Monday Mourning Musings

No, the title is not a typo. It’s just what I’m doing today as I still am reeling over the loss of Dave.

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Our modern tendency regarding death is to do what we might call “grieve and run.” We rush to the visitation and/or funeral, then rush right back into our normal activities. When Jacob died, even the Egyptians wept for him for seventy days (Gen. 50:3).  If the deaths of family and close friends have taught me anything in recent years, we need to make time for grieving and not expect it to end for a great while. Some quiet periods of reflection are going into my schedule.

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A week ago Saturday, I received the news that Dave was in ICU and not doing well. Miriam and I wrestled and prayed over whether I should jump in the car and drive out to Chicago to be there. Yet we concluded that his family and pastors were there, and it would be best to remain here and pray. After a quiet morning, I grew restless. Miriam encouraged me to go out and work on a tree that my son-in-law and I had felled over the holidays.

In the winter cold, cutting the log into sections, splitting them into fireplace-size pieces, and struggling to push the wheelbarrows of wood up the hill through the slippery snow-covered leaves of the forest floor exhausted me. Nervous tension, questions and accompanying prayers, and sweat and tears of frustration poured out of me as the wood pile slowly grew.

In the midst of this time, an R.C. Sproul sermon I had heard years ago, on God’s call of Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, came to mind suddenly. In a portion of his message, Sproul took time developing this part of the story: “So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him and Isaac his son; and he split wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him” (Gen. 22:3). Sproul vividly pictured Abraham in his early morning wood-splitting working out his faith by raising the ax, swinging it down strongly, and asking hard questions of God as he did. In those moments in the woods, generations of time shrunk as I shared an experience similar to the father of our faith.

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In the eulogies that were given at Dave’s funeral, there were many special moments. Chief among them was when his daughter Katie recounted the years of her severe back pain, and the way her parents stayed close to her and wept with her through those long, dark, seemingly hopeless days. She testified how in one of her blackest hours of agony and despair, in her room one night the Lord’s presence flooded her soul in glory and sovereign assurance. Katie then explained how her sufferings prepared Dave and the family for his own, and the momentary experience she had that night was now her father’s permanent one. What powerful hope she offered in the midst of the sorrow.

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Thankfully, the Lord provides fond memories and laughter as well in the midst of the sorrow. When Dave’s other daughter, Christy, was giving her eulogy, she mentioned how her dad would tease her about her love for shoes. She then admitted she had bought a new pair for the funeral, and know he would have said something today.

Little did she know at that moment my shoe story. Traveling to the funeral, we were halfway across Ohio when we realized that in packing up our daughter’s things to stay with others, I had sent Miriam and my shoes for the funeral with her. So we stopped and also bought new black shoes for the funeral.

However, right before the funeral I was with the family in the sanctuary by Dave’s open coffin. As I was tearing up watching his son Daniel talk to his little son about his grandfather, I bowed my head and a tear fell. It landed on my old, brown shoes! I had put them on early in the morning but forgot to change into my new ones. A mad dash to the hotel to retrieve them got me back right as the pastors were supposed to walk into the service.

Of course, afterwards others teased me about it, and as they did it brought another memory of Dave to mind. I have a funny way I tie my shoes. Miriam says I learned my “convoluted shoe-tying technique from Mr. Rogers.”  Years ago, Dave noticed this one time, perhaps with Miriam’s prompting, when I was leaving his house. So he would rib me about it all the time. If we were visiting his house or rooming together at Synod, and I was about to put on my shoes, he would say, “Wait a minute! Wait a minute, York! I have to watch this.” He would even call Jenny or any others around and say, “Watch York tie his shoes.” He would then always shake his head and remark “Incredible!” as I did.

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How do you watch your pastor and dear friend die on a Saturday night, weep with and minister to his family encircled around his hospital bed, make a long drive home, get virtually no sleep, then preach in a broken power and comfort to your mourning congregation the next morning? It can only be by the Spirit of God. Listen to Jared Olivetti’s sermon To Die in Faith.

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Borrowing the words of the Apostle Paul, I have had countless tutors in Christ, but I only have one who became my father in Christ Jesus through the gospel (I Cor. 4:15). My grief is profound because I lost my spiritual father. Yet how I thank the Lord that the promises He gave Abraham, and foreshadowed on Mt. Moriah with Isaac that day long ago, I have experienced.

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