Ever wonder what the outcome might have been if we had been just a moment earlier or perhaps later at a given moment in time? When you just missed the ice cream truck as a kid or perhaps as an adult, a former lover narrowly escapes your intrusion on his moment of indiscretion? What about that moment of sickness that you managed to hide from the critical eye of a relative or that time you arrived at the grocery store only to find one box of your favorite cereal left on the shelf instead of two? Perhaps I didn’t get the message or the Divine nudge . . . or maybe I just ignored it and I am the better for it in the end. Such my rationalization goes.
Then there’s the time when the message never seems to come at all. You get the first part of some saucy news but never the rest of the story and you are left hanging in disbelief, doubt, dread, or worse. Is my severely disabled brother going to be o.k. or not? Will someone paleeeeese return my phone calls? When will I find out the results of a biopsy procedure for crying out loud? I want answers NOW!!! Perhaps the Lord ordains that a little more time is needed so I simply have to slog out the wait. Such is one of the hardest tasks in a life still structured by time, not yet unstructured by eternity. As believers in Jesus Christ, we’re still here in our constraints of time and space. The waiting we must do is necessary yet really hard sometimes.
The weeks when prayers seem to go unanswered, no direction comes after hours spent pleading on our knees, events come forth in puzzling sequences that confound the issues at hand, you never really figure out what the heck was going on or the purpose of it all in the end. Such are the mysteries of living a life in the slow lane and especially of a person battling chronic illness day after day after day. It’s really hard to believe that what you see is all that you might get out of your broken life. Alas we always hope for something more than we have don’t we?
I just didn’t get the message that there would come a point at which things would not get better for me. Blessings abound around me but my health has not improved; it has deteriorated. Every few months has brought serious new problems that threaten to choke the life out of me. My wiggle room has gotten smaller. Forget rebounding to a prior level of functioning. It just isn’t happening for me right now. So yes, I am really down in the dumps tonight. I have been up all night for the second night in a row with a daytime of sleeping to follow. The unseasonably warm and sunny day out there in the Midwest will be enjoyed by folks other than myself as the tic attacks wreak havoc on my sleep/wake cycles once again. Wasn’t I getting better a year ago around this time? Didn’t I have the best spring last year of the prior 8 years? What has happened?
The passing of John Sr. brought sorrow as I considered the impact this man had on my life. And I was not alone. Everyone knew John’s love for his family and friends, the Lord, Jesus Christ, and the fellowship of believers united by our faith. It wasn’t until I started to describe three key scenes in my past where his care was palpable to me that I started to grieve the passing of this faithful servant of the Lord. Surely the heavenly hosts are celebrating your coming home sir . . .
My connection to John Sr. was initially tainted by the critical viewpoint of my former spouse. I suppose it’s easy to criticize someone else for faults that the two of you may share? Years later this appeared to be the case. So when I ran into John Sr. just 3 weeks after my former spouse left me, I was not prepared for this gentleman’s reaction to the news. He asked how Craig was doing and I was speechless for a moment: did he not know what had happened? I guess not. I had to tell him. John Sr’s face fell as I shared the devastation that was just beginning to unfold in my life; John Sr. looked at me as if someone had punched him in the gut right there in the store! He could barely speak, mumbled a few condolences, and shuffled away obviously affected by my story. In the moment I was stunned as well. Why was he walking away when I had just shared my heart with my elder brother in Christ? Much later I supposed it was a type of grief reaction. Not long afterwards, I experienced the most important message from our encounter that day: my brother in Christ loved me as his sister in Christ, like a father I did not have at the time. He was hurting for me, hurting for the fall from grace of our brother in Christ. I also learned that day just how profoundly adultery affects many others in the body of Christ in addition to the spouse.
John Sr. didn’t live anymore in the town of that grocery store where I had encountered him. I would not see him again until a few months later when visiting with his daughter who had become a good friend of mine. Deb and I had traveled from the Chicago suburbs where we lived to her parents’ home in the Wisconsin countryside. A neighbor and fellow member of our church (where we had all met) came along for what was to be a fun time of fellowship, food, and relaxation. Their youngest son played classical guitar to everyone’s delight and John Sr. told amazing stories of missionaries they knew, places they had been, and so on. We were one big family for the weekend! That is, until nighttime came.
