Twenty years ago the 26th of this month, I gazed upon the lifeless body of the boy who made me mom. Spencer was a few weeks short of 22, a young man really, but always a boy to his mom, as I point out to my other two sons, who are now fully men.
Twenty years. It sounds like a lot of time. But having now lived through three spans of 20 years and change, I can say it’s not really the time – the days and months neatly stacked into years. It’s the stuff in-between the straight lines. Things learned; things lost. The letting go and full surrender, and the tenacious grip of what I know I must never forget. Then the more subtle change, like a rock worn smooth by the press of a timeless river. I have stayed and stood. And there’s much to be said for that – especially from a girl who used to dance on desktops during naptime in kindergarten. Twenty years of decisions, trying to negotiate the next step and keep my heart pure, hungry for truth and filled with a love that only God can give; to look up to things eternal, when temporal charms clamor to distract and deceive. I have failed too many times to count, but I could count His grace and mercy one more time than that.
It always puzzles me when I run into an old acquaintance of Spencer’s and they are gray or bald with a teenager skulking behind them. What? Oh yeah, twenty years. My own grandchildren are soaring in age and size, the oldest now a teenager too. A new generation has sprouted, and I like that. I am getting tired, and I long for nothing more than a place on a bench, where I can delight in the glory of God’s blessing. And some rest is nice too, although God nudges me on. He is not finished with this story yet.
My granddaughter Olive, is eleven now. When asked to write a paper on “Who inspires you most?” she chose Uncle Spencer, someone she never came close to meeting. You could argue he was no hero, no legend like Martin Luther King or Billy Graham. True! But like all legends, he was remembered for his sacrifice and courage, not his humanity. Peter denied, Winston Churchill drank too much, Lincoln and Spurgeon struggled with deep depression. Martin Luther King was no angel. Nor was Spence – but in a true sense of heroic, he fit the bill. Ever conscious of his humanity and all the failings and stumblings that go with that, he would want us to remember that too. I do. In fact, it was this unseen side of my son that draws me and others who knew him well the most. As Olive noted:
It wasn’t until his death that all the ways he had served others throughout his life were revealed. His humility and willingness to serve others was inspiring.
In fact, it was this side of Spencer Macleod that was most riveting in my mind. Out of the spotlight, without a mic in hand, when no one but Jesus would know, he loved sacrificially. That, to me, is a real hero.
Last week a woman sat at my table with me and I could tell she was more than depressed. End of the rope, frustrated, stymied. Where was her answer? I prayed silently for words – the right words. Finally I leaned across the table and said softly, “You know, God makes this real simple. You have to love.”
I know this is not really what she wanted to hear. As grand and heroic as Love sounds, it’s not a viable option when you’ve been hurt, legitimately crushed near to emotional death. But I added this:
“If God commands it, He will equip you for it.”
This is hard. Jesus knew it would be. He even said, If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. (Matthew 5:46 The Message)
The true Gospel will always challenge every rational fiber in our mind. You may get your best friend to agree with you, or even your pastor, but you won’t move the Holy Spirit. Rock of Ages, Ancient of Days. Where there is no “shadow of turning,” there is also no compromise, no exceptions. Forgive, love, surrender. Simple commands that we consistently complicate.
When Spencer left this world for his real heavenly home, he passed a torch to me in the ER that dark night. I was still learning so much about True Love. Yet I had no doubt that even as he breathed his last breath, he forgave. Love scooped him up and carried him home. And I was left with his wallet in my hands and a story I couldn’t see from my view in the valley for several years. It took time, it took obedience – the grueling press forward when you’d rather quit and go for what’s behind Door #2 or 3. It took learning to love the way my son did. Others first. Not just loving the Unlovables, but recognizing I am one.
A kingdom scale has a different balance than an earthly scale. The impact of that night still sends tremors through my soul. I still wince when I see an ambulance, a large knife or a fight. My breath quickens when I hear a Trauma Alert overhead at work. January 26th 2002, the earth shook and shifted and opened right up under my feet. Everything I thought I could hold onto vanished. But the only One I needed was holding onto me.
The scale of “haves” rose dramatically against the weight of “have nots.” God has not picked up all the broken pieces and placed them back where they belong. He had a better plan – a Kingdom-Designed-Forever plan. And over 20 years, which is just a breath to the Master, the scales are tipped again. His love flat-out broke the scale. And all I said was, “yes.”
Let the redeemed of the Lord say so,
Whom He has redeemed from the hand of the enemy, Psalm 107:2
The Enemy thought he had won that night. He thought there were too many pieces to ever rebuild. And he was right. He thought I could never be strong enough. Right again. But he missed the torch passed from the hand of a son to a mother, the Father reaching down from heaven to ask me, “Will you forgive?”and my feeble “Yes.” He didn’t understand that God IS my strength. And he didn’t even consider Love, the Redeemer’s most powerful weapon. There were times when Door #2 looked very attractive. But I said “No.” You do not need a seminary degree to do this.
Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ Anything more comes from the evil one. – Jesus (Matthew 5:37)
Twenty years. The old adage, “only time will tell” carries some truth. Elisabeth Eliot wisely noted, “Cruelty and wrong are not the greatest forces in the world. There is nothing eternal in them. Only love is eternal.” Only Love tips the scale, and keeps tipping it. My Redeemer lives, and so does yours. When we say YES, He gets to work and delights in bringing not just light in darkness, but “joy unspeakable and full of glory.”
“This life is nothing more than a pilgrimage to heaven. This journey is a journey of the heart.”
Dear Pilgrim, How is your heart? Is God waiting for your Yes?
Olive Macleod will one day meet her Uncle Spence. But until then, she can carry the torch. She also wrote, “Spencer Macleod makes me want to become a better person.” Comes with the torch. Carry on, little pilgrim. Let love bring you into His glory and grace, and a place of redemption and ridiculous joy. Maybe I’ll stick around another 20 years just to see it.
Just make sure there’s a bench nearby…