My brother crossed over April 13th. It was the most supernatural moment of my life yet.
I haven’t written since then as I’ve been giving space to grieve, rest, recover from 18 months of battling for his life.
Thanks for all of those who were led to pray for us in this story.
My other brother, Parker, and I each shared in offering Lance’s eulogy. My portion is below:
There’s a hole in the world now….There’s nobody who saw just what he saw, knows what he knew, remembers what he remembered, loves what he loved….Questions I have can never now get answers. The world is emptier.
– Lament for a Son, Nicholas Wolterstorff
My friend John recalls in his book Desire, “Simone Weil once said, there are only two things that pierce the human heart; beauty and affliction. Moments we wish would last forever and moments we wish had never begun.”
And Norman Maclean, the author of A River Runs Through It, and Lance’s favorite author, once said, “Agony and hilarity are necessary for salvation.”
Lance was the hilarity in my life. His humor was the healing balm to my intensity. He made me laugh until it hurt. And he was the fuel behind many moments of beauty that we longed to last forever.
The last of those “forever moments” before cancer was an adventure in a rented boat in the landscape of our greatest childhood memories. We were at a family reunion two summers ago at Chautauqua Lake, the geography of our childhood adventures. Parker, Lance, and I found ourselves out on the lake trying to beat a storm to safety. We were full throttle as we drove into the setting sun finally escaping the pelting rain and narrowly punching out of the storm. The rental boat had no running lights, and we took a gamble to try to make it back to the marina instead of tucking into a random dock for the night. We found ourselves the only boat out on water like glass as we threaded through the eye of the needle of the ominous weather and cut through the endless summer night sky. I remember only longing for one thing—that the boat dock would never come. We laughed together. All was well. It was a moment we wish would last forever.
But it didn’t. Quickly after, Lance had a seizure, he was diagnosed with brain cancer, and went into surgery.
The doctor met with us during surgery and said the unthinkable.
“Statistically Lance has less than a year to live.”
“He may not be able to ever speak again when he comes out of surgery.”
“And he may not know who you are.”
And so began our battle. Eighteen months and one day.
Lance lived and fought with courage, heroism, humor, and perseverance.
And we fought alongside of him.
In the end, I’m learning that we don’t always get to choose our stories. But we do get to choose the men or the women we want to be in them. We get to choose to love. We get to participate in the Greatest Story of all times—a story where Love wins. Mom. Dad. You loved so well. I’m so sorry. No parent should ever have to bury their child.
A mentor once told my wife Cherie and me that in every season someone will be the face of God to you. Look for him.
It’s always a risk to mention names, as I’m sure to forget. But I can’t help but
mention a few.
Rusty, George. You were his fishing partners. You were the face of God to Lance.
Jimmy Kap, Mike, Ricky, Carson. You stood by his side and helped him turn his house into a home. You helped him finish his dream and one of his last great gifts for his beloved Francine, when he could no longer do it himself. You were the face of God.
Cathy, Janet, Lynda. You took a huge risk. When he was compromised after his surgery, you fought for his dignity and allowed him to thrive, doing what he loved as a real estate agent to his last days. You were the face of God.
Jesse. You are a faithful friend. You kept showing up. And showing up. And showing up. You were the face of God.
Sheila, from Catholic Hospice. In the final days, you were the grandmother that every one of our hearts needed. You walked us through a seemingly un-navigable path. You were the face of God.
And there were so many others.
But, above all others, Francine, you were the face of God to our Lance.
Scripture says, “Greater love has no one than this. That they would lay their life down for a friend.” He was your best friend.
We were your witnesses. A thousand times a thousand. You laid your life down,
Francine. You loved the man that came out of that surgery as much as the one that went in.
To his very last breath…
None of us really knows what we are signing up for when we make those vows:
For better and for worse.
In sickness and in health.
Francine, you fulfilled your vows like Michelangelo carving the Pieta.
A 28-year-old woman should never have to bear this much pain, sorrow. You did it, sister. You did it with dignity, heroism, levity, grace…love beyond measure…and you never once even looked frumpy!
You have become a legend in our hearts. We “see you,” Francine.
The last conversation we had with Lance that he was able to initiate, his words to us were, “If I die…Francine.”
In the end, all he talked about was you.
Francine. You have my word. You have the word of our family. You are loved. You are chosen. You are taken care of.
Above all else, Lance was a fisherman. He found something on the water that he found nowhere else in life. Some beauty, fellowship, adventure….something that only now does he fully know was God himself. He experienced Psalm 23 out there on wild rivers and on ocean flats…“You lead me beside still waters and restore my soul.” His next great trip was to be Seychelles—arguably the most exotic place in the world to fly-fish. It’s a country that consists of 115 islands and host over 1000 species of fish, some of which can be found in only a few places in the world. It was the trip of a lifetime. His plans were dashed, as it was to happen shortly after he was diagnosed and he was unable to travel. We were able to reschedule seventeen months later. We did everything in our power to make it happen. He refused to buy travel insurance, as it was his way to fight against the cancer. In the end, the cancer seems to have won.
