The Greatest Gift
Reading Selection for December 6th
Genesis 21:6-7 (NLT) – “And Sarah declared, ‘God has brought me laughter. All who hear about this will laugh with me. Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse a baby? I have given Abraham a son in his old age!’”
I love that Sarah laughed when Isaac finally arrived, when the long, dark wait for the promise was over and the gift had finally come. It had been 25 years since the initial conversation when God had promised to make Abram a nation. Twenty-five years and a lot had transpired since: Abram had relocated with his wife and servants to a land of strangers; he had lied to a king; he had separated from his only other family, Lot; he had rescued Lot and defeated three kings in battle; he had met the mysterious Melchizedek; and he had tried to gain a son on his own terms, through Hagar; he had cut covenant with God, but it took 25 long, difficult years of waiting and believing for the Promise to arrive.
The Promise arrived and they named him Laughter. Isaac was the big exhale of relief after a long, difficult wait.
Have you ever had that experience of being in a very tense, stressful, maybe painful, difficult situation and something happen and you just burst into raucous laughter? It’s like a catharsis, a release, a restoring of the balance.
Twenty-one years ago my family and I had to walk through what for me was one of the most profoundly painful weeks of our lives. Under a set of very tragic circumstances my sister died and we had a funeral the week before Thanksgiving. I can’t describe to you the weight of grief, confusion and pain that engulfed us all. It felt like all of life had stopped, we were trapped in suspended animation together, and none of us even knew how to take the next breath. We just let others tell us what to do and we kept shuffling through the process of a funeral.
The morning of the actual funeral a very kind, older gentleman (probably well into his eighties) named Vance arrived in the limousine to take us to the funeral home. Vance had requested to personally take care of my family because he knew my Mom. I am not sure he usually drove the limousine (foreshadowing). So eight of us piled into the car, my husband sat in the front seat and I sat in the middle with my parents and some other family members got in the back seat. Three more family members got into a van to follow behind us. And that’s where things got complicated.
As sweet Vance turned left out of my parents’ neighborhood onto an EXTREMELY busy four-lane road, he pulled into a lane of ONCOMING traffic and threw up his left hand in front of his face as if to say, “Stop” to the traffic barreling down at us. He was trying to get traffic to stop and allow the other family vehicle behind us to pull out as well. He was trying to maintain the procession. In the South a procession for a funeral is almost mandatory…like waiting until Easter every year to wear white shoes and not wearing them one minute past Labor Day…processions for funerals are required.
As I saw what was happening all I could think was, “There’s going to be eight more funerals this weekend because we are all going to die right now! At least we’ll all go together.” No one else in the car seemed to move or flinch so I just held my breath, closed my eyes and prayed. Once we were all safe again I just forgot about it.
That night as we all sat around pretending to eat dinner, we were really just moving food around on our plates, my husband said, “Did anyone notice anything when we pulled out of the neighborhood this morning?” Then my Dad (who was born with the most wonderful smart aleck gene and a fabulous sense of comedic timing—I am very much like him) said, “Yeah, I thought we were all going to die or at the very least they were going to have to hose out the car because I’ve had diarrhea for three days!” With that all the tension of the worst three days of our lives broke with laughter and the slow process of healing began.
On page 50 Ann says, “God brings the weary woman laughter. Laughter is a gift—oxygenated grace.” I know that a birth and a funeral are wildly different, but for everyone life is filled with hard things, even when they are good. Birth is hard on a woman’s body in her twenties, I can’t imagine what it was like for 90-year-old Sarah.
God comes for us in the middle of the hard things, in the middle of life and death and gives us “oxygenated grace.”