TWICE FAVORED

Perspective with Yet Another Grief Anniversary

For three years now January has come and gone with the pain of loss. I’ve said it many times. No one should have to bury a child.

Now I add May to my least favorite months of the year list. Yesterday marked the one year anniversary of Nancy’s–the wife of my youth–going home to be with the Lord.

I was not sure how it would pass for me, especially since last March the Lord blessed me with Jan–the wife of my later years.

Me, Nan, & Jan

This picture was taken three years ago at a new people fellowship in our home. Who could have possibly known the providence of God that would unfold so soon after?

My emotions certainly came into play last night as the exact hour of Nan’s passing 365 days ago approached. Different folks reached out to me assuring me of their prayer support. Jan and I spent the evening together remembering and processing.

A verse I have returned to repeatedly through this journey is Prov. 18:22.

He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord.

What can I say? I’ve been favored by God in this regard twice in one lifetime.

Nancy was a gift from God to me. Jan is a gift from God to me. Both qualify as “excellent” (morally strong) women (Prov. 12:4; Prov. 31:10). Both were/are “prudent” (wise) women (Prov. 19:14). God alone gives a man such extraordinary favor.

Charles Bridges, in his commentary on Proverbs, said well what I testify to as a man favored in marriage not just to one, but two godly women in a lifetime:

The good thing is, when he honors her, . . . as the person, whom God saw to be the best and fittest for himself in the whole world, a comfort for life, a help for heaven. Thus she becomes the one object of his undivided heart. Mutual faith is plighted in the Lord. Such a communion spiritualizes his affections, and elevates him from earth to heaven.

And so with this first May anniversary behind me, I do that very good thing.

I honor both these women–gifts from Him lifting me more heavenward than I might ever have reached without them.

Thanks be to God for double favor.

ON GRIEVING

Personal Reflections About the Journey Through Loss

Though off topic in terms of my usual subject matter, this day demands it. The wife of my youth, Nancy, would have turned 67 today had the Lord granted her length of days.

Dried rose on old vintage wood plates

Anniversaries present their own peculiar challenges to the grief process. Her birthday marks the second of these for me. My birthday last month was the first. The next? What would have been our 42nd wedding anniversary this December 21. One at a time.

The content for this post actually crystallized for me on a prayer walk beside Lake Michigan during my bereavement leave. While I don’t consider myself an expert on this subject by any means, losing a son and a bride within the span of three years time tutors one in a way like little else can do.

Perhaps this post may help others navigating what C. S. Lewis likened to the amputation of a limb. I would prefer “limbs.”

My penchant for acrostics carried the day for these five reflections. What can I say? I love this format for remembering content.

Gguard your heart from resentment. Prov. 4:23 warns, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” That’s hard enough to do on the mountain top let alone walking through the valley of the shadow. “The heart knows its own bitterness” (Prov. 14:10).

Few things poison one’s inner being worse than resentment lodged in the heart. I’ve prayed often on the battleground of suffering, “Lord, please protect me from resentment’s assault.”

Rrelish the memories of the past. This has helped guard my heart. I’ve determined to focus on the gift of nearly 42 years with a rock-star woman rather than what years we won’t ever enjoy together. I didn’t deserve one day of those we shared anyway.

Normally Nan and I would have spent her birthday on the deck of our Idaho home overlooking the Clearwater Valley. Few things gave me more pleasure than hearing her voice, talking together, wiling away the chill of the night with the fire pit aflame before us.

Psalm 77:11 has sweetly charted my way through these five months–“I will remember the deeds of the Lord . . .  your wonders of old.”

Iinvite your friends into the process. This has been huge! How grateful I am for brothers and sisters who have wept with me in my weeping (Prov. 12:15).

Withdrawal from others in lament has its place. I’ve needed alone time to process. But isolation presents a slippery slope potentially robbing one of wisely chosen community with those skilled in drawing out the heart (Prov. 20:5).

Eengage your emotions in the present. What a roller coaster! Though honestly grief proved more challenging with Josh’s lost than with Nan’s. Our son passed with no warning; Nancy traveled the valley for months and it happened right before my very eyes. Hospice calls it anticipatory grief.

