Our bumper stickers and computer backgrounds reveal so much about us. Through the college team logo, the institution we attended, a political cause, or images of loved ones, we tell the world so much about what we love, desire, and stand for.
I have often considered what the picture displayed on my own screen represents about me:
As you see above, there is a beautiful woman with a glowing smile. (That’s my wife.) Holding her hand is a little boy with white, curly locks flowing out from beneath a fireman’s hat. (That’s my oldest child.) His firefighter’s jacket can hardly contain the enthusiasm emanating from his heart as he walks into the fire station for his closest friend’s birthday party. In the background is the black 2007 Mazda CX-9 that we purchased when we first found out we were pregnant with him.
I used to call this picture, “When we were ‘happy people.’”
Three weeks after this photo was taken, that little boy – that smiling little fireman – died suddenly and mysteriously in his sleep.
I don’t know why, of all the wonderful pictures of my son, I chose this one to be on my computer background for me to see every time I open my laptop. It captures so much of the innocent bliss of our “former life.” Yet it also possesses the real potential to produce despair, lament, and bitterness, as it reminds me of that former life I once knew. A life that didn’t include an annual trip to a child’s grave. A life without awkward and painful answers to the question, “How many children do you have?” A life without boxes and boxes of sacred old toys and clothes that are off-limits to younger siblings. A life less broken and sad.
Perhaps I love this picture because it also represents the promise of a future life, one where I will see my son again and will enjoy an unbroken joyfulness with a fully healed heart.
I think I truly chose this picture, though, because when I look at it, I see a shadow of myself that reminds me, “You are a different person.” God drew a swift divider between the Cameron Cole of November 10, 2013 (and before), versus the Cameron Cole of November 11, 2013 (and beyond). I look at this picture and, in many ways, I do not recognize my old self.
My son was not the only person who died that day.
Without an understanding of the Cross of Jesus Christ, those words sound depressing and hopeless – maybe even bitter. However, when I say I died, a peace pervades my heart.
The life to which Christ calls a person involves dying and dying and dying. It’s the language of Christ-following. Jesus says to his inner circle, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”
To die means to lose control of one’s life with open hands, and to entrust one’s circumstances to the sovereign discretion of God. Jesus leaves no mystery to the prominence of pain in this journey, choosing an instrument that inflicts agony (the cross) as the most fitting metaphorical image to accompany us along the way.
In the way of the cross, Jesus forecasts daily pain; and he calls for daily release.
To die means to transfer from one realm to another, to completely cross over a threshold. When I say that I also died on November 11, 2013, I mean that I (similar to my precious boy) passed on from one life to another. I became a different person. On that day, the Lord carried me into a new realm, where I was now a father who had lost a child.
What the disciples did not know when Jesus made this declaration about taking up a cross was the reality of the resurrection that would succeed it. Jesus’ Cross can never be divorced from his resurrection. Our crosses and our deaths can never be divorced from his resurrection either.
While I am reminded of my son’s death, and my own, represented in the picture on the background of my computer, I don’t just see death. I also dwell in my own resurrection – the resurrection that Jesus continually delivers to me in my unique story.
I am a different person now, and for that I am grateful. I still have a nasty temper for swerving drivers, bad football officiating, and a snot-nosed arrogance that hasn’t gone anywhere. I am not happy or pleased that my son died. I miss him every day. But I do have a deeper sense of groundedness and gratitude in life. I have a deeper compassion for others’ suffering and a higher capacity to enter into others’ pain for the sake of their comfort. I have a more profound appreciation for God’s offering of his son for me and the cost of his sacrifice. I enjoy my younger children in a deeper way because I can just be thankful that they are here with me, and less obsessed with who they will become.
I am an increasingly healed person. When I consider the levels of anguish and sorrow and anger this photo used to trigger as compared to today, my confidence in the resurrection beyond the cross grows. The pain will never disappear in this life, but a little progress offers immense comfort.
Finally, I look at this photo and I am further convinced that the Christian narrative of life is real. I have sat on a micro-cross and have been lifted up in a micro-resurrection. I have truly experienced both.
I am a father who has lost a son. I am sorrowful but joyful. I am sad but hopeful. I accept the lot God has given me.
I am a father who has lost a son. I am at peace with my life.
Surely the tomb is empty.