Sudden Grief

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Life can present unexpected events that change the course of your life.  You can’t go back to the way things were, and nothing will be the same again.  This past week was such a week.  We lost my wife’s parents, her sister, and her brother in a horrible tragedy.  It has been a week of unimaginable agony and change.  

I don’t know that I have the right words to yet to process everything I am feeling, but decided to share my remarks from the memorial service we had in their honor. Over 550 people were in attendance at St. Louis Family Church.  Here’s what I shared:

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I have been asked to share a few words today…and my words seem woefully insufficient to express all that is in my heart or in the hearts of this family.

There are no right words to adequately describe our grief or to process the trauma we all feel.

And I hardly have the words to express the deep gratitude we have at the amazing support, love and care we are finding from so many of you. Truly we are overwhelmed by your generosity, kindness, and prayer.

I want to express thanks to Pastors Jeff Perry, Trey Perry, and John Moore for being here for us in this time of crisis.  St Louis Family Church has been so dear to my family and we are undone by the way you have worked so hard to push through the reconstruction of  this room in order to accommodate today’s service.  You have gone above and beyond…and we are very thankful.

Words are also insufficient because there isn’t enough time today to share all that could be shared about how wonderfully devoted this family is and always has been to one another. For the last 28 years…I have had the pleasure of knowing and being part of this gloriously joyful group called the Comers.  I want to reflect for just a moment on each of our loved ones.

John Comer was a man of great devotion…to his family, to this church, and to the Lord. He knew more trivia than perhaps anyone else I’ve ever met. If there are movies in heaven, I’m sure John right now is sharing commentary regarding all the actors and actresses involved. I will miss his humor, his laugh, his quirks, and his smile. On Friday, we were sharing terribly bad puns and teasing him mercilessly over his long hair.  I’m so glad that his last day had tremendous moments of laughter and goodness.  

Rebecca Kelleher was a woman of great passion.  Her love for all things living was reflected in the spark of life she carried to all her endeavors.  She loved her job, her co-workers and clients, this family, and first and foremost her son, Micah. She cared deeply for the community and nothing got her more riled than the situation regarding the West Lake landfill to which she was firmly committed to keep in the public eye. Over the past several years, and through the ministry and action of this church, her faith blossomed and deepened and became uniquely her own.  I will miss her spunk, her joyous full-faced laughter…and her tremendous compassion. 

Mum was the energizer bunny.  Life has thrown so many obstacles her way.  And she has met them all with grace, endurance, a wide-encompassing love, and a determination not to ever give up…but to keep moving one step at a time.  In so doing, she gives us all a template of how to move forward…with grace, joy, and a rock steady faithfulness. She loved to dance, even though her MS worked against her.  But there is nothing working against her now. In the beautiful sound of Heaven’s worship, I’m sure she’s dancing up a storm.  Right now the freedom of her being matches the freedom she’s held in her heart for a very long.  Thank you Lord!

Tom Comer was one of the kindest men I’ve ever known.  He worked diligently all his life to love and care for this family.  He has been a protector, a planner, a provider, and a counselor to us all.  On his last day, the burdens of his heart and mind were many, but even then…they were ultimately about all of us.  The fears and concerns he carried, terribly exasperated by the medications he was prescribed, were still about us and our future.  For me, he will be defined by this life…and not this travesty that has taken place at the end. Two years ago, after confronting a cancer diagnosis, dad totally gave up drinking.  For the first time in his life, he knew he had to do something to face his fears and the deteriation of his body through alcohol.  Those withdrawals were terrible.  Depression that first year was real. And yet he had begun to emerge from it.  This past Spring, I saw him again full of joy.  As part of his on-going treatment, he began to see a psychiatrist who began to fill him with numerous psychotropic drugs.  Those medicines began to combine in terrible ways that had the opposite impact of what the doctor intended. His sleep became inconsistent and short. For the past three weeks, he had been sharing his fears and concerns, repeatedly telling the family that he was not doing well. He had at least one episode earlier in the week where he was up in the night typing away on the computer…despite the fact it was not even turned on. Later he would not remember.

He continued to get the cold shoulder from a doctor who simply told him to keep taking his medicine while refusing to make room for an appointment.  Rebecca picked up the fight and finally was able to get dad in to see the doctor late Friday afternoon, hours before this terrible tragedy. We sent along a list of all the side-effects he was experiencing. Rather than admit him, the doctor gave him new pills and sent him home. 

This week we found the official sheet of medicinal side-effects on his dresser. His drug was described as a “sedative hypnotic” and warned that any user would likely wake up in the night and do things they were not in control of doing, and then not remember what they did in the morning.  It warned that the medicine may not be appropriate if the taker was dealing with depression, or had a history of alcoholism, or was in his elder years.  It leaves us with questions of why it was prescribed in the first place and why the doctor refused to respond when the family repeatedly indicated there was a problem. We believe that dad was not aware or in control of his actions on that fateful night.

As a pastor myself, I’ve seen how tragedies and heartache ultimately impact the lives of others.  Some families isolate and pull apart, unwilling to face pain together.  But that has never been true of this family.  This family always pulls together and holds on to one another tightly.  That’s not just how we respond to crisis.  It’s how we live.  Even Linda and I who live 8 hours away, we know that the family in St. Louis has always been an anchor in our lives.  And so this will be how we continue to live.  Linda, Molly, Amy, Micah, Mary Ann, Bob…and all the rest of us…we are a family who pulls together.  Now more than ever.

