I treasure this photograph. I wouldn’t know what the occasion was but the clues tell me it’s a birthday celebration – possibly Annie’s? There’s something particularly precious to me about photos of my Annie before I knew of her. Although it’s true, I have fewer of those photographs in my possession than I do of those when I knew her, it’s not simply scarcity or rarity that increases their value to me. It’s something much deeper and loftier than that.
I made mention recently of a long-term labour of love I have assigned some of the long winter nights to; to sift through a box full of digital storage media and archive every photo or video I have of my Annie since we were married. My plan is to file them into folders organised by month within year. It’s usually a simple process if the image file has a date-stamp. And when that’s missing, there’ll always be some visual clue in the photo, which when I filter it through the archive of my memory, will eventually allow me to pin a year, a month and probably even an occasion on it. There’s an immediacy to looking at recent photographs; I look, I locate, I recall and replay and I smile and then I move to the next photo and I do the same all over again. But there’s something about the fact that I can’t attach these older photos to a personal memory – no shared folder into which I can place them – that makes me gaze longer and deeper into them. For me, these are not photographs that evoke memories but rather invoke my imagination and create new feelings and reflections and longings as I stand outside looking intently in at my girl.
“From life’s first cry to final breath. Jesus commands my destiny.”
Just last Sunday, we were singing the words to that hymn ‘In Christ Alone’ and that line above triggered the memory of this photograph. I got home and I gazed again into that picture taking in the smiles, the happiness, Annie’s expression of uncontainable excitement, that birthday cake; then a sadness, a deep brooding, consumed me. So happy and yet so unaware of the painful years that would unfold. Neither could ever have known that Mom Ruth would indeed witness all of her daughter’s birthdays; she would be a mother – even a widow – who would literally witness her dear daughter’s first cry and final breaths.
I will give you the treasures of darkness and the hoards in secret places, that you may know that it is I, the LORD, the God of Israel, who call you by your name. – Isaiah 45:3
This can be a painful photo for me to look at – it’s bitter to behold – but the pain only increases its value. You see, the deeper I push into it, the longer I gaze and survey the fulness of sadness, I will always discover something greater than the sum of the whole; something that will not be bound by the frame; something that breathes life greater than the life that was being enjoyed in the moment it was taken; something more beautiful behind the smiles, something more exciting and more real than the moment encased in the past; something wonderfully tangible and true…
For He chose us in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight. In love He predestined us to be adopted as His sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with His pleasure and will– to the praise of His glorious grace, which He has freely given us in the One He loves. – Ephesians 1:4-6
This old photograph doesn’t have a timestamp, but it does have a fixed place in time relative to me. Before God said “Let there be light!” He already had a plan for our lives; in grace and in love He had already decided “Let my daughter, Annie and my son, Ryan become one flesh.” There is something gloriously cosy and secure, about knowing you were on the mind of the eternal God before time was conceived. This might sound really strange to some of you reading this, but I can testify – just in the same way that my Annie could testify the same thing in the grips of cancer – that all the pain I have experienced so far is producing praise to His glory!
In Christ, increased pain, increases peace and praise.
This is the power of Christ in me!
Just recently, I realised something as I was looking at a photograph of my Annie. I realised that when I think “Oh how I miss you!” it is always accompanied by a silent assurance that while the pain of missing her increases every moment, the period also decreases. There is a sense in which I miss her more every day and less every day.
Let me illustrate what I mean with a true story.
Before we were married and just a few months before we were engaged, I recall that Annie took a small vacation to Florida to meet up with her cousin. This was before the days of Skype; the internet was still very slow and temperamental and international phone call packages were still too costly. In some ways, that trip to Florida changed nothing. We lived over a hundred miles apart anyway and up until that point we’d only been able to spend time in one another’s company at the annual youth conferences we went to. However, the hiatus in daily communication – even though just for a period of a week and a half – was painful to endure. But, with each day that passed, the period of time in the break in communication got shorter and shorter. I missed her more each day and less each day! With each passing day there were fewer days left in which I would say to myself “I miss you, Annie! I miss you!”
That is precisely how I feel right now. I miss her more each day and less each day. Pain and hope, sadness and joy, tears and peace increase together with each moment of time that passes, until the latter of the two surpasses the former forever!
And even more: there is substance to this feeling. To misquote Boston, “It’s more than a feeling!”
There is a thirty-three year period in the history of time on which my eternal hopes are grounded! Jesus, the Son of God has come to this earth ‘Emmanuel, God with us!’. He has lived and breathed, walked and talked. My hopes have a pulse!
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. – 1 John 1:1-3
There is a specific three-day period in the history of time which places and weaves all my years and my Annie’s 36 years, and Mom Ruth’s 67 years into the framework and fabric of eternity.
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, – 1 Corinthians 15:3,4
There is a unique Sunday morning in the history of time which assures me that one day I will see my dear Annie again and even more, I will see my Saviour, my Lord and my King with my own eyes.
And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” – John 6:39-40
Tomorrow is the first Sunday of advent. A time when I will be remembering that when God says He is coming, He means it! It’s a time when I will rejoice in what I already know because He is here, with me in this coffee shop right now, Saturday, November 30th, 7:59pm.
He’s coming again. Are you ready? Being ready doesn’t mean being religious. It means being happy in and under the Kingship of Jesus in all your life. There’s nothing better than having His Kingly Presence in your life.
You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. – Psalm 16:11
In His Arms. Gladly.