Recently, I learned about the death of a friend's loved one. The death was untimely, sudden, and, quite honestly, feels unfair. Their loved one was taken all too soon and learning of their passing stirred deep emotions of sadness in my soul. I've had my own string of deaths lately. We lost our grandmother in November and then our grandfather two weeks ago. In light of my grandfather's passing, a man who I am named after, I was ready to write a blog about the power of a name. Instead, the death of my friend's loved one caused feelings of heartache to once again surface. And, for now, the desire to write anything uplifting is postponed. Instead, I simply sit in grief and sadness.
Why am I sad? Well, for one, I strongly miss my grandfather. I loved him very much and while we knew his death to be soon, the pain was not lessened by the expectation. As I asked in an earlier post, how do you say goodbye to someone who seemed so invincible? Nothing can replace the weight and presence of a lost loved one. Even the hope of heaven cannot replace that loved one. That hope does provide a future expectation and a looking towards a reunion, but nothing can fill the void left by that lost family member or friend. We fill the void with grief and we try to move on as much as we can. However, as Jerry Sittser states so well in his book A Grace Disguised, a person does not "get over" grief. Instead, grief transforms you into a new person. You feel more, you learn to embrace life with more of a purpose, and, dadgoneit, you soak up every moment you can with those you love.
Yes, my heart is heavy, but that's ok. I serve a God who does his best work in the darkness and longs to be with the broken-hearted. So, if you're like me and your heart is a little heavy tonight, know that Yahweh is near. Weeping may endure for the night, but joy comes in the morning. May we weep well.
(Later today, my family has the difficult responsibility of saying goodbye to a man who has influenced us deeply. Below are the words I will share at his funeral. Pap...I love you.)
How do you say goodbye to a man who has meant so many things to so many people? I was moved yesterday by the many men who came by to pay their respects to Pap after working with him for thirty plus years at the KU. It enlightened my heart last night to see the smiling nurse, who took care of Pap, look at us and say, "Oh, I just loved Paul." And then, many were here yesterday and are here today because they heard "The Preacher" proclaim the Gospel time and again through either a sermon or through the teaching of shaped note music at a "Singing School." Do you remember how Pap used to preach? There were some Sunday mornings that I'd want to walk over to the window and see if Jesus was on his own back because Pap's powerful sermon delivery would shake me in my shoes. Remember the singing schools? To this day, a few of us in this room can still sing the Do-Re-Mes to Amazing Grace because Pap taught us how to do so. I vividly recall Pap holding in his hand a wooden stick while asking us to sound out the hi Do and the low Do as he pointed to each note on the board. Then, if you got really good, we would advance to the "Do, Me, So, Do."
To us, his family, Pap was larger than life. He was the man who we thought to be invincible. After all, he was wiring in trailers at 85 and still preaching sermons at 88. So, I don't know about you, but when Pap's health started to decline, I just expected him to do what he's always done; brush it off and keep on going. To me, that's why his death is so hard. I honestly thought we'd have a little while longer with Pap. But, after losing the love of your life and missing your mom and dad for so long, who can blame a guy for wanting to go home after a wonderful life and see the wife, mom and dad, family, and friends who have already preceded him in death?
While we know of Pap the Lineman, Pap the Preacher, and Pap the Music teacher, what I am going to miss most is Pap the person. I believe that under his tall frame was a gentle man who truly cared about others. Pap had a way with people that allowed them to feel safe in his presence. They felt safe enough to ask for help and to unload their burdens on Pap. I remember working a wiring job with Pap. We would finish the job and while I was packing away tools, he would go visit the person who owned the trailer in order to check on them. He ended many a conversation with those individuals with the following words, "Thank you neighbor. If there's anything else we can do for ya, just give us a call." And, call Pap they did. They called on Pap for money, for more electrical work, and for life counseling. There were numerous days when a conversation with Pap would be interrupted by a knock on the door. And Pap would disappear for more than a few minutes as he listened and took care of someone in need.
The burden and heartache of his death comes from the truth that many of us not only watched Pap care for others, but received such care. His living room was always available to his children, grandchildren, family, and friends. We could talk to him while he watched Gunsmoke, knowing quickly that the tv show became an after thought. He would often sneak us money with a gleam in his eyes and the following words, "Now don't tell your grandmother I did this." He always ended a phone call with, "Ok, honey. I'm praying for you. Bye."
There's a picture of Pap that will always be etched in my mind. It would be Saturday evening around 7 o'clock and he would be hunched over his desk, the fluorescent light from his little swivel lamp illuminating the Bible, and he would have his head perched on his hand. He was studying the Bible, asking God to provide him a sermon for the next day. Well, today, there's a beautiful reality that tonight at 7 p.m., Pap will not need that lamp, his desk, or his Bible to study what the Lord wants him to preach. In the words of Revelation, "Pap is seeing God's face. And God's name is on his forehead. God has wiped every tear from his eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne has told Pap, “I am making everything new!” Then he told Pap, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” (Revelation 21:4-5 NIV)
Pap, no more sermons for you. You can now soak up the reality of everything you once preached. Thank you for preaching so many sermons, but most of all, thank you for preaching the most important sermon with your life. We love you.
Paul is the husband to Tara, father to Natalie and Isaac, has an average jump shot, and enjoys running. His secret wish is to one day become a Jedi Knight. Paul holds a doctorate in marriage and family counseling from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and currently serves as senior pastor of Hardinsburg Baptist Church. Paul desires to help young couples navigate the early crucibles of marriage, especially when one or both of the spouses are engaged in vocational ministry.