Another one went home today.
My cousin Andrew, a son, a brother, a husband, a father, a grandson, a nephew, a friend, a co-worker…
I returned the missed call on my phone, my mother answered, then choked out the words “He’s gone”.
It was the call we’d been hoping and praying against, she spoke briefly through tears – I listened in a stunned, deaf kind of silence – I’m not sure what was said. The call was brief and then, in what felt like almost an obscene way, the day went on.
I wanted to declare to everyone I spoke to, “another one of the amazing ones has gone home today.” I grappled with the idea that somewhere almost a world away, his family, his wife and children, his father and step mother, his sister and her family are grieving. His friends have posted words of sympathy on facebook – I’m sure that some of their grief is, for me, lost in translation. I’m certain that the English translation does not do complete justice to their Spanish words – but what I can see is heartfelt.
He was loved – he will be missed.
We’ve lost another one. A man who was for many, a shining example of what it is to be Christ-like. A man who suffered, a man who showed us an amazing example of forgiveness, grace and patience.
To me, he was a cousin who I met probably less than ten times in my 39 years, but whose life I witnessed in photo albums at my grandparents home. I was fascinated by these far away relatives, learning a new language, leaving home, leaving family for the love of God and desire to spread his word. People who believed that leaving is loving as Max Lucado put it in No Wonder They Call Him Saviour,
The Bible is bound together with good-bye trails and stained with farewell tears.
In fact, it seems that good-bye is a word all too prevalent in the Christian’s vocabulary. Missionaries know it well. Those who send them know it too. The doctor who leaves the city to work in the jungle hospital has said it. So has the Bible translator who lives far from home. Those who feed the hungry, those who reach the lost, those who help the poor all know the word good-bye.
I watched them all through these albums, my aunt, my uncle, the three cousins. The family who left Australia shortly after I was born, left Australia for Colombia, South America. I saw their school room, I saw their pets, the games they played, the days they had dress-ups. I saw their friends, their fellow missionaries, the converts, the baptisms, the lives they touched. I saw the lives they lived and the impact they had on those around them. I heard them in the letters that Grandma would read aloud to us, slowly and deliberately, haltingly stumbling over the names of places and people. It annoyed me at the time – but maybe she was trying to live it with them, like I was through the photo albums.
If there was ever a family who taught me what it is like to live a life of sacrifice, it was these people. At 12 years of age I watched as my mother, her siblings and my grandparents mourned the loss of this aunt. As the cousin-sister who spent so much time with us mourned the loss of her mother.
I’ve watched many, many years later as the family mourned the loss of the youngest of the three cousins – the beautiful young mum of three. The uncle mourned the loss of a second wife and now today, another loss, the son.
My heart is straining to understand the loss that my uncle and my cousin-sister feel with this fresh new grief. It seems to me to be massively unfair. It seems to me that some people should be exempt from it, and if that was the case then I know who should be at the top of the list. It seems to me that surely this stuff should be shared around a bit more equally, but who among us is prepared to put our hand up and suggest that maybe we should be next? We look at these occurrences and start to ask some questions and I guess that this is a good time to head back to Max’s words.
Question: What kind of God would put people through such agony?
What kind of God would give you families and then ask you to leave them?
What kind of God would give you friends and then ask you to say good-bye?
Answer: A God who knows that the deepest love is built not on passion and romance but on a common mission and sacrifice.
A God who knows that we are only pilgrims and that eternity is so close that any “good-bye” is in reality a “see you tomorrow“.
A God who did it himself.
“Woman, behold your son”
I reflect on today and I am once again reminded that those who serve God are not shielded from pain, they are not shielded from suffering, they are not shielded from heartache or sorrow…
Instead they are held, they are kept, they are sustained, they are loved and they are comforted through it all.
And they are also promised this glory that I believe is unattainable in any other way.
They are promised a reunion, and with each fresh grief, that eternal home becomes increasingly more dear to each one of us. I imagine that today was a pretty exciting day up there. If tears were possible in heaven then Grandma would be shedding her “tears of joy mingled with tears of sorrow”.
For now though, dear cousin-sister, when you eventually read this, know this to be true; we mourn with you, we weep with you, we long to take this fresh, new sorrow from you.
Our words are poor, but our hearts are with you.
Title: inspired by Weeping Pilgrim by Natalie Merchant