Still, one never knows when sadness will hijack the feelings. I took a personal day today just so I would have some latitude for dealing with this prospect without the demands of my everyday ministry responsibilities. And how grateful I am for the elders at OGC and her people for granting me twelve weeks bereavement leave for doing the same last summer.

F–faith your way into the future. By God’s grace, I’ve never dropped my shield of faith in my fight with this formidable foe, grief (Eph. 6:16). Perhaps no promise ever means more for leaving the past behind and pressing on into what God has for me in the days ahead than Rom. 8:32. “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”

God has already done the harder thing. Jesus died for me making me His own. How can I conceivably entertain the prospect that He won’t graciously give me absolutely everything I need for the future, even though in His wise and always good providence it no longer includes the once delight of my eyes?

MY EYE’S DELIGHT GONE HOME

The Obituary for Nancy Jean Heffelfinger

“The delight of your eyes.”

Thus I AM, God over all, referred to the prophet’s beloved when He took her from him for higher purposes (Ezek. 24:16). So it has pleased Him to do with the wife of my youth. He gives and takes away; blessed be His name (Job 1:21).

Nan and Me

As with the loss of Joshua, our firstborn son, I choose to publish her obituary on my blog with its various social media connections.

Nancy Jean Masologites Heffelfinger, age 66, of Altamonte Springs, Florida, went peacefully to her treasured Lord Jesus at home on Tuesday, May 31, 2016. She was born on October 17, 1949, in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. She grew up in Broomall, PA, where she attended Marple Newton High School. In addition to her academic excellence, Nancy loved sports. She captained her tennis team and played a fierce game of field hockey. She earned a bachelor’s degree in home economics and child development from the University of Delaware.

Much of her work life outside the home involved utilizing considerable administrative assistant and people-relating skills. But she came into her own upon discovering a passion and gift for natural health and nutrition. Countless people over the years  benefited immensely from her testing, counsel, and care. She never met a vitamin/mineral supplement she didn’t like.

Nancy met her husband-to-be Curt on January 5, 1974. That day she professed faith in Jesus Christ as her Savior and Lord. Six months later she and Curt got engaged; they married on December 21, 1974. After six years of residing in Southern California, she and her family moved to Central Florida. Most of the rest of her life involved making a home in metro Orlando–except for a two year stint in Idaho.

Nancy ran her spiritual race right to the finish line, serving diligently as a partner in the gospel with her pastor/husband at five different churches over the course of their married lives. She possessed an uncommonly positive, even-keeled disposition, rarely complaining about anything–even during her eighteen-month battle with cancer. Whatever it took to solve a problem or overcome an obstacle with the Lord’s help, that she consistently did. She was a “no-problem” gem of a woman.

She is survived by Curt Heffelfinger, her devoted husband, Joel Heffelfinger, her remaining son (Joshua, her firstborn, predeceased her in January of 2014), five grandchildren, Jean, her mother, three younger siblings, and numerous other extended family members.

Please visit the DeGusipe Funeral Home website to post a tribute, if you so desire. A memorial service for Nancy is scheduled at Orlando Grace Church, 872 Maitland Avenue, Altamonte Springs, Florida, at 10:00 AM on Saturday, June 4, 2016. Refreshments will be served in the fellowship hall after the service. Tax deductible gifts in her memory toward the church’s building fund/capital campaign can be made to Orlando Grace Church where she has served as a covenant member and faithful pastor’s wife these past eleven years. For more information contact the church office at 407.660.1984.

Our deepest, sincere, and heartfelt thanks for the outpouring of support in the way of tears, cards, gifts, meals, calls, texts, emails, posts, and especially prayers. As before, I feel rich beyond my imagination in terms of that which, humanly speaking, matters most–the love and care of others.

With gratitude to the only One I have ever loved more than my Nancy, I am sorrowful, yet always rejoicing (2 Cor. 6:10).

Grief is great; grace is greater.

Dear Josh

Josh and Me (2)

Hey, bud.

Two years ago today. Goes by fast. Your damaged heart gave out. Cut down in your prime. I’ll never forget the moment I walked through the door that Saturday afternoon. Your mom trembled the horrific news of our loss. I suspect that scene will never dim in my mind’s eye.

