November 2013 Blog Archives
Wednesday, November 20
8:20 PM The community called the church is just that: a community. It's comprised of people from every nation under heaven. Tonight I got a glimpse of that community when, at Bethel Hill Baptist, there gathered with us brothers and sisters from three African-American congregations (Dan River Bethel, Zion Hill Baptist, and St. Mark's Baptist) for a pre-Thanksgiving service. At least for me, it was a foretaste of heaven. The message is simple: the church is color-blind, or ought to be. We sang (don't tell, but there was drum set in the "sanctuary"), ate, fellowshipped, and heard a great message from Philippians 4. It is only a few hours before I head to the airport, but I am so glad I was given this sendoff by the Lord. People, I'm not kidding: ethnic diversity is something I really enjoy, always have (I grew up in Hawaii, after all). I pray with all my heart that our Baptist churches might get to the point where having ethnic diversity in our midst is no longer a novelty. When that happens, the world will sit up and take notice.
Know that I am treasuring your prayers as I leave for Ethiopia, lifting many of you up in prayer too as you slay your dragons. Please know that I'll do my best to reply to your emails, though connectivity will be spotty. Wherever you go tomorrow, remember: you've been given wings. Use them to fly, to the glory of God.
Aloha a nui loa,
4:12 PM During the past couple of weeks, ever since Becky's death, I have thought a lot about grief. I know that sounds morbid, but it's true. Everyone tells me that what I'm experiencing is normal. Let it do its work, Dave. It's okay to mourn. Believe you me, that's a hard lesson for me to learn. I'm a fighter. I want to struggle against grief. But it seems that the harder I struggle, the worse it becomes. It's like trying to walk on an icy sidewalk. Every step you take is precarious. The faster you go, the more likely you are to slip and fall.
When I was a teenager, my friends and I used to surf the North Shore of Oahu during the winter months, when the waves were anywhere between 15 and 25 feet. On a big day, you were happy to get in four good rides. Wipeouts occurred frequently, especially if you were a risk-taker. Now, when you wipe out on a big wave, it's like being tossed about in a washing machine. No sooner do you break to the surface to grab a quick breath of air when the next wave of the set comes crashing down on top of you. Every surfer knows exactly what to do in that situation. You release. You let go completely. You let the wave pummel you until it decides to let you go. Because the more you fight against the wave, the more exhausted you get. Fighting a big wave is an exercise in futility. You just have to let it do its work.
Grief attacks me like those 25-footers at Sunset Beach. The wave comes rolling in out of nowhere, and I am helpless to stop it. The harder I fight it, the more exhausted I become. I have to accept it, let it do its work. I lie in bed at night, sleepless, staring at the ceiling. I get tears while driving. Each wave reminds me of how different my life is today than it was when I had Becky by my side. The taken-for-granted normalness of life is a thing of the past. Everywhere I go I see where we shopped together, dined together, cried together, laughed together, made love together. Back then, when the waves came, we went under together. We had each other to hold on to. Not anymore. Where do I even start to describe how lonely I feel? Irrational as it may sound, I sometimes say to myself, "No, it isn't true. Becky can't be gone." Grief stalks me like a hunter. Scripture helps, but it's no panacea. Just when I think I've made a few baby steps forward, I take bigger steps backwards. Her face fills the bleachers of my memory. I suppose that's why I blog. I suppose that's why I talk about her so much in these pages. Expressing my grief publicly is a reminder of how much I loved her. I try to fill the vacancy with activities. I put pictures of her on the blog that I know must drive my readers crazy. But even that doesn't fill the hole. I feel violated, raped. Strong words, I know, but even they don't describe how I feel sometimes. Diminished. Impoverished. Abandoned. I am lonely even in a crowd. Thankfully, one emotion I have not felt is anger. (I feel very virtuous in saying that.) Or maybe I am angry but just not expressing it. Knowledge is not my problem. I know that God will make this loss a gain. But if you ask me how I'm doing, I won't white-wash it. If I'm struggling, I'll say so. If I'm exhausted, I will let you know. If I'm depressed (dare I use the "D" word?), I won't hesitate to tell you.
