It was Tuesday afternoon.
And I was chopping onions and chives for potato salad.
And I wondered where I would store such things in my new house.
And it seemed petty.
(Though I can’t just leave them on the dining room table all the time. All chives matter after all.)
It was Tueday afternoon.
And I was yelling.
Everyone was grumpy. It was wet outside, spirits were damp, noses were runny.
I had streaks on my shirt shoulder from the baby.
It was a Tuesday afternoon.
And Jesus went to Lazarus’s house.
But he wasn’t there. Well, his body was, but it was just a shell. Empty. Buried. Lifeless.
And Jesus wept.
(Actually, I don’t know if that happened on a Tuesday. But it wasn’t long before Passover weekend; people were already headed to Jerusalem to prep for the feast, and Jesus knew they were in the countdown leading to His own day of death. So it very possibly could have been…)
Two Tuesdays ago, we bought a house. We. Bought. A. House!
My husband said he would carry me over the threshold like newlyweds entering their home together for the first time (but he wouldn’t let me take a picture of it, to preserve his manliness.) The house echoed. It was so empty. So clean. Not even a single dead fly lay belly up on the windowsills. No fingerprints on the door. No crayon marks on the walls.
Now there are. (It doesn’t take long!) The flies get captured to feed to the pet praying mantises. (So I caved on the pet thing. But we’re still not getting a puppy.) Little smudges cross the glass of the door where toddlers watch for Daddy in the evening (and for any chance to escape undetected to the great outdoors). Two children were caught decorating the inside of the closet with the contents of the re-discovered crayon box (at least it was the inside). The house is full of life and promise.
We bought the house from someone who gutted it and redid the inside five years ago. I think they expected to stay here longer. But within six months of starting the work, he was diagnosed with ALS (remember the ice bucket challenge?) So their renovation plans changed. He built a wheelchair ramp. He created a first floor master bedroom. He tiled the whole bathroom to make a walk – or drive – in shower. He installed a bidet (that’s a new adventure for the kids!) The thresholds are low.
Some people have patted me on the back and said we deserve this house. I concur that it is lovely to have a big backyard for the boys, and wheelchair access, and to not sleep on the living room pull out sofa every night, listening to the dishwasher hum its evening routine within feet of my head. Rejoice with me. I have yearned for this for years.
But we don’t deserve it. Just because we have six kids and a wheelchair does not equal rights to a larger accessible space. Just because you think we are nice (and you haven’t seen me at bedtime when they won’t sleep) does not mean we should have nice things. Just because we trust God does not mean our faith guarantees we get what we want.
The man who owned this house before us didn’t deserve to die any more than we deserve to live here. We all live in this sin-scarred world full of germs and degeneration, a place where it rains on the just and unjust, where life isn’t fair and doesn’t make sense.
There are probably hundreds of mamas living in cardboard shacks with their six children who have far greater faith than me. And I know much nicer people. And just having a wheelchair does not mean that my son is guaranteed the right to easier access. It doesn’t even mean he deserves them.
Rather, it is grace. It is always grace.
It was grace that brought Jesus to the tomb of his friend Lazarus, dead for four days.
When he got there, Jesus wept. Why?
Because the world had lost a good man? Lazarus was a good man. He was generous and hospitable (you don’t become the stopping place for a rowdy group of a dozen grown fishermen and IRS agents unless you’re really good at sharing!) He was known and respected. But Jesus knew him too – as a friend. He didn’t deserve to live any more than anyone else just because he was a nice guy, or to die because he was any worse of a sinner than his neighbors.
It wasn’t weakness. This was the Man who had complete control of the very weather over His head, who could command legions of angels to His bidding, who made demons shriek in terror. Jesus could make Chuck Norris cry. Jesus didn’t cry because He was weak.
Did He weep because He missed him? Jesus knew the exactly what would happen in a few minutes. He would call Lazarus back from the grave. Come back from the beautiful place where there was no pain, no worries. No tears. Come back to the land of death, where people would hate Lazarus so much they’d want to kill him – all over again. Come back from the comfortable, bright, safe place beyond the grave, back to the hurting, grumpy, wet, petty place where people think it matters where the onions are stored, where people decide whether they think you’re worth life or death based on their preference to your appearance. Come back to limitations and frustrations. Come back from the land of the living. Maybe I would cry too.
But I don’t think that was the cause of Jesus’ tears.
I think He wept because He ached for His friends.
Jesus wept because the strongest Man on earth was also the most compassionate Man. Because sometimes grace is allowing a man to die and never hurt again while his family aches on earth, but sometimes grace is bringing a man back from that good place to live in a decaying body again. In that moment, Jesus felt their deep sorrow.
Sometimes grace means rejoicing on earth. Sometimes it means heartbreak. I would love to hear Jesus laugh. I bet it is infectious. But so are tears to a Man with a big heart.
The Jesus I know is a God of grace. Five years ago a man was diagnosed with an incurable disease. That same year, a child was born with a lifelong disability.
The man was capable, financially wise, and sensible. He prepared for his physical decline by preparing his home and his soul to meet the challenge of dying. Meanwhile my son underwent surgeries, bought a wheelchair, and got a couple more siblings to prepare him for the physical and mental challenge of living.
A year ago, in late May, I committed to praying daily for a new house for our growing family. A year ago, in early June, that man died. He was committed to a new forever home that would never decline and never ache again. But there were tears on earth.
I wept when I read the obituary and realized the timeline. I do not know why God chose to do it this way. But I do know Jesus Himself ached for the heartbroken family even as He welcomed a soul into eternity.
I walked through the house this man rebuilt. He died in this house. And for a while it stood empty. Silent. Waiting.
Now it is full of life. And crayons and oatmeal. Loud baby squeals echo and pokemon battles rage (the stuffed kind, not the virtual. They find them – and throw them at their brothers.)
Last Monday, I looked out between fingerprints through the kitchen window as a thundercloud swelled across the sky. The stately old elm tree at the back of the field stood stark against the foreboding grey. I called the boys inside. We watched as the heavens opened. Rain poured in sheets. Lightning ripped the clouds. Thunder shook the heavy atmosphere. It was majestic. It was terrifying. God reminded us that He is big. He is powerful. He is utterly in control.
And I hugged my littlest men close and felt their cubby warm softness. And I knew God was also gentle. He is compassionate. He is utterly good.
And I do not deserve His grace.
But still He gives it.
“The Lord your God, who goes before you, He will fight for you… and in the wilderness you saw how the Lord your God carried you, as a man carries His son, in all the way that you went until you came to this place. [He] went in the way before you to search out a place for you to pitch your tents, to show you the way you should go.”