We buried my father-in-law Harold this week. It was not expected and certainly not wanted. As he lay in the hospital on a ventilator we prayed that God would heal him. As Paul did for Epaphroditus, I begged the Lord for the life of my father-in-law, “my fellow worker and soldier...Indeed, he was near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow.” But it was not to be. After several weeks of his condition going up and down and all around, the decision was made to let him go. Until the very last minute, we hoped for a miracle but shortly after removing the ventilator, he quietly passed on to his eternal reward. And so we are left with “sorrow on sorrow” because of the massive sense of loss we all feel.
Of course, over the course of the days between his passing and his burial, there were many stories, memories and laughter shared as we remembered how he lived. What we teased him the most about was that he was slow. Not mentally or spiritually, quite the contrary, but physically. He never walked or drove anywhere fast. In fact, we used to giggle thinking about him being pulled over on the interstate for going too slow. He never said a quick word or made a hasty decision. His life was a path of faithful, steady plodding. He was always the same no matter where he was or what was happening.
However, there was one way in which he was quick. He was quick to hear, especially God’s Word. He loved God’s Word. And he was quick to do God’s Word. Of all the people I have ever known, Harold was one of them that you could describe as best representing Jesus in the flesh.
When I met and married their son, I know that I was not their choice for a wife for their eldest, yet I always felt accepted and I know that it was their fasting and prayers that were responsible for me coming to know the Lord. Already, I owed them a debt of gratitude. How can one repay so great a gift?
A few years ago, he told me the story of his workplace.. A co-worker, antagonistic to the gospel of Christ, made it his life’s mission to rattle my father-in-law. Try as he may, he had no success. So one day, he picked up a large wrench and threw it across the room, hitting my father-in-law’s ankle, breaking it. My father-in-law limped outside and leaned against the building in excruciating pain and asked the Lord to heal his ankle as a testimony to this man. God touched him right then and there and Harold walked back into the building, picked up the wrench and carried it over and handed it to the man without a word. The next day, the big bully of a man announced to the rest of the crew that if anyone ever did or said anything negative to Harold, they would have to deal with him. This opened a door for my father-in-law to befriend the man and minister to him.
Another story he told me was also about healing. He had been aggravated by an injury for several years. He asked the Lord to heal him but the answer was slow in coming. Never doubting that God would touch him, he sat down one day after struggling with the pain and asked the Lord, “how long will I need to wait for you to touch me?” The Lord touched him at that very moment and he was healed. I can still see the smile on his face as he bragged on God's power to heal and deliver.
So, even though he was sedated in the hospital, I prayed that he was aware enough to call on God for healing so that he could return to us. But as time went on and his condition was like a roller coaster, improving, then tanking, then improving, then tanking, I wondered if it wasn’t evidence of a battle going on in his heart between returning to us in a weakened physical body or letting go of his 80 year old body and going home to be with Jesus. As he laid there between two worlds, I wonder if he felt the cries of his loved ones calling him back and the tug of heaven pulling him forward. I wonder if he asked the Lord, “how long must I wait for you to take me?” It may be that he was just too weak to hold on, but I would rather believe that he was strong enough to put his earthly treasures- his wife, his family, and his ministry to others, in the hands of God, knowing that “the time of his departure had come” and that he had “fought the good fight, he had finished the course, kept the faith” and that it was time to receive the crown of righteousness reserved for him in heaven. So he just let go. I plan to ask him some day.
I could write volumes about how he touched so many lives with his kind, quiet, gentle, and humble demeanor but there is no doubt that Harold was a powerful individual and he lived life loud. Not only was he slow to anger, and quick to hear, he was slow to speak. That is what I loved about him most. He didn’t say much, but when he did say something it was nothing less than prayer-soaked wisdom and it was powerful. Christ was his life. Everyone knew it. No one doubted it. When you talked with him, you knew that he genuinely loved God and cared about you. Yet, he would risk losing a relationship for the sake of the truth because eternity was always on his mind.
A few years ago I was in a situation that was way bigger than I could handle. As I prayed asking the Lord who I should go to for help, Harold immediately came to my mind. He spent hours and hours on the phone with me, comforting me, encouraging me, crying with me, reassuring and supporting me in every hard decision. I never touched my father-in-law other than shaking his hand but oh, how he touched my heart. As he laid in the hospital I tried to make the case with God about how much we still needed him here. We need his wisdom. We need his joy. We need his concern and care and we need to see him laugh out loud and slap his knees in delight just one more time. Most of all, we need his prayers. But then God reminded me that all the prayers that Harold had prayed for us through the years were eternal requests that God would honor long after his earthly life was over. What a legacy he left us!
So as I stood there in the cold, damp, graveyard, I could only picture him now, in heaven, dancing on streets of gold, rejoicing, worshipping. Every question has been answered and he is complete in body, soul, and spirit. I could only smile as I laid my hand on his casket and said one last time, Thank you Harold. I love you. I will miss you terribly but I will see you again! Our loss is heaven’s gain, and oh how precious your death was to our Lord. You are home with Him at last!
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as indeed the rest of mankind do, who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose from the dead, so also God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep through Jesus. For we say this to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who remain, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore, comfort one another with these words.