Please welcome guest blogger Rev. Dr. Jim McCoy of First Baptist Church of Weaverville. In this month's letter to the congregation, Dr. McCoy reflects on recent events, both national and local. I was challenged by his words and asked if I could share them with you here. Be blessed.
Dear Loved Ones,
Two high profile funeral services were held this past weekend. On Sunday, a congregation gathered at Our Lady of the Holy Rosary in Rochester,New Hampshire for the funeral service of James Foley, the photojournalist who was murdered by radical extremists from a group called ISIS. On Monday at the Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church in St. Louis, another congregation gathered for the funeral of Michael Brown, the teenager shot and killed by a police officer under disturbing circumstances that are still under investigation.
Given the fury of the events themselves plus the bright glare of a 24 / 7 media, the funeral services provided not only some much-needed context but also profound insights into what these agonizing events mean. The Bishop who preached at James Foley’s funeral reminded his parents of the blessings they received at their eldest son’s baptism, and how the priest at that time had prayed that they would “see hope of eternal life shine on this child.” Then the Bishop told Diane and John Foley, “Rarely do we recall those words, but I bring them to mind for you, as they are more poignant and prophetic.” Imagine that – the remembered vows and promises of baptism provide the mooring when, years later, the floods of chaos threaten to overwhelm.
A cousin of Michael Brown said that Michael had told the family that one day the world would know his name. “He did not know he was offering up a divine prophecy,” the cousin stated. “He did not know how his name would be remembered. But we are here today remembering the name of Michael Brown.”
The funerals of these two men also offered direction and challenge on how to move forward. Foley’s photojournalism calls us “to see the world through a different lens” and to “hear the cries [of those suffering in war-torn regions] that are a world away.” Michael Brown’s death in the week before he was to begin college brings to a head a host of long-simmering realities of racial inequities. “We will not accept 3/5 justice,” the family attorney said. “We will demand equal justice.”
There was another momentous event this weekend, one that for me was even more intensely personal. I sat by the bedside of Geneva Cheek and sang hymns shortly before she departed this earthly life. The death of this dear sister in Christ, the blessing of her presence in this church family, and the unshakeable hope that all our lives are woven into the larger story of the Gospel, are a part of the brightest light of all that shines in the darkness. As we prepare for her funeral, Tom Long’s unforgettable words come to mind: A saint has died, and is traveling to God, continuing the baptismal journey toward the hope of the resurrection of the body and God’s promise to make all things new. We have been given the blessed burden of carrying a child of God to the waiting arms of God, singing as we go.
Thanks be to God!
He was supposed to live forever. I felt sure he’d live to be 15 at least. That meant I’d have him another four years minimum. And heck, Butch—the oldest beagle on record—was 27 when he died, so I figured if Butch could do it, so could my Charlie.
Charlie and I found each other one September afternoon in 2003. I’d been looking for a dog since my youngest child, Margaret, went to kindergarten a month earlier (the house had become way too still). I prayed about it all the time, asking God to guide me to the right dog for our family. I had in mind an adult female mixed-breed rescue; but despite visiting several shelters, I had not found one with whom I felt even a slight connection.
It was my husband who suggested a beagle puppy. I checked the classifieds and of all the beagle listings, one ad stood out to me.“Three month old, tri-color beagle puppy. Male. Full blooded. Parents on site. $100.”
(The ad might as well have said, “The exact opposite of what you think you want.”)
The children (5, 7, and 9 at the time) buckled up, and we followed the back road directions I received when I called the number listed. We rounded the last bend and the address came into view. As we drew closer, I saw a woman out in the yard with a blur of black and tan at her feet. I pulled up and shifted into park. The blur settled into a brown-faced, floppy-eared, saddleback beagle, his white-tipped tail waving to me. Instantly, I knew. I knew because I felt deep in my spirit that all-to-rare feeling of being perfectly in sync with God’s will. I’m not exaggerating when I say it was truly one of the high holy moments of my life.
I bent down and held out my arms. He came to me. And in less than 20 minutes, we were on our way back home with the beagle I’d already named Charlie. At puppy school a week or so later, the trainer remarked, “Wow. Charlie is definitely bonded to you. It’s unusual for such a connection to exist so soon.” Unusual? Shoot; it was downright supernatural.
Fast-forward 11 years to June 7, 2014. My oldest daughter would be 20 in a month; she was living and working in DC for the summer. My son was about to graduate high school and Margaret, 16, was finishing her sophomore year.
She was the one who called to me, “Mom! You need to come here! Something’s wrong with Charlie!” I went upstairs immediately to the kitchen where I found Charlie standing, awkward and immobile. He seemed stunned, confused, afraid. I scooped him up and Margaret and I took him to the closest vet. Still, it absolutely did not occur to me that my sweet baby could be dying. That was unthinkable.
By the time we got out of the car ten minutes later, Charlie had begun losing hair by the fistful. He could still walk, but he trembled all over, his tail sagging and his steps unsure. In the exam room, we held him close, telling him what a good boy he was, so handsome, so brave. When the vet came in, I lay Charlie on the table, continuing to stroke him while I told the doctor what had been happening. After the briefest of exams, the vet told me it didn’t look good. He could barely get a blood pressure and Charlie’s heartbeat was weak.
