I went to Florida in July, to say goodbye to one of my oldest and dearest friends. John Garner was my pastor, my mentor, my "Father in the Faith". RJ has referred to you as his "Grandchildren in the Faith"... and honestly, he's not wrong. My teaching is so influenced by him that I am not entirely certain where his ideas end and mine begin. In fact, I am not entirely certain that I have ever done anything other than standing on his shoulders and catch glimpses of the things he had seen first.
John and his wife Laurie were there for my adolescent rebellion, my wedding, my children, for all of my greatest failures and the handful of my greatest successes. Their love for my family was sustaining, as it was motivating. I would not be who I am or where I am without them.
The funeral went really well, and all of the stories, with the tears and laughter, that encircled those few hours on Saturday were all so very important. And I held together magnificently, up until the last night when I realized that I had to go. And suddenly every parting I have ever had - and there have been so many - began to feel like a weight pressing down onto my chest, and I couldn't breathe. In the words of my new friend John McCullough, I was suddenly aware that "so long as I remained, John lived on in those shared moments, but when I left, it was then that his death would be real to me". And John was right.
I slept so little that last night that when Allissa forced me out of bed today I was barely cognitive, but as I closed the door behind me to go out to the car I could feel the sadness coming. the next few hours as we flew home were likewise somber but not overwhelming. But as the plane pulled up to the gate, Allissa was singing this song that is a favorite in our family, and it just broke me. I have always thought of this song as the Apostle John's story. I am certain that is not what the writer had in mind but its what I think of - John reclining on Jesus looking up at the stars - when he sings:
"You taught me the courage of stars before you left, how light carries on endlessly, even after death. With shortness of breath, You explained the infinite, how rare and beautiful it is, to even exist. I couldn't help but ask, for you to say it all again,
I tried to write it down, but I could never find a pen. And I'd give anything to hear, you say it one more time, that the universe was made, just to be seen by my eyes. So with shortness of breath, I'll try to explain the infinite. How rare and beautiful it is, to even exist." (Sleeping at Last, Saturn)
But this morning, for the first it felt like my story. John was a man of so much wisdom and I know that I only scratched the surface of what God had blessed him with. And a thousand times I wanted to just sit and write it down but I couldn't. But at the core of his wisdom was a knowledge of the Love of God. So if that is all we catch, perhaps that will be enough.
Anyway, Jack picked us up at the airport in Latrobe and we headed home. And as we drove through southwestern Pennsylvania, I realized that I really was home. That I had finally done what John had asked of me so many times, I had rooted down and made this place home. And there was suddenly a bittersweetness to my sorrow because I felt that joy that I knew he had wanted for me and that for so long I was too immature to understand. And so, even in death, he gave me yet another gift - Life & Legacy. But I suppose that makes sense when you follow one who follows the ONE from whom Life & Legacy come... (John 11:25-26)
I'm going to be honest though. This hurts really bad right now.
August 1, 2021