What My Daughter’s Health Scare Taught Me about Heaven

King & CountryThis is an excerpt from my upcoming book, “King & Country: The Story That Changes Everything,” coming in summer 2017.

 

The more I have dwelt on the Bible’s “happily ever after,” the more it has affected every area of my life. The ending of the story is so comprehensive that it is able to take hold of every circumstance and every struggle and transform them. My enjoyment of beautiful spring mornings has been heightened by homesickness, stirring my longings for a restored Eden and remade world. My appreciation for music and architecture and sunsets and pizza has taken on eschatological dimensions, as I anticipate the unfading glory and joy of the New Jerusalem.

In particular, the story’s end has changed how I suffer. Now, I’m not particularly well equipped to write about suffering. For much of my adult life, my family and I have been spared the rod of divine testing, and our road has been easy. My trials are relatively light in comparison with many others. But even though my trials have been comparatively minor, they are still mine and I feel them more acutely. But in the past few weeks, I’ve been given a glimpse of what a difficult life could be like, a glimpse that has shaken me to my core.

A month ago, my wife gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. We held her in our arms and rejoiced over this precious life, each little finger and toe an amazing gift from God. Our hearts were full of hopes and dreams and prayers for her.

But a few days after her birth, we received an unexpected call from her pediatrician. Our daughter’s newborn screening—a standard blood test to check for a whole list of conditions—had come back flagged with an elevated level of a particular amino acid that potentially indicated a serious genetic disorder. If the condition was confirmed, it would mean a high possibility of brain damage and disability, and a devastatingly restrictive diet for the rest of her life.

With that one phone call, our excitement and joy turned to fear and grief. We faced a battery of tests and specialists over the following weeks to confirm or rule out a diagnosis. We didn’t know yet whether this would be a minor bump in the road, a short-term scare, or whether the rest of our lives (as well as hers) would be dramatically altered, with our hopes and dreams for our daughter shattered. And not knowing was half of the fear.

Yesterday we finally heard from the specialists that all of her tests had come back clear. The initial test that had prompted the scare had been a false positive. We’re thanking God for his mercy in restraining the rod of suffering. But I’m also thanking God for having grown a new and deeper hope than I had before.

Amidst the tears and prayers and worries, I found a surprising confidence rising in my soul. 2 Corinthians 4:17-18, which I have long known and loved, took on new significance. “This light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” In the days following the doctor’s phone call, as we faced worry and grief and a barrage of specialists and appointments, the Holy Spirit brought this verse to my mind with a still, small voice. And rising up from the promise came a new lifeline of hope, a new spin on a familiar promise. “Brendan,” the Spirit whispered to me, “Fear not. Every loss is restored in the end.”

This is the end of the story: he makes all things right again. For those who are part of the God-Man’s kingdom, this is the happy ending we have to look forward to. “Making all things right” doesn’t just mean that things that were bad will be better. It means that in the end, every trial is compensated, every wrong is corrected, and everything we’ve ever lost is returned to us. Every shattered dream will be realized. Every tear every Christ follower has ever shed in this weeping world won’t just be wiped away; it will be accounted for, weighed on the scales, and paid back in full. “The years the locusts have eaten will be restored” (Joel 2:25). Pastor and poet John Newton, writing about a dear friend’s long suffering and tragic death, said, “Jesus is rich enough, and eternity is long enough, for him to make abundant amends for whatever his infinite wisdom may see right to call them to, for promoting his glory in the end.”

This particular trial only lasted a month, but others may last far longer. Jesus did promise that “in this world you will have trouble.” So I know our troubles aren’t over yet. But now I have a newfound confidence flowing from this story’s ending: it’s all paid back in the end. Whatever suffering that King Jesus, in his infinite love and wisdom, sees fit for us to walk through, he will make abundant amends. Any affliction, which is truly “light and momentary” even if it lasts for the rest of our lives, is preparing for us an everlasting weight of glory beyond all comparison. Every grain of suffering on this side of the scale is being matched by immeasurable mountains of grace on the other.

This story’s conclusion is an anchor of hope in the storms that batter us in this life. No matter how dark the days may seem, no matter how bleak the situation is, the hope of restoration pierces the gloom with the promise that this too shall pass. When it doesn’t look like everything sad is coming untrue, when it feels like evil is still ascendant and the snake is still on the throne, all the stories are still true. Death will be rolled back as sure as the stone rolled back from Jesus’ tomb. The night of weeping will most certainly give way to morning’s song. All shall be well.

The grand story of the Bible ends with words of anticipation:

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 21:3-4)

Every tear wiped away, the scourge of death silenced forever, all pain erased permanently. This is the hope that sustains when the heart is heavy. So whether you’re fearing the onslaught of sorrow, or whether you’re grieving with no end in sight, here’s what you need to know: there will be a final tear. In this weeping world, one day, one tear that falls will be the last tear. One genetic disorder will be the last genetic disorder. One cancer diagnosis will be the last cancer diagnosis. One day, one divorce will be the last divorce. One child who dies will be the last child to die. One heartbreak will be the final heartbreak.

And until the dawn of joy, every tear brings us closer to that final tear. Every tear that my wife and I—and you—weep over our broken dreams moves us closer to the end of the story and the hand that will wipe them all away. The light at the end of the tunnel is growing brighter every day, and will soon break forth with light and beauty that will scatter darkness and ugliness forever. “In the end,” J.R.R. Tolkien writes, “the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty forever beyond its reach.” This is what resurrection means: the sadness and darkness passes, permanently. Death dies. Jesus wins. The empty grave overtakes all things. And in the end, Easter comes for you.

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