Fallen Friend


John 15:13 Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.

This man sitting across the table holds up a picture of his boy. He looks me straight in the eye, all smiles, light gleaming in his eyes, and says, "This is my son. I lost him in the war nine months ago." He smiles big, and all I see is white as his teeth overshadow his dark skin, his joy overshadowing the pain I see underneath.

He keeps holding up the picture of his boy, so young and handsome in his uniform. His eyes are filled with pride, but mine fill with tears as I stare at the photo and ponder this father's sacrifice. I look back into his eyes, and quietly say, "I am so sorry," but those words feel inadequate for a man who raised up his boy to die for my freedom.

He hands me final papers to sign for the new car I purchased just days earlier, and this man just signed the final papers for his son. My three girls lay on the floor next to his desk, playing and laughing, all free, and this smiling man just laid his boy in the ground, laid his fallen seed down deep in the soil.

He tells me he's excited for me about the car, but I cannot move past the picture of the boy, of this man's fallen seed. I attempt to thank him for the sacrifice, for the life laid down for my freedom, but there are no words to express that kind of gratitude.

I look in the eyes of this man, and I know that I could never begin to understand the pain he has experienced, the accepting of the death of his own seed.

When accepting that his own death was imminent, Christ said to his Father in the garden of Gethsemane, "Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done."

I think of my own Gethsemane's and know how small they have been in comparison to the giving of a son. And I am reminded that God has been speaking to me about the blooms that come forth as a result of dying to myself, out of the pressing out of my will in my own little Gethsemanes. And the very first words I ever wrote in a journal were God's words from John. "Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds."

Now I sit across from this man dying to his will as he accepts the falling of his seed. But Jesus said the falling of the seed is what makes a man a friend, that "Greater love has no one than this that he lay down his life for his friends." The photo now lies on his desk just beside the final papers, and I stare at this stranger in uniform, this fallen seed that Jesus says is not a stranger but my friend.

Several months later, my girls and I spend the afternoon in my father's garden. Just a few months before, the seed had been laid in the ground, and now the flowers are blooming on the plant just before the fruit is to come forth. Some of the fruit is ready to be harvested so we fill our baskets, then decide to pick up our paints on this lazy Saturday afternoon.

My children and I choose to paint flowers, all red and white. They lay down paint, then run off to play, leaving the painting unfinished.

We pack up our things, drive back past all the blooms coming forth in the garden and make our way home. Upon arriving, I place the painting on the counter in my office. It stays there for several weeks until one day as I am passing by, I glance at the red and white flowers, and the father with the photo of his fallen seed flashes through my mind. The man whose life has been painted red and white, the colors of sacrifice and surrender. Then I remember that Memorial Day is just around the corner, and I now know who this painting is for. So I pick up my paints, and I add blue to complete the picture of freedom. Because true freedom only comes in the surrender to the sacrifice, to the dying of our will so that the fallen seed can produce many seeds.

Then Katie and I stamp out the reference to the verse in John, the one that tells me that his boy, that his seed laid in the ground has been a friend to me.

So on Memorial Day we take this painting, this seed of gratitude, and we drive down to the car dealership to find the father of the fallen seed. I tell the clerk at the desk that I'm looking for the man who lost his son in the war. No one in the building seems to know anyone there who has lost a son so they send me to the next building over, and as we walk, I wonder if he still works here. It’s been nine months since he showed me the photo of his boy, and I wonder if I am too late to plant this seed of gratitude. "I should have come sooner," I think to myself. But I find him in the building next door, and He walks out to greet me, all full of life and joy.

I hand him the gift with the painting inside and a note for he and his wife that tells them their son has been a friend to me, the kind of friend that Jesus was.

He smiles and thanks me for the package, and all I see is white teeth again, the light of his smile shining bright next to the black of his skin. He says with joy that his son is doing just fine, that he is in heaven, in a much better place. As I look in his eyes, the light reflects off rings of blue around his pupils, that color that completed my painting of freedom. His eyes look angelic almost, and I sense how this man is surrendering to the sacrifice, is finding freedom. He inspires me to surrender to my own daily dyings, these small Gethsemanes that I tend to resist. He lets the fallen seed become many as he plants one in my heart just by looking at me with those eyes somehow gleaming with joy, somehow being my friend in all his surrender.

We drive away from the dealership, and I feel kind of silly for bringing the gift because this man seems so joyful in the midst of his sacrifice. I begin to doubt if I have heard from God, and start wondering if this was my idea rather than his, but my daughter turns the radio to a station we rarely listen to, and a man is speaking about the fallen, and he quotes John, says "Greater love has no one than this that he lay down his life for his friends." I look at my daughter and smile, tell her that's the same verse that we stamped on the painting. Her eyes grow wide, and I rejoice as I think of how faithful he is to confirm. He makes it clear that He has spoken, confirms for me that the painting was his seed, His word being planted to bring forth blooms.

My husband calls me several days later and tells me the father of the boy has called, that he has something for me down at the dealership. So I stop by to see the father, and his desk is full of gifts for me from the mother of his fallen seed.

I tell him he's given me enough, that the painting was a God thing, just a way to thank him. I see glimpses of pain in his eyes as he replies, "God still has some work to do in my heart, but it is time to give back."

So I accept his flowers and gifts, hug this stranger-friend of a man, and I drive away in my white car holding these blooms that grew from seeds. And I still remember the white flags of surrender in his eyes. And I know that the seed fallen will become many because this father knows the truth, that the only way to heal is to love, to let our plans and the seeds of our flesh die so that the blooms can come forth. This father's son has laid down his life, and now this father also stands before me dying, laying his life down for his friends, surrendering to the sacrificial life, to the plan that was not his so that his fallen seed will become many.

As I pull in my driveway, I see the first blooms that have opened in the wild flowers my husband and my girls planted early this spring. And I thank God for seeds laid in the ground that bring forth beauty like this...