How often I have thanked the Lord that I had a chance to say goodbye to Becky. There I would sit, helpless to ease her suffering, but I could still speak, and she could still listen and nod. God didn't have to plan things that way. He could have taken her suddenly. I am also so very thankful for all of you and for your emails. This is the other side of grief: the body of Christ coming together, rallying around the sufferer. You, dear reader, have helped me to pick up the pieces. I want to embrace life to the fullest. I realize that my life will never be "normal" again. My mind will always carry the videotapes of her life. I have "let her go" so many times I've lost count. I know I will have to let her go many more times. I have entrusted her to God. For years she filled an empty place in me, and that place is empty again. And so I'll say it for the millionth time:
Goodbye, Becky. I miss you. I love you. I do not blame you for the pain in my heart. I just wish we didn't have to say goodbye so soon.
1:22 PM You guys, what could be better than playing with three of your grandsons? I think it's safe to say I'm one proud grandfather. They are silly and strong-willed and independent and beautiful. The perfect trifecta.
Love. Family. Joy. Jesus. God is good.
9:40 AM I've been pouring over the book of Hosea and guess what I'm discovering? Life is like a romance with our Divine Lover. There is deep wisdom in this perspective. It's no wonder the apostle Paul talked about the benefits of singleness. This gives me patience and hope. I am attracted to the idea that God is lover. I long for people to fall in love with Him, to experience the grace of their Lover. True, His cross-love is not comfortable. But it is the bedrock of our faith.
9:05 AM This is the marker that the monument company will begin installing in the church cemetery. It is the final design Becky and I agreed on before she passed away.
I can still see us discussing the Bible verse we wanted on the marker. Eventually we decided to go with a simple saying. As I look back on her life, I sink to my knees in gratitude, for she really did know Him and make Him known.
8:34 AM As you know, this week I am returning to Ethiopia at long last. My purpose is very simple: to minister to others in the name of the Lord and to honor King Jesus, Becky's Lord and Savior. Ministry has been given by Christ to the church. It is to be exercised in the church, for the church, and by the church. The goal is to equip the church as the servant of Christ in the world. In the foot washing in the Upper Room, Jesus Himself demonstrated this to His followers.
Will I miss fellowshipping with my brothers and sisters at Bethel Hill? You bet! But the corporate gathering of the church is not the fulfillment most churchgoers believe it to be. It is just the beginning. The gathering is merely the commissioning. How grateful I am to be part of a fellowship of Jesus-followers who emphasize the going as much as the gathering. The challenge now is to mobilize the full manpower and womanpower of the church for global evangelization.
Luther, Calvin, and the Anabaptists agreed that there is only one "divine vocation" for all Christians who accept their role as the people of God, and that is to minister for Christ in our various spheres of life. Becky was a fulltime housewife, and I am a fulltime Greek professor, but those are only our jobs. Our business is the Gospel business -- fulltime, 24/7/365. In the New Testament, we find no fixed forms, organizational structures, or ranking of "fulltime professionals" in the church. Ministry belongs to the whole people of God. Christians are to be Christ's servants in all sectors of life. Christ ascended for the specific purpose of "preparing God's people for works of service" (Eph. 4:7-12). It is unmistakably clear that the term "priest" as used in the New Testament does not refer to officiates in a church building but describes all Christians in every nation of the world in their role as the priesthood of all believers. Under the direct leadership of the Head, the whole Body becomes a Christocentric fraternity penetrating the whole world (including our own neighborhoods) with the Good News. We are Jesus disciples, followers, learners, witnesses, workers, and, if need be, martyrs.
I leave for Africa with a promise burned deep into my heart: "I am with you each and every day, even until the end of the age." Jesus promised His Holy Spirit to empower all believers to be His ambassadors in the world. That He should have chosen me -- I who am totally undeserving -- to be His representative is nothing short of miraculous. As I leave, I pray that Becky's Savior would truly be honored and glorified in every service we hold. May He alone receive all the praise.
