(This is the serial release of my book found here on Amazon. We begin back in Phillip’s Sunday school class. Thanks for joining in this telling.)
The next day Miss Jeanne’s class is the best ever as we talk about the story of Jairus’ daughter. Sunlight blazes through the window onto the table where Susanna, Trudy, Rosie, Tucker, Michael, Nemo, Kevin, Skye and me are sitting. There is a bucket of Crayola crayons on the table, beside a stack of paper, jar of colored pencils, a drawing tablet for thicker paper, and scattered regular pencils. Miss Jeanne also placed a bowl of goldfish crackers on the table and handed out napkins and little cups of water.
“Today, as we see the story and talk about it, you are free to create anything that pictures the events of the story or the feeling you get as you share” Miss Jeanne said, her glasses catching the sunlight. “Remember last week we looked at the start when the synagogue ruler, Jairus, asked Jesus to come heal his daughter who is ill? Then, we talked about the woman who interrupted Jesus as he walked to the ruler’s house. Remember? We heard her saying something as she came up behind Jesus. What did she say?”
Susanna raises her hand and Ms. Jeanne calls on her. “If I can only touch the hem of his robe I will be healed,” she says.
“Yes. What a phrase that was! Last week you spoke that she had faith to do this. But also saw her courage, her willingness to be at risk in a crowd without calling out ‘unclean.’ Last week one question we came to, was this: ‘When have you or someone you have known taken a risk in seeking healing only God can bring?’
“And Trudy, it was you who spoke of the experience when your grandma was in the hospital, dying. As your family stood around her bed, hopeless and silent, because none of them knew Jesus, none of them were in church, none of them had faith to speak of, you spoke up. You said it took such courage for in your family you didn’t speak up to pray. In fact, you said for you, you never spoke up, period. You told us speaking is filled with challenges because of the reactions you normally got from your parents, uncles, aunts and cousins. That had been the way it was, but that day, you spoke up and said, ‘I’d like to pray for grandma. Let’s join hands.’ And no one argued, no one fought, no one said ‘don’t be ridiculous,’ but instead, your parents, aunts, uncles, older siblings, cousins and parents simply joined hands with you. And then you prayed. I think last week you used the words, ‘I just talked to Jesus.’ Could you remind us what you prayed and what happened again?”
Trudy, wearing a bright green dress today, her red-rimmed glasses glinting in the sunlight, smiles as she looks up and says, “I just opened my mouth and started talking to Jesus about how much we loved grandma and how much we knew He loved her too. I said I didn’t know whether or not grandma would survive, but I just wanted Jesus to know that I wasn’t ready to say goodbye. So, I said, ‘Come into this room, Lord. Touch grandma. Heal her. Let her know we love her too. And if she cannot be healed and stay with us, then help her open up to you, now and save her, so she can experience the bigness of Your love.’”
“What happened next?” Miss Jeanne prompts.
“Well, nothing except after I said, ‘Amen,’ my family all looked at me, shocked to silence, like, don’t you say, ‘shell shocked,’ Miss Jeanne? Everyone’s faces were wet with tears, even my dad’s, and he never, ever cries. My mom squeezed my shoulder and said, ‘I think I need to come to that church with you. Whatever is happening there, I need it too.’ That was my miracle. Mom has been coming to church ever since. She really likes the new pastor, Pastor Elaine. That was the first time ever she had been interested in coming to church. I had just been walking here on my own these two years.”
“And your grandma?”
“She’s still in the hospital, but I feel better about that. She is doing a bit better, off the feeding tube and out of hospice. She now is responsive to us. Oh, and she had this really cool experience, which might have been around the time I was praying for her. She said she saw this man in a white robe come to her and say, ‘Come to me, you who are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.’ She knew it was Jesus and she has been talking about Him ever since. I know that either she will be healed, or she will die, but if she dies, Jesus has already done a healing.”
“What a miracle that was for you and your family, Trudy! Jesus is real children. He shows up. He speaks. And what He has done already for you, Trudy.” Miss Jeanne says. “Thank you for sharing that with us again.”
