Monday, April 02, 2012

A Walk To The Veil

Very early this morning my phone rang and I didn't hear it. That's unusual. My phone is welded to me. And it was about 2 feet from my head when it sounded off at 2:24AM. Doesn't matter. After a typical Sunday my brain is mush until Tuesday and I didn't even roll over from the intrusion. It rang again at 2:55AM. God obviously knew that I was a few levels deeper in sleep than usual and he went to the trouble to wake Debbie up several minutes before this final ring. Now that is truly unusual. Debbie fades into a deep sleep less than 5 minutes from landing on her pillow and is comatose until sun-up. But she was awake when it rang this time. And she ... ahem ... "gently" woke me. I grabbed the phone a second to late. I had 2 voice mails and both were from the home of our dear friend and Towerviews nearly life-long deacon, Bob McMillian. Bob has been locked in a desperate battle with Leukemia since last November. The doctors originally believed that he would live 2 weeks past his diagnosis. Many prayers and a quietly determined spirit on Bob's part turned that into 5 months.

Still, last night was the night.

We arrived at the McMIllians minutes after 3AM. At precisely 4AM our beloved friend filled his lungs with the air of earth one last time. And he was gone. He left surrounded by family and a pastor and wife that loved him more than we can say. Tonight I could try to write eloquent words about my friends life. Really, he gave me a lot of material. It would not be a task to put the thoughts together in a way that would perhaps stir a heart and remind us all of the man he was. But tonight I don't feel like that is good enough. Actually, that is not at all what Bob would want me to do.

Debbie called me from the school where she works this afternoon. We talked for a moment and then she said something that I did not expect. It was something like, "I was there with you when Bob died. Really, I haven't seen death like that very often. You know, being there when a person takes their last breath. You have a lot more experience with it than I do. I'm wondering how to deal with it." That is a big statement coming from the lady who has walked through ministry opportunities with me for nearly 35 years. She has seen the wonderful, the wicked, and the weird. She's been with me enough to know that peoples lives take on twists and turns that you never know about until they choose to reveal it. And sometimes it leaves you nearly speechless. I know what I'm talking about here. Unfortunately. If I were to write a book about what I have seen, heard, and experienced in my years of pastoring I would get rich. I would also get sued. Truly, these secrets do go to the grave with us. That is the way it is suppose to be.

That conversation brought me back to a place in the back of my brain that I last visited when another close friend passed away recently. You can check out that story by clicking right here. After I clicked the "end" button following our phone conversation I closed my laptop and forced myself to do something that I would never do if I did not know how very important it is. I simply stared at the wall in front of me and mentally relived the predawn moments at the McMillian household. I made myself see Bob as he was propped up in his bed. I recalled how he breathed. What his breaths sounded like. And I watched again as those breaths became more gentle ... farther between ... until finally they ceased. I tasted the salt in the tears of those around me. I heard their sobs. I hated the fact that I wasn't crying because somewhere in the middle of adulthood I forgot how. I remembered the prayer that I prayed and the scripture I read. And then I asked myself the question that I so seldom ask myself.

"And how did that make you feel?"

I'm a "stuffer" and not a "spewer." And I've learned the hard way that when you stuff too much you eventually pay the price. You fall apart. You run into an unmovable brick wall. Your own body turns on you and it's too late to deal with the individual crises situations. And you aren't big enough to deal with them as one giant whole. And it nearly kills you. Really. It does. So after something like this happens I now dig deep until I find the pain. I poke at it like you might use a knife to dig out a bullet. I cut it open with an emotional scalpel and try to suck the poison out so it doesn't ruin my soul. Stuffers of the world, listen to me. Learn to do this. It will save you great heartache someday. It is not a fun way to spend an hour or so but it's one way to stay emotionally alive.

But that's not what I really want to tell you about. After I go through that process I sit and think about the fantastic. Somethings are nearly too good to be true. And if anything on this planet still takes my breath away it is this. I sit and marvel over the fact that the man I just said goodbye to ... the one whose hand I last shook 48 hours early ... the eyes that looked into mine so very recently ... they have now encountered the real historical Jesus. Not the comic book Jesus. Not the one that I sometimes find myself settling for when I'm reading about Him or the one I try to explain in children's sermons.


And you know what I feel when I spend time dwelling on that nearly ungraspable thought? I feel ... fear. I finally know what it means to "fear God." It means having the light finally come on and understanding that He really is alive. That He really knows about me. And someday I am going to meet Him face to Face. And as much as I know He loves me ... that nearly scares me to death. I simply cannot comprehend what that moment will really be like.

Several weeks ago when it became clear that Bob's time in this world was drawing short we sat together and we wrote his funeral service. And when we were done I told him that he would not face this alone. I promised him that I would walk with him all of the way to that veil that separates earth from heaven. I told him that I would hold his hand on this side until Jesus took his hand on the other side and ushered Him through the curtain we cannot see beyond. As I stood at his bedside this morning, as I held his hand, I silently thanked God for waking Debbie up for that phone call. I was doing the best that I could do on this side of the veil. And I asked God not to drop His end. I asked Him to come and meet us at the veil and take his "Mr. Bob" home.

And he stopped breathing.

And he was gone.

And I had completed my task.

And I am totally intimidated by God's presence in that most Holy Moment when He takes His child Home.

And there are no more words.