Here is my prayer itinerary for this trip. Please pray for me as the Holy Spirit leads you. Thank you. Dave
Thursday 21 Nov.
Depart RDU for Toronto then Addis Ababa
Friday 22 Nov.
Lunch with Frew, dean of Evangelical Theological College
Saturday 23 Nov.
Depart for Alaba; celebration service for Becky with all churches and all denominations in Alaba (pm)
Sunday 24 Nov.
Speak in Alaba main church (am); speak in Zobechame church (pm)
Monday 25 Nov.
Visit with evangelists (am); speak to students (pm)
Tuesday 26 Nov.
Depart for Burji (15 hour drive)
Wednesday 27 Nov.
Celebration service for Becky with all churches and all denominations in Burji (pm)
Thursday 28 Nov.
Visit with evangelists
Friday 29 Nov.
Depart for Addis (am)
Saturday 30 Nov.
Sunday 1 Dec.
Celebration service for Becky with all churches and all denominations in Addis (4:00 pm)
Monday 2 Dec.
Speak in Kale Heywot chapel; ETC chapel; depart Addis for Frankfurt, Philadelphia, and Raleigh
Tuesday 3 Dec.Arrive RDU
Tuesday, November 19
7:10 PM Please keep my friend Andrew Rozalowsky in your prayers as he struggles with cancer.
5:02 PM Jane had her first baby today.
Welcome to the farm, little one!
4:26 PM I see that I'm not the only one who appreciates the work that Thomas Hudgins is doing in the field of Greek pedagogy. If he were ever to get his way, the focus of the Greek classroom would move from content to praxis, from Greek to ministry. In his latest essay, Thomas writes:
This hits the nail on the head and is very convicting, because I know that I for one could do a much better job of doing this in class. "Using New Testament Greek in Ministry." What a great concept, Thomas. Why, someone should write a book with that title!
3:40 PM Did I hear someone say they wanted to see more pictures? My wish is your command! Here is what the campus looked like this morning after I dropped Nigusse off for his classes this week.
Then I had breakfast with the dean of Odessa Theological Seminary in Ukraine, who was here for meetings on campus.
Alex was a wonderful host when I taught there in March.
Future plans call for me to return next year to "teach the teachers." Alex is wanting to assemble the New Testament profs in Ukraine for a weeklong workshop on Greek pedagogy. Sweet. Next stop today? Meeting with my colleague Maurice Robinson to discuss the Pericope Adulterae conference to be held on our campus next April.
I think we've finally tied up all the loose ends. By the way, my thanks to one of our speakers, Tommy Wasserman, for posting an announcement today on the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog. Last but certainly not least, Jon Glass and I pigged out at the Red Robin in Durham over lunch.
As you can see, nothing special happened today, and everything special happened today. I love and hate days like today. Driving from Wake Forest to Durham, I wept most of the way. Becky, how I miss you! I can't stand this cross. How can I bear it alone, without your companionship? Intellectually, I know I'm never alone. I am a Christian. He never leaves nor forsakes His own. Just typing those clichés makes me want to scream. Because she is still here. Everywhere I go I see her smile, smell her scent, hear her laugh. I see the pain in her face, the effort to take a sip of water, the stoic resolve in the face of unspeakable suffering. It's the same aching feeling I used to get when I had to leave her on a mission trip. And suddenly I am fiercely homesick for the "good old days."
We live in a world that has lost its appreciation for the small people. We think bigger is better, so we supersize everything from our hamburgers to our church sanctuaries. Becky was someone who loved "little" people. I put the word "little" in quotations because Becky was herself a little person, a gentle whisper of God's voice amid the chaos of poverty and suffering.