I love this class! I grab a handful of goldfish. A couple of them drop onto the wooden floor. Skye is happy now. He loves seafood!
“So, Jesus has just spoken to the woman, and told her to ‘go in peace.’ That’s where today’s story begins.
“Men arrive and tell Jairus his daughter has died, saying, ‘Why bother the teacher anymore?’
“Overhearing what they said, Jesus tells the ruler, ‘Don’t be afraid; just believe.’ Jesus did not let anyone but Peter, James and John, the brother of James, accompany him to the ruler’s house. Once there, Jesus saw all this commotion, with people wailing loudly. Jesus said to them ‘Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.’ But they laughed at Jesus. After he put them all out of the house, Jesus then took only his three disciples and the girl’s parents with him into her room. Jesus took the girl by the hand and said, ‘Talitha Koum,’ (which means ‘Little girl, I say to you, get up!’). Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished. He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this and told them to give her something to eat.”
Miss Jeanne tells the story again that morning and has us remember parts of it. She changes the part after Jesus spoke to the girl telling her to get up. Instead of the girl immediately standing up and beginning to walk around the room, Miss Jeanne says, “And nothing happened! In fact, this girl stayed dead. Jesus was unable to raise her!”
“No way,” Kevin shouts, laughing, “She immediately got up and started walking around!”
To which Miss Jeanne says, “That’s right! Death is not death to Jesus.”
After she finishes the story, she begins asking us questions. “What might it have felt like for the parents of the 12-year-old to have her die?”
“Like the worst! Gotta be tough on those parents!” Kevin speaks first, then takes some goldfish, drops one to Skye, since he always sits next to us and Kevin begins to eat. He has been coloring a picture of what looks like a house with a bunch of people outside. They all are carrying signs, like in a protest. I think they must be the people Jesus sent away. Kevin confirms this, whispering to me, “These are the upset mourners. See, I made one of their signs say, ‘Let us weep and wail!’”
“Yes, my friend’s brother died last year,” Susanna is saying. “He had leukemia. And it is hard daily for them, still. Just last week, my friend, started to cry at lunch when she took out her juice box. His favorite was cran-apple and that’s what she had that day. She usually has cran-apple, but that day, suddenly it brought up the fact that her little brother, who used to call it crany-juice, wasn’t around anymore. I didn’t know what to say, so I just put my arm around her and let her cry. It’s just hard.”
We all stop coloring and look up. That’s so sad! Susanna, with her short bright blond hair, wearing a yellow sun dress looks like the perfect person to bring light and comfort to a friend.
“It is a huge loss,” Miss Jeanne says. “Let’s take a moment and pray for her. What’s her name?”
Susanna tells us and Miss Jeanne prays.
Then Miss Jeanne continues, “So, as we look at this passage, we can relate to Jairus and his wife, at how desperate they were when their little girl was sick, and how much sadness they could feel surrounded as they were by the mourners after her death.”
Miss Jeanne retells the first part of the story until Jesus told the mourners the child was not dead but sleeping, and then says, “At the start of the story, Jesus tells the synagogue ruler two things. Does anyone remember what Jesus said?”
“Don’t be afraid. Just believe,” Nemo says, proud that he managed to talk before Kevin. He takes some goldfish and returns to drawing with colored pencils. Miss Jeanne notices and adds more goldfish to the bowl. These are the rainbow kind. I grab a blue one.
Then, Miss Jeanne says, “Right. What else might Jesus have said to Jairus, right then as people have come to tell Jairus that his daughter has died and not to bother the teacher anymore?”
“That’s too bad Jairus,” offers Tucker, smiling an orange goldfish grin.
“Right!” jumps in Rosie, looking up from her coloring, with her big, thick glasses. “Jesus could have just snarled, ‘Sucks to be you!’”
“Jesus could have turned to the disciples and said, ‘Guess we have a free afternoon now that his daughter has died!’” adds Susanna.