Grief gets easier and it doesn’t. Losing you still ranks first among the hardest things I’ve ever endured. Difficult to imagine anything worse. I’ve said it so many times. No one should have to bury their child.

Honestly, son, things haven’t gotten a whole lot easier since that traumatic day. Oh don’t get me wrong. The Lord has blessed us beyond what we deserve in 2014 and 15. Two of His best gifts are named Blaise and Olivia! How about these cuties?!

But December of 2014 hit hard. Mom got diagnosed with Stage 3 ovarian cancer. Since surgery that month she’s worked hard via natural methods to beat the remaining rogue cells in her body. Just today she went to a new doc in Lakeland for the fourth or fifth time. He wants her to have a PET scan ASAP to determine just where we stand. We hope to nail down an appointment for that sometime later this week. Lots of prayers by tons of people going heavenward for Ma. So grateful for all the support.

I’m not without my own issues. Long story, but the gist of things is this. I’ve got a busted jaw. I know the irony of that doesn’t escape you. Preacher’s got a bum mandible! It’s a result of the radiation treatment for my head and neck cancer in 2005. Surgeons plan to replace the dead bone with a titanium plate on February 15. I wrote all about that here. I’m thinking of changing my new Twitter address to @robojaw. What do you think?

For the time being I’m on total medical leave from my duties at the church AGAIN. I’ve seen this movie before back in 2005. I work at my writing mostly, when pain and fatigue allow. But preaching, talking, counseling to any degree? Completely out of the question.

As you can imagine one does a lot of thinking/reflecting when largely confined to the house awaiting a jaw replacement. I keep coming back to the things I miss so much.

Like kissing your mom. Don’t give me that look. You know how crazy I am about her. Do you have any idea how much the jaw comes into play for even the slightest peck on the lips? It’s so frustrating. I do not like in the least this hindrance to our closeness.

Then how about eating? Let me tell you about feasting or the lack thereof. I cannot chew a blessed thing. Nary a bite. I dream about chomping on a blue corn chip, dining on a medium rare ribeye, or even gumming a Five Guys french fry. Can’t do it. The menu these days consists strictly of slush and mush. Nice weight loss plan but I don’t recommend it to anyone.

IMG_0673

By the way, I wanted to keep up the tradition I started last year by dining at Emeril’s today. Dear Michelle even posted on my Facebook wall a gracious invitation to lunch. It hurt to decline, though I did ask for a rain check. I went to see finally the new Star Wars movie instead. I’m glad I waited until this anniversary day to check it out . You loved the saga so much. I think mostly you would have enjoyed episode 7. It was a comfort to me, but not at all like having Fabian serve me one of those mouthwatering duck tacos and reminiscing with him and the other terrific staff at the restaurant.

I could go on, but I’ll finish with the issue of my preaching. I had to stop cold in the middle of my series on Gen. 14. It just hurt too much to speak for any length of time. I’m on the bench, riding the pines, while others occupy MY pulpit Sunday in and Sunday out. Not fair!

Josh, I thought, I hoped, I dared believe maybe I learned in ’05 some of these lessons related to good things that I so readily turn into god things so that they become bad things. Perhaps not as much as Jesus thinks necessary for me. I just have to keep learning and relearning the main thing . . .

Jesus is enough.

My joy, contentment, satisfaction can’t depend on the presence or absence of God’s good gifts. I need to grow more in saying with Paul in Phil. 4:11-13 that I have learned the secret of being content. I need to sing with the poet more earnestly these words in Psalm 73:25-26.

Whom have I in heaven but you?
    And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
    but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

Lips out of commission? Jesus is enough.

Feasting off the table? Jesus is enough.

Preaching out of the question? Jesus is enough.

Maybe I’ll get it through my thick head and slow heart this time, dude. One can only hope.

By the way, this father misses you terribly, but, and I think you won’t take this the wrong way . . .

Jesus is still enough.

He is gloriously, powerfully, graciously, abundantly, and savingly enough.

 

Birthday Burnings and Pleas for Mercy

Josh and Me (2)

Josh,

You would have turned 37 today. Mom and I may not have necessarily enjoyed the pleasure of your company this very day. You would likely have pulled a double at the restaurant. But we would have caught up with you on your day off, maybe even watched the Super Bowl this Sunday, played perhaps with properly inflated balls.

