Thursday, July 4, 2013

They that be with Us are More...

They that be with Us are More...

In our old house we had a vivid red hallway that I filled up with black and white portraits.  Beneath the picture frames, in black script lettering, read the words "Fear not; for they that be with us are more than they that be with them. 2 Kings 6:16"  If you don't remember that particular Bible story, it was when Elisha the prophet had irritated the king of Syria by warning the king of Israel about Syria's battle tactics.  The Syrian king was angry and sent a host of soldiers to encompass Elisha's city, intending to hunt him down and kill him.  In the morning, when Elisha's servant went out early, he saw the terrible army and cried, "Alas, my master! how shall we do?"

Elisha reassured him.  "Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them."  Then Elisha prayed for the Lord to open his servant's eyes, and the young man saw the reality of the situation.

The two men of God were not alone on their mountain.

"Behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha."  He was not afraid because he knew that he was watched over and loved by those on the other side of the veil.  And because there were more of them than of the adversary.

Bess Kale
I chose that quote because the portraits on that very red wall were some of our ancestors, including my mom and dad's newspaper wedding announcement (back when my Dad had a seventies 'stache and some great sideburns), a cute picture of my father-in-law as a child hiding inside his dad's mailbag, and a shy profile of my great-grandma Bess, who, according to my Dad's cousin Sheila, was a crier just like me.  Of course, Bess lost her teenage twin sister to leukemia, two babies to disease, and a toddler in a horrible accident, so I don't know what my excuse is.

I also had a no-nonsense picture of Mark's namesake Grandpa Newel Day, but I later learned that I had used the "wrong" one.  More on that in a minute.

The whole idea for putting the portraits on the wall with that scripture was to remind our family that there are people cheering for them, both here and on the other side.  Turns out I was one step ahead of the national media.  Recently (February?) USA Today published a study that proved that the number one influence for successful, resilient teenagers was not the number of books in the home, or the education level of the parents.  Surprisingly, the magic ingredient was that the teens had a strong sense of family identity and heritage.  If they knew who they were, and that their family could "do hard things" and still make it through, they tended to thrive even in difficult circumstances.  In this scary-wicked world, I want my kids to know what is expected of them, but also that they are loved and that they can make it, too.

It's not only teenagers that can gain this kind of strength from those that have gone before... I noticed that with our experiences over the past year with having a high-risk heart baby, and having him go through some life threatening (and life giving) surgeries, I've been thinking/reading/understanding more about death and such serious topics than I usually would.  Like thinking about how everyday it used to be for women to die in childbirth or babies to not live to their first birthday.  How did my Grandmothers do it?--those poor women.  Many of these thoughts culminated while I taught a class for the ladies at church the Sunday before Luke's scary surgery.  It was Mother's day, and I should have been an emotional worried mess, but instead, teaching about some of this deep stuff calmed me and helped me focus on reality.  The lesson was about eternal family relationships, of all things.  I told the ladies about my Grandpa Happy Jack.

My Grandpa Happy Jack likes to write cowboy poetry.  Really awful stuff.  Once in a while, though, he has some really great lines.  My personal favorite (I'm not biased or anything) was a poem he wrote when Mark came up to Montana over Christmas break to meet my parents for the first time.  I think it was called, "The Sodbuster's Daughter", and the best line he ever wrote was "What makes a man go North in Winter?"  Just last month he shared another zinger that was read at Duke and Natalie's wedding dinner, it was "The Duke and Duchess of Green River."  Everyone laughed.  So what makes great poetry, then?

I still remember at my Grandma LaVonne's funeral, my Uncle Gib was delivering the eulogy (because he was probably the only one who could do it without crying).  He did a great job, but he made everyone else cry.  He read a poem that Grandpa had written in his anguish.  I only heard it once.  The beginning line nearly made everyone gasp.

"Who turned out the lights?"

As tears rolled down our cheeks, we listened to how Grandpa, in this poem and in his sorrow, was able to make it.  Even though he wasn't the one reading the poem, in my mind's eye he says this very deliberately, even pointing his finger.

"You made me a promise at that altar, Lord." 

I don't remember the rest, but all these years, that one line, one truth, is what I took away.  Now, isn't that what makes a poet great?

Grandpa Jack got his strength to go forward from his covenants with God.  So do I.


I love that our church teaches that our souls are eternal.  We lived with our Heavenly Father in heaven before we came to earth.  He loved us so much that to help us learn and have a chance to feel a fraction of HIS love, he placed us here in families, intentionally.  "And because he loved thy fathers, therefore he chose their seed after them" --Deuteronomy 4:37.  After the resurrection we can be with our families again, forever.  That was the promise that Jack and LaVonne received at the altar of the temple--that they would be married for time AND all eternity.  Life's a three-act play, you know?  And we can only see the middle.  And the middle is extremely short compared to the rest!

I once heard at a wedding, somewhat shockingly, that our life here is like the width of a piece of paper.  (The bishop marrying the couple actually held up a blank sheet of paper and showed us the edge.)  He taught, correctly, that marriages that are "til death do you part" really are only for that long.  Don't you want to be with your loved ones for the eternities? (The bishop described an invisible thread wrapping around the earth more times than you could ever count, as opposed to that skinny piece of paper.)

Take a tour of a newly built or renovated temple sometime if you can, before it is dedicated.  They are an "architectural realization of the Sinai experience."  The marriage rooms are beautiful, especially their opposite-wall mirrors that show you what it might be like to be never-ending.  The covenants we make there are "for time and all Eternity" and include binding our children to us for that long as well.  Remembering my covenants was a huge, huge strength and comfort to me as we considered the possibility of losing our Luke.  It makes me so sad to think of all those mamas throughout the centuries that were told that their babies were going to hell.  Nonsense, cruel nonsense.  It also makes me sad to think of all the mamas (and often Dads) in our secular culture who deep down in their souls yearn for that eternal connection but don't know how to get it, so they make some outward demonstration like tattooing the names of their children into their very skin.

Last night as we were drifting off to sleep I asked Mark what he thought of first, when he thought about the people that had already died that were waiting to greet us on the other side.  I expected him to say something about his Mom, who passed away when Leslie was a baby.  He remembers her often and feels her influence. However, after he thought about my question for a minute, his response was not what I was expecting.

He said, "Isn't it great that there is a push and a pull?"  Huh?  He explained that our children push us.  They look to our example and help us remember that they will be like us someday.  They aren't easy--they push us to be better than we normally would, through serving and loving them.  The pull comes from those that have gone on before.  They want us to honor their names and live the kind of lives that will make us happy and that will help us be with them again someday.  We are the binding link of the chain of hearts of fathers and children (Malachi 4:6).

Mark is reminded of the push and pull every time he signs his name.  He is named after his paternal grandfather, Newel Day.  Grandpa Day always used to ask him, "What are you doing with my name?"  We named Luke after this same grandpa and hope he will feel that pull someday, both from Grandpa Newel and from Mark.  Remember how I said I had used the wrong picture of Grandpa Newel on my wall?  I liked the one I used just fine, but I later found out that Grandpa preferred a different picture of himself during his lifetime.  A picture exists where he is standing among palm trees, his arms outstretched, young and smiling.
"Take a good look." he used to tell his children and grandchildren "This is the way I will look when you see me in heaven."

They that be with us are more.

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