When Life Stops
I didn’t hear the gun go off.
But I heard about it.
It happened 20 minutes before I arrived to prepare for Outdoor Church. A few hundred yards away, on the bridge, they said.
When my friend Brenda arrived, she told me the body was still there. It was covered with a sheet. She couldn’t see if it was a man or a woman. Just someone who had run out of hope.
Then Brenda caught me up on her own struggles. Brenda has been knocked down many times in her life. Even now, life events are threatening to bury her.
She said five times in her life she wanted to be like the person on the bridge. She had wanted to give up, too. Yet God hadn’t let her die.
She sounded close to giving up again.
But not yet.
A Plot Change
Our stories don’t go like we expect them to. We envision the plot leading in one direction (usually to a healthy, happy, prosperous place), but life places us in different scenes. Sometimes good ones. Sometimes not so good.
Like the person on the bridge, sometimes stories seem to end too soon. We aren’t finished reading. The ending is confusing.
I sat last week at the funeral for the brother of one of my best friends. Don was 61 years old. Only a year ago, he was in prime shape, a runner, a skier, an active man. But a cancer chapter entered his book. And now, even though he wasn’t ready to leave, he’s gone.
How do we adjust when a book we’re reading suddenly slams shut?
Even when we’re not the main character in a story, someone else’s ending can still devastate us. It can make us anxious. It can cause us to be jumpy, wondering what’s next around the corner for us, too.
What to Do with a Short Story?
How do we deal with a story when a character suddenly disappears?
- Put down the pen.
For starters, we can learn to release our expectations. Stop predicting the endings. Try to live more flexibly. Bend without breaking. When we hold our scripts loosely, we’re less likely to be caught off guard when edits are written in.
- Embrace the mystery.
Then we can keep reading to see what’s on the next page. We learn to welcome the unknown, instead of hiding from it. Surprises bring hidden gifts with them, if we can lift open hands.
- Trust the Master Storyteller.
When we let go of our own version of the story, we’re more receptive to God’s autograph. Let him sign our books, embedding his fingerprints on every page.
- Flip the book.
For both Don and for the unknown person on the bridge, the story isn’t over. They both live on. We just can’t see the new pages being written. God picks up the story on the other side.
The Page You’re On
Making peace with the unknown is a lifelong journey. It’s not easy to trust the hard things. And we need to feel the sadness when it comes.
But when we learn to live freely, instead of manipulating the words into what we want them to say, we can fully live the page we’re on. We can stay in the story of the present, not jump ahead.
I still haven’t heard who the mystery person was who died on the bridge last Saturday. I probably won’t. Not every life makes the news. Or has a funeral. Or gets an obituary.
But every life is a story that matters. To somebody here. To somebody already gone. And to God who writes each life into being.
At the end of Outdoor Church that Saturday, I asked Brenda if she wanted prayer. She said she’d rather pray for the person who died than for herself.
So we prayed for God’s grace to welcome this person into the kingdom. For this person to know deep love. For he or she to finally enjoy the peace of complete healing.
Brenda prayed thanks that she had survived five times when she had wanted to die. And I prayed thanks that Brenda is still here.
We each are about to finish the last blank page in our 2017 chapters and open a clean white page entitled 2018. I’ll be leaving behind my theme of “Story” as my One Word for 2017.
But I won’t be leaving behind the stories themselves. The stories continue on. The ones we read. And the ones we no longer see.
Our stories never end. Not even death can stop them.
Don’t be afraid to turn the page. Keep reading. This story isn’t over.
* * *
Have you lost anyone unexpectedly this year? What helps you deal with your loss? Please share in the comments.
More Stories from 2017:
- Just Say You’re Sorry
The story of Anna and Julie
- Do You Assume the Best or the Worst? And a Barking Lady
The story of the barking lady in the library
- Encounter Another Human Being
Joe takes care of neighbors
- This Is Not Fair
The homeless boys watch the weather
- Links, Books, and Things I Love – December 2017
- Will You Think About It?