By Katie Kafka
I am honored to introduce you to Leah Aden:
A pastor’s daughter from small town Nebraska who married a Navy sailor and became a mama to two little cuties all while working at the family grocery store for decades until she eventually sold it after she became a grandma. That brings us to a more recent past when her grandson married a smitten, blue-eyed, quirky young lady and not long after they made her a great grandma four times over.
Life brought occasional visits to that small town in Nebraska when every moment was a delightful time to gather in Leah’s home–an outpost for faith and family and laughter and conversation and rest, for these are values that would echo through her residence like the steady tic of a cuckoo clock.
From the moment I met her, I admired her poise because she continually approached me with such warmth and composure even down to her last days spent in nearby assisted living that cared for her well-being in a way that she could retain a merited dignity and a hint of sweet relief by the joys of soft serve ice cream to politely distract us from the reality that none of us get out of here alive.
Leah Aden is my husband’s grandmother who recently passed on to her heavenly home at the ripe, young age of 95 years old. She comes from a generation of faithful women that I long to celebrate because they are known to be strong, resilient, caring, giving, loyal, genuine, resourceful, witty and simply fantastic.
The timing of Leah’s last days fell in flawless proximity to a particular message from the I am Jesus study where our class was learning about the promises of Jesus as resurrection and life. That Tuesday morning we were diving into the moments pertaining to the death and resurrection of Lazarus found in John 11. The more we examined this miracle and became familiar with all the details, the more we realized the narrative is less about Lazarus and more about the glorious power and person of Christ.
In John 11:25-26 Jesus states, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.” Jesus’ remarks here were made in response to a statement made by Martha. You know Martha, of Mary and Martha, the busy lady found in Luke 10 who likes to keep a good handle of her “to-do” list as well as her sister’s lack of help? Martha says to Jesus in John 11, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.”
Martha has this encounter with Jesus away from the other mourners. She escapes to meet Jesus and is able to talk through the loss of her brother in an honest way. When you read all of John 11, you can tell that Martha is the rock in her family. She knows what she believes and does not waver. When hard times come, she doesn’t wear her heart on her sleeve and respond with emotional dramatic cries of desperation. Instead, she calmly reminds herself of truth by speaking what she believes, deeming it so on her life whether she “feels” it in the moment or not. Her emotions will eventually catch up to what she believes.
Resurrection is a noun in Jesus’ identity statement but it implies movement. It literally means to rise up or to raise. There is a change of position here, a change in posture. As Jesus and Martha converse about death, He mentions that He IS the resurrection from death to life. He doesn’t say that He can provide resurrection and life. He says that He embodies these things, creating a picture of life beyond death.
What I love is that Jesus attends to Martha in the way that she responds best. He knows her. He knows her heart and where it sits and He responds to that in her time of need. He speaks very logically about an unpractical event. It makes me want to make a flow chart, but I think it was right down Martha’s alley. Jesus responds to her with His very being–His very identity–saying, I am the resurrection and the life, but He doesn’t stop there. He invites her to believe in Him.
When we believe in Jesus, we in turn experience both resurrection and life right now. We don’t have to wait until our own physical death to live in this promise. Living in the joy of this promise, I think, is a true picture of abundant living that Jesus describes throughout the Gospel of John.
The miracle story of Lazarus goes on to describe an encounter between Mary and Jesus. Similar to His moments with Martha, Jesus shows He also knows Mary. He knows her heart and where it sits and He responds to that in Mary’s time of need. We’re not surprised that Mary’s grief looks way different from Martha’s. The story finishes at the grave of Lazarus with a crowd of mourners. Jesus first looks to heaven and prays to the Father. Then calling out with a loud voice He says, Lazarus, come forth. Lazarus walks out of his own grave in a new and perfect body becoming for us this demonstration of Jesus as the resurrection and the life. All of the grief and mourning could not dim His glory displayed in this moment.
There is an undeniable tension between life and death we cannot ignore. Grief, dismay and loss are appropriate emotions. Grieving is not a trivial gesture when mourning loss, especially because grief looks different from person to person. However, we have a hope that is found in a relationship with Jesus Christ. When we discover the power and person of Jesus, it grants us the opportunity to love big.
On the same day we walked through the miracle of Lazarus at Equip Her, Leah suffered a stroke and for the next 10 days we watched the life fade from her mortal body. I am so grateful for how God prepared my heart beforehand with the hope-filled message found in John 11. It allowed me to see the beauty in the sorrow and her strength despite physical weakness. I could love my family bigger realizing that people process loss differently, knowing full well that God would meet them in their grief. I cherished her last days, making short visits to simply hold her hand and watch her breathe, longing for her to experience the miracle of resurrection and life.
Our visits began with a clever knock and a touch of a button from the inside. The door would automatically open like some sort of magical tada moment saying, we’ve come to brighten your day with our energetic little crew of great-grandchildren, and upon first sight of this crazy squad Leah would say, Well forevermore!, making all of us grin because who says that word anymore? I wonder if that is precisely what she said at her first glance of the Heavenly Father as He called to her with a loud voice saying Leah, come forth! and she walked out of her grave in a new and perfect resurrected body to which I say, Hallelujah, forevermore indeed!