Thank you, Pauline...
Just before Christmas I completed reading 'The Jesus I Never Knew' by Philip Yancey. It is a book I have had in my possession for quite a few years and when I pulled it out of the box in which it rested together with a number of others waiting to have their pages turned, I came across a piece of notepaper. On it was written a brief message which said,
I'm not sure why it is I feel prompted to lend you this book - '
The sudden embarrassment of holding in my hand an unreturned loan was compounded by the realisation that I had no idea whom to thank. The note concluded with the assurance that the writer would continue to pray for my first wife, Judy, and me, and the book had a Christian theme which offered some clue but still I could not place the Pauline who had offered these kind words.
Philip Yancey grew up in the States in what he describes as a 'toxic church', an experience which all but erased his faith. Nevertheless, he persevered and eventually discovered the grace of God in a powerful way. The book re-examines the person of Jesus as revealed in the gospels and touches on aspects of his own personal journey.
In her brief note, Pauline wrote these words:
'Perhaps there is a single sentence in here which will make the day in which you read it go better. Whatever.'
I was still reading the book as we approached the second anniversary of Judy's passing in December. Yancey was examining what we learn about Jesus from his miracles and closed the chapter by focussing on the raising of Lazarus. In a fascinating analysis he sees a distinction in the way Jesus deals with death here compared to earlier encounters. He reminds us of the profound emotional empathy the Son of God experiences - 'Jesus wept' - and the dramatic, almost theatrical nature of this final public miracle. Yancey then writes:
'Jesus knew, of course, that Lazarus was now whole and content, in every way better for having shuffled off this mortal coil. Martha and Mary knew as much too, theoretically. But unlike Jesus and unlike Lazarus, they had never heard the sounds of laughter from the other side of death.'
I realised these final words were the 'single sentence'.
'Laughter from the other side of death.' A thought astonishing, almost shocking, in its incongruity summed up in its simplicity the incredible joy and hope of the redeemed soul triumphing by grace over the final enemy.
On that second anniversary we lit a candle, placed it next to a photograph and read these words which I wanted to colour our thoughts through the day.
And a couple of days later, while re-telling this story away from home, I suddenly remembered who Pauline was - a colleague I worked alongside over ten years ago. She may never have had her book returned but she did have her prayer answered.