It has been a week since Ben's last earthly breath.
He has barely left my mind for a second.
Makes you wonder how heaven experiences time, if at all. Does Ben feel like he's been there forever? Or just one minute? I can't wait to see for myself someday!
We still talk about him a lot. With Andy, with Jack, with complete strangers. But not every sentiment is accompanied with tears. At the end of each one of those utterings, I feel a strange peace come over me. My heart says, "I am a better person because he was born. We all are."
Ben was a gift. Since the beginning. And as much as it pains us to have to give a gift back (especially ones that I felt like I had somehow earned, bought, or paid for,) it humbles me to remember that this gift really was never mine to begin with. My miracle has always belonged to God, Ben's Creator.
Our world is full of pain. Darkness. Sickness. Perversion. You only need to turn on the nightly news to be reminded of that. Sadly, it's all just a part of life since sin entered it. We strive to achieve success, earn a big paycheck, get a big house. We fill our house with stuff, go on big vacations, and rub shoulders with powerful people. But then we hear about another child with cancer. A dad who's fighting for his life. A single mother who doesn't know how she will make ends meet. And we realize: everything in this life is just so meaningless.
Seriously. Nothing else matters.
It's responsible to plan for the future. None of those things I mentioned are bad all on their own. But when you start to put things in perspective, you realize how much we are just spinning our wheels. Planning for things that, in fifty years from now, no one will even care about. The only thing that really matters is how we choose to acknowledge God in our daily existence, knowing that heaven is just a breath away.
The night before Ben's wake, I sat at the computer. I was hoping to copy a few verses to post along with the picture boards. To remind everyone to continually point ourselves back to his Heavenly Father. Except I didn't know where to start. So, I turned to my trusty friend, Google. I typed "verses that comfort" in the search engine and it gave me several appropriate passages that encouraged me in the loss of my own son. One of them has stuck with me. And it has really challenged my perspective on death. Especially in cases like this.
"Good people pass away; the godly
often die before their time. But no one
seems to care or wonder why. No one
seems to understand that God is protecting
them from the evil to come. For those who
follow godly paths will rest in peace when they die."
Ben is not only resting in peace in the loving arms of his Heavenly Father. But his presence there shows us just how much God loved him. God loved him too much to sustain the 'evil to come.' The inevitable pain that he would have continued to feel if God chose to give him the physical miracle many of us were praying for.
Ben entered heaven with nothing. Absolutely nothing. His earthly body was no longer any good, so he gladly left it behind. The funeral home dressed him in a cute 4-piece suit, but that was for our own benefit, not Ben's. His soul was welcomed into heaven the same way he entered this earth: with absolutely nothing.
If I've learned nothing else from this whole ordeal, it's to concentrate on the stuff that matters.
The most beautifully sad conversations I've had over the past week are from other mothers who've had to tell their little ones about Ben's passing. Oh, how I wish they didn't have to think about such things at such a young age. But these kids had been faithfully praying for Ben since his diagnosis. For healing. A physical healing. Those prayers were sincere. Thoughtful. And wonderfully beautiful. God heard every single one. And yet He chose to answer them in a way that we hadn't explicitly asked for. He gave Ben the ultimate healing. It was as if God knew Ben's heart and body wouldn't be able to sustain the pain of the "evil to come." He wanted to take him Home in order to protect him. We mourn our loss, we miss our son. But I do have an overwhelming peace knowing that Ben won't need to experience any more pain here on earth.
If you want to be encouraged, though, talk to a child who has been explained about Ben's homegoing. They believe. They 'get it.' They possess that 'child-like' faith Jesus encouraged us all to have. Conversations with my own kids remind me of that truth.
I took the kids to the zoo today, our first time without Benjamin in tow. As we began to shuffle out of the car, I said to Jack, "You know, I'm really going to miss Ben today. This is the first time we are here without him and I know how much he has always loved coming here. But I guess in heaven, he can see animals whenever he wants and he doesn't need a pass to get in!" I suppose I say these things for my own benefit. In education, we learned that it was valuable to "think aloud" the learning process in order for your students to see how your thinking guided you toward a logical answer. I suppose that's what I do quite a bit with my kids. You can take the girl out of the classroom...
But Jack's reaction was so simple. And yet so profound. "But Mom, if Jesus is in our hearts and Ben is with Jesus, then that means Ben is always with us, too!"
Oh, my word. What beautiful logic. My son continues to encourage me in my own faith.
Andy and I were finishing dinner tonight after the other kids had been excused. Megan was behind me, looking at the photo boards from Ben's wake. Out of nowhere, I heard her say, "Look! Look! Ben's with Jesus! Happy!"
It was the urgency behind her statement that caught me off-guard. It was as if she was seeing something for the first time. Ben's picture, in a new light. She knows her brother is in heaven. As much as her two-year-old brain can comprehend such a profound thought. And she believes. Again, my kids' faith encourages my own. And for the second time today, the student became the teacher.
The older I get, the more I learn, the more I am aware of how little I know. But I feel like I'm getting glimpses of the truth, doses of perspective. And it's humbling. And it causes me to constantly reprioritize. What things are really important? I mean really important. Investing in my marriage, teaching my kids about the things of God, cultivating meaningful relationships here on earth.
What else is there?
Our culture seems to have memorialized our existence. To expect only good things and to shun pain. To mourn for those who die because we somehow feel like they're missing out on the good stuff here on earth. But death is just an extension of life. A natural part of life. As Christ-followers, we know that we are guaranteed heaven. But it can be difficult for even us to remember as we get so easily distracted by all of the (seemingly) good things our world has to offer. We spend a mere hundred years or less on this planet and are then invited to partake in the better part of our lives. Eternal life. With Jesus. In heaven.
What more could we ask for? For ourselves? For our children?
As I walked around the gravesite the other day, I recognized a few names. But not many. Some of them might have had "Beloved Mother" under their name that gave me a glimpse as to what they meant to the people they left behind. But none of them listed how much money they made or how much success they achieved during their time on earth. Beneath their name, all it had was two dates separated by a dash. May 5, 2009 - May 13, 2014. Makes you wonder: how will we spend our dash?
Ben's dash was very well spent. He played hard, loved much, and never questioned where God had allowed him to be. Even for a less-than-five-year-old, that's saying quite a bit. People have been touched by his perseverance, his capacity for love, his selfless ministry. And because he was born, perhaps hundreds of people will be joining us in heaven someday.
And I'll tell you, my friends, that is ALL that matters.
It has been a week since Ben entered his forever home. He is missed. But I can't help but be grateful for God's willingness to share him with us for a short time. To get a glimpse of just what is important. And remind us how He always has our best interests at heart, even when it may be difficult to see at the time.