She refused to allow distorted images of Christianity to define her. Some of you know this well. You knew her character. Which makes it a little easier for me when I try to describe what she meant to me, means to me. In Addis Ababa, the capital of Utopia (as my father-in-law calls Ethiopia), we will be holding a city-wide memorial service for Becky. Here's the invitation I just sent to my friends in Addis:
I can't tell you the number of people in Ethiopia Becky's life directly affected, but there are plenty of them. She has perhaps achieved something she would certainly have detested -- celebrity status. But whenever we see someone who seems to be super-human, we need to step back and look again. Becky was no celebrity, but she was discontent with the old answers and the traditional camps. She wanted to be like Jesus. She wanted people to see a woman who tried to live out what she taught. I learned more about God from Becky than any systematic theology ever taught me. As I leave for Ethiopia, my message is a simple one. I pray that we as Christians will spend our lives making Jesus' way of life accessible to people through little acts of love. Becky had the gift of impatience and the deep sense that the church could do a much better job of obeying Jesus' Great Commission. I thank God for that. Not everyone has that vision. The church needed her prophetic voice. It seems to me that God could use a few more like her in the church today. The Evil One has always tried to smother the Light. Thank God that He still delights in surrounding us with people who make it shine brighter.
Today I asked myself: Where is God? And here is what He told me. I am busy spreading My Gospel through little people like Becky, growing My kingdom like a mustard seed, smaller and smaller until it takes over the whole world.
Monday, November 18
6:45 PM Guess what? I'm on Cloud Nine. Well, I'll be there shortly, that is. The Lord is allowing me to fly business class from Canada to Ethiopia. Seat 2L, to be exact.
I say that with peasant-like disbelief, but it's true. My Miles and More Card enabled me to do this, so goodbye cramped seats, at least for this leg of my trip.
Isn't our God serendipitous?
6:22 PM Evenin' pards! This has been another crazy few days. Our modem went out on Friday, then today our router kicked the bucket. But there's been lots of good, God things happening too. Yesterday I prayed with our Hughes Net technician whose family barely survived the typhoon in the Philippines. Please pray with me that they will survive the aftermath and that their son can get much-needed funds to them. Tonight Nigusse and I are working on my schedule for the Ethiopia trip. We are still awaiting word on the venue for the celebration service in the capital. But the rest of the schedule seems to be falling into place. In other news, imagine my delight when I opened this email:
I've received several emails just like this one from those of you who requested a copy of my book chapters. I'm taking your comments with me and I will go over them on the long flight from Toronto to Addis. Before I leave I am working on a couple of pretty gnarly situations that need to be put to rest before getting on the plane. There's much more to say, but let's just say for now that it's been stressful. I bet the cross was stressful for Jesus too! Oh yeah, and what do you think about Obama skipping out on the 150the anniversary of the Gettysburg Address? I mean, here's a man who announced his candidacy in Springfield and swore his oath of office on Lincoln's Bible. I just wish he had taken time to offer words of conciliation and healing as his forefather did. We are the United States today due largely to what happened on that battlefield 150 years ago. Besides, it's just a few miles from Camp David!
In the meantime, I find myself thinking about a lot of things. It is very much an emotional time for me (still!) as I reflect on all that has transpired in the last few weeks. Loss is proving to be a hard thing to nail down, if you know what I mean. I'm also working on my teaching schedule for 2014. Teaching is very stimulating for me. It's also cathartic. By the grace of God and the healing power of Jesus, I do hope some day to be able to put body and soul back together again. However, I don't think it's going to be any time soon. My goal today, as it was when Becky was alive, is to be as totally trustworthy as I possibly can be. So I pray for wisdom and faith. So often, like the disciples, I cry out "I don't get you, Lord!" There's nothing shameful about that. In fact, it's a pretty good starting point for healing.
Thanks for listening. Again.
11:24 AM Hope has many names. Here are three of them: Bradford, Becky, and Betty.