“What about this, Jesus might have just been silent. He might not have said anything at all,” whispers Michael. Michael also never spoke up much, so, this is a big deal. Michael is drawing with just regular pencils an elaborate picture of what looked like the entrance to the village. He is dressed in a black, long-sleeved shirt and a red and white striped bowtie. Michael always wears a bowtie.
“Good thinking Michael,” says Miss Jeanne, smiling and clapping her hands for his courage to speak. “Had Jesus been silent, might Jairus just have walked away? Had that been the case what might have happened?”
“The girl might never have been raised. And Jairus might not have felt much love in that,” says Kevin.
“True. Silence is often the best thing to offer someone in suffering, like you offered your friend, Susanna. But here, silence would not have given Jairus the direction he needed. Let’s return to what Jesus did instead. He said, ‘Don’t be afraid. Just Believe.’ Is there anything we might learn about Jesus by his words to Jairus?”
“He knew Jairus was afraid, or he wouldn’t have said that,” whispers Rosie, multi-colored bits of goldfish stuck between her teeth. Then she bends back down to color.
“Good thought, Rosie.” Miss Jeanne says.
“It says that Jesus really cared for Jairus. He didn’t want him feeling afraid. But also, he said, ‘Just believe,’ and I just had this thought that fear and faith can’t share the same room. One or the other needs to leave. Jesus was instructing Jairus to choose faith, to choose to believe so fear would leave,” offers Trudy and we all look up, having felt the impact of that picture. Fear and faith cannot share the same room.
“What impact might Jesus’ words have had upon Jairus if he chose to believe Jesus in the face of his daughter’s death and to reject fear?” Miss Jeanne asks.
“Hope,” says Kevin. “He would not have known Jesus would raise his daughter, but he might have been impacted with hope.”
“What happens when hope comes into a person’s heart?” Miss Jeanne asks further.
“Well,” Kevin continues, “It is like the lights get turned on in a dark room. You can see, when before you couldn’t. Jairus maybe felt like his daughter’s death was not an ending, or such an ending as it might have felt.”
“That’s a great observation, Kevin. Anyone else want to comment about the impact on Jairus from Jesus’ words?” Miss Jeanne says.
“Jesus knew that both fear and faith were present in Jairus already,” Susanna says. “Jairus could choose to turn to either one. Jesus tells him to choose faith.”
“What might that feel like to have those two inside?” Miss Jeanne asks.
I am coloring a picture of the walk to Jairus’ house with Jesus, the three disciples, Jairus, and the friends who had come to tell him the bad news. I am looking at them all from behind as they walk away. They are wearing their different colored robes and head scarves.
“Well, it is like I feel most days. It is hard to not be afraid sometimes,” Susanna continues, “Nemo, Phillip and I are in the same first grade class. I get so scared sometimes about tests or projects. This story tells me that I don’t have to. Fear doesn’t have to get the upper hand every time. So, I’m wondering what it would look like to choose faith. And what that looked like for Jairus.”
“That’s a great question,” Miss Jeanne says, smoothing down her blue dress that has big red flowers. “Anyone want to answer Susanna’s question? In any circumstance of life, faith and fear ride in tandem. What might it have meant for Jairus to choose faith? How might it have changed his day with Jesus?”
“Well, when I am afraid, I am all caught up in the moment. I cannot enjoy anything.”
“Right, Trudy. When afraid, we stop breathing the same, stop looking around us to actually see. When afraid, we are caught within a prison inside ourselves,” Miss Jeanne says.
I remembered the first day of school, sitting in my closet, caught by fear.
“So, by helping Jairus move away from fear, by helping him choose faith, Jesus was actually helping Jairus live. He was helping him be able to notice the walk, enjoy walking with Jesus, see what was happening around him,” Trudy continues.
Miss Jeanne says, “If that is what happened for Jairus, he must have suddenly been able to notice that he was walking with Jesus even in the middle of really bad news, have you or someone you have known received really bad news and still could choose to experience the presence of Jesus? Would anyone like to share?”
