Staring Into a Nebula

My friend M lay dying of cancer in 2006 and in one of the many conversations we had at that time, I remember her telling me some of the things she would miss the most. Yes, she would miss meeting her future grandchildren. Yes, she would miss being with so many friends over holidays and other milestones. And she was angry that she would miss finding out what happened to Harry Potter.

M was a librarian and The Deathly Hallows would not be published for another year.

The Southern Nebula Ring as seen via the James Webb Telescope this week

I love the word “nebulous” because it describes so much of human life. Yes, many things are certain. Many things are clear. But many more things are hazy and ill-defined. Nebulous.

My friend M increasingly embraced randomness in her last months in a way that disturbed me. As a person of faith, certainty is supposed to be my modus operandi but M – as a person of faith – was increasingly okay with randomness. She was going to die too young – or at least too young for us. But she had been blessed with a wonderful life, she said. And she was okay with not knowing exactly what would happen next. She continued to believe in God. Sometimes a lot. Sometimes a little.

This week I have wept four times.

As someone who oversees 92 congregations and about 28,000 souls, my life intersects with so many lives and this is a tremendous gift. But two young people I know only as treasured parts of The Body of Christ died suddenly this week. They died too young – at least for us. One was in his twenties. One was a child. I have cried over these losses and my heart breaks especially for their mothers.

I also wept after a conversation with a pastor who’s recently endured a double lung transplant. He is alive and laughing and talking and eating and (sometimes when possible) sleeping and it thoroughly takes my breath away. How is this resurrected life possible?

And finally I wept when I saw the first images of the James Webb Telescope. There are no words to fully capture their majesty, but I’ll attempt a few. The image of the Southern Nebula Ring looks like a glimpse into another world. A heavenly world.

I don’t know exactly what happens after this life, but I am going to continue hoping that it’s at least as extraordinary as an organ transplant or a distant nebula.

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. I Corinthians 13:12

It’s God who opens worlds and shines light. It’s God who gives us breath. It’s God who is with us when everything falls apart. It’s God. Sometimes we have a hard time believing. Sometimes we believe a little. Sometimes we believe a lot.

And just as God is with us, God asks us to be with each other in these nebulous times. God asks us to sit with each other when we believe and when we don’t. When we grieve what we will miss and when we remember with gratitude what we have experienced.

I’ve also found that it helps to stop and stare at that amazing photograph of The Southern Nebula.

6 responses to “Staring Into a Nebula

  1. Especially moving today. Thanks, Jan.


  2. nancyswiatekpardo

    No words to say how much I love this. Needed your words. Thank you, Jan. Praying comfort to you and all you mentioned. ❤️


  3. Beautiful post. I’m sorry for the losses you suffered this week. I love your friend’s spirit.


  4. Deborah McKinley

    One of your best Jan. Thank you!


  5. Thank you Jan for your words this morning. Prayers of comfort are lifted up for the families that are grieving. For celebration of amazing medical miracles.
    Your words bring me comfort this morning as I may be facing some difficult news. We belong to God, and God is always with us.


  6. >>It’s God who is with us when everything falls apart.<< The blog I read just before yours talked about what to expect this next school year–crisis, there will be crises. Then the words of comfort. God will be there through the crisis. Thank you.


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