My brother’s grandmother-in-law passed away last week, and her funeral was scheduled for an early Monday morning. She was 78 years old plus one day when she died. By all accounts she was a lovely woman who loved her family and friends dearly. I had the privilege of meeting her at my brother’s wedding back in May of this year. I remember she and her husband slowly made their way to the first pew, beaming the whole service as they witnessed their granddaughter marry my brother. Everyone knew they were the family guests of honor. At her funeral, her pastor of 17 years officiated a touching service that blessed her grieving family (who were also still mourning the loss of her husband, their father and grandfather only weeks before). The Baptist minister gave glory to God for her life, and to Jesus whom she glorified as her savior all her life. Because of her vibrant faith, no one doubted that she is in heaven right now enjoying the blessing of reunion with her Lord and Christian loved ones. I wasn’t planning on attending the internment, but when I learned it was on the way home, I changed my mind. It was a long slow drive from Manassas to Warrenton (Virginia), but the police escort facilitated continuous movement which fostered my mediation on faith, death, and heaven.
After the brief graveside service, my father and I made our way back to our cars. As most people do, I stopped here and there to read the grave markers. Some were of lives lived long. Others were not. One listed only one date, presumably a newborn who hadn’t lived to see his first tomorrow. Then one caught my eye. “Hey dad! This one is someone we know.” I stood over a bronze plaque that read “Michael Saadeh.” When Mike died back in 2007, we were new members at our church, but Mike was a beloved congregational veteran. I didn’t get to know him well personally, but I could tell interacting with him that he was a man of great faith. We knew that he bravely battled his ailment (cancer) with one eye on heaven and the other on his family who stood by his side. I know more of Mike now because I am friends with his widow, and his son married my wife’s sister a few years later. I am now part of Mike’s extended family, and am honored to have his story to pass down to my children as a heritage from the Lord.
At the end of the day, I drove to my barber for a haircut. I’ve only been living in Warrenton for a few months, so I’m still learning who’s who in town. If I’m going to get to know people in my community, I’ve got to talk to them. That’s a pastor’s calling, right? So as I’m chewing the fat with Junior, an elderly gentleman who still works because he likes it, he tells me that he’s undergoing chemotherapy.
“How long?” I ask. “Since June.” he replies.
“What are the doctor’s telling you?”
“Well, one says I got six months.”
“What are the others saying?”
“One of them says he thinks we can beat it. So he’s the one treating me.”
At this point my heart is racing as I sense the divine appointment that God has for me. Junior knows I’m a pastor in town, so I suspect he’s asking me to follow up with more dialogue. I wonder if he can sense the sweaty scalp as he snips away. So I press on. Tenderly, reverently, as I seek to discern the status of his soul.
“So, do you have any spiritual beliefs?”
“Sure, I’ve got some. I hope I’ll be in heaven. But I guess it doesn’t matter much.”
“Are you sure you’re going to heaven?”
“No, but I’ve got a pretty good idea.”
“May I ask how you have that hope, sir?”
“Well, I talk to the Man up there. I think you know what I mean.”
“Yes, I do.”
It’s hard to have conversations like these in today’s barber shops. There are two other barbers servicing customers. The TV is blaring incessant up-to-the-minute news. People are waiting for the next seat to get cut. So I think to myself, “What do I do next? Should I pursue Junior further? Is this the right time to steer the conversation to the gospel? O God, help me!” On the heels of my one-sentence prayer, I decided that I had run out of time. Junior had finished his job, and I needed to finish mine.
“How much do I owe you?”
“Thirteen,” Junior eked out. His smile appeared impish, juvenile, like a man who had skillfully averted a preacher’s alter call.
“Here’s a twenty. You can just give me back four.” I tried to speak softly with an sympathetic smile. “I will see you in about a month on a Monday. Hopefully we can talk more then.”
Then I turned and walked to the door. But just before I reached the threshold, it suddenly occurred to me that there might not be a next time for Junior. He has no way to reach me. Perhaps he doesn’t have anyone who can give him counsel, can pray for him and with him, and guide him safety to the Savior into eternity? So I turned again. We locked eyes. And I made my way to him, handed extended.
“Junior, here is my business card. Please call me if you need to talk about anything. I hope I’ll see you in about a month.”
Do I wish the circumstances were more conducive to sharing the gospel with him? Yes. But it’s a wonderful thing to rest in the providence of God. If God is sovereign over my life and Junior’s to put us together for those brief moments to discuss spiritual matters, then God is powerful enough to take care of the rest.
All this on one day. Faith. Death. Heaven. It was a strange day, one when three events coelesced to sharpen my focus on the transitoriness of life, and the need to live all my days coram deo–before the face of God.