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When You’re In the Middle of A Life Story — And You Just Want the Spoilers

Last week, I sat in an old house, at a long planked table, with a plate of salad and humus and my friend Karen Swallow Prior, and we lingered and laughed too loud, till Karen had to leave for a doctor’s appointment that involved some anxious test results. Who knew how this was really going to go — was it the beginning of a completely unwanted life detour? How would the day, this story end? Living in the middle of a story can be unspeakably hard. So we circled round Karen and enfolded her in vulnerable prayer… and waited to know the next page…Karen may be an author, a Professor of English at Liberty University, a contributing writer for The Atlantic.com and for Christianity Today, and a Research Fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, but she’s mostly the realest, most down to earth, transparent, thoughtful woman —  and it’s a grace to welcome the wise vulnerability of my friend Karen Swallow Prior — to the farm’s front porch today…

by Karen Swallow Prior 

This is how it begins:

A faded cotton gown that barely covers me as I lie on a hospital bed, one breast uncovered while the technician glides a probe across my cold flesh.

She stares ahead at the monitor, hunting for telltale signs of death, chatting blithely about her daughter and shopping at Target, and I gaze upwards at dull white ceiling tiles.

This is how it begins:

A spontaneous feast with friends, just an hour before, crowded around a long wooden table, laughter passed from one to another like a tray of warm buttered bread.

The friends send me off in a circle of prayer, the laying on of hands, unbidden tears, and a chest filled with love.

This is how it begins:

An unexpected phone call, two weeks before, a calm voice on the other end talking of further tests and no need to worry. (Everyone says not to worry.) I have already been crying over the loss of a loved one earlier that day, and new tears join those already flowing.

This is how it begins:

A man and a woman, many years before, fall in love. On their marriage bed, they create life in their own image. A child enters the world. With the child, death, too.

This is how it ends:

A kindly, young doctor enters the room where I lie in the faded cotton gown that reminds me of an old man’s pajamas. He is the son of a longtime friend. He tells me everything is fine.

And it is.

Yet, it’s not.

For there will be another day—perhaps soon, perhaps far away—when I will be lying in another such gown on another such hospital bed and another such kindly, young doctor will tell me everything is not fine.

We are all born dying.Sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Romans 5:12).

Because of sin, our bodies are born broken—fearfully and wonderfully made, yes—but hurtling toward death from the moment of our conception.

Better than the beginning is the end.

This is how it ends:

A long-planned feast with fellow saints around a table that stretches into eternity.

Faded cotton gowns replaced by dazzling white robes whose wearers radiate “like fresh stars” that “have lit up the celestial firmament with an added splendor” (Charles Spurgeon).

But first:

Hours and days and weeks and years of thistles and thorns and sweat.

Of friends and food and prayers.

Of tears and laughter and love.

Of endings and beginnings and facing fears through it all.

For in the end —

it will be fine.

 

 

Karen Swallow Prior’s book Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More was named by Christianity Today & Desiring God as one of the best books of 2014. A most powerful, compelling read…one to frame and inspire.

From the heart of Hannah More: “Bible Christianity is what I love … a Christianity practical and pure, which teaches holiness, humility, repentance and faith in Christ; and which after summing up all the Evangelical graces, declares that the greatest of these is charity [love].” 

Karen Swallow Prior is one of the sharpest writers I have ever read. I cannot recommend her to you highly enough.

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