The Y family always had a menagerie of sofas with hide-a-beds, cots, and blankets to accommodate everyone. Me and my neighbor, Ardie, made our beds in the living room while the family tucked themselves to sleep in their respective bedrooms throughout the modest home. But I could not sleep. Instead of feeling full from the lively fellowship and activities of the visit, I was filled with grief and sorrow from the tremendous losses in progress in my life back home. I lain in the dark with tears streaming down my face like a crack in a retaining wall holding back an avalanche of tears. Finally I could not hold it in anymore. Everyone was asleep in the dark starry night whilst I was coming unglued! I gathered myself as best as I could and walked out into the cool blackness that received me outside. The tears and whimpers gushed easily then uncontrollably. “Would they ever stop?” I wondered.
Before long I could hear some wrestling of the folks inside the house. A light went on in one of the bedrooms, illuminating the front porch where I was holding myself up against a wall. Arlene and John Sr. were up! Despite my best efforts to weep quietly, they had heard me and came to comfort me. John Sr. muttered again with the same type of sorrow I had seen in the grocery store. Arlene wrapped her warm, motherly arms around me and brought me inside to sit on a handmade bench with her for as long as I needed. He got me a blanket. She stayed with me until the tears flowed no more. Eventually I spoke a little while she simply listened. What a gift she gave me that night! No one said much about it all the next morning. Somehow they just all understood the pain I was going through. They did the best thing that they could do to help me through that traumatic time in my life: they just loved on me like one of their own.
John Sr. and Arlene were the best at loving on people, a model we know comes from the love who is embodied in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. That love is as pure as it is convicting with the truth of His Word and the leading of the Holy Spirit. The two of them shared scripture often and how the Lord had led them through their lives, how He too may encourage and lead your in your days as well. I experienced this witness in an unexpected way about 3 years later. The Lord had begun the process of restoration in my life and brought me a wonderful man of God named Steve. We were engaged that September and I wanted to visit the important places and people of my life before moving to Indiana to marry him. I brought Steve to meet John Sr. and Arlene, this time without my friend Deb, their daughter. I wanted them to see my happiness and thank them for being an important part of it coming to fruition.
We had a wonderful visit. After Steve and I returned to Illinois from that long weekend, and after Steve had already gone on home to Indiana, I got a call from John Sr. He didn’t waste any time chatting about our visit and got right to the point: check yourself and the truth of God’s Word, the Bible, before you take this step in marrying Steve. I was a bit taken aback by him questioning things but heeded his advice. The next few weeks were filled with prayer, scripture reading, pastoral counselling, and looking honestly with Steve at our Biblical grounds for divorce and remarriage. All counsel pointed to a blessing for us so we proceeded to get married by the end of the year. The counsel of John Sr. was a necessary part of our preparation that brought clarity that would be needed when others would pass judgement on our union. We have complete confidence and peace that we made a God-honoring decision to be together forever.
I have often quoted Mark Twain at key times in my life who said that the un-examined life is not worth living. Indeed we can find rich value and meaning by taking a closer look at our lives within the context of God’s plans for our lives, ways He gifts each of us, orchestration of events, our limitations, and the stuff that He crafts for each of us as we live out our days on this fallen earth in which we dwell. If we are honest then our search for meaning will lead us to the Creator: the person of Jesus Christ. If we heed the call to recognize our sinful nature, receive His gift of salvation and redemption then choose to grow in knowledge and character of our Lord, then the transformation of our lives will shine for all the world to see. We will become a witness for His transforming power, His love, His grace, His mercy, His goodness. And a life seasoned by the love of Christ, never tainted by the trials we all endure, can become a life well-lived, well-loved for the glory of the Lord. This is who John Sr. was. This is the legacy that he has left for those who got to know him, were ministered to by his love and care, who witnessed his walk with the Lord every day of his life.
Well done John Sr: faithful servant of the Lord! Well done! May God be the glory for the faithful witness of my brother in Christ. May He also bless your beloved bride Arlene, until she joins you one day in the presence of our Lord. Thank you for bringing me into your spiritual family through the faith that we share. You have made a difference! JJ