I scrolled through Facebook this morning.
Beautiful images of fall, some back to school pics, funny memes, a little girl on life support, a political rant, a Bible devotional, news of a woman who just lost her husband (father of three small kids), and some TGI Friday shout-outs.
And life and death are smashed right up next to each other in ways that feel unnatural, and the face of that little girl sears into my mind, and I imagine the woman grieving the loss of her love right now, and all the pictures of beauty and fall and back-to-school fade away, and my heart revolts. And I cry tears in the middle of a parking lot.
Like when my little girl was small and she had an ice cream cone and she was skipping and licking and laughing. And two minutes later, she fell. And there was ruined ice cream and skinned knees and dirt-stained tears. And it was a small thing, except it wasn’t. And the tears welled in my eyes because the reality pierced me that skinned knees and laughter live just inches from one another. And here are no lines I can draw. There is no way to lock the door. And I don’t know how not to revolt against that.
There’s brokenness that seeps in slowly, injects our daily lives with gradual turmoil. But it’s a special kind of darkness that barges into the beautiful places and steals what’s precious when you’re not even looking. It’s the kind that blows right past our boundaries, laughs at our fortresses, busts through the steel door anyway. The kind that pushes you into the icy pool and sucks the air out of your breath from the shock. The kind that sneaks up from behind in the middle of back-to-school pics and beautiful fall images and laughter. It’s the “our day started out like any other day.” It’s the blunt force trauma of the unfinished text, the unanswered questions, the unwritten story. It’s death that comes in mid-sentence.
The lines between hell and earth get blurred.
Hell on earth.
Like when my mom shook me awake and mumbled something about code-blue, and we rushed to the hospital in our jammies, with anxious hearts that held questions and hope, and we walked off the elevator into the face of a nurse who said with sad eyes, “I’m sorry, he didn’t make it.” And I watched my grandma bury her face in her hands, as we felt the immediate absence of him, and it was no consolation that he had made it all these years. He was just here.
Like when I was cooking dinner and listening to my favorite song, and my kids were swirling around me, laughing. And the loss of a childhood friend hits me with full force, and I cry as I cut the tomatoes, because I don’t know how not to. And when my husband turns toward me, silently asking where the tears are coming from, I can only bury my head in his chest and whisper,
“I don’t want to live in a world like this.”
I don’t want to live in a here one minute, gone the next kind of world. I don’t want to live in a world where I can’t draw lines between beauty and brokenness. Where my fortresses fail, and where the doors have no locks.
And in the middle of the ache, I feel the words tap me on the shoulder.
“And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.” Matthew 27:51
And the reality of the promise pierces through my revolt in fresh ways, washes over me with greater hope right in the middle of this lament, sneaks up on me with new clarity right in the middle of these dirty tears. And I catch a glimpse of the magnitude of the promise.
The lines between heaven and earth are blurred.
Heaven on earth.
For a moment, I catch my breath. IT IS NOT HELL BREAKING INTO HEAVEN, IT IS HEAVEN BREAKING INTO HELL. And I remember to thank God that there is no fortress between beauty and brokenness, that there is no door we can lock…no way to keep heaven from coming.
“Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Heaven. Not just some place we go when we die. An all-out war waged against the ugliness in this world. Beauty refusing to be held back, the audacious act of revolt of fall pictures and laughing children piercing right into the middle of the pain, whispering to us that the story doesn’t end this way. Jesus, breaking through the darkness, tearing the veil that kept heaven away. Victory over all the things that steal, kill, and destroy. It is not here in its fullness, but it is coming.
Heaven on earth right in the middle of this hell on earth.
Some people think the best way to protect ourselves from hell is to hide. To run from it. To refuse to let it in. Don’t look it in the face. When we see an image of a hurting little girl, our instinct is to look away. To shut the door. I know. I don’t want to live in a world like this, either.
But we’re locking the door from the inside. The monsters are in here with us. What will we taste and see if we open the door wide? Let it all in.
But then, Beauty pours in. Life rushes in. Hope spills in – right into the middle of the ache. And the shock of it steals our breath in the best of ways. And we catch a glimpse of the promise. Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted.
Oh Lord, on earth as it is in heaven.
On earth as it is in heaven.
ON EARTH AS IT IS IN HEAVEN.
As the whole world groans, as we exist in this tragic gap of the in between, may our voices pierce the darkness and may heaven break through.
And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.” Matthew 27:51
The featured image is courtesy of Julie Jablonski and used with her kind permission for Cultivating.
Nicole Howe is a writer, speaker, Bible study teacher, wife, and homeschooling mama to four kiddos. She serves as editor and regular contributor for the quarterly publication, An Unexpected Journal and holds a Masters Degree in Cultural Apologetics from Houston Baptist University, where she discovered the power of the imagination to restore awe and wonder to her floundering faith. Drawing deep insights from her ordinary experiences, Nicole is passionate about helping others discover the Truth, Goodness, and Beauty of Christ in broken and unlikely places. When she’s not devouring books, Nicole loves singing, pretending to be a chef, and performing Improv at her local theater.