This is part 2 in a series of blog posts surrounding the loss of Layla Grace.
Thousands of people have posted comments on the laylagrace website, with one after another saying things like this:
I have reached out to Twitter, Facebook and all the social network sites, just to feel a sense of unity, that I’m not crazy for feeling this way. My family can’t seem to understand why I’ve been affected so much, to be honest, neither can I. But I am thankful for being introduced to Layla. I thank the Marsh family for sharing her journey with me. I will never be the same.
Others have wondered out loud why they are so powerfully wrapped up in a girl they have never even met. Total strangers have literally wept through the night because of Layla. Why are we so drawn to her? Lots of children die, and each one is tragic. Usually though, we hear the story, get sad for a moment, then move on. Layla has been different. What is it about her story that made so many of us stop and pay attention?
The best I can come up with is GOD. God wants to accomplish something through her life and her death, and so he has been at work to assemble this virtual gathering of people to do whatever it is that he is going to do.
Some of that no doubt has to do with neuroblastoma. Some of it may be to strengthen our families and cause us to reprioritize our lives. But I think there is an even higher purpose that God has in mind.
God wants to make sure that you are ready to die.
It sounds kind of harsh to put it that bluntly, but it is a reality that every single person needs to deal with. Am I ready to die? Am I ready to stand before the God who made me and hear the verdict on where I will spend the rest of eternity? We may not face that moment for another 50 years, but Layla’s death at the age of 2 reminds us that we’re not guaranteed 50 years. We’re not guaranteed tomorrow. Layla’s greatest contribution to this world may be that she causes you to honestly ask that question “Am I ready?” Without Layla, how many of us would have just continued on with our busy lives, never paying any attention to these deeper questions? And I wonder, because of Layla, how many people will stop to truly wrestle through that ultimate question of our life. Am I ready?
Lots of people will answer something like this: “I think I’m ready. I try to be a good person, I’m faithful to my family. I work hard and do my best.” That’s all commendable, but sadly it is not enough. God’s standard for entering into heaven is perfection, and every single one of us comes up short. Even sweet little Layla came up short.
How sad if that’s where the story ended. But it isn’t. What we could never do on our own, God did for us by sending his only son down into the world to live that perfect life that we can’t live, and then to die on the cross in our place. His death pays for our sins, while we in turn are given his perfection. Those who believe in Christ, no matter how bad their background or what they have done, are declared innocent, forgiven, and perfect in the eyes of God.
I realize that I am writing to a very diverse crowd of people, and the only thing you know about me is that I’m some guy that happens to be Layla’s pastor. I’m not sure why God chose me to deliver this message, but he did. Here’s what I believe God wants you to know:
God loves you. He loves you. More than you might ever know. Even though you get so busy that he’s often put on the shelf, he still loves you. Despite the stuff from your past that still haunts you, he loves you. And even though your world is often all screwed up and your family life isn’t what it is supposed to be, he loves you with the most crazy and intense love that you could ever imagine. He loves you so much that he was willing to die in order to save you. You’ve cried tears of sadness because Layla’s body died…but heaven is rejoicing because through Christ she is alive forever. Infinitely more tragic is that person who lives a long full and prosperous life here on earth…but who is dead spiritually.
Some readers will give me an “Amen” and go on their way. Others may write a fiery response challenging what I just said. But, thanks to Layla, there will be some whose hearts are finally tuned in to what God is saying to them. If you are one of those, I’d encourage you to pray this prayer with me:
God, I don’t know why you love me, but you do. Despite all my flaws, despite my past, despite my sins, you love me. And I so want to love you back, and to follow you with the rest of my life. I want to live for a deeper purpose. I want to know the God who made me. I want to be free from the weight and burden of sin. Thank you for sending your only Son, Jesus, down into the world to take all that was wrong and make it right. I thank you that he would suffer and die for me. And I thank you that he didn’t stay dead, but that he rose again. Please, God, I need that to be true – for Layla, for my family, for me. Lord, I’ve been so focused on the things of this world. Help me to see the life that is to come. I love you Lord, and want to live for you from this day on. In Jesus’ name. Amen.