Chapter 4: It IS Okay
It was 7:00 PM when Walker finally got home from the hospital. He ate a cold sandwich and went straight to bed. For the first time since the accident he slept soundly. It was nearly 9:00 AM when his phone began to buzz. He silenced it and pulled the covers over his head. It buzzed again. It was Connie. She had left a message. He skipped the message and called her.
“Good morning honey, what’s up?”
“Lizzie is dead.”
“What?” he said, trying to process her words.
“She had a massive hemorrhage last night.” Connie’s voice cracked. “I never even knew. I thought she was sleeping. Then the monitors started going crazy. By the time the nurses came in she was gone.”
“I’ll be right there,” said Walker.
He shoved his legs into his jeans, splashed some water on his face, and stumbled out to the car. Nothing seemed real. He felt like a phantom. Entering the room, he saw Connie slumped over in a chair. She looked at him and rose unsteadily. Walker threw his arms around her and they clung to each other. They went weak and the knees and knelt beside Lizzie’s bed as if in prayer. There was only emptiness. They knelt in silence trying to grab hold of a world that had lost all meaning. A nurse entered the room.
“Oh. I’m sorry,” she said. “I hate to bother you. But we need this room. Do you have a preference of funeral homes?”
They just stared at her.
The next ten days were so hectic that Walker barely had time to think. They had to choose a funeral home, buy a casket, and plan a service. There were relatives to contact and a flood of sympathetic people to contend with. Messages on Facebook ran into the thousands. They received so many cards they would not fit in their mailbox. It was like being on a fast-moving conveyor belt. They had no time to process what was happening. They were just shoved along, going through the motions of living.
They should have found a bigger venue for the funeral. Their little church only seated a hundred and seventy-five people. Over five hundred came. Many stood outside for the entire service. The outpouring of support was overwhelming. How could the world be filled with so much love and so much pain?
The day after the funeral, the conveyor belt jerked to a stop. Walker sat at home with Connie in an empty house. Everywhere, they felt Lizzie’s absence. The hairbrush by her sink. The vacant chair at breakfast. Her socks underneath the couch. The door to her room.
The mailbox was empty now except a note that came from Angela. Walker opened it and read it to Connie.
“I remember when Paul died,” she wrote. “The hardest part was the month after the service. It was like everything went back to normal for everyone but me. With Paul gone, nothing would ever be normal again. I just want you to know I have not forgotten you.”
The next week, Walker went back to work and resumed management of the home electronics section. Many of his customers knew what had happened. They fumbled for words, trying to find something to say but it was awkward. It seemed to Walker that some people were avoiding him, like he had contracted leprosy or something.
Angela was not like this. “You’ll get through this,” she said. Somehow the way she said it made Walker half believe it.
On his second day back at work, Susan called him into the office.
“Sorry to have to bring this up,” she said, “but it’s time to sit down with Don in human resources and talk about insurance.” She nodded toward his door. “He’s expecting you.”
Don was a young man in his early 30s. He motioned for Walker to take a seat.
“I’m afraid I have some bad news,” he said. “Health insurance doesn’t begin for new employees until after 30 days. I hope you still had coverage from your old job.”
“Uh uh,” said Walker. “I didn’t know that was your policy.”
“I was afraid of that,” said Don. “It sounds like you are uninsured. Do you have any idea what the hospital expenses were?”
“Something like $35,000,” said Walker.
“Well,” said Don, “Hospitals take payments. I’m sure they will work with you.”
Walker’s credit was already stretched to the limit. He and Connie were barely keeping up with the minimums on their debt. They had already refinanced their house twice.
“I don’t know what I’m gonna do,” said Walker.
“I’m really sorry,” said Don.
“Okay,” said Walker.
He left the office and went to the employee break room to get his coat. He was contemplating a meaningless life at the the Lumber Depot where he might eke out a meager retirement if he was lucky. What was the point? Even if he somehow struck it rich it wouldn’t matter. Nothing would bring back Lizzie. Nothing could solve his inner bankruptcy. He dreaded telling Connie. She had been distant lately, almost like she blamed him. He knew it didn’t make sense but it felt that way.
It was early in the afternoon so instead of driving home, Walker went to Lost Lake, one of his favorite places, to be alone and think. He parked his car in the gravel lot and hiked a mile up to the overlook. Coming around the final stretch of trail, he saw the snow-capped Sierras in the distance. The scene always inspired him. Today, though, his thoughts were filled with trouble. He kept glancing down the steep cliff to the rocks below. He thought how easy it would be to take just one more step and stop the pain. At least it would leave Connie with life insurance. Just one more step and it would all be over. That would be the end.
“That would not be the end,” said a Voice, “just a very misplaced step.”
It was the first time Walker had heard the Voice since the night Lizzie died.
“Where have you been?” asked Walker accusingly.
“By your side,” said the Voice.
“A fat lot of good that did,” said Walker.
“There is something I have wanted to do for you this whole time,” said the Voice.
“What?” shot back Walker angrily. “Bring Lizzie back?”
“Let me love you.”
“If you loved me you would bring Lizzie back. You have no idea what it’s like to lose a child.”
“Don’t I?” said the Voice.
There was a heavy silence.
“Who says Lizzie is dead?” said the Voice.
“The coroner,” said Walker.
“The coroner reported what he saw but he does not see all that is. Lizzie is very much alive, in fact, more so than she has ever been. What died is not Lizzie but your plan of a future with her. That plan is over but there are many chapters for her, many of which include you.
