That was Tuesday
“What?” I said in a cloud of confusion. The words I had just heard not registering with my brain.
“Gary is not breathing! The paramedics are here. Please send out a prayer request!” The frantic voice on the other end of the line was barely understandable.
Still sitting in the car with the engine running, I had just pulled in the driveway after picking my kids up from school when I received the call.
“Alec, go get Daddy to help Beni out of the car. I have to take care of something.”
I then turned my attention to my phone. I posted a shaky prayer request on our church Facebook page. I didn’t know what more I could do. “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, help him.”
About a half hour later I received a second call, “We lost him, Kelly.”
That was Tuesday. Today I am sitting in a daze. Gary is gone. His smile. His laugh. His shorts and untucked shirt he always wore to church. And I am left to ponder what is really important in this life. I am pretty sure Gary knew the answer.
He was Contagious
Gary was an elder at our church. A leader I had a deep respect and love for. A year ago he was also brought on staff at the church as our Outreach Pastor. Why outreach? Well, you just about never met a man who reached out as much as Gary.
Someone is in the hospital? Gary will visit.
Someone is struggling? Gary will call.
Someone is questioning? Gary will listen.
Someone is making bad choices? Gary will guide them with grace towards restoration.
Someone does not know Jesus? Gary will tell his story.
Someone is hard to love? Gary will love them.
His love for God was contagious. In fact, one of the first things he did when he came on staff was to start teaching classes called “Becoming a Contagious Christian.” He made it his mission that every member of Hope would go through the class to help equip them to bring the good news of Jesus to the people in their lives in a true, authentic, and loving way. He encouraged us all to tell our stories of God’s faithfulness and goodness. We have a video on our church website of Gary explaining why everyone should take the class. I am pretty much just a mess of tears watching this video again and remembering Gary’s heart for God and for others.
He Who is Forgiven Much
Was he always like this? No. He would be the first to tell you what he used to be like. He had his struggles and hurts. He fought his demons. But God worked and moved and changed Gary into a man that his wife and daughters could be forever proud of. His amazing wife Barb walked with him. His pastor and friend walked with him. Many faithful people walked with him. God did beautiful things.
Those who are forgiven much understand the power of forgiveness. Gary stepped into each situation with grace and love. He treated each person with respect, no matter their background or their struggles. And his heart was focused on Jesus’ love, on his family, and on his church. “Devoted” is a word to describe Gary as a husband. They lived as a unit. Gary and Barb. They just fit so perfectly. As a father, he looked on his girls with joy and hope. He was always watching for what God was doing in their lives. In the last few years they have seen miraculous things take place. And I have heard it said that he was the best Bapa ever to his grandkids. Gary was living out his purpose in big and small ways. It just doesn’t seem real that he is gone.
It’s All about the Details, right?
I am a detail person. Give me an event to plan, a list to organize, papers to file. I’m all over it. Gary, not so much. He would do what needed to be done, but the details were sometimes not perfectly thought through. But what is really important?
In our weekly staff meetings we go around the room and each go through our list of things we have collected through the week that need to be addressed, decided, and assigned. Gary would sit so patiently as we talked about cleaning chairs, art design, volunteer schedules, emails, etc. When it was finally his turn, Pastor Brian would turn to him and say, “Whatcha got, Gary?”
His list would go something like this.
“I’m talking with so-and-so about hosting a Contagious class in their home. And I’m going to be sure that person 1, 2, and 3 are there.”
“I’ve left 3 messages for such-and-such. I know they are struggling but they are not returning my calls. But I’m going to keep trying.”
“Barb and I will be at this next event to mingle and talk to any visitors that might be there. Can we be sure to have the Stories of Hope CDs to give out? That just encourages people so much.”
Everything out of his mouth was person-focused.
Details often swallow my time and energy until there is nothing left for people. I actually hide in the details sometimes. And yes, someone has to take care of the details, but I don’t think that is what my final purpose on this earth is made of. “Here lies Kelly – she really knew how to plan a party.”
So here I sit, in the middle of the details of a memorial service. Potlucks and programs and pictures. And my heart cries for more of what Gary had. I am happy to take care of the details, because that’s one way that I can physically honor Gary’s life and show his family that I love them. But the details cannot swallow me up. Help me love people well, Lord. Help me really see the people around me. I want to visit a little more and call a little more and listen a little more and forgive a little more. Help me be a bit more like Gary.
From a Big Hole to a Completed Whole
I feel a big hole. I know I have not yet even felt the extent of the emptiness left by Gary’s absence. I am left in shock and wonder. I just don’t get it. It feels like he had so much left to do, so many more people to touch. So many times when I am left in wonder and hurt, God will bring me to a scripture that fills my soul. This morning I was reading the Book of Hebrews and just such a scripture jumped out at me. Hebrews 11 is called the “Faith Chapter”. The writer talks about great men and women of God like Abraham, Sarah, and Moses. And here is what it says in The Message version:
13-16 Each one of these people of faith died not yet having in hand what was promised, but still believing. How did they do it? They saw it way off in the distance, waved their greeting, and accepted the fact that they were transients in this world. People who live this way make it plain that they are looking for their true home. If they were homesick for the old country, they could have gone back any time they wanted. But they were after a far better country than that—heaven country. You can see why God is so proud of them, and has a City waiting for them.
I know that God is proud of Gary. I sure am. I am honored to have had him in my life. But what of the unfinished work? What of the promises not yet realized? At the end of Hebrews 11, the writer concludes:
39-40 Not one of these people, even though their lives of faith were exemplary, got their hands on what was promised. God had a better plan for us: that their faith and our faith would come together to make one completed whole, their lives of faith not complete apart from ours.
We grieve now for our great loss. We will grieve for a long time. I will miss Gary so much. And I know his work was not nearly finished. But together we can make one completed whole. We can continue on the path that Gary walked. Will you join me? Let’s love with all we’ve got. Let’s visit and listen and share and help and hold and mentor and counsel and accept and forgive. Let’s love God and love others. Let’s do it for Gary and for all the great men and women of faith who have gone before us. Let’s be contagious. I think this is the “better plan” God has for us until we, too, reach the “heavenly country.” Gary, I will see you there!