I would grill you a ribeye, medium rare, just as you liked it. Mom would have baked you one of those killer “Black Magic” cakes – a Heff birthday tradition. We would have sipped a Zin brought by you purchased inevitably above my pastoral price point. And the preacher in Ecclesiastes 2:24-25 would have smiled upon us: “There is nothing better for a person than he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment?”

But you are gone. I miss you.

Love,

Dad

Those horrible words sink in yet another heart-stabbingly relentless time. Just when I thought I survived January 18, the 28th brings another of grief”s battering waves.

Once again, where does a grieving father turn? He goes to His father above. And He never disappoints.

There this miserable-memory morning I read these words from another familiar-with-suffering servant:

Job gives utterance to a mood which is not foreign to us when he says, “Am I a sea, or a whale, that You set a guard over me?” In certain moods of anguish the human heart says to God, “I wish You would leave me alone; why should I be used for things which have no appeal to me?” In the Christian life we are not being used for our own designs at all, but for the fulfillment of the prayer of Jesus Christ. He has prayed that we baffled-to-fight-bettermight be “one with Him as He is one with the Father”; consequently God is concerned only about that one thing, and He never says “By your leave.” Whether we like it or not, God will burn us in His fire until we are as pure as He is, and it is during the process that we cry, as Job did, “I wish You would leave me alone.” God is the only Being who can afford to be misunderstood; we cannot, Job could not, but God can. If we are misunderstood we “get about” the man as soon as we can. St. Augustine prayed, “O Lord, deliver me from this lust of always vindicating myself.” God never vindicates Himself, He deliberately stands aside and lets all sorts of slanders heap on Him, yet He is not in any hurry. We have the idea that prosperity, or happiness, or morality, is the end of a man’s existence; according to the Bible it is something else, “to glorify God and enjoy Him for ever.” When a man is right with God, God puts His honor in that man’s keeping. Job was one of those in whom God staked His honor, and it was during the process of His inexplicable ways that Job makes his appeal for mercy, and yet all through there comes out his implicit confidence in God. “And blessed is he, who is not offended because of Me,” said Our Lord (Oswald Chambers, Baffled to Fight Better: Job and the Problem of Suffering, Discovery House, 1990, p. 41-42, emphasis added).

I’m not a 21st century Job. Not even close. But I do need mercy. Thus I appeal.

Sovereign God, if I belong to that privileged company “Guardians of Your Honor,” and I believe I do, only by grace, then burn away as You please. But have mercy on me for I am but a sinful, grieving man dealing with this birthday’s burnings. I admit it. I sometimes wish you would leave me alone. But not so much that I entertain offense at my Savior and abandon my implicit confidence in You.

SPURGEON’S SORROWS, MINE AND YOURS

Josh thinker

Grief casts a long shadow. At least 365 day’s worth. One year ago today we lost our firstborn son, Josh, or, as he liked others to call him, “Thee Heff.”

Life-threatening cancer proved my effective tutor in 2005. Gut-wrenching loss brought its mastery instruction in 2014. I’m learning, reluctant or not, much in the school of sadness, perhaps most importantly this: some pains in life visit and determine to stay. I don’t expect grief ever to release its hold for the rest of my life. The words, “Josh is dead.” altered my experience forever. I’ve heard other loss-sufferers say such things. I thought I understood. Now I really do.

I find solace this tortuous anniversary weekend in the reading of a book. (Read books. They change lives.) Zack Eswine, thank you for writing Spurgeon’s Sorrows: Realistic Hope for those who Suffer from Depression. In its provision, providence smiled on this sad heart as I read through its 144 pages the last two days.

Any Baptist preacher of the Reformed tradition (others as well) treasures Charles Haddon Spurgeon. Few preached with greater anointing. No one wrote more sermons. Calvinistic, gospel zeal pulsed through his veins in degrees of which I can only dream. With reading Pastor Zach’s book I added a new dimension of appreciation for this giant of the faith – how his near lifelong battle with depression helps me cope with my sadness and in turn comfort others in theirs.

