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  • Writer's pictureSteve McAtee

Broken Hearted Joy

Updated: Mar 22, 2018

It’s Christmas morning 2007. All seven of us are sitting in front of the most incredible Christmas tree as the smell of a fresh Scotch pine permeates the air. As a family each year, we draw out this precious time to give each other meaningful gifts and lavish love on one another. It’s a morning always filled with laughter. Our family laughs – a lot. It’s the best day of the year, and we are excited.

Jack’s face is calm and blissful. As usual, there is a joyful arch to his brow, with a lovestruck grin. I can’t help but notice his excitement to explain the gift he has planned for each of us. Megan, Maddy, Katherine, Ali, Ellen, and Steve – each takes a turn presenting gifts.

When his turn comes, Jack stands up in the middle of us, and, like a seasoned foreign war correspondent, explains: “I came across an incredible organization. It’s called Living Water International, and it exists to demonstrate the love of God by helping communities acquire desperately needed clean water and to experience ‘living water’ – the gospel of Jesus Christ. This donation has been made in each of your names. I love you guys.”

His gift: a $10 donation card, a donation made to Living Water in each of our individual names. Jack beams as he hands each of us a beautiful, ribbon-laced card from Living Water International. Little did we know just exactly how meaningful his gift would become in the decades ahead.

Now that Jack is gone, when Christmas morning arrives, I remember his gift and marvel at the discernment he demonstrated. Jack knew how to love with his words. He loved with actions and in truth as well. Jack’s painful awareness of other people’s needs came from a broken heart. A broken heart brought on by periodic bipolar struggles during the last seven years of his life. Through it all, God became Jack’s closest friend and stepped into the story of the brokenhearted as Jack boldly shared the good news of redemption with the homeless, because they would listen. He related well to the brokenhearted. Most casual observers sensed Jack’s love for others. His landlord in Breckenridge told of how Jack ventured out on extremely cold nights to invite homeless strangers into the warmth of his loft and a warm meal. He not only offered tangible help – food and shelter – but he always was eager to lavish God’s love on someone. Crazy? Maybe in the eyes of some, but not in the eyes of God.

I feel this same broken heart sometimes, thinking of Jack, missing him, tearfully looking at the world differently now several years after his death. I notice now I’m able to see things that dry-eyed I could not see. My heart is pricked whenever I see the homeless. When I look into the hollow eyes of someone who lives on the streets, I see Jack. I feel a sense of love and compassion now that I did not feel before. The suffering of the world has worked its way deeper inside me, as I never knew sorrow could be like this.

And then there is the gladness and joy in knowing the story of how a heartfelt Christmas present in 2007 has now transformed the lives of over 5,000 people (and counting) in Kenya. Such love pushing back the darkness of evil, as only Christ can. Two great groups of people – one who contributed out of the gladness of their hearts, and the other on the receiving end, thankful for the gift of clean water and the news of Jesus. It puts a bit more focus on the picture of a promised land on the horizon, a resurrected life in a resurrected body, with the resurrected Christ on a resurrected Earth, with a resurrected Jack. Together, all of us. Sharing our stories. Oh, brokenhearted joy, my heart hastens the day. But for now, our story continues to unfold, for His glory.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

Read more about Living Water.

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