Posted by: angelnorman | December 16, 2010

grace that is greater than all our sins.

The other night I dreamt about Mark, my older brother, who at the time of his death was no longer related to me by the law that had made us family when we were kids. It was such a emotional dream that it woke me up, and I was flooded with the same sadness I had experienced in the dream state all over again, only this time I was fully awake and had already forgotten what the dream was. All I could remember was that it was about Mark, and that I had been sad.

When my brother Mark died, my heart was so broken and I took my anger out on God. “How could you let this happen?” I questioned Him. After all, Mark had been trying to change his life around. He was trying to be a better person, to get right with God, to prove to everyone and himself that he could change his situation. He had fallen in with the wrong crowds, had been in trouble with the law, and then in the last year of his life, had been moving from home to home while trying to get back on the right path. I could see it, you know. I could see him trying to do the right thing. But at the same time, I was angry at Mark and not as supportive as a sister should’ve been. I was judgmental, and I sure didn’t bite my tongue about how I felt, no sir. In an abnormally confrontational manner, I let him know the last Christmas I saw him that I would physically hurt him if I ever learned that he had done something to hurt or take away from our little brothers, Joseph and Micah. He and I shared this conversation over a cigarette in my Nanny’s front yard. “Sissy,” he told me. “It won’t happen. I’m trying.” I didn’t need any explanation on what trying meant.

And do you know what I said to him? “Try harder.”

Those two words were the last two words I remember speaking to him. Oh, I’m sure that I hugged him and told him I loved him at some point that night. It was Christmas Eve at the Copeland’s and you don’t leave that house without hugging every single family member- sometimes twice. I’m sure we laughed about something later, talked about something we remembered doing as kids, or whatever. I’m 100% positive that it didn’t end on a bad note.

But those words haunt me.

A month later, I got the call. I was sleeping, one of my “after school” naps that I got when I was lucky enough to not have to work that day. It was my then-stepmom, the one who had replaced Mark’s mother several years before. “Did you hear about Mark yet?” she asked me. I, in classic “I’m half asleep but am still going to try to have a conversation” sort of way, said I hadn’t heard from Mark. “He died this morning.”

I think my heart stopped for a moment as her words hit me. And then as those words sunk in, my heart started pounding, racing, breaking.

“You’re like me,” she said. “You don’t exactly know what to say.”

I wanted to scream at her. I knew what to say. I wasn’t like her. I LOVED Mark. She was not close to him since, you know, he wasn’t my dad’s kid like my other two brothers. She didn’t know what to say because she was removed from the situation. But Mark was MY brother. Not by blood, not by law. But by love.

I don’t remember hanging up on her, but I think I did. And then I got up from my bed and screamed. I screamed from the top of my lungs. “Mommmmmmmmma!” I shouted out into the emptiness of the living room. “Mommmmmma!”

The next thing I remember, I was in the kitchen, still looking for my Mom, knowing she was the only one in the world who would be able to comfort me at that time. Instead, I found nothingness. My mom wasn’t home. So when my stepdad ran into the kitchen to find out what the heck was wrong with me, I collapsed into the floor and he was the one who held me in his arms and told me that it was all going to be okay, that my life would go on, that Mark wouldn’t want me to be sad because he was in a better place. I sobbed like nobody’s business. I wept right there on that kitchen floor until my mom returned with groceries and asked, “what in this world happened?” And then after I told her, I cried some more. I am pretty sure she cried too.

Mark had been my (step)brother since I was about 5 years old. Our parents’ (my dad, his mom) divorce had not changed that. And then, 13 years later, he was gone.

And I was angry. At God.

But in reality, I was angry at myself. I was angry for not reaching out to him more, for not being less judgmental and harsh, for being so sure that I was better than him because I stayed on the straight and narrow… well, according to the law anyways. I wasn’t perfect, nor was I any better than anyone else. But what I came to see was that those feelings I had were angry feelings at myself, and not at God. God didn’t make Mark die. God allowed it to happen, sure, because there is NOTHING on this earth that just “happens”. There is a purpose, even in death. It took me three years to realize that, and when I did, I was free. As free as Mark is in Heaven.

***

It was a lesson that I had to learn before 2004.

When Nicholas was born, I could’ve asked, “Why, God?” Why do this to me? Why do this to any of the mothers I met while our children were in NICU? How could God let a little baby be born so sick? How could he let a mother carry a child for 9 (or less than nine) months only to have her baby be sick, dying, or already dead? I didn’t ask Him that, though, because I knew already that it wasn’t God’s wish to break our hearts. He didn’t make Nick sick. He doesn’t hurt His children on purpose. He allows them to hurt for a purpose though. Everything under the sun has been put here for a greater purpose than we can ever imagine. Nick has a purpose. I have a purpose.

