It is a strange thing to look upon a box of ashes. Covered cardboard, soft to the touch yet firm in its structure. To know that inside those dark brown walls the total physical sum of a man’s body, who breathed and spoke words in that very room in the week before, lay gathered in temporary rest.
We called Skip by different names – Uncle, Teacher, Commander and Friend. And, each person in his life bore the mark of his love in very different ways. Sometimes that love was difficult. Sometimes it was beautiful in its simplicity and loyalty beyond words. In the past week spent standing around that hat covered box of ashes, we drifted through hours calling up memories, laughing, crying, and doing that strange dance we call grieving. I am reminded, in these loss-filled days, that life is remarkably complex and often difficult. Yet as complex as it is it also remains beautiful. For it is the pain of loss that we most clearly see the true place someone held in our hearts – because that place feels empty in their absence. When we grieve we acknowledge the truth and authenticity of what their love meant in our lives, and make real the difference their absence makes. Even when we have hope we can be sad. Even when we faith we can have fear.
I believe in the end of time we will not regret the places where we placed our whole hearts into the struggle and lost – for death and loss is a necessary part of life. Without darkness light has not boarders or definition. Death is a part of life, even when it leads to new life. For things are not good for their being forever – they are good for the recklessness of love that risks all and sometimes hurts. To love without loss is to not love at all. To have compassion is to spill our blood into that of another – the cry of our blood to theirs.
Give thanks for everyone in your life that stands with you through suffering. Give thanks for those who gave up so much to bleed love into your life. Give thanks for a God that sent his Son, a babe in a manger, to be with us – God with us. Give thanks for Christ’s blood that calls to ours, for Christ’s compassion gives us assuredness of God’s love and grace. For God is with us, even in our deepest loss, making ashes into gardens.
This Christmas the box that is most important to me is simple, brown and cardboard. In it lays the remains of the Uncle who helped me make a life here in North Carolina after the passing of my parents. That box brings a certain pain and loss each time I look upon it, yet I cannot gaze upon it without remembering the gift that Uncle Skip and his imperfect love were on my life. Sometimes the things we love most have some measure of pain in them – that is to love fully. That is to live fully – unafraid to love. Uncle Skips ashes, his love, will continue to grow a garden in my life.
My prayers to each of you this Christmas season. And especially for those of you who know the pain of empty chairs in holiday rooms. May the knowledge of the hope of the Christ Child give you peace, and may you feel God’s compassion with you in each laugh and tear.