I’m still in Westfield, NJ tonight. Long day at the office here, and then dinner out. The weather is beautiful – a perfect summer evening. So I took a stroll through town – to the luggage store where I always check out the new stuff (I am a closet luggage junkie), then back to my favorite place in town – Rockn’ Joe’s, a local coffee shop that I visit each time I am here. After that, there happened to be an outdoor concert going on in front of the train station, a block from the inn – and I recognized a number of songs from the sixties, so I went over to sit and listen.
Anyway, people were tapping and clapping and dancing and singing along with the local band, and then the next song started. It was “Ball of Confusion”, by the Temptations. An oldie, but goodie. And I couldn’t help but sing along – “People moving out, people moving in, why? because of the color of their skin”. There’s a line in there somewhere about running but not be able to hide, and that line really got to me. Because sometimes I would love to run and hide when the pain of loss or change is too much to bear.
In particular, the event reminded me of an outdoor concert Janet and I attended last Saturday evening. Conner Prairie is an outdoor venue, a living history museum, about 10 minutes from our home. Every summer, the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra plays concerts on the prairie, and they are great. Janet and I get books of seats so we can go out almost every week-end and listen from our chairs on the hillside. Many times, we see our friends Roger and Arlene Johnson out there. We sit together and talk about the old days; and catch up on our families. One of those old, comfortable relationships that has withstood the test of time.
But if you have been following these posts for a while, you know that Roger died of pancreatic cancer earlier this spring. I was with him the evening before he died; and Arlene asked me to do part of his funeral. Well, Saturday would have been their 45th wedding anniversary. So I called Arlene and let her know we were thinking about her loss. We invited her to the Saturday evening concert at CP, which she accepted. We agreed to meet there, and Karin, their daughter, one of our loyal readers, dropped her off.
Anyway, although Janet and I have been to several concerts this summer, it was the first time Arlene had been back since last fall. In my mind, I was dreading my first trip out there earlier this year, but I got through it. But Saturday….. that was different. Because there was a chair missing – Roger’s – and it really hit close to home. A gregarious, fun loving kind of guy, I miss Roger more than you know.
Arlene talked about starting to go through his things; and some of the ways her life has changed. Janet and I have heard this from other friends of our who have lost spouses, but it is beyond our comprehension to imagine life without a partner. Ginny, Susan, Arlene, and now Pat all know the pain of loss. I am sure that many of the rest of you do also. Meals for one, and making arrangements to dispose of possessions are tough to confront.
And, for some reason, you think about the oddest things at times like this. For example, the last time the four of us were at Conner Prairie together, Roger told me about the Space Station and where to find it in the sky on the very night we were at the concert. Sure enough, right when he said, a bright light, like a star, passed overhead, and Roger had a great time pointing it out to more than a hundred concertgoers, in a sea of thousands, who were seated near us that evening.
I remember watching him smile as he pointed up at the sky, and I wondered if this was the last time he would attend Conner Prairie. It was…. Furthermore, I wondered if this was how I would remember him – smiling, laughing, joking, and entertaining the crowd; while the cancer was consuming him. It is….. And I think for the rest of my life I will smile a little every time I head out to the prairie as I think about Roger pointing heavenward as the Space Station passed overhead. And just like the shuttle, Roger’s last mission is over.
So what sense do we make of all this? I struggle with that one. A life lost; a husband gone; a father who can no longer call his children; or kiss his wife. Countless lives impacted and altered – a real ball of confusion. I can’t begin to recount all the times I get asked, as a pastor, why bad things happen to good people. And I can’t answer the question.
But I do know one thing; probably of little comfort to those who are suffering through a loss through death. And that is, from 2 Sam 22:31, “As for God, his way is perfect; the word of the LORD is flawless. He is a shield for all who take refuge in him.”
And one thing is for sure. When tragedy strikes, you are either driven away from God; or closer to Him. My encouragement tonight is to walk beside those people in your life who have suffered loss. Sooner or later we will all be there – because mourning is the price we pay for loving. And my prayer is that you will cling to God through all the trials of your life. Because there are those of you out there who we love deeply, who have suffered the loss of a spouse – Ginny, Susan, Pat and Arlene; and many others. You are all in my prayers tonight. Please know that you bring the world joy and you are loved; and indispensable to those of us who are still here.