Friday, March 11, 2011

I Gave You My Heart. You Gave Me This Pen.

Have you ever received a consolation prize? You know, it’s what you get when you enter a contest but don’t win. (Think about that non-descript participation ribbon you “earned” in elementary school on field day.) The very name of the “consolation” prize is unfortunate. There’s really nothing consoling about it. One definition says that a consolation prize is “generally a parting gift offered to contestants who did not win their competition. The purpose of a consolation prize is to console the contestants who can only watch the winner walk away with the big prize.” In other words, a consolation prize is meant to comfort you, or at least distract you from the truth…which is that you LOST!

When I was a child, I remember accompanying my parents to a time-share hard-sell. My young, inexperienced parents brought my brother and me along to sit in the waiting room while they endured what seemed like hours of sales pitch, all for the promised award: a boat with motor. The writing on the letter they received in the mail seemed irrefutable. No matter what they decided about the property, it seemed they would undoubtedly win a “boat with motor”. So, they spent a Saturday in this random building while strangers tried to convince them to buy something they knew they could not afford…all the while hoping to get a boat out of the deal. Zach and I were excited. We could just picture our family cruising on the lake. The hope of that boat somehow made the time in the waiting room a little bit more bearable. I will never forget the look on my parents’ faces when they exited that conference room. Out they trod, alongside a handful of other suckers, lugging a box carrying their big prize: an inflatable raft with a battery operated motor! We had been bamboozled! That raft turned out to be a lot of fun in the swimming pool, but it was not exactly what we bargained for! My now very wise parents would probably be embarrassed by my telling you how they fell for this scheme, but it illustrates my point precisely. A consolation prize isn’t really much consolation after all.

Fast forward to the day my daughter Audrey died. Bryan and I sat in the chaplain’s office, stunned by the news we had received. I was in absolute shock and on the verge of fainting, so the hospital staff brought me a wheelchair. They wheeled me down to the chapel to begin to process our unbelievable reality. I sat in silence, and then I fell to the floor in a puddle of tears. Friends and family began to arrive to wrap their arms around us. I don’t know how long we were there. I remember Bryan leaving the room to talk with the coroner. You know, the stuff of nightmares. I remember coming to the conclusion after a time that we needed to go home. There was nothing left for us at the hospital.

The staff was professional and accommodating. When we decided to leave, they put me back in the wheelchair and took me to our friend’s car. I remember the surprise on the social worker’s face when I profusely thanked her for helping me and praised her and the chaplain for their efforts toward our family. As they lifted me to standing so I could climb into the car, the chaplain placed an orange box in my hand. It was an easily recognizable box, one from James Avery jewelry. As we traveled home, I remember looking at that box incredulously. I left my child at the hospital, and they gave me a piece of jewelry in exchange? It seemed like a very uneven trade…the worst consolation prize ever. I could not get that line from the movie “Say Anything” out of my head. You might remember it. John Cusack’s character falls in love with a beautiful girl, but he gets burned. When she breaks up with him, she gives him a consolation prize Gen X won’t soon forget: a pen. In disbelief, he tells his friend, “I gave her my heart. And, she gave me this pen.” I wanted to shout out the window of the car that day: “I gave you my heart. And, you gave me this pen!”

I was conflicted by the hospital’s gift for quite a while. On the one hand, I was appreciative that Dell Children’s Hospital had done everything in their power to communicate their concern for us and show us their sympathy. On the other hand, the tiny orange box made me raging mad. I didn’t want to open it. I didn’t want to know what was inside. How could it possibly make me feel better? It was an insult! Only minutes before it was placed in my hand, I had lost one of the most valuable things I could have ever lost. The Hope Diamond could have been in that box, and I would have tossed it into the ocean if I could have.

I don’t know if days or weeks passed, but eventually I managed to open that box. Inside, I discovered a silver tree charm. In the center of the tree was a heart-shaped hole. How fitting. A hole. A heart-shaped hole, no less. I immediately began questioning the meaning of the charm. James Avery often assigns meaning to their jewelry, especially their religious items. I had never seen this one before, though. Was it new? I immediately figured that it must be symbolic of our family tree, suddenly missing someone (hence the heart-shaped hole). Yes, a sad, sad family tree.

I will be honest. I didn’t like it at all. In fact, I hated it. I could not imagine actually wanting to attach it to my charm bracelet, only to be reminded of that horrific day at the hospital. What were they thinking? I felt sorry that the hospital had spent money on that charm. I knew it wasn’t cheap. But, I could not assign any comforting meaning to it. It was, indeed, a consolation prize that offered no consolation.

Still, I don’t believe in coincidences. I felt deep down that the Lord had a reason for getting this charm into my hands. So, I investigated further. The next time I shopped at James Avery, I inquired about the charm. Did the designer of the jewelry assign it any meaning? I was told that it was commissioned for the hospital specifically, and James Avery could not tell me what it meant. Great, I thought. I now knew that the only people who get one of these things are those who have the unlucky privilege of losing a child. It was like a membership card for a club I didn’t want to join.

