I was talking recently to my friend, Shelby, whose life experiences I'd never wish to live. Shelby and his sweet wife had to do the unthinkable a few years ago...bury their previously healthy 22 year old son, Paul, who died suddenly from a stroke. Paul's family donated his organs and have even met the recipient of their son's heart. Bravery personified.
Just two years later the Shelby's family was hurled again into the matrix of grief when their oldest son, Ben, went missing after a cave diving expedition in Florida. Despite countless efforts, investigations, and increased rewards for information, Ben's body has never been recovered. More bravery.
Shelby and I try to connect and catch up every few weeks. We have been encouraging each other in our shared Christian faith, and praying for one another's deepest burdens. You can guess what Shelby's burdens are.
My burdens have been for the hearts and spirits of dear ones in my life who also know the anguish and suffering of parental and sibling bereavement. Several precious families in our lives carry this pain. We have been praying and clinging to faith for them and with them for a few years.
The sorrow often catches me as if it were my own because when those nearest and dearest to you walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, your heart walks with them. You learn something no one ever tells you. When parents face this sort of horror there may be a few memorial events, but there are many deaths. Nothing is ever the same.
As someone whom God has chosen to leave behind for the comfort and care of our precious ones, I can tell you that the emptiness has a long reach. We miss the ones who are in the Lord's care...and we miss the sweeter days with those whose hearts are aching so painfully now. It's like waiting for someone you cherish to come home, but not knowing whether or not they will.
I asked Shelby if he thought the father of the prodigal son continued praying for his son's return, or if the father grew depressed and gave up. Shelby said, "I'm sure he was watching the horizon."
That thought--that beautiful image of hope--has sustained me through countless nights of fitful sleep and all night prayer vigils.
I think Shelby is right. That father was surely watching the horizon and keeping up with his work. If he had grown idle and hopeless, he'd have been in the house, and there would have been no special robes or fatted calf...no feast or rejoicing.
Only a man with hope could feast at a moment's notice.