I don’t think it’s any coincidence that Leslie’s final days have bridged the space of both Lent and Eastertide. It has been a tragic and holy honor for Ned, Leslie, and their girls to accompany us all through Holy Week, hasn’t it? Ned’s updates became a part of my own liturgy of tears and mourning – as I cried for them, for friends who are hurting, for the grief of the whole world. Our church had a Tenebrae service on Friday night, and I wept from beginning to end. It felt right that, for a moment, the whole world cried together with Ned and for all the things that steal, kill, and destroy.
I was scheduled to teach my church community on Easter Sunday and found myself still limping with sadness into Sunday morning. And that’s OK. I am really thankful that the joy of Easter is not a cheap joy. It is no discount-store happiness. The joy of Easter is more like an unbidden beauty that rises up out of the ashes of really hard things. And that’s good news when we’re in the midst of hard things.
As I was reflecting on what to say to my community, my heart was led back to something I wrote a couple of years ago. While I didn’t write it at Easter, the words have continued to reverberate in my heart and have shaped the way I’ve been approaching this Lenten season – especially as I looked toward saying “goodbye for now” to Leslie. I feel these words in my bones every bit as much as the day I first wrote them.
This is the piece I shared with my community, and I share it with you now.
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) to an infection, 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 just two minutes later, she fell. And suddenly 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 and ice cream live just minutes from one another. And here are no lines I can draw.
There is no way to lock the door and keep brokenness out. And I don’t know how not to revolt against that.
There’s a 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.
Or 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.
Right 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 a glimmer of hope right in the middle of my lament, sneaks up on me with new clarity right in the middle of my tears. And I catch just 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. What if it is not hell breaking into heaven, but heaven breaking into hell? And just as suddenly as the tears came, I find myself wanting 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. It’s not just some place we go when we die. No. It’s an all-out love war waged against the brokenness of this world. Beauty refusing to be held back. The audacious revolt of back-to-school pics 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 hellishness is to hide. To run from it. Don’t let it in. We want 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 ourselves in 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. It hurts. It hurts. It hurts. But then…
Beauty pours in. Life rushes in. Hope spills in – right into the middle of the mess.
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 behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.” Matthew 27:51
On earth as it is in heaven. This is what Easter means to me. Especially this year in the midst of so much grief and loss. In the midst of losing Leslie.
Something has broken through. Something really important has happened. Something that flips our perspective upside down and changes the very fabric of reality. Right now. Starting today. In the middle of the mess, in the middle of whatever is hurting. The kingdom of God is at hand. And the gates of hell will not prevail against it.
Leslie understood this better than most, didn’t she? She always had a look of knowing that whispered this truth to all of us.
She reminds me of the very first women who discovered Jesus’ empty tomb. We are told they hurried away afraid and yet filled with joy. And they hit the ground running to tell everyone they knew.
Afraid and yet filled with joy. Isn’t that just what it looks like to live in this place of the in-between?
The already-but-not-yet where the world is still broken, where there is much at stake and a lot to lose, and where there is real fear over how things might turn out. And yet – a place where unbidden, unforeseen joy wells up in the midst of it that cannot be contained.
A glimpse of heaven breaking in. The promise of a new day dawning.
Every time she smiled, Leslie broke the news of this promise to us all.
The veil is torn.
Jesus himself is the veil. Fully human and fully divine, He stands as the intersection between heaven and earth. He rules the space of the in-between. And in Him, there is no more separation between the two.
On earth as it is in heaven.
As Hebrews tells us “We can now—without hesitation—walk right up to God, into ‘the Holy Place.’ Jesus has cleared the way by the blood of his sacrifice, acting as our priest before God. The ‘curtain’ into God’s presence is his body.” (Hebrews 10:19-21, The Message)
Heaven and earth are colliding in Christ. The ground will flourish again. We can be sure of it.
I am still weeping with Ned and the girls. I am still revolting against the loss of Leslie. I am still weighed down by grief and sadness, even on the other side of Easter Sunday. We all knew that this day would come, but it doesn’t make it easier does it? Just a few days ago I said to my husband through tears,
“Even when you know it’s coming, you never see it coming.”
I realized this is true of resurrection joy. Even when you know it’s coming you could never see it coming. It surprises us when we least expect it. Breaks in when we need it most. Taps us on the shoulder even as we cry.
On earth as it is in heaven. As Ned said to us all, THIS IS NOT THE END.
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” (1 Peter 1:3) Amen.
This tribute by Nicole Howe is part of an “In Memoriam” series we are running this week for our dear friend Leslie Anne Bustard.
The featured image, “Wild Violets in Stone,” is courtesy of Lancia E. Smith and used with her glad 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.
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