Two weeks ago, I woke up to a couple of crazy text messages: “Jeremy Earnshaw is missing on a lake in Alaska” and “if you havent heard jeremy earnshaw is missing either in a lake or the ocean please be praying.” Bewildered, all I could do was pray. Later that day I got the real story, of how Jeremy, 23 years old like me, staff at YWAM Newcastle where I did my DTS, was washed off the rocks by a freak wave and never seen again.
I was reeling. Such a crazy accident, so far away; and yet everything came rushing back to me: the smells of the Lewis House hostel where we lived, working in the Youthstreet office beside Jeremy with our matching black Macbooks, seeing Jeremy and his girlfriend Christina working the morning shift together in the cafe. I felt almost embarrassed by how unglued my emotions became, by the fog I walked in for days. Death tapped me on the shoulder and wouldn’t leave until I acknowledged its inevitable presence in this story called life that I had once dared to call predictable or even mundane.
The day after the accident, while we were still praying for a miracle, half expecting a whale to spit up Jeremy laughing and unharmed on the Australian coast, I read the final chapter in Brennan Manning’s book The Wisdom of Tenderness. He closes the book talking about the fierce mercy of God, stating that “when we’re brought face to face with the inescapable poverty of death, the gradual movement from living in the wisdom of tenderness to living in the presence of mercy become decisive and complete.”
To illustrate his point, Manning includes the last will and testament of his friend, Edith; a letter in which the dying woman urges her loved ones to “not weep for me. Instead, dance and sing and shout the Good News — another child has gone home to the father, Abba. […] if there are hardy ones among you, sing and praise and play and laugh into the dawn […] Give praise to God, for He is mercy! He has called me home. Sorrow not, dear friends, on my going, but be glad. Think of me kindly and often if you wish, but only with delight and joy.”
Manning wraps this up by observing:
“Death is the last act of self-giving, the final repuditation of the self, the ultimate act of impoverished ragamuffins before the fierce mercy of God. […] we hand over the kingdom of ourselves to the Father. And the Abba of Jesus, standing on the eternal shores with open, outstretched arms, gently beckons us home […]”
I’m not going to pretend that Jeremy and I were best friends, or even close friends, or that I have memories of deep and meaningful conversations with him. He lent me a Francis Schaeffer book, we talked about our love for C.S. Lewis a few times, and he let me upload season 7 of Gilmore Girls onto my iPod for outreach. But I will say in all honesty that he was a guy who went out of his way to say hello and to acknowledge people, a guy who impressed me with the way his words and actions reflected his true love for his girlfriend Christina, and a man who was genuine in his love for people and for his God.
I think that Jeremy probably feels the same way Edith did when she wrote, “Praise our God, for He is good! He has called me home and I go with love, expectation, and praise on my lips and joy in my heart…”
Only this God, the Abba of Jesus, could make death so sweet; if not for the ones who remain on this earth and mourn, then for the beloved friend He beckons home.