A tabernacle not made with hands
Steve Hayner was serving as president of Columbia Seminary and was healthy and fit when he found out he had terminal pancreatic cancer. He and his wife, Sharol, embarked on a journey together with their children that soon included tens of thousands of visits from friends and acquaintances via the CaringBridge website. The overwhelming response to their posts on this website attested to the surprising and engaging way that they chose to live in the face of death.
As a result they uncovered the remarkable truth that God, our good Shepherd, provides a feast for us when we are in the valley of the shadow of death as well as in the green pastures.
Steve was always known for signing letters and emails, “joyfully.” These pages, including reflections from some of those closest to Steve and Sharol, offer us a hope-filled glimpse into what it means to walk with God in honesty, with joy, even through great pain.
You can read more about the decision to publish the book here. My brief notes on the book are as follows:
One would think it would be a difficult read — to gaze upon the literary history of a dying man’s life’s end. Perhaps it is for some people. For me, as I read through the foreword, through the thoughts of Steve and Sharol Hayner… from more of Steve to only Sharol, I get the sense not of a tragedy, but of a sorrow of coming to know someone’s abundance only at the last minute. Many readers may already know the Hayners. I did not. In many ways, I still do not, but in reading Steve’s final story, there is something of an intimacy shared only by those who die completely self-aware. It is difficult to grasp, perhaps because my humanity reacts to the ending of another, but it is powerfully present.
There are many books devoted to exploring grief theologically. Thomas Long’s “]]” comes to mind. There are books seeking to lift the person out of grief and into a better worldview. But there are few books exposing the rawness of events leading up to grief. “Joy in the Journey” is one of them — one of the few. You get a keen sense of Steve and Sharol’s final months and days and hours and how Sharol reacted to the immediate after effects. And in some ways, you start to feel the apprehension, somewhere in the middle, of what is already known to have happened.
“Joy in the Journey” covers about 6 months of Caringbridge journal entries by both Steve and Sharol. They are short, poignant devotionals by those experiencing a sudden attack of a terminal illness. They include his and her updates about what most of us keep hidden — the ultimate sign of our human frailty. There are a few sidebar contributions as well that are short, pointed, statements expressing what some of us may hide in ourselves. I want to recommend the book to anyone facing grief, to small groups that lead blue services, and to those who simply need to know that even in the darkness there is a light to be had.