I should be working. But I’d rather tell you a story…
The day was like any other day, especially any day I go to Walmart. In and out. As fast as possible. Determination in my step, focus in my eye; deftly weaving and wending the cart through the other customers merely browsing. Watch out; I’ve a mission! My toddler called out the names of all the things she saw, like a baby Adam on a naming urgency. Ball! Doggy! Kitty! Boon! Baby!
I swept in to gather the few things I needed for the weekend and to capitalize on the rollbacks on school supplies for last year; something I recently learned to do from a new friend.
With everything I needed and everything I could find in my cart, I zoomed up–yes, I know it’s Walmart, but it’s also 8:30 in the morning, so I zoomed–to the do-it-yourself checkout. Waited a minute and then was ushered to an open checkout and pulled up. Typically, my modus operandi is as follows: go as fast as possible and keep your eyes trained on your task at hand, God forbid anyone talk to you… But on this particular day, I was beaming with conquest, prideful with reduced price; I was a lioness returning to the pride dragging a buffalo…Yes, gaze and gawk…I’m just this awesome…
The older lady who ushered me to open checkout flirted with my daughter, who was flirting back. And then I made eye-contact with the lady.
“Looks like you’ve got some school supplies there…” She said.
“Yes,” I replied and smiled confidently. It is a beautiful buffalo isn’t it… I continued, “A friend of mine explained to me that you can school shop for next year just after the current school year starts because the school items are reduced…”
“Oh,” she began. “Just like just after Christmas is the best time to do Christmas shopping…” We bonded over that. Then she added, “I was hoping to retire this Christmas, but it looks like I won’t be able to…”
That’s one of those statements that can’t go ignored, even though I contemplated ignoring it and getting out of there. But, I still had some items on the belt; so, “Oh, why won’t you be able to retire?” I asked her. She explained to me her financial situation, which was tight because it’s just her. She told me of her hopes for eventually getting her social security along with her husbands and that would be very helpful. I nodded to all of this. And then, prompted by something she had said about her youngest child, a girl, I asked, “How many children do you have?”
“I had four kids and I was step-mom to four more and then including the grandson I’ve raised, that makes 9 kids!”
“Wow! Well I’m sure they were 9 well loved kids!” was my response.
She told me more about the other ones who chose her ex-husband over her and a lot more about the youngest daughter who had earned a number of degrees. And then there was a pause; I was now loading my bags into my cart. Then she told me about her step-daughter.
“One of my step-daughters died in a hot-tub…” I all but dropped my bags to the ground. Maintaining my composure, I put the last bags in the cart and turned to her.
“I’m sorry,” was all I could think of saying.
“Oh, it’s all right…she was really messed up and cheating on her husband…She was drunk and still drinking when she drowned in the hot tub” she tried to dismiss it and blow it off, like she didn’t care, like somehow her step-daughter asked for this to happen.
I looked at her. She did care. “You know, it doesn’t matter what the events or actions are surrounding a death like that, it’s still a loss…” is what I said to her.
Her eyes softened. “Well I blame the people who owned the tub, they just left her alone still drinking. They found her when they came down the next morning to close up the tub.” I nodded; I understood what she was feeling and what she was doing. There was a pause and then another softening of her posture, “You know…she was in such a bad spot, hurting, I’m sure she’s in a better place now, free of pain. She was just so messed up there at the end.” She mentioned something about a troubled marriage. “But I know she’s in a better place now with our father.” She smiled, but it wasn’t any smile it was the smile of hope. She had hope.
“I’m really sorry for your loss,” I said and I readied to leave. She smiled at me again and told us to have a great day; we wished her the same, or, rather, I did…Liza was busy naming things…
As I rolled out to the car my hope fled. The weight of the life of a young woman that was cut short too early–no matter the circumstances surrounding the death–weighed my heart down. The realization that our world is just that broken–something I’m not typically faced with everyday–fell into my lap. I couldn’t help it; I cried. I cried as I loaded my car with my bags and my toddler. I cried as I got into the driver seat. I cried as I drove home. My heart aching; my conscience troubled; my soul grieving.
I came to a stop light and waited for it to turn green. It’s one of those long lights. But on this day, it was a tad longer than normal–or so it seemed. As I sat there behind a big, green, beat-up truck, I stared mindlessly ahead, my mind preoccupied with hopelessness and brokenness. And then, for some reason, my eyes narrowed in on a long, thin, rather bland bumper sticker on this big, green beat-up truck. I avoid looking at bumper stickers in the area I live in because they’re usually just offensive or over-the-top. But this one caught my eye, maybe because it was bland (black block letters on a white background) or because it was long and thin (a non-classic bumper sticker style). And as my eyes focused in on the words, I cried again…
“Jesus Died to Save Sinners”
And hope returned. Because deep down, that is our only hope, that is our only comfort in this very broken world. In this world where lives are cut off too short and at all, we need to know that something has occurred to remedy the broken situation. We need something we can look to, focus on, be reminded of that is beyond or bigger than this broken world and our broken selves. And there is nothing more concrete than:
The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners (1 Tim 1:15).
This is the foremost foundation of our hope in the face of brokenness, of loss, of grief, pain, and all types of suffering. Because Jesus’ coming is the manifestation of God’s love for us and the fulfillment of his promise to us that it-won’t-always-be-so–as are His death, resurrection, and ascension, too.
But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. (Romans 8:23-25)
Our faith in Christ (in the totality of who and what He was and is and all that He did from his birth to his ascension) is the foundation of our hope. And not just hope that we will get out of this life and be brought into another one (though, this is part of our hope), but that in the face of suffering and sorrow, loss and grief, pain and turmoil, we can stand with those who are hurting, we can comfort and not abandon, and we can look forward to (and point to) the day when our hope is realized because His words do not fall flat. The Great Promiser who promises will do it.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:1-4)