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Issue 12-7

"He gave His beloved Son…"

Hello good friends,

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.

Karen and Jeremy

Karen with Jeremy

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.”

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.

"The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb," by Hans Holbein the Younger

"The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb"
by Hans Holbein the Younger

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!”

Have a holy Christmas,
David and Karen Mains


Karen's Writing Projects

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


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David Mains

David and Karen Mains

“Jeremy Mains, our beloved son, died on November 5th, so we have been looking at that well-known verse from Scripture, 'For God so loved the world that He gave his beloved Son…' with fresh, but grieving, eyes.”

Making Toast

Making Toast:
A Family Story
by Roger Rosenblatt

A friend from Washington, D.C., who recently lost his lovely wife, send us the book Making Toast by Roger Rosenblatt. It is subtitled “A Family Story.” The writing is about his daughter Amy, a physician who died suddenly at age 36, leaving behind a grieving husband and three small children. David began to read portions out loud to me and just kept breaking down and crying. So as soon as he was finished with the book, I read it for myself.

Layered in poignant, sometimes funny, vignettes, in a writing style that is both restrained and evocative, the Rosenblatts decided to change the trajectory of their lives and moved into their daughter’s home with their grieving son-in-law, in order to provide a stable environment for 6-year-old Jessie, 4-year-old Sammy, and 1-year-old James (known as Bubbies) after the death of their mother.

Rosenblatt is an essayist for Time magazine and PBS. His work has won two George Polk Awards, the Peabody Prize, and the Emmy. The author of six Off-Broadway plays and 14 books, including a guide to the art and craft of writing, Unless It Moves the Human Heart, and the national bestsellers Lapham Rising, and Children of War, which won the Robert F. Kennedy Book Prize. Currently with this publication, Rosenblatt was the Distinguished Professor of English and Writing at Stony Brook University. This memoir about coping with a death in the family rises far above the normal treatment of this topic. Rosenblatt is wise enough and experienced enough to let the vignettes, stories from a year of recovery in which grandparents, long past the years of diapers, playdates and dance classes, reconstruct with their son-in-law a life that allows for three little children to heal, cope and eventually flourish.

I found reading this comforting—partly because of a common human journey—but also because of the pure craftsmanship of a really good writer. Today, due to social media and the possibility of self-publishing, society is inundated with personal opinion pieces, with slice-of-life journals—all good for serving the purpose for which they are intended, self-expression—but what a joy to read the extraordinary work of an extraordinary writer.

Published in 2010, Making Toast became a New York Times bestseller; it is attention well-deserved.
“A painfully beautiful memoir telling how grandparents are made over into parents, how people die out of order, how time goes backwards.  Written with such restraint as to be both heartbreaking and instructive.” – E. L. Doctorow.

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