grief

The Blessing Unwanted

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We wanted nothing to do with this. We were happy already. We were stable. We didn’t need another.

And then God laughed and sent us another child.

Another.

We had enough. We hardly despise God’s gift of children. We have three healthy children. We roughhouse and listen to their music and yell at them to calm down! and feed them and hug them and feed them and feed them and feed them. We had all those kids early enough that my Bride and I had plans for what to do when they were either out of the house or old enough that we didn’t have to worry about being there 24/7. It was a good picture. This year finally all the kids were in school full-time. My Bride had a vista of choices she could make again.

And then God laughed and destroyed everything. (more…)

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Someone I love is dead.

She died in her sleep over a year ago, and I wasn’t there.

A dear, dear daughter of God. “Oh come in, Pastor! Come in! Tell me, how are your wife and the kids? Oh, sit down, sit down! Don’t mind the mess. I’m trying to make sure Frisky doesn’t cause any more messes. She got so angry last time I was at the hospital!” She died. Over a year ago. And I wasn’t there.

Pastor, take this money. Get some ice cream for the kids. If there’s any left, you have some too!” she’d say with that smile. That wonderful, wonderful smile. And now she’s dead. Over a year ago. And I wasn’t there.

Pastor, I’m not superwoman! I can’t keep up the house the way I want. But I’ve got help now! They come in twice a week and clean anything I can’t. They do the laundry, too! Oh, I could never leave. My husband built this home.” It’s the home she died in a year ago.

I was her shepherd. I visited her every month. She encouraged me so often. She was eager for Communion. She longed for God’s Word. She called in to listen to the church service every week. I got to hear her sing and hold her hand when she went to the hospital.

And now she sings in glory. Now there are no more hospitals for her. Now she sees her Jesus face to face.

But I failed her. (more…)

The Last Enemy

Death is the final enemy. But if it is… why do we pretend it’s not there?

I remember Mike.* He was my first death. Pastors can say things like that; other than doctors, soldiers, and funeral workers, we probably see death the most. And Mike… he was my first. The doctors declared him brain dead, and after a fairly lengthy time, the oldest son decided to pull the plug. The son came, signed the papers, and then fled. He would not stay.

I sat in the room as the machines beeped around Mike. I was there with his younger son and a family friend. A CD player plunked out a version of “I am Jesus’ Little Lamb.”

And Mike awoke in heaven.

I didn’t get to see that. I saw a younger son in great grief. I saw a family friend in pain. But I saw them there, in their pain, admitting it.

But the older son? I don’t think I ever saw him again, not even at the funeral. (more…)

Sorrows Await

Friends came to visit. Dear friends we care for. They stayed a few days before going home. We laughed together. Ate out way too much. Their oldest daughter and our daughter played together a lot. We got to hold their newest child. It was good to see them. Healing.

They’re getting divorced.

They came to visit in part as a last-ditch effort to get back together. As if I could work a miracle and undo years of hurt they’ve caused each other. He’s been stupid. She’s been stubborn. They’ve been to counselors and roundly ignored what they’ve been told. They could have a good marriage. They could. Instead, they march away from each other.

I grieve for them. (more…)

Now you know, Lee.

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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.

And now.

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.

His widow.

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.

To Stand in Joy Beside

“Good morning. Welcome to St. Luke’s.

“Usually I say ‘Welcome home’ here, because we’re a family. We care for one another quite a bit. We’re tight-knit. Last night, one of our family members went Home to be with the Lord forever. Melissa Schwartz was taken to heaven at about seven last night.

“It’s ok for us to cry and to mourn. The Bible tells us not to mourn like other men who have no hope, but it never tells us not to mourn. Don’t cry for Melissa, though. She’s happy. She’s celebrating. She’s partying. Cry for yourself. Admit that you miss her. That’s ok.

“To start our worship today, we’re going to sing a song in her honor. Please turn to hymn 152, and we’ll sing verses one through four.”

And then I walked over to the piano at the front of church… and I played an introduction to “I Know that My Redeemer Lives” that I created. It’s a fanfare, a bombastic piece. On my last note, the organ joined in, and we played together while the congregation sang. I’m told that more than one congregation member was watching the piano – apparently it was literally rocking under the force of my playing.

For Melissa. (more…)