The Eternal Chapter
Can we find peace amid tragedy?
This past February marked the 10-year anniversary of one of my most life-changing events. It spiraled me into a decade-long whirlwind, filled with unanswered questions and unfinished chapters. How my journey culminated with a simple realization is an astonishing testament to God’s unending story of hope.
My brother, Brian, and I were very close growing up. Although Brian was 2 years younger than I, he seemed more like an older brother. He had a certain confidence that enabled our relationship to flourish in that way. We became the closest during the semester I began graduate studies at Andrews University and he was accepted nearby into the esteemed Northwestern University honors medical program in Chicago. Our family and friends were ecstatic at his acceptance, yet somewhat surprised, because Brian had walked into his interview in unorthodox interview attire: maroon Dr. Martens boots, a plaid tie, and an antisuit blazer. He believed that he didn’t need to change who he was (outside or inside) just to be accepted at a school, no matter how prestigious.
Life Changer for Brian
A semester before he was due to celebrate the conquest of undergraduate studies, Brian began pondering whether medicine was his true calling. He had been serving as the lay youth leader at the local Adventist church and found himself neck high in ministry rather than immersed in Northwestern’s highly rigorous academics. Not everyone gets into a program that gives you a straight acceptance to medical school without sitting for the MCAT,* so realizing what would be jeopardized by a change in plans, I blasted him with sisterly advice: “Finish your last semester and then, maybe, think about seminary,” I said. “Don’t make such a rash decision at a dusty crossroad; wait on the Lord.” And my best one: “Take time away from this academic surrounding by serving as a student missionary overseas.”
This last thought was not at all far-fetched. Recently returned from Palau myself, I was preaching from my post-mission high.
I still remember his gentle, consistent reply: “Sis, there is so much to do here in the U.S. I don’t need to go overseas to find a mission field or a ministry; the person next to me is my mission field.”
My brother lived his own life story. It didn’t make any sense to me for him to switch paths at that point; but somehow, even with all the prodding, in my heart I knew it was the right thing for him. Brian had found peace in his decision and heeded the call to pastoral ministry. He immediately transferred to Andrews University to enroll in the seminary.
Life Changer for Me
A few years later, Brian and I had a surprise announcement for each other. My news was that he was going to be an uncle. His news was that he was going on a mission trip overseas. I was so excited! I knew it would change his life, but I never anticipated that it would change mine. I was more excited than he was because I had recently worked for the Adventist Volunteer Center at the General Conference office and had interacted with student missionaries and volunteers from all over the world. I was very enthusiastic about mission service overseas—and now my own brother was finally going to experience it for himself. As the Science Department chair at Garden State Academy in New Jersey and pastor of a local church, Brian would be joining a conference-organized mission team going to El Salvador. The group included Garden State Academy students, with my brother serving as a chaperone.
Then late one night during the mission trip the phone rang. I was six months pregnant and feeling very nauseated, so I couldn’t answer it. Later I called my mom to find out what was going on. My uncle answered the phone, and then I knew something was terribly wrong. It was about the El Salvador mission trip.
After a week of building an orphanage, the students and chaperones decided to go wading in the water along the beautiful shores of a small town. A spontaneous, roaring riptide swept them up, and without hesitation my brother and a lifeguard rushed into the water to rescue them. One by one, each student was brought safely ashore. As the last student was pulled in, he turned to hear my brother’s last cry, “Help me, Jesus!” He simply had run out of strength.
How could a loving God ignore such an earnest plea? How much more earnest could such a plea be? Why would He allow the life of such a faithful and bold soldier for Christ to end at the age of 26? For someone so overflowing with advice, at that moment I had no answers.
My mind wrestled for reason and hope; despair overwhelmed me. I sank into a flood of anger. I hopelessly sought the peace that my brother had relentlessly lived by. I desperately scrambled to retract any credit for planting the idea of serving in an overseas mission. In the midst of my anguish, it took me a long time to realize that Christ had been gently tapping on my shoulder to tell me something that would give me a fragment of peace:
My child, Lilian, Brian is not lost. I have not lost him; and you have not lost him either. His life is on pause. You did not send him to his death. He found a reason to live that was worth dying for. Besides, he is not gone from you forever. There are so many more pages to add to the chapters of his life.
Since that tragic time I have experienced a long and winding voyage, but I have now caught a glimpse of the waves of hope and peace in Him. In the words of a traveler on a similar journey, “My life with my brother has been put on pause,
. . . but it will be continued in a short while, . . . and this story has no end.”
“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection, and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die’ ” (John 11:25, 26).
* standardized multiple-choice exam taken by prospective medical students