One of the hardest moments of this journey was when I was filled with anticipation to present him with a brand new Sage rod and reel to use for his trip. On that particular day, I was holding the rod and reel when I approached him from behind. He was lying on the couch, and he was clutching his motionless right hand with his left, as though it was a foreign object. Never before that moment did it dawn on me that his tumor was on his left side, and that he would lose function on his right. In that moment I knew he would never fish again.
As I prayed for Lance, day after day, month after month, I was drawn back again and again to Revelation 22. In that literary masterpiece, John tries his best to capture in word pictures the awesomeness of heaven as God allowed him to see it in a vision, so that we could have hope and a glimpse of where our story is headed. One of the last conversations I had with Lance… we talked about the Big Waters, the River that’s glimpsed in Revelation. The River from which all other rivers flow.
Revelation says that this majestic and wild river, sparkling like crystal, literally flows out of God himself, and its waters bring life. It was then that I realized all along in Lance’s heart, he thought he was preparing to fish the greatest waters this world has to offer. But little did we all know that God was preparing his heart for even greater waters.
I never thought he’d beat us there, that he would be there so soon.
But leave it to Lance… I can’t wait to hear his stories of the fish that he caught… and even more to have him guide each of us on those waters, to show us the secret cut banks or where the fish are holding in deep runs… he’ll laugh as we hook into fish that make the most beautiful fish in all of this world look like a carp. I’m sure it will be one of his many ways to say “thank you” and “welcome home” to each of us.
As I meditated, I sensed that Revelation offers us a promise. A lifeline to hold onto as our hearts float on a raging sea…the promise is that one day, that all things will be made well (Rev. 21:5).
All things lost will be restored. Restored…
There will be no more tears… he will turn our mourning into laughing, into joy…
That Heaven is real. Death is a lie.
My favorite author on Heaven, C.S. Lewis, writes on the Great Crossing Over this way, in The Chronicles of Narnia.
“Things began to happen that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them…death in this world was merely the beginning of their story. All their life and adventures in this world had only been the cover and the title page. Now at last they were beginning chapter one of the of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read. Which goes on forever in which every chapter is better than the one before.”
Yet still I find something deep inside of me demanding to know why. Why us? Why Francine? Why Lance? Why this?
I am beginning to learn, as a mentor has shared, that experience often does not furnish its own interpretation. While the questions seem reasonable, I’m learning, peace will never come through answers.
Rather, I find myself at a crossroads. To choose between God and understanding. I know I can’t have both.
The night Lance crossed over, we found our entire family back together around his bed, as we had been the night of his surgery. Lance had now been motionless and totally unresponsive for almost three days.
Bedside, we laughed and cried as we recounted again the love story of Lance and Francine.
And then came one of the most extraordinary moments of my life…better said, the most supernatural.
Lance’s head began to turn. We all watched, gaze fixed, in awe. He opened his eyes, he looked at his beloved Francine, he turned fully back toward us, and then we listened as his spirit left his body and went home.
We all served as witness.
In an odd and holy sort of paradox, we didn’t get the miracle we wanted, but instead, Lance became our miracle.
We were all caught up into a Larger Story. A story of life versus death. A story of heroism, sacrifice, courage. A story of a thousand acts of love.
A story that united us in love.
In closing, I’d like to offer one final thought…
I find in Scripture that God often urges people to make memorials so their hearts will remember what he did.
Two nights ago I found myself alone in the evening stillness in a field, asking
God, “How can we make a memorial in our hearts to honor what Lance was in our lives?”
He took me back to Psalm 23, Lance’s Psalm: “He leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul…”
What I sensed from God for each of us was this: “I will lead each of you beside quiet waters. When you find yourself there, invite me to do what I love to do most: restore your soul.”
I invite you to pray with me…
My heart is shattered.
We give our broken hearts to you.
We give you our sorrow, our anger, our tears, our unanswered questions.
We stand at an intersection. The story is messy, but the choice is clear.
We can have understanding, or we can have you, but we can’t have both.
We confess, we choose you, as we have nowhere else to turn.
You alone can heal. We ask for you to heal our broken hearts.
Come, God. Come, Father. Come, Jesus. Come, Holy Spirit.
Come into every ache and longing, every empty place in our lives that you alone can fill.
Lead us all as you led Lance, beside still waters, and restore our souls.
Lance Perry Snyder
We love you. We bless you. We release you to the Life that is Truly Life.
And we will see you again.
But not yet, not yet.