Bishop Jake's Reflections
My mother Trudy used to tell me about a dachshund she once had. When she was feeling low, she would sit on our front stoop. The dog would join her on the top step and lay his head in her lap. From time to time he would look up at her in brown-eyed sympathy.
She would say, “He always knew when I was sad. And he would sit with me to make me feel better.”
Trudy never sulked or moped about. She loved to laugh and to eat, to cook and to buy gifts for the ones she loved. And yet, a continuous stream of tender sadness ran through her heart.
During the Second World War, she had endured the allied bombing of her hometown Linz, Austria. Toward the end of that war, the Nazis confined her to the concentration camp Mauthausen.
She had married unwisely, eventually escaping my father’s control and abuse. Her older son Joseph died. And Marie—her only daughter and my little sister—died as well.
Sometimes Mom would drift back in her memory to earlier days and talk about “my little girl.” She was never maudlin or weepy. She seemed to be taken up into a tender nostalgia for what might have been.
This same woman who had suffered so much loss never gave in to despair. Even when we were broke and homeless, she always believed that things were going to look up soon. Her response to my own meltdowns and hissy fits was always the same. “Remember, tomorrow is another day.”
Paradoxically, my mother knew about hope precisely because she knew about loss and sorrow and pain. Her theology was not sophisticated. Her faith was simple but deep. It could be summed up in this phrase that I borrow from Rob Bell: even this.
God can bring infinite, indescribable beauty and joy and goodness out of even this. No matter the heartache or the pain, the humiliation or the insane messiness, Jesus redeems it and restores it. He says, “I am making all things new.” Even this. (Revelation 21:5)
Heaven figured prominently in my mother’s experience of hope. And to tell the truth, heaven is a central element of my own sense of hope.
My first theological lesson came from my mother.
My little sister Marie died when I was three. Her life was fleeting, and I have no memories of her. Instead, I remember experiencing her absence. My mother comforted me—and no doubt comforted herself—by telling me that Marie was in heaven. One day, we would see her again.
Even this. Jesus will redeem even this. The loss of a child. The shattered heart of a mother. A child’s confusion and sorrow. Even this.
In their midst stands the risen Jesus, in whom and by whom and through whom they all inhabit a new heaven and a new earth.
God will not discard this creation. Neither will God destroy it. In Jesus, God is even now making all things new. Even this.
This article is a reprint from Bishop Owensby’s latest book Your Untold Story: Tales of a Child of God. Copies are available from Amazon and from Church Publishing.
Bishop Owensby posts each week at his blog “Looking for God in Messy Places.” To receive notice of each new post go to jakeowensby.com and look for the subscription button on the menu.