Friday, June 20, 2014

A Matter of Death and Life

This represents thoughts and highlights from the book Death by Living, by N.D. Wilson, personalized, and alongside meditation in Psalm 90. I am greatly indebted to Wilson for his words, and to my Lord always for His word. I pray that it would be encouragement to and motivation for you. This is part 1 of 3.

--- "Cause of death? Life. May it be the truth." --- 

Spring, and specifically the month of March, has been very significant for me in my adult years. In a positive sense, it is the month of my wedding to Katie, and it will forever be remembered and celebrated for that. I will never forget the early blooming of Spring and 70 degree weather in 2012 for our wedding day, and the late snowstorm a year later in 2013 on the same day of the year. March is mysterious, but in this sense wonderful. It includes the best day of my life so far! It also includes our honeymoon to Antigua, and this year our 2nd anniversary trip to London and Paris!

In a negative sense, or perhaps I should say, in a humbling sense, it is also a season in which I have been to a lot of funerals, and experienced a lot of death. In most cases, unexpected or early death. Not a coincidence, I don’t think, that it is March or April where we remember and celebrate the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, through faith in whom we can experience death to sin and receive new resurrected life as well. The Apostle Paul says, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” Amazing. Ultimate life to our dead mortal bodies someday, and spiritual new life to our existing living physical bodies right now. If…the Spirit of God dwells in us.

Does this Spirit dwell in you? Are you sure?

Elsewhere, Jesus Himself says, "I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?"

The words of Jesus here are penetrating: do you believe this?! Do you? 

On March 12, 1999, a high school classmate and friend, John Stewart, collapsed and died during a Regional final high school basketball game. He was 18 (so was I). I found out in the parking lot after the game. We thought he had just fainted.

On March 2, 2001, my Grandpa Elliott passed away after a difficult stretch with dementia. I was in college, and remember sitting in the 2nd floor room of my fraternity house looking out the window as I talked with my dad various times towards the end. But I don’t remember too much about the circumstances specifically around the exact time of his death. I remember making the decision not to come home from school during his biggest struggles, which though difficult, at the time I think was the right one. I remember many things from childhood about him. I remember standing in line with my brothers and cousins waiting for my share of the regular “giveaway”. My grandpa collected and traded many things in the antique variety. I am blessed (or I’ll let my wife choose the word) with his sense of nostalgia. And, of course, I certainly will always remember the legacy of the man who was my grandpa. My livelihood and my family will be forever indebted to him for the company he founded and the example he left. I love hearing stories about him in his prime, of which there are many, especially around Foamcraft.

On March 26, 2005, a fraternity brother and brother in Christ, Brett Hershey, was killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan. He was 23 (I was 24). I was alone in my parents’ house when a family friend called for my dad and told me the news.

On March 27, 2008, the father of a girl I was dating at the time lost a long and courageous battle with lung cancer. They lived in St. Louis and she called me as I was driving to work.

On March 13, 2014 – this year - a longtime co-worker at Foamcraft, Inc., Gene DeRose, passed away unexpectedly in his sleep. My dad told me through tears, while he was on the phone with my brother, as we were walking through our plant in Elkhart, Indiana. We drove home that afternoon to be with the corporate staff at Indianapolis.

Gene was a quiet, friendly man. He did his job well, kept mostly to himself, but was amazingly pleasant to be around. His laugh was contagious and it included a shoulder jiggle. I wish I had it on video to remember. He was extremely well-traveled. Born in Sri Lanka, where he still has family, he came to the U.S. more than 30 years ago and attended Indiana University, my alma mater. He has a brother who lives in Australia, and their whole family made trips there, and elsewhere, often. I wish I had inquired more about his trips, and in general spent more time with him. He was only two offices down the hall from mine, and I passed it multiple times per day. We always could chat about Indiana basketball, in many cases in the last several years, about what was going to happen with it, but also about some good times. Recently I remember him telling me about his white-water rafting adventure in New Zealand, where he was extremely reluctant to go and amazed that he survived. I asked whether he was glad he did it, because now he had that experience and conquered the fear, and he said, “No!”, and preceded to laugh and jiggle, and I then did the same (minus the jiggle). I still can’t believe he’s gone. It was after Gene's death that I finally decided to pick-up and read Death by Living, which had been on my radar since the previous September. Though I never had a spiritual conversation with Gene, regrettably, his approach to life resonated a lot with the content of this book, and will always be an encouragement to me.

These dates do not include other times in April and May, which I now still consider “Resurrection Season”. Of course, it should not only be a season, but these experiences remind me of the miracle especially in Spring, where by the grace of God we see the very same reality in the grass and flowers and trees.

At the end of May 2005, the younger brother of my fraternity brother, friend, brother in Christ, and roommate at the time, was killed in an alcohol-related car accident. He was a passenger. It was the day of the Indianapolis 500, and I got the call as I was dozing off after a long day at the track. I spent the remainder of the evening into the morning with the family, present without the foggiest idea what to say.

On April 12, 2008, my Grandma Elliott passed away with my dad by her side. He was driving home from dinner with his sister and providentially decided to stop by the hospital to see her. I was in the car with my mom and aunt and uncle, in Florida celebrating my Grandpa Gibson’s birthday, when my mom got the call. I’ll never forget calling both my brothers that night to give them the news.

Reflecting on these experiences, especially the most recent (Gene), I am humbled by God’s grace to me. These experiences were not the same as others I know are in front of me. That is to say, my relation to these dear people was not closer than the immediate family and closest friends. My grieving was significant, yes. But someday I know my relation to the deceased will be closer yet. Still, God has showed me HHHHis grace profoundly in my young, naïve, and at first unbiblical attempts to find meaning, comfort, and hope in these times. The clearest way He has done this is by leading me directly to specific passages in Scripture. After Brett Hershey died it was Philippians 1:18-26. That one was immediate. It is for your sake that I remain!

Since Gene died, over these several weeks, it has been Psalm 90. I wanted to share it in its entirety, because it is more valuable than anything I could say:

Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

You return man to dust and say, “Return, O children of man!” For a thousand years in your sight are but yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night.

You sweep them away as with a flood; they are like a dream, like grass that is renewed in the morning: in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades away and withers.

For we are brought to an end by your anger; by your wrath we are dismayed. You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence.

For all our days pass away under your wrath; we bring our years to an end like a sigh. The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away.

Who considers the power of your anger, and your wrath according to the fear of you?

So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.

Return, O Lord! How long? Have pity on your servants! Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, and for as many years as we have seen evil.

Let your work be shown to your servants, and your glorious power to their children. Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!

What is incredible to me is not only the truth, comfort, and hope in these types of passages, but also the connection to the reality of resurrection, more clearly seen because of the time of year, and the circumstances surrounding when I have focused on them, namely death. Everything connects to the resurrection. The resurrection changes everything. The resurrection is the only source of comfort and hope that we can have. It is the source of life we have now. If Jesus Christ did not rise from the dead, we (those who believe He did) are most to be pitied, and, we will not ourselves rise. If the bones of the man Jesus Christ returned to dust, what of our bodies after death? The resurrection is everything. Did you know that? Do you believe that? Jesus says that He is the resurrection and the life, and that whoever believes in Him even though he dies will live. What does that mean? How can that be?

To be continued....

--- "It is our living that takes us to the end." --- 

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