I’m writing from Chicago Midway airport on a layover from Detroit as I make my way back to Austin. It was a wonderful visit under difficult circumstances. I came north for my Uncle Bob’s Celebration of Life—his funeral—at which my Aunt Karen had asked me to be one of three speakers to share a bit about his life. He had battled brain cancer well over a decade ago, which he had conquered, but it later came at a cost.
While his brain cancer was gone, it changed him. He no longer was the man that I grew up with, where I had spent so many of my childhood days and nights with my cousins and my aunt. His daughter, Carrie, was my sister-cousin, as we both grew up with brothers, were close in age, got along really well, and lived in the same city until I was in third grade. Many of my childhood memories include Carrie, her twin brothers, Brian and Jason, and my aunt and uncle—at our home or theirs.
I remember that time that we were playing downstairs in our basement. My brother, Chris, was playing army with the twins and wanted all the lights out. Carrie and I were playing with our dolls, making outfits for them out of my mom’s sewing scrap material, so we needed the lights on. Chris came up with the brilliant idea to dim the lights, except there was no dimmer on those basement pull-string light bulbs. So he grabbed a long sweatsock from the laundry pile, and put it over the bulb. Dimmer, nice! Until the sock started to melt onto the bulb, smoldering, and creating a terrible burnt smell as it smoked up our dim space. My dad’s booming voice next filled up the space, “Christopher!” Uh oh, trouble. That happened from time to time when we were all together, too.
So many great memories, and some very hard ones too. My parents supported my aunt and uncle through some dark times during mental health struggles. Thank God, because while they didn’t talk much about any of that kind of stuff during that time, those experiences later led to conversations that we had when we were a bit older, so it could normalize talking about mental health issues.
When I got up to share at my uncle’s funeral, it was mostly about those fond memories from many years ago. I let people know that their family existed in part due to mine, as my aunt and uncle had met at my parents wedding. It wasn’t love at first sight, they didn’t like one another at first, but obviously there was some form of a spark. A spark that later ignited to become a fire that lasted for over 50 years of marriage. I love that witness, since so many people today think that if it’s not an instant connection or total attraction like we see in the movies, then it’s not worth pursuing. How fickle we’ve become.
But there was also a part of my sharing that I did that was intended to honor the struggle. The pain intertwined with joy and love that is embedded across many hidden moments in the course of days, months, and years, that my aunt faithfully cared for my uncle. The struggles that he had as a brain cancer survivor who later developed dementia. And the struggles that my Aunt had as a caretaker, which I understand, as I cared for both my parents in their final days. While we love our loved ones, and it’s an honor and privilege to care for them, it also comes at a personal cost with experiences that range from sweet and special, to hard and traumatic embedded all throughout it.
As I was packing for my trip the night before I left, I was listening to an Apple Music playlist called “Celebration of Life.” It was late, and I’d had a super long day—up at 5:30 AM and packing past midnight as I had a sick husband to care for, and lots of loose ends to tie up with work, the house, and life. A Casting Crowns song came on, one I’d never heard before, and honestly, my first inclination was to skip to another song. It sounded slow and like it was going to be sappy, and I was like, “I don’t have the bandwidth right now to get sad. I gotta get to bed, I’ve gotta be up in less than 5 hours!”
But I felt the Holy Spirit tell me to listen, so I did. Because I also know that my Aunt Karen loves music too, and that my uncle, after many years of suffering, was now with Eternal Song—God. As I listened, there was a part of the song, “Scars in Heaven,” that really touched me:
The only scars in Heaven, they won’t belong to me and you
There’ll be no such thing as broken, and all the old will be made new
And the thought that makes me smile now, even as the tears fall down
Is that the only scars in Heaven are on the hands that hold you now
How beautiful to think that my uncle, along with my parents, grandparents, and many other aunts, uncles, and loved ones, is no longer broken. But that Christ’s brokenness, His scars, are what continue to bloom in Heaven. It reminded me of one of the quotes that I’ve been writing about in my book.
“I am blooming from the wound where I once bled.”Rune Lazuli
In that chapter on pain, I wrote, “While we thrive on mountaintop experiences and soaring on eagle’s wings, it is the valley of pain where God does the deep work of transforming our wounds into blooms.”
So while I know that my uncle suffered greatly on earth, and that his wife suffered in watching him suffer and at times in caring for him, God has a deeper, greater work that he does through it. The work of transforming our wounds into blooms. May you have eyes to see that in 2024, although there is pain and suffering, God wants your scars to bear fruit.