I have long known about Spurgeon’s trouble with melancholy. I did not realize, however, its root for the man in one horrific event early on in his preaching ministry (see p. 19). It brought catastrophic grief, grief, believe it or not, I honestly imagine greater than my own. It prompted this comment from the author, borrowing from a Spurgeon sermon entitled “Weak Hands and Feeble Knees”:

For some of us, we’ve been unable to live in any other scene but the one that crushed us. We were brought so low that we never held up our heads again. It’s like we will go from that time forth mourning to our graves. Circumstance haunted us and went on. Depression came but never left. It haunts us still (p. 29).

Pastor Zack joins our hands with “Charles,” as he fondly calls him, and walks us through his journey. He invites us to view it as “the spurgeons sorrowshandwritten note of one who wishes you well” (p. 23). And well we should. The author has served the reader admirably with numerous citations from Spurgeon’s work on this challenging subject. He has thoroughly mined the precious ore of insight to be gained from one who suffered so greatly and dared talk so freely about it from his influential pulpit. Pastor Zach also shows us from Scripture the reality of sorrow. Additionally he borrows from numerous other works on the subject. He accomplishes a lot in so short a resource. Though I wish I could ask him humbly and gently, “How could you leave out Lloyd-Jones’ classic Spiritual Depression?”

Who should read this book? Easy. Any sufferer of depression and its close relatives, sorrow, sadness, and grief. Here you will find compassion, understanding, hope, and help. Pastor Zach inserts along the way distilled lessons from Spurgeon’s experience that ease the burden of “heaviness of spirit” (p. 46). While not all will agree with or like some of his prescriptions (e. g., medication as necessary), there is plenty of spot on assistance to glean especially from part three (Learning Helps to Daily Cope with Depression).

Caregivers, pastors, and otherwise “one another” gospel-shaped Christians who want to do 1 Thessalonians 5:11 well will also want to read this book. Pastor Zach takes particular aim against “God-talkers” and insensitive Job-like comforters. He pleads for more of us in the helping trade to adopt compassion and understanding in dealing with the bruised reeds and smoldering wicks in this broken world. May the tribe increase.

Gratefully, Pastor Zack leads us from the lesser story of Charles Spurgeon, as instructive, yet incomplete as it is (there are some cautions to hear along this path) to the greater story of Jesus – the Chief Mourner (p. 86) – the Man of Sorrows acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53:3). He even shows tenderness to the skeptic on looker who’s own loss may venture her to wade into these pages though not sure at first what to make of this pastor’s God-talk. You can give this to a seeker and not worry so much.

Thanks to our good friends at Westminster Books, I scarfed up a bunch of these for a mere $5 a piece. Lord willing, you can find them in the OGC resource center next Sunday.

I’m not sure I’ve arrived at the place Spurgeon did, especially after my most recent post, Never Again. But I affirm the truth of it in ending my anniversary reflections on loss:

I am sure that I have run more swiftly with a lame leg than I ever did with a sound one. I am certain that I have seen more in the dark than ever I saw in the light— more stars, most certainly—more things in Heaven if fewer things on earth! The anvil, the fire and the hammer are the making of us—we do not get fashioned much by anything else. That heavy hammer falling on us helps to shape us! Therefore let affliction and trouble and trial come.

They most certainly will. And His grace, as always, will most certainly be sufficient (2 Corinthians 12:9).

 

