My friend is dying.
I hadn’t seen him for a while. I get notices from his Caring Bridge online journal of his struggle with cancer. A recent post had pictures of him.
I was shocked at his appearance.
The robust, ginger-haired, scrappy man I knew was gaunt. He looked frail. Though his eyes sparkled with vitality and optimism (his motto is #LIVEOUTLOUD), his body betrayed his real condition. I’m sad. And everyone knows what’s coming.
Soon my friend will leave his body and be with the Lord. I know he’s in God’s kingdom. I know he loves and follows the Lord. The light within him shines out with increasing luminosity as his outward “shell” deteriorates.
His pictures reminded me of my mom’s fight with cancer. She found out she had lung cancer one-week before my wife and I were married in April 1983. My parents refused to tell us until Jeanne and I returned from our honeymoon so as not to spoil our joy. My mom started chemo immediately. To say it was rough on her is a gross understatement. Thank God cancer treatment has come a long way in almost four decades!
Sadly, my most vivid memory of her final year was turning the corner into the hallway and seeing her for the first time without her wig and make-up. I wasn’t aware of it, but she told me of my utterly shocked and horrified expression. What once was my vibrant, feisty, and suntanned mom was a pale, weak, and yes, a gaunt, shell of her former self. She still sounded and acted like the mom I knew, but her body had been ravaged by the chemo and cancer.
Many of you know what I’m talking about.
But this decaying phenomenon is not always brought on just by sickness and disease.
When my paternal grandmother was in her 80’s I will never forget what she said one day. “I feel like a 20-year-old girl trapped in an 80-year-old body,” she opined. The old black and white pictures from the ’30s and ‘40’s revealed a stocky, short, prim woman who governed her English classes with a firm hand. Now in her 80’s, her stooped frame was carried along with a hobbling walk, guided down the hall by slightly gnarled hands and eyes shielded by thick glasses due to cataract surgery (let’s also be thankful for great technological advancements in eye care, shall we?). And yet, her inner person was still lively, though locked in a deteriorating shell of a body. She was indeed a 20-year-old woman caught in an 80-year-old body. Sadly, after falling at the age of 90, she gave up and the “seed” of her body was placed in the ground.
Even now, I’m watching the same process with my dad, my family, and my long-time friends. We’re all going through the same thing – the outward evidence of aging while inside feeling we’re still “young” (relatively speaking).
Seeds. When seeds mature, they are outwardly not too spectacular to look at. But I’m always impressed when they are broken open at how clean and bright the inner seed appears. The outer shell betrays the inner reality. The heart of the seed is life in stasis, awaiting the right conditions – planting and rain – to bring forth new life in a completely new and wonderful form.
I planted blue corn in my garden this year. The seeds came from last year’s crop. At harvest time, the kernels were fresh and springy, with the lingering smell of the soil. Over time, those kernels changed, grew hard and wrinkled, outwardly losing the look of vitality. But that wasn’t bad. It was natural. They were just advancing toward the next stage – planting and new life. For those with eyes to see, each kernel had great potential for new life within its aging skin.
The face I see in the mirror today doesn’t look like the face I examined decades ago for a budding beard in high school. Sometime over the last few decades, an amazing change has occurred. After hopping on my bike the other day, I realized I can’t roar up hills and bomb the bike path as I used to and my body is more than happy to declare that to me. More than ever I understand what my Grandma Chris said. I’m a 30-year-old guy trapped in a 60-year-old body. And my inner man keeps trying to drag the outer shell into compliance to no avail. But will I surrender? Never!
Therefore, we do not give up. Even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day (2 Corinthians 4:16).
Like the corn seeds at harvest time, we are born fresh and springy. But over time we change. Our outer person transforms. Our bodies begin to “harden.” We wrinkle. We lose the outward look of vigor. What we look like outwardly seems to not correlate what we are inwardly. Is that bad? No. We’re just advancing toward the next stage – planting and new life. For those with eyes to see, each of us has great potential for an eternal new life waiting within our skin.
But I was disappointed in my blue corn crop this year. Not all the seeds I planted sprouted. It wasn’t the rain or the dirt’s fault. Something in some of the seeds didn’t trigger.
We all age. We all die. We all are “planted” in death. But the sad fact of this current world is that not all of us will sprout into new life in the resurrection of the dead at Jesus’ return. Why? It’s not God’s fault or any fault of the Holy Spirit’s resurrection power.
The fault lies with us. We are all born as dead seeds (Ephesians 2:1). Only Jesus’ work in us activates life within for the world to come. Yes, we experience new life now when we embrace Jesus as our Savior. But using the seed picture, if the life we experience now is just the potential life of a seed, what will life be like when we burst the bonds of this mortal body at death into a resurrected body free from deterioration and decay?
Or will you stay in the ground, locked forever in death?
The life-giver awaits. He is “…the way the truth and the LIFE” (John 14:6), but the option to refuse is still yours.
Me? I want to erupt from the ground of this sin-wracked planet into Jesus’ glorious kingdom with a new heaven and re-created earth.
I’m looking forward to seeing my friend, my mom, and my grandma, and everyone else revealed in the splendor they were always meant to be. What a harvest-time that will be! Until that time, though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day…if we have given ourselves to the Lord.