A Deep Mark

Everybody leaves their own mark on the world. Some marks are big, broad, bold and bright. Other marks are gentler, quieter, more intimate, but by no means less significant.

Lots of folks (especially these days, in the age of viral videos and “likes” on social media) spend their whole lives desperately trying to make the biggest, loudest, most unforgettable mark only to have it washed away when they leave this life.

Others intentionally try to keep their mark small and unassuming so no one will think less of them when they mess up.

Still others, the truly special ones, don’t care a lick about the world and how big their mark is on it, just so long as the people they love know what’s important.

Emily’s aunt Lisa Miller was one of those truly special ones whose greatest desire was for her Savior and making sure her family knew Him. She didn’t aspire to fame, fortune or accolades. What she did aspire to was simple: that her husband, daughters, sons-in-law, grandchildren and extended family would know Jesus and enjoy Him like she did.

I didn’t get to become part of that beautiful extended family until 2012, but I was immediately adopted by Aunt Lisa as if I had always been there. After our accident, when we were living in Grand Rapids hospitals, Aunt Lisa and Uncle Dave came to visit and encourage us frequently.

Some people leave their mark on the world, some people leave their mark on the hearts of a few other people. Aunt Lisa left a big mark on our hearts. When I think of her, and the irreplaceable mark she left on our marriage, I will never forget her selfless encouragement. 

She was there with a beaming smile and an encouraging word in our hospital room just a few months after our accident, she was at every family gathering she could make it to with that same smile and encouraging words for us. She seemed to have a knack for knowing we needed a boost, and giving it to us in her characteristically quiet and unobtrusive way. 
That beaming smile momentarily dimmed a shade when she was diagnosed with cancer. Fear of the unknown will do that to anybody. But cancer didn’t define her. It didn’t change who she was. She remained the same selfless encourager that I had always known. I don’t know a better way to describe her selfless encouragement than with this picture… 
She was diagnosed in January of 2018, and Jackson was born seven months later. Even in the midst of the unknown, and the ravages of chemotherapy, she made us a delicious home cooked meal and drove half an hour to bring it to us herself with her characteristic beaming smile. 
This picture is a beautiful snapshot of a beautiful example. An example of love, of genuine care, of selflessness, of radiant joy and peace in the dark shadow of death.

After a two year battle with cancer, and fifty-seven years of a rich and full life, Aunt Lisa took her last breath in this broken world and her first breath in her true home on February 12th. We mourned our loss, recognizing it was just that – our loss, not hers. It was her gain. Here’s what I mean – 

In the first chapter of Philippians, Paul made a remarkable statement: “To me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” Aunt Lisa embodied this verse. Christ was her life. And her death was her gain. She was a picture of selflessness and, as her daughter Kristen so accurately shared, quiet strength. That quiet strength, that selfless encouragement, that beaming smile, all had the same source: Jesus Christ.

To Aunt Lisa, Jesus wasn’t just an inspirational historical figure, a set of ideas or moral principles. No, Christ was her life. Because he gave her life. Not only physical life, the same thing you and I also have, with bodies that grow old, get sick and die, but abundant and eternal spiritual life – one that was consummated on February 12th, 2020.

We’re fully confident – not wistfully wishful or religiously platitudinous – that Lisa Miller is more full of life and bliss now, in the very presence of Jesus, than she ever was or even could have been on her very best day here. The prime of life here can’t hold a shaky candle to a single moment standing face to face with the Maker of all life.

The question is – will you and I be facing Him at the end of our lives with joy or terror? 
Joy because we are in Him and He has removed every barrier of sin and shame between us and Him, or terror because we have rejected His free offer of forgiveness and life by trusting in ourselves rather than Him? The result of the latter is eternal separation from Him (and, by extension, everything good). His offer of forgiveness is a hand of rescue. You, me, we’re all falling into the bottomless pit we’ve dug for ourselves. Left to our own devices and ill-defined definitions of good, bad, right, wrong and true worth, we’re on our way straight to the place we deserve: hell.

It’s not a question of being a good person; the standard of what makes a good person changes with the wind unless that standard is set by something outside of ourselves and our culture. Unless there is a standard that transcends humanity, there is no real standard at all.

For a standard to transcend humanity, it must be set by Something that also transcends humanity. That Something is Someone. That Someone is God, my Creator and yours, whether or not we acknowledge Him as such. The standard God set is based on His perfect and unchanging character. Simply put, God’s standard is perfection based on His law, part of which is encapsulated in the Ten Commandments. 
I’m far from perfect, or even “decent”, when it comes to God’s law. Looking down the list I can safely say I’ve broken every single commandment. Yes, even murder. Check this out – hate and murder are the same. I’d be willing to put my money on the fact that you’re a murderer by God’s standard, too. 
But maybe you’re a super chill person who has never harbored anything but love toward everyone in the entire scope of space and time. Have you ever looked at another person with lust? Have you ever told a lie? Even a white lie? If you’ve done even one of these things, you’re as guilty as I am.

But God, that transcendent Creator and holy standard-setter, is personal. God, in His very essence, is love. God knew that we would choose our sin and selves over Him, the One we were created to enjoy and revel in. Either our sin had to go or we had to go – sin has no place in His presence.

But wait, didn’t I just say God is love? If that’s true, why can’t He just overlook our sin?

Think of it like this – if you murder someone and are standing in the courtroom in front of the judge with either the death penalty or a $600 million fine over your head, would it be right, would it be just, would it be good of the judge to say “Yes, I know you made a bad choice, but that doesn’t make you a bad person. I’m going to let this one slide.” No, that would be ridiculous – the law is the law and any good judge will judge by the law.

But what if the judge saw that someone had paid your fine? All charges against you would be dropped and you would be free!

That’s why Jesus came – not to be a good teacher or a good moral example or even to heal a bunch of sick people. He came to live the life we can’t and die the death we deserve. When he was hanging up there on the cross, all of our sin – yours, mine and all the world’s – was placed onto his shoulders and into the grave with him!

Imagine you’re in that courtroom again. There you are, guilty before the judge, doomed to death row if you don’t pay the impossible fine. Then the judge tells you that somebody you don’t even know paid your fine in full. Do you scoff and opt for death row instead, because you’d rather do things on your own terms whatever the cost? Or do you try to rationalize to the judge that you were unfairly convicted, the crime you committed wasn’t as big a deal as he was making it out to be anyway? That you aren’t convinced that he even exists in the first place, so your alleged crime is of no consequence?

Or do you gasp in relief and take your first gulp of free air since you were convicted? The offer of Christ is as astounding and easy to receive as that. He requires just one thing from us: to believe in Jesus Christ as the only way out of our eternal death penalty and into God’s waiting arms of love. No amount of kindness, generosity, charity, volunteering, religion or church can substitute for simple trust in Jesus as the only way.

Good deeds and good”ness” will follow as a result of Jesus in you, but good deeds are worthless if you’re still on death row. I urge you to accept the gift of the One who paid your fine!

This isn’t a complete tangent – Aunt Lisa had the exact same desire, and lived a marvelous life that radiated Christ’s love to everyone who had the privilege of interacting with her. Listen for yourself to this beautiful woman’s beautiful words. Her mark on this world will not be forgotten, it was made deep in the hearts of those she loved!