Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Why Are You Weeping?

I read an article by Steve Fry, pastor of the Belmont Church in Nashville, that spoke deeply to my heart during this special Christian season. The power of the thought emerged from the current circumstances of my life. I continue to grieve the death of my dear father-in-law. Moments of an overwhelming sense of loss continue to surprise me at unexpected moments. Normal sights and sounds remind me of his presence, and I'm struck by his absence.

When I received the article via email, it was surreal. It was as if the article was written specifically for me. After I contemplated this thought, I began to wonder how many people felt the same way. Isn't that the power of the gospel, though? One message, one savior, one God meeting each person uniquely?

Steve's article referred to Jesus' first, post-resurrection words uttered in the gospel of John. The words, strangley, took on the form, not of a command, but a question. And, the question centered not on Him, but on her--Mary Magdelene. "Why are you weeping?" Rather than a veiled criticism of an "highly emotional woman," these words speak to the priority of Jesus' heart--her hurt became His. He entered fully into the place of her pain.

Strangely, she thought Jesus was the cemetery gardener. A gardener? I've often wondered if Mary's sense of mistaken identity derived from the confusion of her grief aided by the shadows of early morning. Or, did Jesus' "ordinary" form contribute to the mistake? Wouldn't you expect the risen Lord to appear in such a glorious form that there would be no mistake of his identity? Certainly those closest to him (as was Mary) wouldn't mistake him for an ordinary gardener!

Perhaps that's part of the power of the resurrection, though. Jesus still comes, not in an unapproachable posture, but one that continues to identify with "ordinary" humans. For, rather than revealing Himself to the privileged, powerful, and politically connected, Jesus comes to a woman with a past. And, in so doing, He demonstrates to her--and us--not only the power of his resurrection, but the priority of His heart--I will meet you in your and always. "Why are you weeping?"

"Come to me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest."


Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Back to "Normal"

As I indicated in my previous post, my father-in-law died last Friday. His funeral and interment were on Monday--a sad day framed in hope. I was so proud of my children and dear wife on that day. Allen spoke powerful, though tender, words about his grandfather. Amber and Zach both read with eloquence some of their Poppa's favorite Scriptures. All three of these older children of ours sang with LifeSong during the service, as did Carol, my wife, and only child of her daddy.

I watched with amazement as Carol praised God in His sancturary under such sad circumstances. Her sanctuary wasn't the place we call the auditorium. It was a quite place of inner strength where she met her God and delivered her father's soul to His loving care. With every ounce of her being, she sang songs that were dear to her father. It appeared that with each lyric, phrase, and musical note, she gained strength in the presence of her Father. What a testimony!

Miranda, our sweet 10 year old met the day with her tender faith. She had spent many hours in the lap of her Poppa, and she misses his "jiggly laugh." I was touched by the way she held her siblings, and gained strength from their aggregate faith. My mother-in-law, Rose Allen, demonstrated great strength. Not the stoic, false strength of the world, but a godly strength that allowed her to weep unashamedly as she bid her husband of nearly 50 years "so long," anxiously awaiting when she would "see him again." Faith. Hope. Love.

It is now Wednesday, two days after the funeral. Strangely, I'm having a tougher day today than I did on Monday. I suppose I was so focused on the event, and how my family would hold up that I really didn't grieve. I am now. It seems that everything should be "back to normal." And, it's not. As I walked into my office and saw my desk strewn with hand made sympathy cards from the kids at our church along with several notes from dear friends, I wept. I realized the depth of my loss. "Poopah" was not only my father-in-law, colleague in ministry, brother in Christ, father of my wife and grandfather to my children, he was my friend. No, he was more than a friend. He was my buddy. I delighted in our time together.

I more deeply long for the kingdom of God to come in its fullness. I more fully understand the sting of death. And, I more completely desire the resurrection when Christ will unfurl his nail pierced hands, cup our cheeks and wipe the tears away. Until then, we walk by faith, not by sight.


Sunday, March 06, 2005

Present With The Lord

The last few days have been some of the most difficult ones of my life. I've watched my beloved father-in-law, whom I affectionately called, Poopa, slip into the arms of God. During this process, I hurt for my dear wife, Carol. An only child, her daddy loved her deeply, and she love him with equal devotion.

I witnessed her struggle of faith--she didn't want her daddy to die, but neither did she want to deny him the joy of being present with the Lord. In these moments, faith doesn't tidy up the struggle. The pain is real. Faith does provide a perspective that transcends the immediate and sees divine realities. Carol's faith moved her to embrace the promise of God for herself and her dad. I am completely amazed at this woman of God, and am grateful to share in her life.

Tomorrow will be another difficult day. She will sing with LifeSong (along with Amber, Allen and Zach) at her father's funeral. Allen, who is named after Poopa, will share some thoughts. Amber and Allen will read some of their grandfather's favorite texts and I, only with the strength that God provides, will deliver the eulogy. In all that we attempt, we desire to glorify our God--the one in whom Poopa lived...and died. Though absent from us in the body, we are delighted that he is present with the Lord.