Living in the In-Between
JUNE 25, 2019
I’ve been thinking about death a lot lately.
In the span of two weeks, there have been four deaths in my orbit: my sister’s mother-in-law (who I’ll always remember for her sweet, ever-present smile), my best friend’s husband (they were married for 28 years and he was loved deeply), my childhood friend (she was the first kid who was kind and welcoming to me as an 11-year-old after we moved from Boston to Miami in the middle of the school year), and my cousin (so beloved, especially by my mother).
Their lives ended well.
But what do we do now in the in-between?
I love stories. And every good story has a clear beginning, middle, and end. The middle is always a time of great uncertainty and high drama. Challenge. Struggle. Conflict. Pain. Searching. Joy. Purpose. Meaning. Climax.
We live in that middle. We live in that in-between, somewhere after “Once upon a time” and before “And they lived happily ever after.”
What will happen next?
We live in a constant state of high alert and vigilance. (And frankly, it’s exhausting.)
We live in a constant state of confusion, chaos, pain, and frustration.
I find that I’m just like my golden retriever Max. Whenever he wanted something, my husband or I would answer with “yes,” “no,” or “soon, but not yet.” Max absolutely hated the “soon, but not yet.” Like a frustrated toddler, Max would attempt to stare us down—his eyes growing dark and big—and stomp his feet. (For the record, there is nothing funnier than a golden retriever trying to assert himself.) I really think Max would have preferred a “no.”
Likewise, we’ve been taught that God answers our prayers with “yes,” “no,” or “wait.” We don’t like the “wait.” We don’t like the in-between. I don’t wait well. I’m not that patient. I’d almost prefer a “no.”
In response to the in-between, I regularly vacillate between taking to my bed (to read a good book under the covers) and looking somewhere—anywhere—for a sign of hope. But, as I’ve recently discovered, I’m looking for hope in all the wrong places.
Maybe death (ironically) points to hope for today.
All four of those people were believers who loved Jesus…and were loved by him. All four struggled and suffered. For all four, the term “severe mercy” is apt (although that offers only a tiny bit of comfort to those family and friends left behind). All four are now with Jesus in heaven—healed, complete, whole.
Their stories ended well.
There is great hope in Revelation 21:4, “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.” And in 1 John 3:2, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.”
We will end well. It is promised. And that gives us hope right now in the in-between.
We are not bereft. We have not been left alone to fend for ourselves. We live now—and we will die then—under God’s love and grace.
It’s a much-used story (a bit dorky…but I tear up every time I hear it). A woman knew she was close to death, and she and her pastor discussed all the plans for her funeral—what hymns she would like sung, what Scripture verses she would like read, how she wanted to be remembered, and what she wanted him to say. Then as almost an afterthought, she said, “And I’d like to be buried with my fork.” Surprised and confused, the pastor asked, “Why?” The woman explained, “All my life I’ve loved potluck suppers. At the end of the meal, when all the plates are being cleared, someone will always say, ‘Make sure and keep your fork for the best is yet to come.’”
Turns out there really is a “And they lived happily ever after.”
And just maybe that hope can help us make it through today.