Tonight I stopped to fill my car up with gas at one of those enormous stations with a million pumps and a billion soda and slushy flavors. I went in to pay in advance and as I was walking through the door, I caught sight of another person coming up behind me. So I held the door. It was one of those times where you misjudge how close the person actually is to the door, and they have to speed up into a light jog in order to let you off the hook. At this point, the good you tried to do by holding the door is canceled out by the inconvenience of them having to run.
I apologized to the man for making him speed up. He told me he didn’t mind. He went on to say he needed the exercise. He smoked for 38 years and recently quit. Said he had gained 5 pounds and chewed off all of his fingernails. He felt a little jog was just what he needed. We continued to chat in line to pay and while we were pumping our gas. Turned out he was at the pump right next to me. I finished filling my tank, said my goodbyes, and drove away. I’ll probably never see him again. But he left an impression.
38 years. The man had a habit for 38 years and decided he’d had enough of being owned by something that was killing him. 38 years and had the courage to imagine his life a different way. 38 years and he didn’t give up, didn’t surrender, decided he could choose a different, healthier path. It’s his story, and his story was compelling. It inspired me and I only talked to him for about 5 minutes.
Man, I love people.
Everyone has a story. Stories that can inspire you, challenge you, tear your heart out. Stories we often miss because we’re too busy, too cynical, too wrapped up in our own agenda. Stories revealing a startling mix of heroism and selfishness, light and darkness, strength and frailty, shocking courage and debilitating fear.
Sometimes those stories lead to triumph. Sometimes those stories go terribly wrong. Sometimes those stories are interrupted by tragedy.
And sometimes they get cut off abruptly before they ever get going.
Before my stop at the gas station, I was with a family I really care about. A family I’ve spent considerable time over the years investing in, and they in me. They had asked me to perform a graveside memorial for their daughter, granddaughter, great-granddaughter, niece. Her name was Ellie Reese. She died in her mother’s womb just a few days ago, 6 months into the 9-month pregnancy.
She was real, just as much as any of us are real. She was fashioned and formed by a brilliant, loving, and meticulous creator. She was a person. A human being. A story waiting to be written. Yet she never got to take a breath, cry tears of pain or fear, smile and giggle, experience the warmth of being held in a mother’s arms or the comfort of laying on a father’s chest.
On the surface, in our human understanding, it would seem her story ended before it ever had the chance to begin.
The gospel says something quite different.
One of the things we might all find most appealing about Jesus is his offer of eternal life. And one of the most appealing things about eternal life is this:
Your story doesn’t end.
Not with unfortunate circumstances, not with poor choices, not even with death. However young or old you are when your physical body gives out and you take your last breath matters not. Your soul, the very best part of you, the core of who you are, continues on. Forever. Your story has only just begun, only now it’s getting to the good part. The part where you are reunited with a love your soul has been longing for since the moment you were conceived. Love so luminous and encompassing that it has a feel to it, a texture, a perfect warmth.
That’s where Ellie Reese is right now. Wrapped in a blanket of affection and tenderness sewn by the same Creator who stitched her together in her mother’s womb. She’s starting to learn and grow, guided by only joy, light, and love. No sorrow, no darkness, no pain. Her story didn’t end before it got started. Her story is just getting going. And it will never end.
Death is simply a door. And one day, your Creator, your King, will stand at that door and hold it open for you.
And you’ll run.
Into freedom. Into the next and best part of your story. Into His arms.