That first Sunday home was one of those perfect days - one you wish you could freeze frame and keep, much like the first morning after meeting the plane. Happy family, happy people all thoroughly delighted to be together. Tears, laughter, hugs. Time to give thanks for what God had done.
We had bought Easter outfits for our kids - something we hadn't done since they were small, but this year was a special year. We bought the boys matching shirts and my daughter a beautiful purple dress. The sun cooperated by shining and the day was as gorgeous as you could order. We stood in front of our house by some bushes to take a picture - you know, before someone spilled juice on their clothes! The neighbor - the one who had stopped by just to hug me when he had found out at midnight - was pulling out of his house to go to church, too. When we saw us all gathered together, he stopped his car right in the middle of the street and jumped out leaving the door open and the motor on, and came running across our yard. "You're back!" He grabbed my husband and hugged him. "Oh, I am so happy to see all of you together!"
Walking into church was such a wonderful thing. Together as a church, we had gone through this. They had cried with me, carried as much of by burden as they could carry, and prayed through the whole time. They had been with us through it all, and when we walked in that morning, there were a lot of tears! Happy tears, but tears. All the crying we had not done those first days, was cried now. My poor husband was passed around from person to person who simply hugged him and cried! We celebrated together, and when the pastor finally got us to gather for service, he had tears in his voice when he said that today we celebrate Easter when Jesus rose from the dead, and this Easter is a special one for us since we have one of our own back almost it seems from the dead, too. Now, we go to a fairly quiet church... we don't even clap during singing!.... but when he said that, the church erupted into applause! Tears, smiles, laughter, applause, and more tears. We were home. Back with our church family and it was over.
No one left church anywhere close to on time that day. Easter Sunday dinners waited while we all stood around drinking coffee for over an hour and talking. People sharing with each other, with us, and with our kids how they felt, what they prayed for, how they were affected. Several people simple stated "Before this, I really didn't stop to think about my priorities or what it really meant to follow Jesus, but I am really starting to think now." Two came and told us that now they are feeling called to missions, too. But mostly, we gathered in groups talking about what a wonderful thing God had done. Later, on the way home, my husband said, "Did you notice today? People were all talking, and they weren't in their usual groups of friends. They were outside their cliques and just talking with others." Old talking to young. Deaf and hearing struggling through communication. Those who are more elegant and those who live in rough neighborhoods hugging each other and sharing in the joy of the moment with each other. It was a beautiful day!
But for me, there was also a quiet sense of sadness in this day. As I stood to sing in the very same row where two weeks ago I struggled with the decision to praise God no matter what, I looked up and down the row and saw my whole family gathered. And I was silent for a moment. Why me? Here I stand where I never imagined I would stand. So blessed. Not that I am at all upset with the blessing - no, not at all!! But that it was a blessing that I was not guaranteed. I think as kids in Sunday School, we grow up and hear, "Don't worry. Pray. God will fix all your problems." and we almost get this "automatic answer" type of faith. We pray, and God gives us what we want, right?
But I knew that was not true. I knew it in a different sense than just knowing it. I had seen it. And my mind went back through the ones I have known and loved who didn't get their husbands or their wives back. Through those still missing somewhere unknown. Through those who suffered and died. I saw the faces of the children who lived without their fathers, without their parents.... and I paused. I am so blessed, so thankful... but there was a sadness and an awesomeness. This blessing I have that we all stand here - it was not a guaranteed blessing, not an automatic "of course" answer to prayer. It is an awesome blessing. And receiving it with thankfulness, I was also very aware of those who received different answers to just as much prayer.
Thinking of a friend of mine and her three children she raised alone.
Of another friend who was killed and left a wife and four little kids.
Of my friend recently who so greatly comforted me during the crisis. She is facing her second Easter alone with her four kids.
Of others whose families mark yet another year. Years that will go by without their children, never to have grandchildren, never to grow old and have their children to care for them.
People I've known. Others I have only heard about. Ones who walk a road that I was not asked to walk.
Thankfulness, praise, joy.... tempered with a deep sense of quietness, an awareness that others were not so blessed.
Why us, God? Why do we stand here so blessed, so joyful? A gift we did not deserve. Life when we did not expect it. And an awareness that this very joy we have, this very life we have now, is because Jesus Himself chose death for our sakes. We did stand facing a death penalty, but He chose to pay it for us.
We are all so blessed by that. Delivered from death. Just this Easter, we were twice so blessed.
It was a difficult day to describe - covering such a range of emotions. To be together, to be with our church family, to praise God, to worship, to remember His death and His victory, to remember others who paid the price also for others to hear, to be given our lives back again... Quietly to realize that as wonderful as it is to be given this life on this earth back, which it is! and we are SO grateful!, that it is still not something worth hanging on to with both hands. Only something to be laid back down again.
Our real life - where we are really alive, as God showed me up on the top of my "hill", is with Him. That is the only thing worth hanging on to with both hands. Life, real life, is eternal.