BONHOEFFERS MORNING PRAYER

Dietrich BonhoefferNew Year’s Day, 2015. Time to reflect back in hopes of moving forward.
2014 started miserably with death in January. Grief took up an unwelcome residence in our household. Lesson learned? The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord (Job 1:21).
The year peaked sweetly with blessing in July. Twin grand kids. It doesn’t get much better. Lesson learned? There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die (Ecclesiastes 3:1-2). 
We crash dived hard with sickness in December. Cancer again. But this time attacking the queen. Lesson learned? Being learned? Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything (James 1:4).
Why must it be so hard? How does one press on into another year when the first Friday will bring another doctor’s visit and the prospect of more bad news?
Turn everlastingly Godward.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer did. Imprisoned in Nazi Germany for opposing Hitler’s Third Reich, he wrote his famous treatise, Letters from PrisonIt proved a great comfort to me time and again when I read it during my cancer journey in 2005. A friend of mine recently sent me a copy of Bonhoeffer’s Morning Prayer (see below). The German pastor read it to his fellow prisoners that Christmas morning in 1943. My friend wrote a note with it expressing his hope it would strengthen me and Nancy in, as he put it, “this latest chapter in your life.”
It did. It does. Thanks, Mike.
May it do the same for you, dear reader, whatever 2015 brings to your household.
MORNING PRAYER
Christmas, 1943
God, to you I call early in the morning.
Help me pray
And gather my thoughts to yourself
I cannot do it alone.
In me it is dark,
But with you is the light;
I am lonely, but you forsake me not;
I am faint-hearted, but with you is help;
I am restless, but with you is peace;
In me is bitterness, but with you is patience;
I do not understand my way, but
You know the way for me.
Father in Heaven,
Praise and thanks
Be yours for the night’s rest.
Praise and thanks be your for the new day.
Praise and thanks be yours for all your kindness
And faithfulness in my past life.
You have shown me much good,
Let me now receive from your hand
What is hard (emphasis mine).
You will not lay upon me
More than I can bear.
For your children you let all things
Serve for the best.
Lord Jesus Christ,
You were poor
And miserable, captive and forsaken as I am.
You know every need of humans,
You remain with me
When no man stands by me,
You forget me not and seek me,
You will that I recognize you
And turn to you.
Lord, I hear your call and follow,
Help me!
Holy Spirit,
Give me the faith that rescues me from
Despair, addictions, and vice,
Give me the love for God and humans,
That destroys all hate and bitterness,
Give me the hope that frees me from
Fear and despondency.
Holy, merciful God,
My Creator and my Savior,
My Judge and my Deliverer,
You know me and everything I do.
You hate and punish evil in this world
And in the next with no respect of persons;
You forgive sins for the one
Who asks sincerely;
You love good and reward it on this
Earth with a good conscience
And in the world to come
With the crown of righteousness.
Before you I think of all my loved ones,
And of my fellow prisoners, and of all those
Who do their hard service in this house.
Lord, have mercy!
Grant me freedom again,
And let me so live in the present
That I can live responsibly
Before humans.
Lord, whatever else this day brings—
May your name be praised!
Amen.

 

ANYBODY WANT TO BUILD A PLAYGROUND?

 

Josh joyful'

When I imagine how Josh, our son who passed away in January of this year, would greet the notion of Orlando Grace Church constructing a playground in his memory, I think this image, one of my favorite ways of remembering him, best captures the essence of things. At least I hope it does. Or maybe this one:

Josh Happy in hole

Either way, “The Joshua Place Playground,” a happy place for children for generations to come, Lord willing, gets assembled and constructed the weekend of Friday, November 14, and Saturday, November 15, of this year. So far we have seen over $21K come in towards this $25K project. We learned this past week that the playground company plans to donate the sign for the area! It will read:

The Joshua Place
“Be strong and courageous!”
Joshua 1:9

I don’t even want to tell you how much that little detail normally costs. Many thanks for the sister who went to bat for us on that one!

Have to admit, I swallowed hard last Monday in our initial planning meeting. The city has approved our site plan. The equipment gets ordered this week. BUT WE WILL NEED AN ARMY OF VOLUNTEERS COME NOVEMBER. I’m calling on the terrific people of OGC, Josh’s beloved coworkers from the restaurant service community, and anyone else, family and friends alike, who want to help The Joshua Placeon either or both for all or a portion of those two days, to let your intentions be known. All you have to do to sign up is respond to this post. Or, if you prefer, you can email me at revheff@gmail.com. I really, really, really need you to let me know if you are coming. We can’t afford to have too few volunteers (a minimum of thirty per day are required). But we can’t really afford to have too many as we don’t want folks just standing around with nothing to do. So please, take just a moment before leaving this page to respond. If you can’t come, but would like to donate some food and refreshments or to help out in any other way, that would be great to know too.

We will need your energy, your back, your tools, and your heart to get the job done. We will feed every stomach that reports for duty. If you have any questions about the project, one of our deacons is on point, but for those of you outside the OGC community, feel free to contact me and I will be happy to try and answer them. By the way, a proper dedication of the playground will be scheduled once the project is completed and the fence around it erected. More on that in the future.