Nemo starts, wearing his red tie on a black shirt. “My grandma when my grandpa died. He died really suddenly, two years ago, so it was a long time. But when he died, my grandma kept pointing to Jesus. She had a butterfly pin on at the funeral, and when I noticed it and commented on it, she said, ‘Sweetheart, the butterfly is a sign of the resurrection. A butterfly starts out as a caterpillar and then is born again out of the chrysalis the caterpillar made. I wear this to remind myself that Jesus defeated death and your grandpa, although dead, on earth is alive still with Jesus.’ So right in the middle of bad stuff, she was holding onto the good.”
“That’s a great example. Thank you, Nemo,” says Miss Jeanne. “Susanna, back to your question, what might it look like for you to choose faith when fear comes knocking at your door? Do you have any thoughts for that?”
“Well, Jesus was walking with Jairus after this, so Jairus was not walking alone. Maybe that is a picture, to remember we walk with Jesus. To just call Jesus to mind in the moment.”
I pound the table. Smiling and nodding. I pound the table again. I don’t know what to do with myself. I just want to speak.
“So, Phillip, I think if you had words you would be using them!” Miss Jeanne smiles.
The playground, the fear, the black and the Voice and the arms of Kevin around me. Mr. Simons’ hand in mine. All this flooded back and with tears in my eyes I say a word aloud, my first time in the presence of others, with great effort. I said, “Jesus.”
Tears stream from my eyes and Miss Jeanne looks at me with admiration. Everyone applauds.
“Well, Phillip. Yes, Jesus does show up and make a difference!” Miss Jeanne says.
“Jesus, Jesus, Jesus,” I say as I pound on Kevin this time. He looks at me knowing I am trying to get something across to him.
“Oh,” Kevin says, “Oh, when you whispered Jesus’ name?”
“I think I know what you are referring to.” And Kevin tells the story of the first day of school. Susanna’s hand comes up to her mouth and tears brim her eyes. “I stood up to the girl, but then Mr. Simons came over and escorted her away. And I just knelt down and put my arms around Phillip holding him. I just wanted to make him feel safe, and bundled, but deep inside my arms I heard him whispering Jesus’ name.”
“Jesus,” I say again, thumping on Kevin’s shoulder. “Jesus.”
“Oh,” Miss Jeanne says, “Kevin was like Jesus to you that day. His arms were the arms of Jesus for you?”
I nod and smile, feeling so proud to have gotten my thoughts across. And Kevin’s cheeks turn red. “What?” he objects. “I’m no Jesus.”
“Jesus,” I say again.
Miss Jeanne turns to him and says, “I think it is like this: Phillip wants us to catch Jesus showing up in our lives. And Jesus uses everyone’s hands and feet and voices to do so. Right?”
“Wow. That’s something Phillip,” Kevin says, full of awe.
“There’s more!” Susanna says. She then explains how Mr. Simons texted Mrs. Olson and the class surprised me. “I thought it was a fun thing to do, and you looked really happy. But I didn’t know what had happened.”
Miss Jeanne says, “That is a great story. Phillip, this is quite a Sunday. Thank you for participating. Now, in the last part of the story, what might we take away how death doesn’t end with death but with life, when Jesus is around?”
“It is never the end when someone dies,” Tucker says, hesitating to contribute, “Like, either for the person who dies or for us left here.”
“Exactly. What else do you see?”
“What about when something, not someone, in our lives dies? What then? Can Jesus meet us like with the girl here and help us get up and walk after that?” Asks Trudy.
Everyone says yes. And, Miss Jeanne says, “What are you thinking about, Trudy?”
“I think so too,” says Trudy. “I was just remembering when my dog Alex died how sad I felt. But sitting here this picture of Jesus speaking to the little girl and telling her to get up caught me. I was realizing, Jesus was there in my room. He gave me a hug and then helped me step on into life again. It is like he raised me up!”
Miss Jeanne pauses and then says, “Trudy. What experiences you are having with Jesus! That’s a beautiful picture. Thank you for sharing that.”
Then, Miss Jeanne asks, “So, when have you or someone you have known encountered an ending that got turned around by Jesus?”