“All I know is that I miss her and this hurts so much I want to die.”
“You feel death. You feel God-forsakenness. You feel the curse. I have felt these things too.”
“But why? Why make a world like this?”
“I cannot explain it to you in a way you could understand, but there is one thing I can do. You must let me love you. Then you will know the answer.”
“If you loved me, you would not have let this happen.”
“You have suffered many blows. Your employers do not value you as they should. Your daughter has died. Now Connie is withdrawn. You interpret all these things as my rejection of you. You forget that I suffered many blows as well. I was crucified by the world I was sent to save.”
“But your crucifixion saved the world.”
“See how things get turned around in the coming age? You must trust me. Many times you rejoice at things that will lead to your downfall and curse the very things I send for your good. You must learn to stop evaluating my love based on your faulty perception.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I do not offer understanding. I offer love.”
“But how can I love when I am in so much pain and you make no sense?”
“Why do you come to this place?”
“The mountains make me feel better.”
“How? Do the mountains explain things to you?”
“They speak to you, don’t they? They promise a future beyond imagination in a language deeper than words. As it is written:
Lift up your eyes to the hills.
From where does your help come?
Your help comes from God,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot be moved;
He who keeps you will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord is your keeper;
The Lord is the shade on your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
nor the moon by night.
He will keep you from all evil;
And keep your life.
The Lord will guard your going out and your coming in
from this time forth and forevermore.
The mountains to not quench your mind’s desire for understanding. They quench your soul’s longing for hope. They allow you to see past the flicker your life in this age and into the age to come. You experience the truth even though you cannot explain it.”
“So Lizzie’s death was your plan?”
“I have no way to make you understand in the present age. The more you insist on understanding the more you will become angry and reject my love. You must trust. I love you and Lizzie and Connie more than you can possibly know. You must let me love you.”
“Of course I know that you love me. Singing ’Jesus Loves Me’ is one of the first things I can remember. I know that you love me.”
“Knowing that I love you and letting me love you are not the same thing. Why do you hide?”
“You acknowledge my love but you have been hiding from it your entire life. Since Lizzie died we have not spoken a single time. This was your choice, not mine. I love you. You say you believe this. If you really believed it you would not fear. You would come to me. You hide because you know I see straight through you. You assume I don’t want anything to do with you.”
Walker thought about the things he did in private. He lowered his head. “Aren’t you angry?”
“Of course I’m angry.”
“That’s why I hide.”
“Were you ever angry with Lizzie?”
“Did you ever stop loving her?”
“Of course not.”
“Anger is not the absence of love. It is the proof of it. You loved Lizzie. That’s why her self-destructive choices made you angry. It hurt to see her go down the wrong paths. It was her destruction you hated, not her. Do you remember the night you first heard my Voice?”
“How could I forget?”
“Were you in a good place back then?”
“I was a mess.”
“But you came anyway. You let me love you. Why?”
“Because you forgave me. You welcomed me. You washed me.”
“Why did you stop coming?”
“Because I’m ashamed of how many times I have blown it. I got tired of asking for forgiveness and making promises I never keep. I figured you must be sick of me.”
“I cleansed all these things that night we first made a connection. You think that you must be good to make me love you. You forget that I loved you before you were good. You must let me love you, just as you are. Then you will be good. When you live in my love, your shame will fall away like winter leaves. Wholeness is not the path to my love. It is the result of it.
“Sometimes I wonder if I am even saved.”
“When you live in love these fears will go away.”
“But what about hell?”
“Hell? I don’t know that word.”
“You know. The place where people who don’t follow you go to suffer eternal torment.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Like in the story of the Sheep and Goats. The sheep go to heaven. The goats wind up in eternal flames.”
“Oh. You mean the fire of the coming age. Yes. Truth will expose all things. Fire will cleanse. Everyone and everything will be salted with fire. For the new to come, the old must go. This is not because of hate but because of love. When you disciplined Lizzie. Did you hate her?”
“I could never hate Lizzie. And it was painful to discipline her.”
“So why did you do it?”
“To help her grow.”
“Could anything have convinced you to reject her forever?”
“Why do you assume my love is less than yours?”
“But what about the lake of fire?”
“Anger is the shadow of love. I must destroy all that is unworthy because I must purify and redeem all that I have made.”
“So there is no hell?”
“There is only the futile attempt to live outside of my love. When you do this you feel my anger, what you call hell. This is not hatred. It is love. No one can live there forever. Eventually it will redeem all things.”
Walker looked up at the Sierras and wondered if this could all be true.
“Walker,” said the Voice. “Will you let me love you?”
“I’m supposed to trust a plan that makes no sense, hope in a world I cannot see, and let you love me.”
“That’s it. Faith takes my hand. Hope reaches for a better world. Love enters it. Do you remember Lizzie’s last words?”
“How could I forget. I told her everything would be okay. She said “It is okay, daddy.”
“She said that because she was deeply in my love at that moment. You saw her on a hospital bed. I saw her in my Kingdom. Lizzie would like nothing more than for you to join her.”
“You mean to die?”
“No. To love.”
“Can she see me?”
“Why can’t I see her?”
“Because you do not yet have eyes of the coming age.”
“So it’s trust, hope and love.”
“Yes. Will you let me love you?
Walker extended his arms to the sky. He felt warm all over.