I was buckled into the back of our black Dodge Caravan trying to keep our one-year-old happy with Easter cookies, and sippie cups, and tickles. I don’t usually sit in the back, but today was different. We were heading home from my family’s Easter dinner, and my mother-in-law was with us, sitting up-front next to my husband. It was her first time ever coming to my family’s Easter dinner, because this year was different.
This was her first major holiday, as a widow. And we were just happy to have her with us.
As the sun set on the farms and silos, Brandon and his mom were talking about Dry-Locking her basement, and meeting with the memorial company to choose a headstone for his dad this week. There were so many little things Harold did around the house, that it would be so different now. Not to mention his booming personality and laugh that seemed to fill their whole home.
As they talked home-projects, and I was able to calm the baby, my ears were tuned to another conversation that was happening behind me.
In the back seat, our 8-year-old daughter, Selah, and her 4-year-old little brother, Jesse had been talking in very low, very serious voices to each other. Their eyes locked into one another’s gaze, and their heads careened as close as two car seats would allow them to get, and they spoke softly. It was one of those conversations too sacred to interrupt, even between children.
“Selah, what’s the Coronavirus?” Jesse asked, his blue eyes peering into hers.
“It’s what Grandpa died of,” she said, looking straight into his eyes.
“Oh,” Jesse said with a look of concern.
“But he’s in heaven now, Jesse, and one day we will see him again,” Selah said, speaking the words I had so often comforted her with.
The words I have so often comforted myself with.
“How can I go to heaven?” Jesse asked earnestly, his eyes wide, “And not to hell?”
“Well,” said Selah very matter-of-fact, “If you follow Jesus, and ask him to forgive your sins, and ask the Holy Spirit to come into your heart, then you will go to heaven when you die. But if you don’t follow God, you will go to hell.”
“Do you want to pray and ask the Holy Spirit into your heart, Jesse?” she said looking very seriously into his face.
“Yes, Selah. Will you help me do it?” Jesse said.
“Okay, repeat after me,” Selah guided him, “Dear Jesus, thank you for making me. (He repeated.) And thank you for making my family. (He repeated.) And thank you for dying on the cross for me. (He repeated.) Please forgive me for all the bad things I’ve done. (He repeated softly.) And please send the Holy Spirit to live in my heart. (He repeated).”
“In Jesus Name, Amen.”
What was happening?
Their voices talked more excitedly now, and I finally turned around and asked them, “What’s going on, guys?”
“Mom, Jesse just asked the Holy Spirit to come into his heart!” Selah exclaimed.
Jesse’s blue eyes lit up, “Yeah! God is writing down my name in heaven!” He was smiling so wide and almost jumping up and down except for the tight carseat straps restraining his joy. Still he bounced, smiling.
“That’s great Jesse!” I said. “That’s amazing!”
“Do you understand, what Jesus did for you?”
“Yep! He died on the cross for my sins. And he came back to life!”
“That’s right, Jesse!” I said.
He couldn’t help grinning. And bouncing. And saying,
“God is writing down my name in heaven!”
Yes, my son, He is, my heart whispered.
And in that moment, as the sunset shone golden across the fields, I marveled at God.
That the Holy Spirit can fall in the back of a minivan.
And how an eight-year-old girl, could take her little brother by the hand, and lead him into the Kingdom of God.
Surely, the Kingdom belongs to such as these.
While my husband and his mom were in the front talking about the gravestone, and fixing the fallen stones on her entryway, Jesse’s heart was being transformed from stone to flesh in the backseat.
Lord, how could this be?
“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you;
I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” Ezekiel 36:26
And this is a miracle.
But we often forget, or ignore His greatest miracle of all:
When Jesus was crucified and dead in a tomb for three days, and then rose from the dead, defeating death and sin, and conquering the power of the grave. Forever.
I don’t know what other miracles God will do, but the miracle God is still faithfully performing is this: Hearts of stone, turn into hearts of flesh. He breathes new life into dead things. He takes spiritually dead people, and makes them come alive.
And this is hard. But this is hope.
Because sometimes God does not perform the miracle we are praying for.
I remember the snowy night the helicopter flew Harold to the hospital in Pittsburgh. It was the day after Christmas. We thought we would see him again. We were texting with him when he got into his room, and before we knew it, he was sedated and put on a ventilator, for weeks. And for weeks we begged and prayed for a miracle–a miracle in his lungs, a miracle in his body. We wept and worshipped, and paced the kitchen. We cried into the carpet on the living room floor next to the Christmas tree, and cried out to God for a miracle. We had hundreds of people praying for him.
But the miracle didn’t come.
At least, not the way we wanted.
For weeks my husband kept an Excel spreadsheet of all his ventilator settings, rising and falling, rising and falling, and then, they kept rising. And we watched as he slipped through our fingers.
Lifted up to heaven, like the helicopter lifted him from the earth.
This tall, jolly man with a loud, booming voice, and laugh, who loved Jesus with all of his heart, and always reminded us, wherever we were and whatever we were going through, that, “God has a plan.”
Oh God, why are you taking him? Please do not take him.