It is quiet for a moment around the table. I think of the man with the car and how he destroyed my keyboard and hurt me. I never liked him before then, but at that moment, it felt like all was lost. I never wanted to be around him again. But then Jesus worked on my heart, bringing healing to the memory of that night on my birthday. And he was at work on the man too. For now, he had come back, changed or changing. Jesus was changing that ending into a new beginning, like yesterday.
Kevin speaks first. “When my grandma died, I thought I could not live without her, ever again. But now, I see something that reminds me of her every day. And the things she used to say to me, like, ‘Kevin you are a gift to this world.’ Or ‘Kevin, remember, I love you and Jesus loves you and always will.’ Well, even though she is gone, I still can hear those and other affirming sentences in my heart as if in her voice. So, in that way, my memories of her make her more alive to me now than when she was around, and I could only see her every few months.”
“That’s a great story. Endings are never the end with Jesus. Death is never the end with Him,” Miss Jeanne repeats. “Maybe that’s a good place to close today. Think about how this story has touched you and tell the story to someone in your life. You have all made some great pictures. Leave them with me today and I will add them to our art wall. Thank you for participating today, kids. Let’s pray.”
We all head out and back downstairs. I take Skye outside to pee and then sit next to the lady for the rest of the church service. It is a Communion Sunday, and they are almost at that point in worship. I like communion. I like the taste of the bread dipped in the juice. I like how Pastor Elaine says, “On the night He was betrayed, Jesus took the bread, gave thanks, broke it and gave it to his disciples saying, ‘This is My Body given for you.’ And then He took the cup, giving thanks, gave it to his disciples saying, ‘This is the blood of the new covenant in My Blood. Do this as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.’” And then she always says, “This is an open table. This is not this church’s table. This is the Lord’s table. Come and feast. Receive forgiveness. Receive life into your very lives.”
Ever since the Voice showed up in my life, well, since I began to hear Jesus speak, communion has felt real. For a long time, it didn’t, but after I began to hear Him, now, when I take it, it is like I swallow sunshine. Light fills me. I love this. I swallow and know I am loved.
Like Nana always told me, “Remember, Phillip: ‘Nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.’ That’s from Romans 8, near the end of the chapter.”
I sit next to the lady and she reaches out and takes my hand. We are a team now. After we take communion, and everyone sings the ending hymn, we walk to her car and drive to Maggie and Henry’s house. Everyone is there already. As we arrive Henry, wearing his jeans and plaid shirt, gets everyone’s attention, leads in prayer, then says, “Now, I want you to know. We are here together out of the gift of God into our lives. God has brought us together. As we speak with one another, listen for what God is speaking as well. Our house is yours. Make yourselves at home. There are two toilets—one just around behind the music room, and the other upstairs. Since we only have room for three at the table, we have chairs and TV trays abounding. Maggie and I are pleased to be with you all today.”
Laughter, talking, conversations, joy and the color blue fill the house that afternoon. I end up sitting in the corner and Dr. Tyler’s oldest boy, Freddie, blond haired with a big smile. He and I are building a house with Lincoln logs. He is a quiet guy, so we have lots in common. Skye is resting next to us. The lady and Melinda are sitting next to one another deep in conversation with her youngest son, Andrew, on her lap. Dr. Tyler, Henry, and the man with the car speak together as they sit on the couch with a chair pulled up to it. Maggie and Laura are at the table with Dr. Tyler’s middle son, Thomas. He is busy eating his piece of Maggie’s boysenberry pie with vanilla ice cream. I already ate my piece. This is one of those moments I wish would never end. Ever have those? I just want to stay right there. Not that there are no other great moments. It is like such times are a bit of heaven on earth.
After a while, Maggie asks me to play the piano for everyone. I play Maple Leaf Rag, some Chopin and several other pieces. Everyone applauds. Dr. Tyler cries, surprising even himself. Then, we say goodbye.
I have school Monday. The weeks fly by. And I find out how even this moment can be surpassed.