May I say this to close? As Nancy and I continue to walk through the grieving process this challenging year, we are so grateful to the masses of folks who have added to our comfort in so many ways. Our huge thanks in advance for everyone who will help make the playground a reality. We anticipate this aspect of our journey to contribute to our ongoing healing in the most significant of ways. SDG!

When Words Don’t Fail

words fail

I consider Nancy and me fortunate in more ways than one. In this season of loss, there is one notable mercy that stands out. Our comforters in grief, by and large, have excelled. None of Job’s tribe here. More than not in our pain we have heard “I don’t know what to say.” To which I typically reply, “That alone brings me comfort, because words truly fail in the travail of grief.” Others who have walked this path have often told me a different story. I hurt for them.

However, sometimes words don’t fail. Proverbs 25:11 moments do happen.   I experienced that this morning when I opened my Facebook page. I found an “apple of gold in settings of silver” on my wall. It comes from a dear brother whom I miss greatly. He too belongs to the unenviable fraternity of those who have buried a child – in his case, more than one. It was my privilege to minister to him and his bride in their multiple losses. Today he returned the favor way beyond anything I ever offered in the way of comfort to him. Here is what he wrote:

I’m reading a biography of Samuel Adams, and today I read of the passing of his first father-in-law, the Reverend Samuel Checkley, in December 1769, after 50 years of ministry. Checkley’s wife had recently died and 11 of his 12 children predeceased him. Some excerpts from his obituary made me think of you:

“He was uncommonly gifted in prayer. His voice was very pleasant, and his delivery without affectation, natural and graceful. His preaching also was serious, affecting, scriptural, plain and useful. His piety was deep and effectual, his religion hearty, and his devotion unaffected and fervent.” It noted that of Checkley’s twelve children, only one survived him, and said that those losses and the death of his wife “greatly affected his spirits, and impaired his constitution, tho’ he bore up under them all with very exemplary patience and christian resignation.”

His successor in the pulpit, Penuel Bowen, preached the following Sunday that Checkley “really esteemed religion the only support under the sorrows and afflictions of life, (a large share of which he had,) and used it himself in this view; so he was abundant in recommending it to others for the same valuable purpose: his discourses were almost all in good measure filled with savory matter for the consolation of mourners, and the encouragement of those who were afflicted and cast down.”

Don’t misunderstand. When Bowen used the word “religion,” he did not mean empty formalism. He couldn’t possibly have commended self-saturated moralism. Legalism will NOT carry you through the valley of the shadow. Striving to perform a list of do’s-and-don’ts before God will leave you sadly wanting.  Ministers of Bowen’s day used the word “religion” in the best sense of the term. He meant the gospel. Jesus is enough. More than enough. That’s true religion – hope set on the One who suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God (1 Pet. 3:18).

If you pray for me at all, and I know that many of you do (thank you!), please pray that I imitate more thoroughly the faith of Samuel Checkley, as I continue to emerge from the hard providence of death at my doorstep.

John, you make me want to be a better pastor. Thank you.

When Blooming Youth Is Snatched Away

blooming youth

Few hymns bring me more comfort or more pause in our unexpected loss of our 35 year old son than this classic by Anne Steele, published in The Christian Hymn Book for the Sanctuary and Home (Dayton, Ohio: Christian Publishing Association, 1875).

When blooming youth is snatched away
By death’s resistless hand,
Our hearts the mournful tribute pay
Which pity must demand.

While pity prompts the rising sigh,
O may this truth, impressed
With awful power–I too–must die–
Sing deep in every breast.

Let this vain world engage no more;
Behold the gaping tomb!
It bids us seize the present hour,
To-morrow death may come.

 The voice of this alarming scene,
May every heart obey;
Nor be the heavenly warming vain,
Which calls to watch and pray.

O let us fly, to Jesus fly,
Whose powerful arm can save;
Then shall our hopes ascend on high,
And triumph o’er the grave.

Great God, thy sovereign grace impart,
With cleansing, healing power;
This only can prepare the heart
For death’s surprising hour.