As we unloaded the car and packed our arms full with pool toys, towels, bags, sunscreen, and snacks and walked up toward the gate we noticed you. You were sitting alone in the hot tub with no one else on the property. Our kids ran past you and my husband offered our normal apology for our rowdy bunch and I overheard him as he told you he was sorry for interrupting your peace and quiet. I walked over to set down our things, but out of the corner of my eye I watched closely for your response to see if I could tell if you thought we were going to be a bother…which would help me gauge just how close of a watch I need to keep on my kids as they played and help me estimate just how many more apologies I should offer when (not if!) they get a little nutty.
I paused as I was opening up the sunscreen when I saw you smile and even heard you say that kids like that could never be an interruption to you…which was my first indicator that you were someone special. You see, most people your age don’t think that kids are a blessing anymore…and most older men I know don’t smile much anymore either. But I still wasn’t convinced you meant it, so I came over to say hello and see if I could crack some honesty out of you…
Instead of giving me the normal canned polite greeting, you asked about my little family and you asked in such a way that made me feel you truly cared. So I opened up a bit more than I normally do with people I’ve just met and told you that yes, my little “handful” is crazy at times but I love them dearly. I also shared that I’ve started homeschooling them this past year…which has proven to be far more challenging than I’d anticipated. You told me your wife used to be a reading specialist for young elementary kids and that she was brilliant with helping children learn to read. I mentioned that your wife is someone I’d love to speak with sometime and that I could really use the help from someone like her…
And then you told me what happened…you told me that you’d just had your year anniversary of her death and that you think of her and miss her every single day. I saw the tears start to flow and I took note of the fact that you weren’t at all embarrassed by them. You wiped them away and kept going…without reservation and without an ounce of pride in thinking you had to hold it together.
You didn’t know me at all but you boldly and emphatically shared with me your love for her, her love for you, and both of your love for Jesus. You told me of her passion to honor Him with every day of her life. You told me how you met, and how God told you she was the one for you and how He told her that you were the one for her. You shared how you were married within 4 months time (which is insane by the way!) and how she made everyone in her life feel like she was her best friend. I loved when you share how each morning she would wake up and ask the Lord to change her to be more and more like Jesus and how she’d constantly tell you that He never ever wanted us to remain static.
You told me of her steadfast faith through the years, her heart to disciple young women around her, her love for life in general and her encouragement to you in every aspect of your marriage. You told me that she was a gift to you for 42 years and that you couldn’t believe you had the honor of being hers for that long.
You then shared how you held her hand as you sat in that hospital office as she received her death sentence. You shared about her face and the joy-filled expression on it even after being told there were no options for her. You took her home knowing that the only plan was to try and celebrate what was left of her last 2-3 weeks. You told me how beautiful she was with masses of tumors that filled her belly that made her look 6 months pregnant and how she never once complained of the pain. You told me how her joy won over the hospice care workers that came to your home and how she has literally prayed for every single person she’s ever met all the way up until the very last day of her life.
You told me of your vision from the Lord a week or so before she died and how He told you in advance that you would be holding your sweet wife when she passed. You knew it was coming and you saw it happen just as He told you it would, your head in her lap as she took her final breath. I saw the innocent tears continue streaming down your face as you spoke so lovingly of her…yet I waited and watched to see if it came and it never did….the bitterness that is. I never saw one ounce of it. Never once did I hear you waver in your faith and never once did I hear you speak poorly of her.
I’m sure she wasn’t a perfect woman and I’m wholeheartedly convinced that she was a sinner just like the rest of us…but you honored her with your every breath as I sat for hours to hear your story. I would have sat for 10 more just to hear more about her and your life. I loved hearing of the ministry opportunities the Lord has given you and how you truly believe you are nothing apart from Him. I loved hearing how your dad prayed for you before you were born and that it took 37 years before your dad’s prayer for you to truly chase after and love Jesus fully came to fruition. I’m so sorry that he died when you were only 11 as I cannot imagine what that must have been like for you. Yet, again, all I heard was thankfulness.
I loved hearing about your firefighting adventures and your trips all over the world building wells for people without water and starting churches in cities I’ve never heard of…but I especially loved when you said that firefighting is not your identity and that God simply used that as a miraculous way to bring people to Himself. I about lost it when you spoke of how your hope is to do all you can to “go out strong.” You don’t want to hold anything back, knowing your days are numbered, and when that day comes and you see Jesus’ face you want to know you have given it your all.
John, men like you are rare. And women like your wife are too. She truly sounds like a modern day Proverbs 31 woman and it would have been an honor to have met her. And you, you are the closest thing to meeting an angel I have ever experienced. You see, I don’t believe that things happen by chance. I believe I was meant to meet you today. I was meant to hear your story. I was meant to hear about your wife. She is an encouragement to me and one day I’m going to tell her how thankful I am for her living such a faithful, faith-filled life. And the encouragement you offered to me, to begin to pray every day how I might bring glory to Jesus is exactly what I needed to be reminded of. In this stage of life, with kids puking through the night, and confusion about where we ought to live, and the frustrations of planting a church…with mouths to feed, and grocery shopping to do and lesson plans to write out…sometimes it’s easy to forget the main things.
When it’s all said and done and I breathe my last I want more than anything for it to be said of me that “she loved the Lord with all her heart.” These things that can so easily entangle will all pass away…but thank you for the reminder today to keep first things first. I struggled to let you go home…wanting to continue to be encouraged by you and to hear of your love for Jesus and your love for others as long as I possibly could. Thank you for being a tangible picture of how Jesus cares for people. I see Him in you…you’re prayers are being answered…you’re becoming just like Him every day, John. You’re going out strong.
I want you to know that as I lay my head down tonight I’ll be thanking Jesus for you and for your wife. I’ll be praying for your upcoming trips, for your legs to not give out on you and that you’ll continue to see Him do far more than you could ever ask or imagine. Thank you for your time and most of all for opening up. Thank you for your joy and for your steadfast resolve to keep pursuing Jesus with all your might. I pray one day we will meet again. But until then, I’ll pray your wife’s favorite verse…because it just so happens to be mine as well… “may the God of all hope fill you with ALL joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”
With all love,