Thanks to the wonder that is Facebook, the news quickly made its way around the globe. Tributes poured in all day, vainly attempting to express the inexpressible - the pain and sorrow and fear and anger and questions that death always brings, co-mingled with gratitude for this life well-lived and joy at the thought of his new, permanent residence.
You know all those syrup-y, overblown accolades that generally appear in obituaries, whether the person to whom they pertain deserves them or not? Well, it would be difficult to exaggerate in this case. This particular man really was one of the most joyful people I've ever known. He was completely head-over-heels for his wife of many years - in fact, he was often teased for celebrating their "week-a-versaries" online. He was a devoted servant of Jesus, having spent over twenty years as a missionary to the children, youth and youth workers of Italy. He had a wonderful voice and played piano beautifully. But he was probably best known for his contagious laugh and completely goofy sense of humour. In typical Baptist style, he loved good food and good fellowship. He was just a really great guy - beloved by all who knew him. For real.
And that's just the general stuff. As for my own story: I've known him since I was very small - we attended the same church and the same Bible camp. He would have been just starting to assume leadership roles as I began elementary school, I think. Our paths crossed many, many times as I was growing up, particularly in all things musical. Even then, what stands out most in my mind is his constant encouragement. He was a born cheerleader.
That's what I will miss most now. Thanks to social media, we reconnected after many years of living in different countries. And this man, on top of his full, full plate of family and friends and ministry and other responsibilities, has been one of my most vocal, constant, dependable sources of feedback and encouragement. As I read the many tributes on his FB page yesterday, I noticed that the man had close to 2000 "friends" listed on his profile. Yet he took the time to read my little blog and follow our ministry and make comments and jokes on my posts... It has been an honour and a privilege to occupy even a teeny space in his life.
I'll miss him. Certainly, his absence will not affect me to the extent that it will affect his dear wife, his sisters, his mother and other family members and close friends. His sudden exit from this sphere will rock their worlds, and rightly so. My heart aches for them. But his departure leaves a little, painful gap in my own world, as well.
As I've written this, I've been writing in the past tense, as is proper when writing of the deceased. But it just feels wrong. And I'm thinking that it's because he's not past, he's incredibly present! Maybe more so than he has ever been - present in the presence of God. Maybe it's okay, then, to speak of him as if he still lives because he does! In a more real and alive way then ever before, in fact!
I am so grateful for the hope of Heaven. The older I get, the more friendly and welcome the notion becomes. I even get Homesick sometimes. It will be so good to go Home. But I used to be afraid. Not of Heaven itself, but of the inherent unfamiliarity. However good Heaven might be, it remains unknown to us in the here and now.
One of the most beautiful and helpful passages about Heaven in literature can be found in the pages of Anne of the Island by LM Montgomery. Anne is comforting Ruby, who has just acknowledged her swiftly-approaching death and accompanying terror of what was to come:
I think, perhaps, we have very mistaken ideas about Heaven, what it is and what it holds for us. I don't think it can be so very different from life here as most people seem to think. I believe we'll just go on living, a good deal as we live here - and be ourselves just the same - only it will be easier to be good and to follow the highest. All the hindrances and perplexities will be taken away, and we shall see clearly.
We will grieve and mourn, cry and question, wonder and wait.
But we will not lose hope.
~We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.~