Time went by. I kept that stupid orange box in my closet. Every once and a while, I would catch a glimpse of it out of the corner of my eye, and I would get that sick feeling in my gut. “I hate that thing”, I would think to myself. Nonetheless, I could not bring myself to get rid of it.

Then, one day I was reading what the Bible has to say about the tree of life. In the middle of the Garden of Eden stood the majestic tree. God gave Adam and Eve access to this tree that was “pleasing in appearance and good for food” (Genesis 2:9). However, after Adam and Eve disobeyed God, they were forbidden from eating the fruit of this tree (Genesis 3:22). No big deal, you may think. But, the fruit of the tree of life sustained life forever. It was the equivalent of a death sentence! God was so serious about this punishment that He placed a cherubim with a “flaming, whirling sword” to guard the way to the tree of life (Genesis 3:24). Quite a predicament for mankind, huh?

The tree is not mentioned again in Scripture until the last book of the Bible, the book of Revelation. Jesus, speaking through John to the church at Ephesus, says that He will give the “victor” the right to eat from the tree of life (Revelation 2:7). Who is that victor? According to Revelation 22:14, they are those who keep His commandments. The Bible says that those who love God will obey Him. So, the victors are those who love God, believe in Jesus, and keep His commandments. To them will be given the right, once again, to eat of the tree of life. The death sentence will be removed. Eternal life will be granted. And, it will come by eating the fruit of the tree of life. Where will the tree be located? According to Revelation 22:2, it will grow in the center of the city of New Jerusalem on the New Earth (Heaven as it is after Jesus returns). The fruit of the tree will be for “the healing of the nations”. The tree of life is real. We who believe in Jesus will see it one day and also partake of its fruit. But, it is also a symbol of healing and of eternal life.

Learning this truth was like God turning on the light in the darkness of our traumatic hospital experience. He had, as I had rightly assumed in the beginning, placed that little orange box in my hand for a purpose. He was communicating with me before I was even able to perceive it. He wanted me to know that my heart was not suddenly ripped from my body, though that was the way it felt. Instead, He was helping me to see, perhaps for the first time, that my heart, my real true self, and all of my deepest desires are held safely in the promise of Heaven. In Heaven, there will be healing. And, even in the midst of my pain, the Tree of Life reminds me of God’s provision for me in every moment—from here until eternity. This charm that had plagued me finally communicated HOPE to the depths of my soul.

Is there some area of your life that has been a big disappointment? Have you experienced some great loss? Are you disillusioned by the difference between the way you thought your life would turn out and the way it actually is? Do you feel like you have received the dreaded “consolation prize”—the one set aside to make the losers feel a little bit better? Then, listen, I have hope for you today! If you will trust in Jesus Christ, you will receive a prize that can never be taken away from you. If you trust Christ, you have treasure stored up for you in Heaven that nothing can destroy.

3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you… 1 Peter 1:3-4

Heaven, friend, is NOT a consolation prize. It is not the trophy of the losers’ bracket! It is not what we get when life has dealt us difficulty and we can “only watch the winner walk away with the big prize”. Heaven IS the big prize! It is so much bigger and more alive than what we have previously imagined. It is so much broader and more enticing and exciting than what we have conceived. It is not merely relief from all of our burdens, it is the fulfillment of all of our grandest desires!

Believers in Jesus, quit underestimating what awaits you! In so doing, we rob our life of the power and joyful purpose it could have. And, we give non-believers nothing to write home about. Sadly, we misrepresent the faith we claim to believe. We must wrap our mind around the grand prize that we have been given if we want to experience contentment in the midst of disappointment and loss. Moreover, we must joyfully anticipate eternal life if we wish to convince anyone that Jesus is for real—that Christianity is authentic and worth investigating.

When God broke through my grief and showed me the true meaning of that tree with the heart-shaped hole, I rushed over to James Avery and asked that they attach it to my bracelet. And, I asked that they place it right in the middle where I would always see it. Each time I look at it, I am reminded not of the traumatic aspect of the hospital ER, but instead, of how God reached into my most desperate place and put His sovereignty over it. I am reminded how He made Himself known even in the darkest place and how He asserted His dominion, even over death. Now, when I see my “Tree of Life” charm, I am encouraged to think on Heaven, to remember its reward, and to consider the healing that is promised. Today, I rub my fingers over that heart-shaped hole in the tree, and I anticipate embracing in paradise the one who is still holding part of my heart in her hands.

Skeptics, consider: Maybe faith isn’t a crutch for the weak and Heaven isn’t a consolation prize for those whose dreams didn’t pan out. Wonder: Could it all be true?

Believers in Jesus, rejoice! Won’t you quit walking around with your shoulders slumped as if you’ve received the consolation prize?! We are all Grand Prize Winners. It IS all true.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I, too, received that consolation prize nearly 10 years ago. I lost a second child January 31, 2012. I got no charm the second time and I truly was saddened by that. I still wear my tree daily as a reminder that We must live each moment as if it is our last. I read your story today and have renewed hope as a result. Love in Christ, Dee