For the thousandth time I looked down from thirty-thousand feet in the far-reaching vault of stars on black velvet at a sight I’d often viewed with wonder.
The lights of San Francisco splashed across the landscape below as though spilled carelessly from an open jewel case. Strings of white diamonds intersected with the snaking topaz necklaces of its highways. Rubies and emeralds glittered abundantly. Tonight they appeared obscene, like a celebration following calamity.
Joanne’s hand covered mine. We exchanged glances, remaining otherwise silent. There was much to say, but no words came. Not yet.
“Lord, help my faith.” The small prayer was all I could manage as I rested my chin in my hand and stared out the aircraft’s window.
“Mack, you know…it’s going to take time,” My beautiful Joanne, so much stronger and deeper in faith, whispered.”
Yes, losing a child; not something you walk away from unchanged.
The pilots on this flight had walked back to shake hands and express condolences. They were my coworkers. We’d flown many hours together. I could only say “Thanks.”
Visions filled my head: the Radio Flyer wagon on Joel’s fourth birthday and his excitement as he flew down a hill; the orange bicycle on his sixth Christmas.
His tenth Christmas he’d helped me string the lights on the tree. We’d turned out the other lights and sat by the fire with mugs of hot chocolate, watching the red, blue, green, and yellow twinkling lights.
It was that Christmas he’d looked up at me.
“Dad, you believe in Jesus, don’t you?”
“Of course I do son. I believe He’s the very reason we celebrate this season. His birth brought the hope of new life. We celebrate his death and resurrection at Easter because those brought the reality of eternal life.”
That was the Christmas that Christ became real to Joel and he’d accepted Jesus as his own personal Savior.
Not long afterward he’d begun having pain in his abdomen. For two years we’d been to one doctor after another hoping, praying, for a miracle. Four days ago, Joel’s grey eyes closed for the last time.
And now, suspended beneath heaven, I questioned my own faith more than ever. “Lord, how could you take my son?”
The drive home from the airport was silent. I comforted my wife as best I could, but my own insides had been kicked out too. I had nothing as yet to give.
At home Joanne went upstairs to rest. I wandered around downstairs for a while. Everywhere I saw a memory. I went to the garage and puttered around, looking for something to do. Yet there sat the wagon and Joel’s bike.
I returned to the house and gravitated to Joel’s room. On the walls, desk and shelves were the trappings of a twelve-year old boy: books, several brightly hued woven lizards collected on a trip to the Grand Canyon the year before, team posters signed by players from the local university.
I roamed around the room, picking up one object after another, holding them as though some essence of their owner remained.
An object clattered to the floor as I picked up a t-shirt from the foot of his bed. I picked up the wooden kaleidoscope and turned toward the window, raising it to look.
The colors shifted in a multitude of stained glass friezes. Red, yellow, green, purple, orange and blue bits of glass tumbled as I twisted the cylinder.
“Joel, what do you see?” I’d asked.
“It looks like a broken rainbow,” he’d answered after a moment of squinting into the kaleidoscope.
“A broken rainbow…” I murmured to myself.
“Is that what you see Mack?”
I heard the voice and turned around, expecting to see JoAnne. No one was there.
My skin prickled. “Lord, is that you?”
I sat on Joel’s bed. His Bible lay open to a passage: I Peter chapter 1.
Words began to blur on the page: His abundant mercy…a living hope…an inheritance incorruptible…reserved in Heaven…kept by the power of God through faith…grieved by various trials…your faith being more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire.
The words pierced that tender hurt place in my heart. I sat for a long while, sobbing and praying.
JoAnne appeared in the doorway. “Mack?”
I smiled up at her. Rising, I went to her and held her.
“It’s going to be ok. Joel’s ok. He’s exchanged the broken rainbow of this life for a crown of gold,” I whispered.
Scripture I Peter Chapter 1:7 from the NKJV
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