Mark had a purpose, and he apparently had fulfilled his and God called him home.I thought it terribly unfair, but then, I’m not God and I have no place to decide what’s fair and what’s not. Also, I don’t know what my purpose is, let alone what anyone else’s is. I may have already fulfilled mine simply by bringing Nick into the world. And if that’s the case, then I may be on my way home, too. You just never know, because you’re not God. But guess what, friends? God knows. He has a purpose for you, too. Just like He does for the entire world.

Ever since that first Christmas after Nick’s premature birth, the Christmas story has meant so much more to me than it ever has before. God had a purpose for a Baby, the God-child, to be our Redeemer, to save Israel from thousands of year of turmoil, to bring peace to their hearts and lives. Mary didn’t know the extent of His purpose, and she was His mother. It is so hard for me to imagine Mary, the young woman God looked upon in favor, the girl who had birthed a King, at the foot of His cross. I think of Nick, of watching him in the incubator, and then I think of Mary watching her Son die upon a cross. I think of her watching the soldiers pierce His skin with their spears, watching them spit at Him, mock Him, and do whatever they can to deny Him. I think of her at his feet, wanting so badly to take His place. “Please just end his suffering. I’ll gladly suffer it all!” I imagine her saying, which is what I seem to think everytime my kid has the tiniest fever. “Give it to me instead!” I pray.

I wonder if she knew that He did it all for her. I wonder if she really and truly knew that, or if her human nature refused to let her see that God had a purpose for her Son. For His Son. For all of us.

And have mercy, I can’t even listen to “Mary, Did You Know?” without weeping.

Because the truth is, we don’t know the purpose God has for us. We don’t know what He wants us to do on this earth except for what the Bible commands us to do. My heart had been unsettled since Thanksgiving about this very thing. I have been plagued with depression over the state of this country– the greed, the immorality, the materialism and the lack of concern for our fellow man. What is the purpose of celebrating Christmas by giving more to ourselves, who really need nothing, and giving nothing to those who are in desperate need of anything?

What is the purpose of kids being homeless, hungry, dying? What is the purpose of kids in Africa and its third-world nations not living to be any older than five? Why would God allow it?

Matthew 25: 34-40 , The Message
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what’s coming to you in this kingdom. It’s been ready for you since the world’s foundation. And here’s why:
I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.’

“Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’

There is a purpose.

Maybe there is so much pain in the world, in the hearts of people all over the world, so that you and I can reach out to them. Maybe our purpose is to meet their needs and show them God’s love. Maybe if we spent less time honoring ourselves and more time honoring God, we wouldn’t be so conflicted over Christmas. And I say that for my own sake. Maybe all you have to do is take one step towards a more Christ-centered life to begin the transition from meaningless holiday to a divine, sacred celebration.

And that’s what I’m doing now. I’m reaching out, finally, after weeks of feeling like something was missing and that something was all wrong with how I celebrate my Christmas. I’ve recently sent in the paperwork to sponsor a child named Jimmy who lives in Africa. He is 4 years old, likes musical instruments and playing with cars, and he lives with his mother in an AIDS-infested area of Uganda. I am so incredibly humbled by his story, and honored to have the chance to send in my $45 a month to change his life through Compassion International. I can’t wait to get to know him, to be a difference in his life.

For the first time all season, I am at peace. I’ve done something right. Maybe this is my purpose… to help this one child. Or maybe it’s just one of the many reasons I’ve been put on this earth. We are, after all, called to be good stewards and how can I do that if I never reach out? Never answer the call that He has put in my heart to stop talking about doing something and actually do something?!

And I’m listening, Lord, to that calling. I feel you in my heart, urging me to see beyond the tinsel and the lights, across the ocean, into a home made of concrete and bare furnishings, into the life of a little child who is being raised to know you.

Fill me with your Spirit, oh Lord, so that I may be an example of your love, the biggest part of the Christmas story, and one that we so often forget to celebrate! Because Christmas this year has shown me a purpose that is greater than any gift I could find under a tree– the chance to be more Christ-like throughout the year so that Christmas’s meaning radiates through me. So that your love pours out of me. So that others may see that we have work to do, and none of it can be bought in a mall or department store. None of it can be wrapped up neatly in pretty ribbons and bows. None of it can be stuffed in a stocking to open Christmas morning.

Christmas can only be found by opening our hearts, not our wallets.

“Oh yes, people of Zion, citizens of Jerusalem, your time of tears is over. Cry for help and you’ll find it’s grace and more grace. The moment he hears, he’ll answer. Just as the Master kept you alive during the hard times, he’ll keep your teacher alive and present among you. Your teacher will be right there, local and on the job, urging you on whenever you wander left or right: “This is the right road. Walk down this road.” You’ll scrap your expensive and fashionable god-images. You’ll throw them in the trash as so much garbage, saying, “Good riddance!”

-Isaiah 30:19-22

Grace for the angry, the hurt, the sick, the poor. Grace for the selfish, the broken, the sinner. Grace beyond what we can even imagine.

I cried out and He answered. “Do this,” He told my heart. And I have obeyed.

And you know what? I feel better already.

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