There are questions that remain.  I don’t know if we will learn all of the answers.  Among them, all of us, in the midst of our pain, are asking “God, where are you?”  We all too often think if there is a God, then life should be pain-free.  We want to define His character through the lens of our personal circumstance and the burdens of our experience.  But the scripture tells us we can know what God is like by looking at the life and ministry of Jesus.  And this is what I know about Christ:  He cares for the down-trodden.  He weeps with Mary and Martha at the passing of Lazarus.  He has compassion for the worst offender and tender mercies for the deeply wounded.  There is a reason the Bible tells us that God is the Father of all comfort.  Our pain matters to Him…and He is with us in this moment. And in our weakness, He stands with us, embracing us, calling us to come to the throne of His mercy in order to find grace, strength, hope and all that is needed.

John and Rebecca, Mum and Dad are all with Him in this moment as well.  No matter what torment our loved ones experienced in their final moments…they each had a faith in Christ Jesus as their Savior and Lord.  So their deaths…are swallowed up in victory.  There is a life beyond this one…a life in Christ…and they are experiencing that in all it’s glorious fullness. They are the best versions of themselves, their true selves, right now, in Heaven by the mercies of God.  So as we grieve…we do not grieve like a people who have no hope.

We are people of faith.  We are a family centered in love.  And though our world has become undone, and all around us seems to be shaking, I know that Jesus Christ remains the only firm foundation. And we are turning to the Lord Jesus in our pain.  Apart from Him we can do nothing.  In Him, all things are possible…even when we can’t see how. 

Pray for us. We are trusting in a love that probes deeper than our devastation…and though nothing will ever by the same, I am trusting Father God for wholeness.  There will be a day when this family will be reunited. That is the hope that we have in Jesus. What a glorious day that will be.

So, let me exhort each of you gathered here: choose life…choose love…and make the most of the time you have been given. That’s how this family lived…and that is how we will heal…by the grace of God.

Thank you for being with us here today. Thank you for your support. Thank you for listening.

Mum, Dad, Rebecca, and John…we will miss you terribly.  But we will see you again.

I Want To Hear You

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Listen

The world is more connected now than ever. Within seconds, we can read someone’s written thoughts and expressions right on our phones, even though they are continents away.  We see the words, we read the posts, but are we understanding? In our pursuit of free expression, are we paying attention to others?  I want to be a better communicator.  I want my communication to truly be a two-way street.  I want to hear what you have to say.

Communication isn’t as easy as we typically think it might or should be. Not real, meaningful communication.  It’s a skill, one that must be practiced over and over and over again. It takes time and effort. Thankfully, we can certainly grow in our communication skills; it gets easier when we invest in its development. As followers of Christ and ambassadors of the Kingdom of God, it is my humble opinion that we only do ourselves a favor when work hard to develop the ability to connect heart to heart.

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Deep Thoughts: The art of communication and the contemplation of meaning

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Many, many years ago, “Deep Thoughts” with Jack Handy was a recurring series of sketches on Saturdahqdefaulty Night Live.  They featured scrolling words over a serene background that expressed what one expected to be some great insight or meaningful story. Typically, however, they featured some kind of ironic twist or ridiculous addition that rendered the entire moment ludicrous. They were often clever and hysterical, though occasionally inappropriate.  I once had a book that collected several of these stories and one-liners, but I can’t seem to find it now. The entries usually gave me a chuckle.

I like the idea of being a deep thinker.  I like the idea of artfully expressing deep thoughts.  My fear, however, is that I am really just a “Jack Handy,” expressing ridiculous notions in clever disguise and merely being ostentatious. Lord help me!   Continue reading

Get Right Back To Where We Started From

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Lascrossofashest week was Ash Wednesday, the night that launches the liturgical season of Lent. It is a night to become reacquainted with a repentant heart as we enter into 40 days of reflection.  Looking back, we examine, think, pray, submit, course-correct, and sharpen. Our Ash Wednesday service got snowed out for the second year in a row.  This year, that equaled a one week postponement, and tonight was the night. Allow me to offer my reflection with a little help from the 1970’s music scene.  Continue reading

Gotcha!

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I like being right. I don’t like being wrong.  What is it about human nature that almost delights in being proven right over someone else?  Feeling like we’ve got special insider information (a corner on “truth?”) can be a secret, prideful obsession. It gets revealed when we find ourselves delighting in setting others straight (“Gotcha!”). Sometimes it disguises itself as deep concern for others and their spiritual health or understanding… when the truth is we are merely, and unfairly, judging them.     Continue reading

The message of the Church needs to be one of healing.

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Woke up this morning thinking about an article I wrote in the local paper about eleven years ago. Here it is:

I remember the thrill of playground rides that I experienced as a child. My favorite was the giant slide. Though it was scary to climb the ladder to the top and peer over the edge, the joy of sliding down was worth it all. Today, however, our culture is sliding down a pathway that is devoid of any real joy and threatens the fabric of our civilized society. Consider, for instance, the recent debates and law changes regarding same-sex marriages.  Continue reading

Twenty Years of Computing….You’d think we’d communicate a little better by now…

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Here’s a bit of history…followed by a confession.  I’m not complaining…just exploring my thoughts in writing.  Feel free to interact, challenge, disagree or extend the conversation.  Here goes…

I use a computer.  A lot.  For a lot of different reasons. In years past, it was mostly work related.  In the last decade, however, it has also become a tool for increased communication, introspection, and relational connections.    Continue reading