I call upon You, Lord, God of Abraham and God of Isaac and God of Jacob and Israel, You who are the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the God who, through the abundance of your mercy, was well-pleased towards us so that we may know You, who made heaven and earth, who rules over all, You who are the one and the true God, above whom there is no other God; You who, by our Lord Jesus Christ gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit, give to every one who reads this writing to know You, that You alone are God, to be strengthened in You, and to avoid every heretical and godless and impious teaching.

St Irenaeus of Lyons, Against the Heresies 3:6:4

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Lessons of a Loss

Last Friday morning my bagel break was interrupted by allowing access to some dummy contractors at a gate on the other end of the plant's campus. Unsurprisingly, I was not a little irritated. However, half way there the Listener's Bible snippet came on the radio. It was a reading from Romans 12. Max's velvet voice began, "What are the marks of true Christian spirituality...listen to the Bible from..." I listened carefully, but the line "rejoice with the who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn" stood out remarkably to me, like never before.

This bit struck me in the soul. Everything after that was like Charlie Brown's teacher squawking in the background, as I began to prayerfully turn it over and over in my mind and challenge my heart with its imperatives. The Holy Spirit knew what I needed to hear and was making it stick.

Within the hour, one of my closer friends, Bob (not his real name), who is a retired once-weekly vendor at the plant that I work at, left a voicemail. My contacts on the new iPhone didn’t recognize Bob’s number. Consequently, I thought it was either a wrong number or some other undesirable caller. When I did get around to checking the voicemail, I could sense in Bob’s voice that he wasn't calling to share something for our mutual rejoicing.

I waited until I got off at 4p, so our conversation wouldn't be interrupted by the several-many issues at work.

Bob answered to tell me that Joanna, his well-beloved wife, who had struggled for more than two decades with a severely debilitating disease, had passed away the Thursday last. She was having some breathing issues throughout the night, which improved at about 3a. This let Bob get a couple hours sleep on the sofa by where she was resting. By 9a, he felt things were well enough to take a quick shower. After what he said was less than 10 minutes, he came back out and she was gone. After calling 911, and working CPR for several minutes, he checked her pupils, which were completely dilated and unchanged by the pen light. She was gone before he started. Still, 15 or so EMS worked hard to bring her back to us. Nevertheless, this was not God’s will...not just yet.

So, three points. (1) If I would have known how powerfully the Holy Spirit was going work that verse into me for the ministry-purpose to both Bob and me that was lying a mere hour or few ahead of me, I would have had an entirely different, a zealous, attitude about leaving my warm bagel to open that gate at the North End. However, I should've known, or rather did know. God works all things--seemingly trivial dispatches to secured gates--for our good and to the fulfillment of his great and all-wise plan and purposes. This I "know." Yet I fail to appropriate that knowledge too often in my day in day out rhythms, like opening gates and other things that inconvenience me at the moment. Lesson: Nothing is inconsequential with our omni-efficient God; he foreordained, purposes, and micromanagingly orders all of life's mundanity, thus nothing is trivial or mundane. What seemed like simply being bothered to open a gate was rather our loving God preparing me for the future and ruling over all with his Word and Spirit; it was him opening the rusty gate of my heart, so I could weep and mourn with a broken brother.

So, (2) please remember with us our widower brother this Lord’s Day, as we all gather at the foot of the throne of grace. (My relationship with Bob, incidentally, began several years ago when, as he was signing in one day, and shared that he had just come from the chiropractor. I asked why. He explained his beloved’s situation and how he has to move her and dress her, etc., because of the immobilizing aspects of her condition, and that his 50-something back was just not what it once was. I took the opportunity to explain my biblical-covenantal understanding of marriage, and that his faithfulness was a great encouragement and witness to me and what marriage means to our nutty culture. The rest is history, as they say.)

Finally, (3) per Bob's adamant wishes, and in memorial to Joanna, let us not miss a single opportunity to show-and-tell our wives what wonderful women God has blessed us with, pointing out their personal fulfillments of the Prov. 31 wife, and their picture-painting ministry to us about what the Church (should) looks like (Eph. 5). Let us shower them with love and praise. Likewise, let us pray earnestly for the redeeming-loving grace necessary to be abundantly faithful Christ-likers in return, letting them know their value to us, "even unto death,” as Bob’s marriage-long commitment illustrated to me.

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