My husband, my son, and his girlfriend arrived and crowded into the exam room with me, Margaret, the vet, and the vet tech. My beloved beagle lay in the midst of us, fading away. “There’s nothing more we can do for him,” the vet said, “As best we can tell, he’s had a stroke. The humane thing would be to let him go.”
I think I screamed.
Seconds later, his heart stopped beating and he was gone. It hadn’t been forever. Not even close.
When he was alive, Charlie did not actually follow my blog (Google Translate™ doesn’t do Beagle), so I’m pretty certain he’s not reading this now. But if he were, if I could tell him just one thing, it would be this:
(To read more of Charlie's story, click here, or paste http://aileengoeson.com/?page_id=1597 in your browser.)
Paxten loved them both. He loved scary-looking figurines with spiky skin and buggy eyes. He loved Spiderman and his wall-climbing, crime-fighting expertise. And he loved firefighters too. (Especially the one he called "Daddy.") Yep, Paxten was 100% 3 year old boy--right up to the day he died five years ago from a monster named cancer that all the superhero doctors combined just could not defeat.
He would have been a third grader this year. I sure do miss that little guy.
Originally posted July 19, 2010
You can’t miss it. If you travel that road, you will see it. Looming over the highway for all motorists to see: a billboard-sized picture of a mangled motorcycle with the ominous declaration “Death is forever.” Every time I pass it, I get the message; I never intend to read it, it is just that prominent, that unavoidable. That . . . gripping.
And every time I see that sign three faces rush to my mind: faces that are forever never-changing. Paxten, always 3 years and 7 months old—even after his younger sister turns four and then five. Matthew, staying 12 while his twin rushes into high school. Caleb, forever 11: his younger brothers eventually matriculating to grades he never got to start. And I just wonder: How can you face forever when your boy is gone?
How can you imagine a future without your child, your parents, your beloved? I gotta tell you, I wouldn’t want to face tomorrow without my beagle, much less my people, and I’m not kidding, not even a little bit. Death is forever. And it hurts. It hurts on the big days (the ones you know will be hard): the anniversaries, the birthdays, the holidays. But it hurts on the little days too: when the family gathers and one is forever absent, when you go to the restaurant that will forever be her restaurant or his, when you go to the ball field, the bookstore, the band concert. Everywhere. Always. Forever.
I hurt so much for loved ones who are bereaved; my heart screams about fairness and longing. Yet if I hurt for them this much what must it be like for the childless mother, the lonely widow, the grieving child. I can’t bear even the thought of it. And that’s because, well, it can’t be borne—not by human hearts anyway.
At that thought, my soul stretches out, finding hope within reach. Because for me, on account of my faith, while I know death is forever, I also know life is eternal. I can rest in that assurance. So, I slip my hand into the nail-scarred hand and fall deep into Christ’s embrace. There, I feel the tears of Jesus mixing with my own. There I am reminded that even when I walk through valleys that are permanently shadowed by death, I do not walk alone. And somehow, because Jesus lives, I really can face tomorrow. Forever.
“One quick question,” I said to my pastor. He was heading back to his lunch table with a full cup of coffee; I’d finished my lunch and wanted a word with him before I had to leave.
“Oh hi, Aileen,” he said, more gracious than most would have been, having been caught between coffee and dessert. “What’s up?”
“A lot. For one thing I just lied to my pastor." I realized in that moment what he no doubt already had guessed. “My question is neither quick nor singular.” Guy Sayles smiled, relaxed and unhurried. I forged ahead.
“My friend’s son—he’s 10—has inoperable brain cancer. He got bad news yesterday, really bad news. His mother and I were talking last night, and she asked me some tough questions. I’m only in the second semester of seminary here. I have no idea what to say.”
"I’m not sure theological degrees give you the words to say under those circumstances," Guy said, speaking the frustrating truth of pastoral care.
“My friend's question was this: ‘If God is omnipotent as we believe God is, then why hasn't my son been healed?’ Good question right? So, ya know, why?”
Setting his coffee on the counter, Guy shook his head. “Well the first thing I would ask myself is, 'Is this really an appropriate time for a theological discussion?' It probably isn't. If not, I would say, ‘I don’t know. I’m so sorry. I love you.’”
I found this to be brilliant instruction. How many times do we spout off theological treatises when it just isn't the time? The person really needs to hear, “What you are going through is awful and I’m sorry that you are going through it because you matter to me.” And we start quoting scripture, telling them about God’s will or the nature of creation. Sometimes, we need to say less in order to say more.
Guy continued. “If it is a good time for a theological discussion, then I might say, ‘Well, God doesn't always get God's way.’”
He must have noticed my hesitation because he elaborated. “When people disagree with me on this, I ask them, ‘Does God always get God's way with you?’ Of course not. If it is true with one person, it must be true with others. And if God doesn't always get God's way with people, then God doesn’t always get God's way in the world. After all, if God did, then why would Jesus have commanded us to pray for God’s will to be done? It would just be done whether we prayed or not.” (Intriguing, huh?)
“But,” Guy said, “If God is omnipotent, and we are Christians, then we believe
Christianity is confusingly full of contradictions. The equations just aren't as simple as we would like them to be.”
I knew he was right. But what could I tell my friend that could comfort her, if only momentarily?
“There is one simple formula, though,” Guy went on. “God loves us. God just loves us. God always, completely, beyond-our-imagination loves us.”
“So, when our hearts are breaking. . .”