Tuesday, November 26, 2013

"Men Must Endure Their Going Hence"

These words from Shakespeare’s King Lear serve as the epitaph on C.S. Lewis’s gravestone. At first glance, they may puzzle the reader. Why this quote? Lewis’s brother Major Warren Lewis, affectionately known as “Warnie,” chose this line for the stone he later shared with his younger, and much more famous, brother. Both men held vivid memories of this quote from a wall calendar, hanging in their childhood home the day their mother died of cancer.  Warnie must have wondered how he would endure the likewise devastating loss of his brother.

Fifty years ago today, Clives Staples (“Jack”) Lewis, was laid to rest in the small cemetery of Holy Trinity Church, Headington Quarry, on the outskirts of Oxford, England. Only a small contingent of friends and family attended the service. Warnie, overcome with grief, was not even present. Lewis himself did not expect the influence of his works to outlive him more than a few years. He was wrong. Fifty years later, Lewis’s life and legacy continue to influence, inspire, exhort, encourage, and entertain countless people around the globe.

My first novel Inklings opens the day of C.S. Lewis’s funeral. My fictional character David MacKenzie attends the service and is profoundly impacted. He determines to rededicate his life to God and carry on the Lewis legacy to a new generation. Here’s a brief excerpt from the prologue:

 Oxford, England

November 26, 1963

David MacKenzie had made a decision. He just hadn’t decided how to tell his fiancée.

For most of the day—after the funeral—he had walked around the parks of Oxford, thinking and praying. Now that he had reached his decision, he was sharing his thoughts with his friend and colleague, Austen Holmes, over dinner in the Eagle and Child pub. David wearily helped himself to shepherd’s pie as he talked.

“Austen, I wish you could have been there. It’s such a pity that Jack Lewis, the C.S. Lewis—one of Oxford’s greatest writers and thinkers—should have had only a few friends and family at his funeral.”

Austen replied quietly. “But really, David, don’t you believe he would have preferred it that way? Besides, I don’t think very many people even heard about it, what with the Kennedy assassination and all. Did his brother publish any notices?”

“I don’t know.” David thoughtfully set down his fork. “Poor old Major Lewis. He’s quite beside himself and wasn’t even able to get out of bed to attend the service. I don’t know what he’ll do without Jack. I don’t know what any of us will do.” David’s young, winsome face clouded with grief. He took a deep breath and exhaled slowly.

“A lit candle was placed on top of the coffin as it was carried out to the churchyard,” he said with more composure. “You know what the weather was like today: clear, cold, and crisp. One of those perfect autumn days that Jack absolutely loved. But what struck me most, Austen, was that the candle’s flame burned so brightly and never wavered. Even outdoors, the flame held. I think everyone noticed. To me that brightly burning candle symbolized the man’s very life.”

Finishing his dinner, David poured himself a cup of tea. Austen waited without speaking, sensing his friend had more to share. Although both of the University tutors were considered handsome, they were a study in contrasts. Austen was the typical Anglo-Saxon: tall and lanky, blond hair, bluish-green eyes, fair skin, angular features. David had more of the Celt about him: muscular build, bright blue eyes, fair skin, but dark—almost black—wavy hair.

David broke their silence. “Austen, Jack Lewis did something with his life. He could have been just a quiet Oxford don, but he was compelled to share his faith—through stories, radio talks, lectures, and books. And everything he wrote or spoke had such excellence, such beauty. He made you want to believe as he did. That candle today—that would not be extinguished even with his death—challenged me and made me truly want to do something for God with my life. Maybe, in some small way, carry on the Lewis legacy, if you will.”

“All right.” Austen smiled. “I know you have a plan. What is it?”

David leaned forward eagerly. “I would like to organize a new Oxford student club, a sort of second-generation ‘Inklings.’ We could meet every week to read and discuss the writings of the original Inklings—Lewis, Tolkien, Williams, Barfield—right here in the Bird and Baby, just as they did. Maybe the students would be inspired to try their own hand at writing, and this could be the forum for it.”