They went to a place called Bobitcho to establish a mission school for Ethiopian children, a school that would not only teach math and history but Bible and Christianity. When I think about the awesome sacrifice these three Americans made to bring the Gospel to the people of Bobitcho, I am reminded that God is calling each one of us to become part of what He is doing in the world. As you know, the other evening Nigusse and I had dinner with Berhan and her husband Dilayehu. Dilayehu's mother Fantaye actually attended the school that Becky's father taught in from 1955 to 1960. And guess what? Dad "just happened" to have a picture of Fantaye when she was in the sixth grade. He sent it to me yesterday:
Do you see her? Fantaye was the only girl in her class. Naturally, I sent this picture to Dilayehu. This was his response:
I share this story with you for a reason. God is calling us to bring hope to the children of Africa, to teach them about the Lord Jesus Christ and His great love for all people. Today, the work continues, largely without the direct help of Americans or foreign nationals. The native missionary movement is flourishing in Ethiopia. The most effective discipleship is done by Ethiopians. The frontline work that Becky's parents did has been taken over almost completely by indigenous missionaries. And the results have been remarkable.
But everything has a beginning.
Dad and mom, thank you for your faithfulness to God's calling on your life and marriage. Thank you for leaving the comforts of the U.S. and taking your 1-year old daughter to a remote corner of the globe simply because you loved others more than you loved yourselves. Today, God's loving hand of grace and forgiveness remains extended to these people. How can I ever express my appreciation to you both for what you have done for the sake of the Gospel? I hope and pray that the kind of humility you evidenced in your lives will bring the church in the U.S. back into the center of God's will and global plan.
Mom and dad, I love you. I salute you.
9:18 AM I will miss ETS in Baltimore this year, but I see that my Southeastern colleagues are very well-represented:
Best wishes to all of you!
9:05 AM Odds and ends ...
1) Very humbled to announce that over $1,500 has been donated thus far to the Burji Ministry Training Center in honor of Becky's memory. The donors will never have the chance to see the Burji people face to face in this world, but one day they will spend all of eternity together rejoicing over the goodness of the Lord.
2) John Piper's Missions Is Not for Wimpy Women struck a resonating cord. Even in the middle of her suffering, without any hair, Becky helped the Ethiopian people with her prayers, gifts, financial support, and even her presence. Fellow American, you and I are among the elite of the world. We have so much while others have so little. I am beginning to challenge every believer I meet to set aside $1.00 a day to help support a native missionary in the Majority World. Every Christian in North America has some minimum responsibility to help the needy brethren in the church in other nations. Some of you, God will even call to go. Will you, or will you wimp out?
3) Allan Bevere shows us how the church can be political.
4) And just who has proved critical in the relief effort in the Philippines? Churches and charities. Have you given yet? Donate through your local church. Or better yet, find a Filipino and help them support their loved ones back in the homeland.
Sunday, November 17
7:05 PM Joel Bradsher writes from India:
Have you been faithful to pray for Joel and the team? They suffer from loneliness just as you and I do. Just as importantly, may God open our eyes in the West to the reality of nearly 3 billion people who are still unreached by the Good News!
6:12 PM Good evening, cyber friends! Good to be back. Our modem went down Friday morning and we just got it back again. Am eager to read your emails. They have been lifesavers, let me tell you!
