As pastors have for millenia, we gathered around coffee and sugared sweets and gabbed. It was almost time for the pastor’s conference to start, and we all wanted to catch up with old friends.
My phone rang. Not out of the question for 8:30 in the morning, but when I glanced at the caller ID I stepped away from my conversation quickly. These people wouldn’t be calling me at this time unless it was serious.
“Hello, this is Pastor,” I answered.
I expected to hear the shaky voice of an older woman or the raspy voice of an old man. Instead, a young man greeted me. “Is this pastor?” Strong voice. Sure voice. Not a voice that belonged in that house.
“This is,” I answered.
“I’m officer –” I don’t remember his name. When I heard the younger voice, I expected it to be one of their sons or grandsons. Not an officer. I tuned back in: “– wanted to call you, but she couldn’t get her fingers to dial. Here she is.”
And the phone transferred and I heard that dear woman’s voice. “Pastor. Lee’s, um. Lee’s dead.”
I left the conference. I gathered my things and headed out to the car. It would take at least a half hour of driving to get back to their home.
It’s not safe driving through the rain when you’re weeping.
Oh, Lee. Oh, Lee!
This man, even as his body betrayed him, even as his physical form withered, was more of a man than any five others combined I’ve known. His scratchy, raspy voice always smiled, though. I’d come to see him, and he’d always be in his chair, oxygen in, waiting with a smile and a question. “Pastor, how is Gideon?” or “Pastor, where is this in the Bible?” or “Pastor, when will Jesus come?”
And every time I visited, he told me: “Pastor, I always pray, ‘Thy kingdom come.’ And I always do it in two ways. First, I want more people to know him. The children, Pastor. The children. They need to know Jesus. I hurt for them so much.” And he’d stop and wheeze for breath, near tears. “And second, I pray that he comes for me soon. I want to. Can you imagine it, Pastor? Can you imagine feeling Jesus’s arms around you?” And his eyes shone with unspilled tears.
Oh, this man. He knew Jesus’s love so well, and he longed for others to know it. He shared that love. He prayed for others so vigilantly. He asked after others. And yes. He loved.
As I left his home, he would wave me over to his recliner and embrace me. “I love you, Pastor,” he’d wheeze.
“I love you, Lee,” I answered.
I told him that last week.
He told me that last week.
Finally. Finally, I’ve reached their home. I run up the driveway and pass the medical tech on her way out. And there, there is his wife.
And we move toward each other and embrace. And we sob. We weep.
This is the family of God. It is not drinking coffee and gabbing on Sunday morning – at least, not that alone. It is not smiles and nods and pats on the back. It is weeping and mourning and sobbing together.
Because death stings. Oh, the sting of death will be removed, yes, it will, but today we are broken together by the curse. Oh, we hurt so much. We miss him.
We hold each other for a long time.
And then we step back and sit and talk. And talk.
I ask, “How did it happen?”
“He went last night,” she tells me. “I didn’t call anyone until this morning. I couldn’t. I didn’t want to leave him.”
Oh. Oh, my sister. Oh, how I grieve for you and with you. Oh.
And we talk. I ask her to tell stories she’s told a thousand times before, but needs to tell again in her grief. I tell her stories of how Lee longed to know the feel of Jesus’s arms around him. Of how Lee struggled with guilt but clung to Christ. Of how yes, Christ took his guilt and there is no question: Lee knows what it is to breathe again without oxygen. He knows what it is to dance again, though it has been years. He knows what it is to feast again, though he’d not eaten anything in so long.
We talk for hours. And we weep together. And we laugh together. I hold her hand. We pray.
And Lee. Now you know.
Now you know your Savior’s love fully. Now you feel his embrace. Now you can touch the nail-scarred hands and weep together with the God who loved you even in those sins that haunted you.
I miss you, Lee. I love you.
Lee, you wanted to experience His love. You wanted to know those arms.
And now you know, Lee.
Now you know.