daughter, Evelyn. You can follow her writing here, where her stories are told with the hope of further uncovering the places of connection in our humanity.
As a runner, I can really relate to this. This is such a great way to capture the anxiety that we feel at our own mortality. Thanks for this poignant piece!