So how are things going at Bradford Hall? I'm actually doing pretty well, though I've had my "moments." Have you ever asked yourself the question, "Why does it only seem to get harder?" Yesterday was horrible. It was the two-week anniversary of Becky's Homegoing. Yesterday I felt like a professional cyclist who has just climbed a long hill and now feels he should be able to coast down the other side. But when he reaches the top he sees that the road winds on, with even steeper hills than the one he has just climbed. Saturday, as I sat alone in my library, I began to sob. I don't know if I can do this. Well, I may be dumb but I'm not stupid, so I got on the phone and called one of my daughters. I don't need to suffer alone, I reminded myself. November 2, 2013, is a day I will never forget as long as I live. It is one I look back on with thanksgiving as well as heartbreak. With the Lord's help I want to extract every ounce of positive teaching from the 4-year-long illness and passing of Becky. I want my whole life to count for Christ. I try to thank Him every morning for all He has done for me, to praise Him for His goodness, and to ask Him for the strength to do His will so that through my actions others will see Him in me. Lamentations 3:23 has meant so much to me lately. "He does not willingly afflict the children of men." I must be clear about that. God may permit suffering but He does not cause it. He seeks only my utmost good through the pain. With rare exceptions (thank God they have been few!), people have shown me love and acceptance. They have shown me how to support bereaved people with the greatest sensitivity. Mostly you've just taken time to visit my blog and listen. What are the lessons I am learning? I'm learning to lean on God more than on others. I'm learning to appreciate the hospitality of people. I'm learning that it's okay to miss Becky's companionship. I'm learning the importance of studying the life and teachings of Jesus so that I can know how to react to the pressures of everyday life. I'm learning the value of singleness. (Jesus was a bachelor, and who would dare call Him an oddball or unfulfilled?) I'm learning that life can be rich and satisfying even if, humanly speaking, I am alone. I'm realizing that there are places in life I can go as a single person that would be out of the question if I were married.
So what makes being a widower so hard? I think it's because the Christian widower knows that God is good. He dares to push the Absolute back into the center of the picture. He recognizes that his life is the product of a wise Creator. Where others see only loss and silence, he knows that God is shouting aloud in the color and scent of every sunset and rose. He knows he has no one apart from Christ. He realizes that Christianity is for people who have no answers apart from faith in a loving and just God. He knows that Christ will stick with him, change him, and in the end receive him into His presence. Ain't it just like Jesus to teach me these things? The apostle Paul (a single man) had one ambition, and that was to know Him (Phil. 3:10). This is the same Paul who experienced success and loneliness, elation and depression, who had known Christ on dry land and in shipwreck. Richard of Chichester once prayed: "May I know thee more clearly/Love thee more dearly/and follow thee more nearly." I suppose I can say this is my prayer too.
Well, I need to get caught up on emails and cook supper for Nigusse. As you know, I leave on Thursday to help the Ethiopian church cope with Becky's death. I fear that for all too many, Becky's passing is seen as the worst thing that could befall them. I shall seek to help them view it as a graduation into glory, into a life no longer marred by sorrow and suffering. I will be quite insistent that while tears of grief are acceptable, an atmosphere of gloom and doom is not. Death is a defeated enemy because of the first Easter. Christians are the only people on the planet who can rejoice in the face of the Valley.
Friday, November 15
8:22 AM Did you notice, in Joel's email, the emphasis he placed on baptism in India being a matter of public witness? I address this issue in my forthcoming Seven Marks of a New Testament Church. I don't see why anybody would be interested, but just in case, here's a sneak preview:
8:02 AM Note on April's Pericope Adulterae conference. In case you are expecting something spectacular from me, let me clarify that I am not a speaker per se as I have never published anything on that passage. The other speakers, however, are all recognized experts in this field. My role has been to help organize the conference, solicit the presenters, arrange the venue and schedule, and eventually assist in publishing the essays for a broader audience. I will also be moderating the event. The passage being debated is hugely important. I do hope you will consider attending.
7:22 AM Joel's latest communiqué from India reads as follows:
God provides. That seems to be the theme of all of Joel's emails. God always provides, it's just that often we don't see it clearly. Well, here is clear evidence of His provision. Here is the body of Christ in action as one man comes alongside another man.
I love this photo of Joel with the Indian evangelist and his family. My heart is full. Full of hope and light for India.
Please storm heaven with me for the Santhal people of northeast India.
7:10 AM Becky's Celebration Service at SEBTS is now on YouTube. My thanks to Media Services at Southeastern and to my assistant Jacob Cerone for their help.
So sit back and watch. Watch the Lord work his magic on a little girl from Africa. Watch His love grow in a barren heart. Watch as He helps her find her way Home. As we watch her story unfold, perhaps our path will become a little clearer.