“And the ‘we’ means you want my help?”

“Of course!” David grinned. “You can be our resident Tolkien expert. And who knows? Maybe the venerable author himself may grace our presence now and then.”

Austen considered the proposal briefly. “Well, I’m game. I think it’s a grand idea.”

 “Excellent!” David happily leaned back in the booth. “We can do our part to keep the candle burning. I know God has called me here to Oxford to do more than teach, and that’s what’s been challenging me all day.”

(Jeschke, Melanie. Inklings. Helping Hands Press, 2013. 1-2. Kindle Edition).

Like my fictional character, I am challenged by the life and legacy of C.S. Lewis to do my part, to keep the candle burning and encourage others not only to enjoy the writings of Lewis, but also to seek the Way, the Truth, and the Life that inspired him. I hope my writing can, in some small way, add to the flame.

 “Aslan is (still) on the move!”



Friday, November 22, 2013

Glimpses of Heaven

 Fifty years ago today, C.S. Lewis quietly passed away in his home the Kilns near Oxford, England. His death garnered scant attention from the worldwide media, focused on the shocking news of John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Today, people whose lives have been impacted and inspired by the writings and life of Lewis, gathered in Poets Corner, Westminster Abby to honor this Christian apologist, scholar, novelist, and poet with a commemorative stone.  I joined them in spirit.

Lewis’s writings continue to influence countless people around the globe; winning many to Christ and helping others grow in their faith. My husband, as a young arrogant atheist at the University of Virginia, committed his life to Christ after hearing the gospel shared by a prominent economics professor, using Lewis’s argument from Mere Christianity that Jesus was either who He said He was –Lord and God–or He was a lunatic or the devil. This convincing argument enabled my husband to pass from doubt to faith that Jesus is indeed Lord. He is now a minister.

I did not encounter Lewis until about the same time. As an adult, I began reading with delight The Chronicles of Narnia—a delight I enjoyed with all our nine children, and they now with theirs.  After participating in the triennial Oxbridge conferences sponsored by the C.S. Lewis Foundation, I was inspired to share in a small way Lewis’s life and legacy through my own novels The Oxford Chronicles.

One of my favorite aspects of Lewis’s writings is his ability to give us glimpses of heaven and engender a longing for it. As we remember C.S. Lewis today, I’ll close with his own words, ending The Last Battle from The Chronicles of Narnia:
 (Aslan says) “The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning.” And as He spoke, He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventure in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.

Friday, November 15, 2013


This summer at Vacation Bible School, we taught the children to look for “God-sightings,” evidence that God is at work in our circumstances or through other people. Recognizing God’s love and leading in our lives encourages and enriches us. Recently, I experienced the special blessing of one of these “God-sightings.”

My husband is a pastor and we rarely have an opportunity to visit other churches; however, this past weekend one of our youth ministers stepped in to preach. My sister had also come up from Florida to visit and be on hand to stay with my elderly parents, and so my husband and I decided to “play hooky.”

Consequently, I was looking forward to the opportunity for a little “getaway” at a B&B in the country. My husband declared he had prayed about my plan, but thought we should stay locally and attend one of the churches not far from our new home, so that we could “get to know our community better.” (My parents moved in with us the end of May, following a laborious move of our own last year from our home of 23 years in Vienna (Fairfax County), Virginia, further west to the town of Manassas). A tad disappointed but happy to have any time “away,” I promptly booked a room in a lovely Civil War-era B & B in “Old Town” Manassas.

The next morning, we visited a large, well-known church in the area. After the inspiring worship service, we explored the church building and listened in on a business meeting, so that by the time we emerged to the lobby, most of the congregation had cleared out. However, I noticed a woman, with curly strawberry-blond hair, talking in a small group of people. Her hair looked like that of an old friend we hadn’t seen in many years. This friend, also a “Melanie,” and her family had been founding members of our church, The King’s Chapel. Later, they had moved to Manassas and attended the church we were now visiting. A number of years ago, they had moved again to Lynchburg, VA, and although we keep in touch through email and Facebook, we had not seen them in person since then. Spotting this distinctive curly hair, I moved around for a closer look, and sure enough, there stood our friend Melanie with her family and some other mutual friends, whom we also hadn’t seen in many years! This “coincidence” of running into old friends at a church we had never been to before, amazing in itself, proved to be only part of the blessing.

