Zekey
Zekey would be seven today. It’s hard for me to imagine what a healthy Zekey would look like as a seven year old. The last time he was healthy he was two and a half. How do you project that young stage onto a seven year old? Kids change so much in those years. The essence of him would be the same, of course. He would be tall. His eyes would still light up a room. He would be mischievous and curious. But would he love the Buckeyes? The Tigers? Legos? Would he be interested in the same things as his older brother Cyrus, or would he be forging his own path? It’s fun to imagine what your child will grow up to be like; it’s dreadful to know that you’ll never see those days.

What am I missing out on? This question is what stings the most these days, nearly two and a half years after Zekey met Jesus. I watch my other kids grow up, follow Jesus, go to school, make friends, have concerts, develop interests. This is all supposed to be the glory of parenthood, but each of these experiences are tinged with sorrow. A part of me is always turned toward Zekey, gazing into the emptiness left by his death. I am haunted by the boy he should have become.

I worry that this is unfair to the three kids who are still with us. Am I cheating them out of the fullness of my attention? Does my sorrow diminish their joy? Is it wrong to wish that Zekey was with us at every concert, game, race, or party? Don’t get me wrong. I’m not despondent. I don’t wallow in despair. On the contrary, I love my life. I love my family, my church, and my vocation. God has brought me out of the shadow of death and into green pastures and along quiet streams. But there is a voice I will never hear again in this life, a face I will never see except in pictures.

This is the tension of learning contentment: experiencing both the goodness of God and the heartbreak of loss. It’s impossible for loss to be the goodness of God, but as I have come to discover, you can find God’s goodness in the depths of your heartache. You must hold this truth in both hands in order to find contentment, which is what it means to truly love your life. Life is hard. God is good. You can find him in your pain and suffering.

Even after losing my son, I can love my life because I know that God has conquered death through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. This gives me hope that I can’t find anywhere else. Because of the Jesus’ resurrection, one day all who believe in him will also rise from the dead. Until that day, our souls are kept with Christ in heaven. This is what Zekey is currently experiencing – comfort and wholeness with Jesus. On that great and glorious day when God gathers all of his people together – those who have died, and those who are still alive – I will see my son again, and together we will enjoy the power of the resurrection and the glory of the new creation. This isn’t wishful thinking. This is the reality of the coming triumph of God.

I want everyone to have this hope. I wish everyone could know the power of Christ’s resurrection. I hope everyone gets to meet Zekey someday. But that’s only possible through Jesus, and nothing else. The only way to experience a resurrection is to follow the one who has already risen. The only way to have hope for eternity is to surrender yourself to the one who has conquered death.

This is what I’m thinking about on Zekey’s seventh birthday. I’m sad. A part of me is empty. But a much larger part of me is full and hopeful. And if that fullness, contentment, and hope can spread to someone else…well, I can’t think of a better way to honor my little boy’s life.

Last Thursday we left our campsite in Flagstaff, AZ, and headed north in a rented car toward the Grand Canyon. It would be my second time to the Grand Canyon, but for Breena and the kids, it was their first. Before we arrived at the park, we drove through some beautiful country on the Arizona backroads.

Just south of the park is a little town that has benefitted greatly from the tourism the Canyon draws. I don’t remember it being there when I last visited the park in 2003, and anyway, all the buildings look as though they’ve been built in the last five years. The kids were grateful to stop someplace familiar: Wendy’s. As we waited in line, Breena spotted a brochure for a helicopter ride over the Canyon. On a normal trip this wouldn’t even be a consideration, but this is the Zekey Trip after all, and we’re here to make memories. So we booked our helicopter ride for 4:10, and we sped off toward the Canyon to get as much sight-seeing in as we could in the meantime.

The Canyon defies description. It is vast and deep and intricate and beautiful. That first glimpse into the Canyon’s depths will take your breath away, no matter how many times you’ve seen it. Photographs, obviously, cannot do it justice. The kids loved it, especially the girls. Bexley had no fear – she wanted to get as close to the edge as she could. But all Cyrus and Eisley could seem to talk about was the impending helicopter ride.

It was amazing. It was worth the cost. I almost threw up.

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We’re calling it the Zekey Trip. We had made arrangements with Make-A-Wish to take an RV trip all across the country, but when Zekey passed away in March, Make-A-Wish could no longer make the trip happen. Breena and I both felt that the trip would be an important investment in the healing of our family, so we set up a fund to help make it a reality. Many of you who read my and/or Breena’s blogs gave generously, and so the Zekey Trip has become a reality. (I’m sitting in the back of an RV in Flagstaff, AZ typing this.) To you we are so very grateful. Though many of you have never personally met us, you have poured generously into our lives, blessing us profoundly.

Below are some of my favorite pictures from the first couple of days of the trip. I hope to post more soon, but as you can imagine, our days are so full that I am usually exhausted by 8:00 and ready to fall asleep, incapable of stringing even one coherent sentence together. The trip started in Denver, and we spent our first night in Cripple Creek, CO, up near Pike’s Peak. On the second day we ate lunch at Garden of the Gods before driving to Santa Fe, NM down I-25. That drive was absolutely beautiful. On day 3 we drove to Flagstaff, AZ, stopping at the Petrified Forest National Park and the Meteor Crater along the way. The American West is stunning.

Several folks have been asking if they can still donate to Zeke’s Memorial Fund. The answer to that is, “Of course!” You can click on the PayPal Donate button in the left column of this blog, which will take you to a secure donation page. Again, we are eternally grateful for all who have made this trip a reality. God bless you!

Since our son Ezekiel passed away two and a half months ago, Breena and I have been often asked: How are you doing? The truth is, we’re doing well. This fact can be difficult for some to understand. After all, our 4 1/2 year old son died of a terrible disease that slowly destroyed his brain and his body for more than two years. How could we possibly be doing well after experiencing something like that?

IMG_0158The only answer we have to that question is that we’ve found a hope that transcends death. We’re doing well because we have hope that there is something, or someone, who is greater than death. This hope, which has buried itself deep within our hearts over the past two years, is rooted in Jesus and his resurrection from the dead. We believe that Jesus conquered death once and for all; not that he has yet eradicated it and our bodies will never die, but that he has risen again from the dead, thereby destroying the power of death. If Jesus rose again, then death isn’t final, at least not for those who follow Jesus.

Nothing else on earth offers this kind of hope. No other religion or ideology offers the kind of hope that Christianity does through the resurrection of Jesus. The cross and resurrection, the “true message of the Gospel,” gives humanity a hope that no other way of life can – a hope that strips death of its power to make us afraid and replaces it with a vision of an unimaginably glorious and good life beyond death. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15,

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I didn’t prepare what I was going to say ahead of time, which is unusual for me. All I knew was that I wanted to read from Revelation 21. My hope is that these words honored both Jesus and Zeke.

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