On Saturday night I bought Claire a purple baby afghan for one of her dolls at a benefit auction for a friend of mine from high school. This particular friend has been diagnosed with a rare brain tumor. He is suffering through treatments designed to prolong what they now expect to be a short life.
Just last summer, while visiting his mother who lives nearby, he brought his family to my door just to see if we were home. I’m so glad we were. He was proud of his beautiful wife and charming children. Of course that warm afternoon sticks out to me in retrospect. I was barefoot and embarrassed that my roses needed pruned. None of that matters now. As another friend said, “He is not much longer for this world.”
And he’s not the only one. Even while I basked in the warm country sounds of a seasoned auctioneer that evening, I was aware that the song of his voice probably carried across the town square to the porch where another friend’s father sat quietly. Just a few weeks ago he heard the same word: cancer. Stage 4. Pancreas to the liver. Chemotherapy only to slow its progress.
Of course, there are more. You know them. I know them. On that night I felt gluttonous for sharing the news we had received earlier in the week: Seren’s cancer was gone. A clear scan. What everyone else hopes for. People would ask and then we would nod knowingly, rejoice quietly. Cancer is a like a tornado that flies down suburban sidewalks ripping holes in some houses and leaving others untouched. And it never makes sense.
It seems too common to me now, but I remember when mortality first hit my house directly. Up until then the tornado had always been in someone else’s backyard; this time my house was in its path. Our baby girls Claire and Ellery were born 15 weeks too soon. Ellery never caught a deep, full breath on her own. We had to plan a funeral. Meanwhile, Claire was lucky and blessed. She fought and won.
In the early days of her battle, we would look at her tiny frame and wonder at the creative power of God. How silently and uneventfully babies are formed in their mother’s wombs. In Claire’s case, a lot of the forming happened outside the womb: eyelashes came in, ear cartilage formed, lungs expanded. Yet the beauty was fragile. In that season, I was reminded of Paul’s words to his church friends in Corinth:
But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.
. . . and a few verses later . . .
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
Those words meant much more to me when I was monitoring a beautiful, fragile jar everyday.
I saw the weakness of this flesh we are given. I’m reminded still of how easy it is for the jars to be broken, unmendable, beyond earthly repair. But in those who have found something to live for besides this life, there is an undeniable light – a treasure. And it can’t be hidden. No, this treasure is actually made brighter as the vessel weakens. It’s a beautiful mystery.
After the auction I brought home the blanket – my feeble attempt at helping out a friend in need. By the time I woke the next morning, Claire had already harnessed its baby-warming powers for her beloved doll with the big cartoon eyes that open and close and the yellow plastic hair molded into spunky pig tails. Specifically, it’s the doll she calls her Baby Alive.
We don’t know, I suppose, how long these vessels will hold up under the weight and pressure of a corrupted and spoiled world. But it is the treasure that holds the promise, not the jar. This is the treasure of God’s expansive and perfect plan to make everything right someday. And that truth is never more appealing than when everything seems to be going very wrong. That’s when the weakness allows us see the treasure more clearly. We need it more. We long to be wrapped up in its life-giving truth. It’s the gift of the beautiful, fragile jar.