The trip back to Scotland overwhelmed my heart in so many sweet and hard ways. To see and touch the ones that walked us through our darkest days. The days of finding out and then slowly accepting that this indeed was the path we would walk. To weep with them and hug them and know that there are more good byes ahead, but that they will stay nestled in this heart of mine forever. To remind them and myself that prayers are never wasted. Even the ones that are not answered in the way we long for them to be. I will forever be grateful for the five days of soaking in the realities of what was, what is, and what is to come.
While in Scotland one of our leaders, Euan, handed me a small brown envelope to carry back to Luke. He gently suggested that I might want to read it first. Luke had written the letter to himself. In a time of reflection, Euan had asked all his campers to write a letter to themselves to read six months later. He was concerned that Luke's own words might hurt him. Back then we were all so hopeful that the treatments would continue to work. Holding the letter on the plane ride home I remembered the days leading up to the camp trip.
It was Euan first time leading an overnight trip and Luke's first time going. Jeff was to go the first few days to show Euan the ropes and support him in his brave steps of leadership. He was also thrilled to see Luke as a camper and not just a son of an area director. While the aggressive chemo treatments seemed to be working, Jeff was starting to struggle to breath deeply, climb stairs, and keep any food down. We didn't know at the time that he had a major pulmonary embolism and that the stent holding his throat open had fallen into his stomach. The day Euan showed up at our house with a bag and pillow in hand, Jeff had to tell him he was to go alone. Jeff just couldn't manage. We sat sullen in the living room and prayed for God to provide in ways we could not. Euan rallied and Luke hugged us good bye. There were other guys to pick up, a cabin to be filled. I waved as they drove off until I could not see Luke 's face looking back at me anymore. Camp ended up being incredible for Euan and the guys he took, including Luke.
When Euan passed me the letter seven months later, he worried Luke had written about Jeff. He worried the letter was filled with hope of healing or the suffering he had already seen. Seven months ago none of us would have expected to be standing here, without Jeff. I nervously held the small brown envelope, unopened the whole flight back.
Luke smiled broadly when I laid the envelope in front of him. "Ah, I forgot about that!" I asked if he remembered what he had written and he replied he hadn't a clue. I held my breath as he slid the white, folded paper out. His eyes scanned the paper and his smile softened. I thought of Euan's suggestion of me reading it first and I silently wished that I had. Luke finally looked up and his eyes met mine. It just says thank you. "That is it? Thank you?" I took the paper and looked at the small words written in pencil in the center of the page. Surrounding it was a drawing of the Scottish countryside, our village church in Wormit, and three crosses on the horizon. "Why did you write that?" I asked, slightly confused. "I suppose I wrote it more to God than myself. I just remember being so grateful for camp, and Scotland, and all that had already happened. And being excited for what could happen next." My heart stilled. He smiled again and left me holding the picture of thanks. I sat in my desk chair and tears slid down. Humble hope. A heart of thanks. Hope doesn't always have to hurt. It can be the prelude to a thankful heart.
These two small words washed over me. You see, I had been holding onto the guilt and fear that somehow my hope had hurt more than helped. That my hope had prepared Jeff and the boys for healing instead of suffering. And maybe if I hadn't hoped and instead prepared for the worst, the worst wouldn't have hurt so much. I stared at two simple words written by Luke's hands. It was written in a season where he knew how much could be taken, and how much was uncertain.
And now we see with different eyes, eyes that have seen suffering and loss. But it is hope that still anchors us. Our hope presses us into the truth that this world we see is not the one we were created for. That beyond the pain and suffering we are all to endure, there is more. There is more to come. The story does not end with our final breath. The boys and I will choose to live homeward bound. And in humble hope, look forward to the day when Jeff's strong arms will draw us in again. We will fall asleep with thanks on our lips because our hope is in His goodness and His love. Our hope is in the fact that this is not a game, we are not chess pieces to be placed and scattered. We are His beloved and our future is rooted in that love.
My heart aches for Jeff, and my heart still longs for Scotland. My hands still feel emptied. But there is hope, small and fluttering, deep in this heart of mine. And it is a hope refined that will in turn bring thanksgiving to our lips.
"And hope does not put us to shame, Because God's love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given us." Romans 5:5