My husband calls it my big check-swing moment.
I thought I had scored a homerun on a “used only-three-months leather sofa.” I measured our space, considered the color, envisioned my new family room, then arranged for us to pick up my fabulous find the following day.
We waited several uncomfortable minutes at the seller’s doorbell until finally the deadbolt turned and the door opened. A frail, deteriorating man who must have been in his late-twenties beckoned us past his wheelchair.
I glanced at the sofa, nodded, pressed the folded cash into the man’s hand, then motioned to my husband to pick up the other end to load it in our truck. I simply couldn’t get out of there fast enough.
As soon as that piece of furniture crossed our threshold, I knew it wasn’t staying.
I resold it within 24 hours.
My husband still thinks it was a decorating decision.
But the truth is, the couch brought the reality and reminder of death into my young household. Up to that point, as a mama with preschoolers, I had buried only my own grandparents. I still knew so little about death. And I still thought I could will it away. Or at least have a reliable idea about how the story would play out.
THE ENDING WE DIDN’T WANT
I wasn’t in denial of death. I just wanted its path to make sense. To be predictable. Or at least understandable. I wanted this man’s life—and by association, my own—to follow a formula.
Maybe what’s always bothered me most are the stories that end in ways totally opposite of where we thought they should be heading. A young man selling his furniture as he faced death before he turned 30? Who would have expected that?
I’ve sat in the parents’ section of the softball bleachers enough to see several times when an unexpected checked-swing changed the momentum or outcome of a game. And I’ve seen it in the major leagues, too. You know. The times the batter is positioned to hit a base-clearing homer but they pull the bat back. And if things don’t go just right, it can even be called a strike instead.
There’s been a time or two in my life when I’ve felt God checking His swing just as He’s about to hit it over the fence. Just as the crowd is about to go wild.
From my journal:
My heart function has fallen to 20%, seven long years after hanging on through this disease. I remember several years ago hearing, “Your heart is back to near-normal!” and thinking, “I got my life back!” I remember blaring the song from Mercy Me, “The Hurt and the Healer,” with special emphasis on the lyrics, “I hear You say it’s over now…” I remember thinking my story was finished, and it was one of divine healing, God’s provision, and answered prayer. As we processed this latest test result, I had to wonder when God decided to change the end of the story. And why.
And I know I’m not the only one with a check-swing story.
- I think of our friend whose daughter beat cancer only to lose her life to COVID pneumonia while in remission.
- And the man we know who lost his business to bankruptcy…twice.
- And the acquaintance who finally got a life-saving transplant, only to die months later in a freak accident.
- And another friend whose second husband seemed to be an answered prayer, only to walk out just like her first husband did.
It’s probably happened to most of us. It seemed the hard part of the game was over. It was headed to a happy finish. We’re sure we spotted GAME OVER on the scoreboard. But now old innings are playing out. Again.
NO ACCOUNTING FOR PAIN
Though I rejected that tainted sofa, the next five years would bring losses of five immediate family members from suicide, accident, and disease. Despite my faithful life and careful decisions, death found us anyway. And then a few years later, a chronic progressive disease would be added to my own medical record.
Though Jesus paid the price for this broken world in an eternal sense, our actions still cause repercussions, and sometimes they fall on those who had nothing to do with the offense. Sometimes they ricochet around in the world and land on someone else, even in later generations. It just isn’t predictable.
One of the surprises as we get older is that we come to see that there is no real correlation between the amount of wrong we commit and the amount of pain we experience.
And that often feels to us like God is pulling the bat back before our happy ending.
Nowhere in Scripture is this more evident than in the life of John the Baptist. The book of Matthew shows the timeline:
Matthew 3: John baptizes Jesus.
Matthew 4: Jesus is tested, then begins his world-changing ministry.
Matthew 5 – 10: Jesus preaches the Sermon on the Mount, performs miracles, and sends out the twelve.
Matthew 11: John asks from prison, “Are You the One?” Jesus affirms John, “Among those born of women, there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist…”
Matthew 14: John is beheaded in prison.
Though it’s hard to figure, somewhere between Chapter 11 and Chapter 14, despite John’s faithful life, it seems that God decided to check-swing. And no one—least of all John—could have expected that.
A HISTORY OF CHECK-SWINGS
John the Baptist wasn’t the first time God finished the story in a way we didn’t envision. Our God has a pretty packed resume of last-minute surprise endings…Daniel in the lion’s den, the three Jewish boys in the furnace, Abraham offering Isaac.
And then there’s the story of Joseph and the pit that should have finished him, or Queen Esther and the risk that should have ended her.
But, like the Baptizer and the furniture guy, we all have read (and lived) stories that don’t swing back in our favor—at least in this lifetime.
HE CHECK-SWINGS DEATH, TOO
I kept thinking how that man in the wheelchair must have bought his couch with a different ending in mind, too. I’m sure he envisioned decades of Sunday naps or family Christmases or movie nights with friends.
Even months after my short-lived sofa ownership, I kept wanting a different ending for the seller. I drove past his house a few times, hoping he was in remission, in the yard practicing a putt or in the driveway shooting hoops. I never saw him again.
I wish I’d been secure enough in my faith to talk to him about what mattered most. Truth is, I wasn’t in a position to do it then. I was still thinking the check-swing we all needed was something like a physical miracle. Just like I had hoped with my own health.
I wish I’d known then that the point of all of Jesus’s miracles is to answer the question, “Can dead things live again?” Because God restores, remakes, revives, often by check-swinging the small expected endings: empty wedding wine flasks, a crippled man’s legs, a guilty woman’s future. And that sets us up to trust Him for the only check-swing that really matters.
A BIGGER HOPE
Over the winding course of my disease, this is the same unpredictable God I’ve come to hope in.
To be honest, at first it did seem like God was headed one way with my story, and then changed course. And I don’t know what happened to that young sofa-selling man. But I do know the death that seemed to darken his doorway (and overflow into mine) also now has a totally different final inning.
We must accept finite disappointment, but never give up infinite hope.
– Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
God’s big check-swing moment was the Resurrection. And we are a people of the Resurrection. Living in a broken world. Struggling to understand those unexpected endings. And to get us through, we rely on hope. Not always a hope for healing. But a bigger hope in the story ending God’s way. Hope in the miracle of eternal life.
Despair comes from deadlines set too early and hope defined too narrowly.
This kind of hope is totally independent of our story’s earth-bound ending, or our current circumstance, or our optimistic plan. It’s a hope in Someone instead of some outcome. This hope is what I should have paid that man for the sofa. Hope to hang on when the story didn’t end like he wanted. If only I’d known.
Maybe I would have figured all this out earlier if I’d just kept that couch.
Listen to this post read by the author HERE.