He gave His beloved Son…

Karen with Jeremy

When Jeremy Mains became ill with lymphoma last June, Karen remembers speaking with the Lord and saying, "How can I withhold our beloved son from a Heavenly Father who has some plan in mind I cannot understand when He did not, out of His great love for us, hesitate to give His beloved Son for the working out of a plan of redemption I can still barely understand?"

Jeremy died this November from an aggressive lymphoma that returned after toxicity from chemotherapy made it impossible for the hematology and oncology teams at Rush University Hospital in Chicago to continue his 4th cycle of chemo treatment, which would have led to a bone marrow transplant that promised the possibility of remission and cure.

Needless to say, this has been a harrowing five months for us and for Jeremy’s wife, Angela. He leaves behind three beautiful children: Eliana, age 6, Nehemiah, age 4, and Anelise, age 1.

In the world’s eyes (and truthfully, in ours as well) this is a tragedy. At the end, though our son was a valiant warrior and fought manfully to survive, between the chemotoxicity and the recurring lymphoma, he couldn’t open his eyes or even speak due to bilateral facial paralysis (although his mind was active, and we communicated through hand squeezes and alphabet spelling). He weighed less than 130 pounds, down from 210, and was too weak to sit up or roll over by himself.

Jeremy’s death and what will eventually be uncountable medical expenses (nearly five months in the hospital with weeks in the Intensive Care Unit) has blistered on our minds the fact of the obscenity of death.

His death has also given us an acute awareness of the reality of the Christmas story. God so loved the world—these words are so familiar to us that they almost become trite. God so loved the world that He gave his beloved Son…

Karen’s sister, Valerie Bell, in a phone conversation, repeated this quote, which she attributed to C. S. Lewis: "Death is Satan’s greatest triumph. But death is also God’s greatest triumph." Forgive us for quoting it loosely. Weariness, these days, prohibits certain normal behavior—good research, for instance.

God so loved the world that He gave his beloved Son that whosoever believes in him will have everlasting life.

This Christmas, and perhaps for all the rest of the Christmases of our lives, the birth of this holy baby will always be intertwined with the giving of that beloved to the obscenity of death so that He would eventually overcome, conquer, triumph, banish and vanquish it.

That is a message worth celebrating this Christmas. In our raw agony, we are a long way from the saint who cried, "Alleluia! All my gashes cry!" But we want to be able to praise God, who did not spare His own Son what our son has now experienced.

Jeremy was on life–support for about 24 hours. The local family gathered, and we were with him as the ventilator was removed. His heart beat for about five minutes more. When we and Melissa Timberlake, Jer’s sister, stood beside his body in a quiet room, Karen said, "Apart from the hospital gown or the wound of the tracheotomy, he looks like one of the medieval artists’ renditions of Christ’s body on the Cross. Something by Matthias Grunewald, perhaps."

Hans Holbein
We end this e–newsletter to you, our dear friends, with this rendition of the painting of "The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb" painted by Hans Holbein the Younger somewhere between A.D. 1520-1522. Down through the centuries, suffering parents mourning their loss have chosen to identify deeply with the extraordinary love of God. For some reason, God has entrusted the Mains family with this fellowship of suffering. The joy of Christmas is really pointed toward the Cross, toward agony, toward the grave. Think of that. Just think of it. In some way we have been here.

Then think, through the lens of your personal grief (whatever it might be), as we can certainly imagine through our own pain, of finally speaking these words, "He lives. He’s alive!"

Love is all around.

Have a holy Christmas,
David and Karen Mains

Karen’s Writing Projects

Mary O with some of the hardworking seamstresses of Global Bag Project.
Karen Mains

This year has been a year that we have considered our morbidity—the fact that David and I have probably 10-15 good years, if God grants us favor—to do the work of the Kingdom that has been given us to do. Jeremy Mains, our beloved son, died a month ago, and this Tuesday, the word came that David’s brother, a well–loved orthopedic surgeon in our local area, died on Monday, December 9. Doug Mains, a Renaissance man, had suffered for many years from Alzheimer’s, so we are glad for him to be released from this halfway existence. However, it has caused us to deeply consider how best to employ our skills and abilities in the future.

Will you pray for me (Karen) as I begin to consider the writing that has been stacking up in my creative mind? The books below are projects I believe God has laid on my heart:

1. Listening With My Fingertips: A Profound Journey Into Hearing and Being Heard. The months spent in the hospital with a son who could no longer speak due to facial paralysis has put an extraordinary point of view on the concept of listening groups. This book is ready to write. I need a clear month of concentrated time without interruptions.

2. We have a contract with Medical Ambassadors International to produce a book that explains the remarkable history and outreach around the world of this organization to people who would love to know about the particular success of their methodology of empowering people to empower people. This year should be devoted to research and gathering material. Some overseas travel will be necessary.

3. A novel with a working title, Summer Lightning, has been percolating in my creative self for almost two decades. I’ve just not been able to start it, although I’ve begun and discarded three or four attempts. While looking out the windows on the city of Chicago from the 10th floor of the Intensive Care Unit at Rush University Medical Center, suddenly the first lines began to form in me: "All the men in my life eventually leave me…"

4. I’ve fiddled for years with the concept of The Guest Room as a metaphor for immigration policy positions. Now I have the files from Jeremy’s immigration–counseling outreach in the next office. Do we ditch them? Try to return them to the hundreds of clients he helped? Or do they hold the records of the incredible stories I’ve heard him share verbally that would provide the basis for a book on scriptural hospitality with national implications?

The creative mind can always think of more than it can accomplish, so I am counting on your prayers to undergird me as I ramp myself out of active grief to, hopefully, a productive decade.

Love and blessing to all,
Karen Mains