 Joyfully, Melanie explained that they had almost visited our church The King’s Chapel that morning because they so wanted to see us while they were in the area for Melanie’s birthday. They had prayed and felt the Holy Spirit’s leading to attend this church instead, and although torn, they obeyed. And voilà! There we were! If they had gone to The King’s Chapel, they wouldn’t have seen us; and likewise, if we had not stayed in Manassas, we wouldn’t have seen them. Experiencing the clear leading of God’s Holy Spirit in our lives multiplied the blessing of our unexpected reunion.

What a fun and serendipitous “God-sighting!”

Monday, November 4, 2013

Some Reflections on a "Grief Observed" while celebrating All Saints' Eve


            Our neighbors go all out decorating their houses and yards with Halloween paraphernalia. Dancing skeletons, ghouls, and ghosts surround us with scary and even humorous signs of death this time of year. With the encroaching dark and falling leaves, I find it difficult not to think about the rapid passing of time and the inevitable passing of loved ones.  All Hallows’ Eve or All Saints’ Eve should be a time of remembrance of those we’ve loved and lost, but also a time of celebration that for the Christian, death is not the end, only a door to a new heavenly dimension. We grieve the loss of our loved ones, but share the hope that we will be with them again forever.

            This All Saint’s Eve, I’ve had more loved ones to grieve.  After our nephew Gunnery Sgt. Ryan Jeschke died in Afghanistan in August 2012, we attended funerals almost weekly through that fall: sons and parents of dear friends, and my husband’s co-laborer and mentor. To quote the Bard, “Here was a royal fellowship of death.” The grief over my nephew still springs on me at unexpected times.  I’ll see his picture on my husband’s screensaver,  I’ll sing one of his favorite worship songs, I’ll hear of another Marine who has laid down his life—then wham, the tears begin pricking the back of my eyes. And now, with displays of death everywhere, the loss looms persistently. But then I remember to celebrate All Saints’ Eve—not Halloween—and all those dear ones who are just beyond the door. I celebrate Life not death.

            Last November, on the morning that we were to bury my friend’s son, I awoke with a poem on my heart. I am sharing that poem and its explanation here. Perhaps it will bring a measure of comfort to others, who are also bewildered by grief, having lost loved ones too soon.


A poem on grief   (11/9/12)

Today my friend buried her first-born son. This should not be so. In the past few months we have attended five funerals; my husband Bill has officiated for four of them, two for young men, too young to die. One of whom was our nephew Ryan Jeschke, killed in Afghanistan in August.  Although we are comforted by the knowledge that through faith in Jesus Christ, we will one day be reunited with these loved ones in heaven, we still must walk through the “valley of the shadow of death.”  We do not grieve as those without hope; nevertheless, we do grieve deeply and daily. I have been struck by the surreal experience of grieving while “life goes on.” Hardly original, this idea, I’m sure, has been explored many times—most eloquently by William Cullen Bryant in “Thanatopsis.”  But I too felt compelled to try to express my feelings in a short poem (my first such attempt in many years).   I humbly dedicate this poem to three sisters/friends (Diane DeMark, Carolyn Jeschke, and Fran Mahe) who have recently lost their sons. I share your grief and loss.


Life Does Not Stop For Death   by Melanie M. Jeschke


Life does not stop for Death.

The day still dawns, crisp and clear.

The birds still sing their cheerful tunes.

Unbidden, grief upturns my world,


A small boy laughs and runs at play,

A lawnmower sputters and thrums to work,

My neighbors wave and sadly smile,

Then vanish into busy lives.


“Wait! Stop!” I want to shout.

“Don’t you know I’ve lost my son?”


But Life does not stop for Death,

Nor even pause for my pain.

And yet, Life holds out hope to me.