As always, our family assembled at Chicago’s Rosehill Cemetery today to talk about the 7 loved ones buried there: two grandparents, a great uncle and an uncle, mom, dad, and the most recent, Nate.
Each Memorial Day before we gather, Mary urges us to recall memories or bring readings to share with the group. This year I brought one of Nate’s journals, wanting to read-aloud something he wrote. Most of his diaries were work-related, but this one was very personal, written while on a getaway weekend in 2005.
During those years his life had required him to accept some demanding changes, and he was struggling in several areas. Wanting to get back to the basics, he separated himself from all of us and eliminated everything but Scripture and prayer. He also subtracted food, though in his notes he did mention having coffee.
After Nate died, I found this journal in one of his drawers and recognized him in the words. Many of the pages had numbered lists on them. One was titled, “I thank the Lord for…” Another said, “Hebrews” (his favorite biblical book). A third was headed, “Questions for the Lord.” On that weekend he was doing the hard work of self-examination, calling out to God for an ordering of his thoughts.
Today at the cemetery I read from the prayer he wrote at the end of the weekend. Several lines jumped off the page, and they seemed appropriate for our moments at his grave. The prayer was 15 handwritten lines in which he detailed his personal weaknesses, asking for God’s help with them. “Connect me directly with you so that… Give me the relationship with Christ that… Focus me first on you and then on…”
But the lines that really tugged at my heart were the last ones: “Let me breathe the sweet, clean, pure air of life that you want for me. What do I need to do?”
It was heartening to know that after all those hours of painful soul-searching, Nate had landed on the truth that God wanted to give him the “sweet, clean, pure air of life,” at least symbolically. Though the perplexing circumstances of his life hadn’t changed, his spirits had been lifted.
As for his question “What do I need to do?”, God’s answer (revealed later) was, “Endure a miserable six weeks of cancer and go through earthly death.” Today, while looking at his tombstone, I cried with emotion to realize the Lord hadn’t just symbolically given him what he’d asked for but had literally provided “the sweet, clean, pure air” of a new, carefree life… in paradise.
Nate seemed to be present with our group at the cemetery today, at least through his words. And there were two very important ones at the end of his prayer:
“The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.” (James 5:16)