Hold on to the Thread
“And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn others to goodness are like the stars forever and ever.”
This past week, I participated in the funeral of my dear friend Isse Waddey. She asked me to speak a word of hope. In her honor, I tried my very best. I confess the task was difficult for me. To lose someone you love calls everything you believe and hope for into question. I leaned into the words of Thomas Merton, “Perfect hope is achieved on the brink of despair, when instead of falling over the edge, we find ourselves walking on air.” I have Isse to thank for reminding me the true meaning of Christmas: God is with us always. Love prevails. The soul is promised to live forever. The light will shine on. The darkness will never overcome it. Always there is hope.
(Following is an excerpt from my tribute to Isse)
I would like to begin with the words of the poet William Stafford, from his poem The Way It Is:
There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But It doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But It is hard for others to see.
While you hold It you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of The Thread.
The Thread is hope. Isse never let go of the thread. I would like to offer you three reasons why you shouldn’t either! The first is God’s promises to us laid out in the scriptures. The second is tangible proof of those promises evidenced in the blueprint of nature. The third is the most profound, the experience of love, given and received.
I have this intuitive gift or my family would call it a terrible habit of figuring out the plot, and then announcing in the middle of a movie, “I know how this story is going to end!” But I confess the story God is writing with our lives consistently leaves me stumped. Sometimes it makes no logical sense. It feels unjust. How could the hero die half-way through the story? As Paul says, we see through the mirror dimly here. Corrie Ten Boom, in her powerful memoir The Hiding Place, said, “When a train goes through a tunnel and it gets dark, you don’t throw away the ticket and jump off. You sit still and trust the engineer.” The exact trajectory of our lives remains a mystery to everyone—-but God. I believe God gives us the Big Picture outline, even tells us how the love story will end.
In Genesis 1:27, we are told who we are, created incredibly in God’s own image—- which means we are built to be remarkable. God then laid out the mission: Go and be fruitful. The job is simple: increase goodness in this world. Make your life count for Love’s sake. Added bonus, God promised He will be with us for every step. We don’t have to fly solo. In Jeremiah 29:11, God proclaims: “I am with you always, and will watch over you wherever you go. I will not leave you until I have accomplished what I promised. I have plans for you. Plans to prosper you and to give you hope and a future. In Joshua 1:9, He commands: Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for I will be with you wherever you go. God also promises that He will not be distant, untouchable, and unreachable but tender, a present lover in the details of our topsy turvy lives. God knows us from the inside out. In Psalm 139, God says, “I created your innermost being and knitted you together. I know your thoughts before you speak them. Wherever you go, I go. I will travel to the farthest limits of the sea, to find you. You come to your end, it will be Me standing there.” He promises us a future when the earthly journey comes to an end. In John 11:25, He says, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, will live, and have eternal life. In Matthew 10:28, God assures, “Do not fear for the end of your body, because there will never be an end to your soul. God’s final promise in the Book of Revelation: There will be a time for each of us where there will be no more tears, no more death, no more mourning. The old order of things will pass away and God will make all things new. Isse took God’s word for it. Can we do the same? At some point, like Isse, we have to make the leap and trust God. Not once, but every single day of our lives. God made The Thread to hold.
Maybe to believe in the thread you need something more than just words. Like Thomas, you would like to see physical proof of hope with your own eyes. And God is happy to oblige. God has woven the shimmering thread of resurrection into the fabric of creation. Transformation is the Divine plot. Nature is forever illustrating this glorious truth. Today I am going to lean on science, actually astrophysics for tangible proof of eternal hope. God loves stars. I have counted well over 100 celestial references in the Bible. Not only does He use them like the Christmas Star for example to show us the way of Love in a manger in Bethlehem, but He also believes us to be stars with our own unique charge of light. Science can now back that up. Carl Sagan, the renowned astrophysicists and astronomer said, “We are literally made of stardust.” Just like the Polaris and the billions of constellations in the Milky Way, we are a living composite of oxygen, carbon, iron, nickel and a myriad of other celestial elements. We were made to shine. In Daniel 12:3, God says: “And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn others to goodness are like the stars forever and ever. Isse was a record supernova, one of the brightest lights among us. I have her to thank for some of the deepest soul-searching of my life. Vanderbilt Divinity School and thirteen years of ministry do not compare to the last two years in Isse’s Life Class. She taught me what it means to be brave, to love sacrificially, to trust God in all circumstances.
It’s the life pattern of a star though that is most compelling to our hope hypothesis. Once a star has accomplished its mission in the universe and has used up all of its energy, it explodes as a supernova and sheds off all its layers. The star is transformed. What’s left behind is the core of the star, identified as the neutron star. And that core will glow for 100’s of billions of years. Eternity. Just as God promises in the scriptures, anything made in love will have no end. The core of the star and the soul of the human being is promised to live forever.
The third and most important proof of hope is the experience of love. I imagine God looking down from the heavens and then turning to one of his angels and saying, “Look what Love can do. It brings out the best in them. It knits them together. Love heals, forgives and makes peace even in the face of this terrific heartbreak. Love saves them.”
To witness Alex’s devotion to Isse, the bravery of her children Hudsyn, Briggs and Rex, how her sisters, mom and dad, all of Alex’s family, their countless remarkable friends, our church, the Nashville community, even strangers rallied around her. Isse called us to love beyond what we even thought possible. Because of Isse’s love, she changed her family’s and our lives forever. Because of our love for her, we revealed the best in ourselves. When we give the best of ourselves to another or receive that kind of pure and powerful love we know in our depths that God is good, The Plan can be trusted, the experience of heaven is available to us now and forever. Love is why we were created. Isse knew this. It is our purpose and remains the most remarkable experience here on earth. Love is the reason I will hold onto the thread. It is the reason you should hold on to the thread.
God bless and keep my dear friend Isse.