I saw a star slide down the sky,
Blinding the north as it went by,
Too burning and too quick to hold,
Too lovely to be bought or sold,
Good only to make wishes on
And then forever to be gone.
It is a privilege of a pastor to welcome new arrivals to planet Earth. Most of these fellow resident aliens will live out their citizenship of the Kingdom in a land and time that I will never see. Some arrive with only a temporary work visa. A genetic code makes it so. They have a job to do and when it is done, they must return. It is my experience that among these are the most dedicated seekers of beauty, the kindest souls, the gentlest spirits, and the most passionate lovers of life.
Shooting stars and short lives have this in common: If you are lucky enough to be in the right place and time on this planet when one goes by, it is a wondrous thing to behold.
I welcomed one such special soul who visited us for less than half an hour, but the love she brought to her parents in those twenty-three minutes has remained with them now for twenty-five years. An incredible love, it does not attempt to diminish the grief but outshines it and gives it beauty. Like a burning star against a dark night sky, that love-light still burns as a guide to others seeking comfort.
Ashley White knew about shooting stars. Astronomy was one of her passions. She received a telescope for Christmas. She never unboxed it. The Cystic Fibrosis that she lived with for twenty-one years did not allow her another two months.
Ashley’s specialty seems to be that she mastered forgiveness. Like many of us, she had plenty of cause to hold others accountable for some of the wrongs she endured, but she not only forgave…she forgot. She was content to let the past be the past.
Her primary desire was to be a missionary. The only real traveling she got to do was from one hospital ward to another, but even there, in a wheel chair with an IV pole, she had a concern for the troubles of others that brought about a forgetfulness of her own. She may have thought she wasn’t a real missionary, but when her journey was finished the church was overflowing. Condolences and testimonies came in from every continent—mostly from people she met in hospitals. Somewhere in Sub-Sahara Africa a church named itself for her. Through the years, others heard their call to missionary service through her life.
As I write this, another Ashley with another genetic code is being laid to rest. I am unable to be there. The loss is all mine because I long to see beauty and truth in this world, and I know that both will be in abundance by that graveside.
If you met her, you would not have to ask if she attended a church. You would want to know what church she attended. I met this Ashley in one of my churches when she was twelve. God allowed her to remain with us until the age of thirty-six. (Thank you, God.). The pupil surpassed the master. Through those years she reminded me frequently that this world is more beautiful than it appears.
She could break the vicious circles of anger that we set in motion by not letting any offense or hard words get past her and on to someone else. She would just soak them up without bouncing them back, thereby robbing them of life. If you were the new kid in middle school and feeling like a cultural outcast, or if you were the new person on the job where everyone else seems part of a team, well that’s why God set Ashley right next to you. It wasn’t an accident.
When the television news is full of turmoil and social media is ablaze with personal attack and counterattack, I seek out her Facebook page to see what possible good a person could find in the midst of all this. She never disappoints: “Do you know today it is only 214 days until Christmas!” “Who else wants to go scuba diving.” “Share a hug.” (Covid-19 notwithstanding, a world where we could not hug would be pointless). I do not exaggerate when I say that the nearest thing to a complaint I ever heard from this small stature wonder woman was, “There’s nothing I can’t do…except reach the top shelf. I can’t do that.”
I expect that each of them had their moments of mischievousness, their flaws, and that one inglorious moment. While I do not know it for a fact, I assume that someone sometime somewhere really ticked them off. I would not want to be that person.
Even allowing for all that, those for whom time is gift teach us how beautiful we can be. Love can accomplish a lot with twenty-three minutes. If I am to use my station to stir up emotion in others, it is better that it be charity rather than anger. If I am to respond to an offense, it is better to find a way that is kind rather than vengeful. It is better to be an instrument of peace than a tool of the mob.
Short lives and shooting stars. It is a privilege of a pastor that any one of us could fill a book with names of people like this. It is the assurance of every Christian that our God already has.
Twenty-three minutes. Twenty-one years. Thirty-six years. Surely, God knows we needed them a little longer. Were they simply, “Too burning and too quick to hold, Too lovely to be bought or sold?”
Or, is it that to a world where those of us who imagine we have longer clocks also believe we have time to waste in anger, bitterness, and slander; to a world whose public discourse is filled with blame and shame, whatabout, backatcha, and false witness; to that world the Biblical scholars remind us that even Jesus didn’t hang around more than thirty-seven years. Would we require these loving souls to endure our nonsense any longer than that? They had a job to do. They did it well. They have their reward.
In the beginning, God had another plan for us that did not involve such separation and sorrow, but something went terribly wrong in the Garden. For the families, I share the grief as far as I am able because this love which these children brought to us does not attempt to deny or diminish that grief. It just outshines it.
If you tell their story and tell it faithfully, then it won’t be long til you find yourself talking about Jesus. As for me, when I remember short lives and shooting stars, when I am missing them most; I remember the words of St Paul as he begins to say goodbye in his letter to the Philippians, and I imagine their voice saying,
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
(Should you find any fault or error in these words, then please be gentle in your response. It is only 193 days until Christmas, and I haven’t time to hate anyone today.)