It was midnight when Brandon got the phone call. “They don’t think he’ll make it through the night,” Brandon said when he hung up with his brother. And we sat in the dark on our bed, tears rolling down our faces, crying into our hands.
He was going to leave to meet his brother and mom at his dad’s bedside.
For their last “good-bye.”
As Brandon quickly packed a duffle-bag, I made him a coffee for the road, and said, as my voice cracked, “Remember to take the gifts Selah made him, on the piano.” He grabbed them, and was gone.
“Has Grandpa even gotten any Christmas presents yet?” Selah asked me earlier that day. “I mean, what’s Christmas without any presents?” She then worked for hours making him a Steeler’s black and gold loom-band bracelet, and painting him an orange “fox” rock. And my heart ached because she didn’t know, he wouldn’t get to open them. But she was adamant that next time Daddy visited the hospital, he take Grandpa his gifts. Almost as if she were annointing him with her most expensive perfume, even it was just loom-bands. They were precious to her, and I helped her make sure the bracelet was very large, so it could slide easily over his hand.
“What’s the Coronavirus, Selah?” Jesse asked.
“It’s what Grandpa died of.”
“But he’s in heaven now, Jesse, and one day we will see him again.”
This, coming from the little girl who has wept into our arms more times than I can count. And we’ve wept with her. Our tears falling into her blonde hair, as we hold her against our chest. No one prepares you as a parent for this kind of grief, the grief of a child. It feels like getting the wind knocked out of you. And them. At the same time. And you’re both gasping for air.
The day Harold died, Brandon came home from the hospital holding the Steelers’ bracelet, and “fox” rock in his hand, tears in his eyes.
“I don’t know how I’m going to tell her,” Brandon had said.
When the moment finally came, we went up to her bedroom together and sat on the floor surrounded by stuffed animals and fuzzy blankets. He began by telling her about Adam and Eve in the garden. How they chose to sin and disobey God, and when they did that, sin entered the world and a curse happened on all of creation, that brought death, and disease, and sorrow. It wasn’t supposed to be this way.
He explained that we all sin and deserve death and hell, which is very bad thing–but the good news is, God sent Jesus to rescue us, to die on the cross, and rise again, so that we could be forgiven of our sin, and live with God in heaven some day.
“And Selah,” he could barely speak the words, “Grandpa died today. And he went to heaven.”
All the color left her face. Tears filled her green eyes. A knife went through our hearts and hers, as we all sobbed together in a heap, on her bedroom floor. And it felt so horrible to let her little tender heart feel the sting of death this young. It’s not supposed to be this way, my heart whispered.
And it’s all because of sin.
We suddenly felt the horribleness of sin, for the first time. This is what sin does. This is it’s effect.
We never hated sin more than in that moment. The curse was real. We could feel it.
So, why am I telling you this?
Because this is why Jesus came. To break the curse.
This is the miracle.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
In a world, that is riddled with sin, and sorrow, and unthinkable pain; in a world with COVID, and cancer, and unexpected car crashes–
He is the miracle.
And because he came, we don’t have to die and go to a Christ-less eternity, called hell. Because if the curse is real, then hell itself is real, and more horrifying than we can possibly imagine.
But we don’t have to, because of Jesus.
“Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:12)
This is the good news. Death is not the end, for the one who is in Christ. If He has risen from the dead, then we who are in Him, shall also rise. “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” (Romans 6:5)
There is much more I could say about how to receive the salvation that is freely offered to you in Jesus Christ. And you can go here to learn more about starting your own relationship with Jesus.
You probably don’t know this, but Harold prayed for his grandchildren’s salvation. And if he were here, and could hear this story, even the part about him being life-flighted and dying of the coronavirus, I have no doubt that he would be beaming from ear to ear, and I can hear his booming voice say,
“Glory to God!”
Because the catalyst for this conversation between Jesse and Selah in the van–was him.
And somehow, both his life and his death, prepared the way for these little ones to come to the Father.
And I wish I could tell him about this. I wish I could tell him with tears in my eyes, but my husband tells me, he probably already knows.
“I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” (Luke 15:7)
If heaven rejoices over one sinner who repents, then Harold is included in that rejoicing.
And I can hear him shouting, “Glory to God!”
And, “God has a plan!”
And I can see his arms lifted wide, and his smile flash across his face, as He exalts and worships the Lamb, Jesus Christ.
Perhaps he never got to open Selah’s gifts of the Steeler’s bracelet, that Brandon slipped over his wrist, or the “fox” rock that lay at his bedside; but he got something better. Selah led her little brother to Christ.
It’s a miracle.
That we have a God who loved us enough, to send His Son, so that we could be saved.
And it’s a miracle, that stone hearts can turn into hearts of flesh.
And the Holy Spirit can fall in the back of a minivan.
And little girls with broken hearts can share the gospel with little brothers, and comfort out of their own affliction.
And little boys can have their names written in heaven.
And little children can receive the Kingdom.
All because of Jesus.
Yes, this is a miracle.
And all of heaven rejoices.
[In loving memory of Harold R. Fox. 1956-2021. One day, we will rejoice together.]
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