Finishing the Race

“Kings and kingdoms will all pass away,

But there’s something about that name.”

Of all the songs we could have been singing in that moment it was somehow the most appropriate. So simple, so pure, so powerful. Jesus. Just His name and there she was, her hand in mine, slipping fully into His presence. She knew to whom she belonged and to whom she was now going. Faith becoming sight.

I have brought four children into this world. Now this child was leaving and it was perhaps just as beautiful.

I can’t tell you how many years ago my grandmother died- a few. For whatever reason, this year I can feel it. I can hear the song, I can feel her hand, and I can see the faces of the others around her bed. I have often questioned God’s wisdom in allowing me to be there but there I was; in that sacred space, as the four of us finished the chorus. My uncle leaned over, my aunt as well. No breath. The rattling labor of the past couple days had ceased. She was gone. Silent tears of joy and sorrow and understanding fell and peace flooded that room.

So much of the death we experience in this life is tragic. Babies torn from their mothers, lovers in the grips of cancer, a car accident and what?… void. Just a void where there is not enough “why” in the world to heal the hurt. It just has to scab over and you try to stay soft enough that the scars are minimal. Its a creation at war- and there are so very many casualties. But it’s not just the physical death. So many people make it to that “ripe old age” and somehow, though less shocking its not less sad. They died so many years before. Bitterness took them, or pride, or apathy. The young man with a dream had it beat from him by the cares of life and never got back up. Resignation became his opium and he settled.

Or perhaps, someone did everything they set out to do and more. This life was a mountain and they climbed it- they conquered. But they never peered into their own depths. They never saw the mountain’s maker, or theirs. Never took pause. The body, the soul- it found it’s footing. But it conquered a temporary world and the one portion that would transcend had been sorely neglected. In the deepest part of them, a dilapidated and terminal spirit had been left to starve in a world of accomplishments. Too feeble to make the journey over. A second death inevitable.

But not in this room. Something so other-worldly had taken place here; In her heart, in her life, in the family that was now streaming in the door and filling the quiet with tears and songs and scriptures long ago put to memory. My grandmother, had won no Nobel prizes. She had no great ministries to her name, no fancy degrees to speak of. Beyond her small community few would know her. But I am hard pressed to think of anyone who, better than she, ran the race. It seems that everything, even the mundane (and much of it was mundane) was done with fervor and conviction. She put her hand to the ground, and it produced. She put the child on her knee, and they grew in wisdom. She raised her hands in worship and heavens opened. And now she was at rest. No tragic end.

When I was young I perceived her the way a child perceives anyone with gray hair. She was a sweet little old lady. It didn’t take long into adulthood to realized that was a sorely shallow, and perhaps even inaccurate description of her. She was small, but the fire in that woman’s soul ran through the whole of her. She was weathered and wise but not hard. She had seen loss, and persecution, and wrong and yet stayed faithful. So very faithful, despite pain and mistreatment and having her world thrown on it’s head more than once. And she stayed focused. She found the deepest truth she knew and held on to it. When more seductive, and perhaps gratifying paths were presented she did not forsake what she honestly believed to be true. It was, even if you did not agree with her, a pure life. In a world of duplicity- where believing something and living something seem rarely to go hand in hand she was different. Untainted. In an unsteady place she was anchored.

And she did not take so many of the shortcuts we try to take in life. Short cuts to God. Short cuts to character. Short cuts to growing things. She understood that much of life took diligent, persistent work. Usually inconvenient. But she had also seemed to master the understanding that this life really isn’t lived for self. Not a spirit-rich life. I experienced this the night before she died. I sat in her room, listening to her breathing and saying “God, can’t you just take her now. She’s done well.” It seemed that she had imparted everything she had to give and I was a little confused by the lingering.

I had forgot about my sister. She had been stuck two hours away at a job she couldn’t leave until the next day. She took the harmony line the night my grandma died. Suddenly it made sense. She was the last of us who were trying to make it back and see our grandmother one more time. I can’t prove it but I’m convinced that Grandma waited. My sister hadn’t been in the room fifteen minutes when that fragile and fiery little woman let go. She waited for every last one of us who were coming to come. At her own expense. My sister got to be there, got to see her, got to sing to her. Even in that she didn’t take the short cut. She held on to the very end.

I do not know what all my God has for my life. Sometimes I get glimpses. Honestly, even when I get the what part right I’m often off course when it comes to the how. Still, I feel the gentle compelling work of the Holy Spirit leading me deeper and deeper into the things of God. And when I fail the incomparably gracious work of Christ at Calvary ministers to me reminding me of God’s great mercy, goodness and sovereignty in it all. In light of this, I make this admonishment to my own soul and any of the saints of God who would hear it:

It is not fitting for the child of God to shrink back from the work of God. A son owes all to the father, and rightly discerning His love for us should compel us deeper than debt or duty ever could. Therefore, do not quit. Do not hold back. Do not be led astray by the pride of life, and the praise of man, using the days and gifts you’ve been given to profit yourself. Neither, bury your gifts and shrink back, in fear and false humility, from the great work you’ve been given. For the righteous ones of God are both humble and bold. Therefore, whatever is in front of you to do, be it small or be it grande, do it. With your whole heart, do it! And finish your race!   

2 Timothy 4:7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.