6:50 AM Meet Berhan. She is one of a handful of Ethiopians who works at UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill. As soon as she heard that Becky was hospitalized, she would rush to the room, greet us, and then begin to pray as only Ethiopians can pray. She would then give us a hug and disappear back into the corridors of her workplace. Today, I am thankful for Berhan. I'm thankful for all of the people who came to us through the little cracks and crevices of life. I'm thankful I got to witness such an outpouring of love for my wife. I just wanted you to see her and her family. They had Nigusse and me over for dinner last night in Durham.
Which is one of the things keeping me going in the face of the wound, all the heartbreak. Thank you Berhan and Fantaye. You loved Becky well. You will forever be in my heart.
Thursday, November 14
4:10 PM So one doctorate is not enough for Señor Thomas Hudgins! Congratulations, young man. Now you will have the best of both worlds: a Southeastern Seminary education and a Complutensian University degree (*smile*).
1:14 PM Here we go again. In 2000 David Beck and I organized a major conference on campus to debate three issues: New Testament Textual Criticism, the Synoptic Problem, and the Authorship of Hebrews. Then in 2004, I organized a conference dealing with The Last Twelve Verses of Mark. Please note that next April the seminary is sponsoring yet another major conference, this time on the Woman Taken in Adultery Passage (John 7:53-8:11). Speakers include:
For the official announcement, please go here. If you ever needed an excuse to come and visit Southeastern's beautiful campus, this is it.
9:46 AM I am working on completing my book Seven Marks of a New Testament Church. I would welcome interaction. If you'd like to review a chapter, let me know: email@example.com.
9:42 AM Was reminded today of the importance of language. You may have read the story in the news. On a flight to RDU yesterday a Southwestern pilot announced over the intercom, "We're going down," seconds before making an emergency descent to 25,000 feet. The plane simply needed to get to a lower altitude due to the loss of cabin pressure. Technically, the words "We're going down" were correct. But talk about a poor choice of words. I suppose the captain meant to say, "Everything's okay. We are going to make a safe but faster than normal descent for a few thousand feet, but there is nothing to worry about."
Which got me to thinking. As a teacher, what are the takeaways?
1) Communication is primarily a function of the receptor. You always need to communicate on the basis of the listener.
2) When you need to say something, you will have several options to choose from. The goal is to find the best way of communicating what you mean.
3) It doesn't take much to create a negative atmosphere in the classroom. We need to be thoughtful about our communication style as teachers, both in our tone of voice and in our body language.
4) If we do make a mistake, learn from it and go on. Then determine to avoid that specific situation in the future.
I recall once reprimanding a student for tardiness. "Late again?" I said in an impatient tone. Bad choice of words. And no need to rebuke a student in public. Since then I always approach students privately when they show a pattern of tardiness to class.
Mark Twain once uttered these words: "It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt." That's a very good reason to think before we speak.
9:23 AM The internet keeps showing me interesting stuff. Click on this link and note how Robert Martin handles living in the darkness. Evil is evil, and the Christian response is simply trust. We know that evil and death have been overcome, but we also know that it is a victory yet to come and that all creation groans in expectation of the glory that will be revealed in that day. I like the definition of hope that Gary Hauger, director of International Justice Mission, gives:
"Patient impatience." If that doesn't describe my life right now. Oh how I want to see Becky again! But this is no excuse for inactivity, for lack of planning or obedience on my part. So I find myself emailing this person or that, making arrangements for teaching here or there, traveling to this country or that, or just putting dinner appointments on my calendar. I think that's a pretty healthy way to deal with the darkness, don't you?
So much to learn from Becky's Homegoing.
Wednesday, November 13
6:08 PM Yet another wonderful tribute: Remembering Becky Lynn Black. Thank you, Tope.
5:26 PM Seven days. That's the amount of time until my next international trip. I can't believe it's true. I can't believe I'll be traveling again. My role of care-giver is over. It is time to move on. Thank you for praying for me. Thank you for standing in the gap with me. Please, don't stop now. Don't stop emailing and connecting. I've done a bunch of crying recently. Happy, frustrated, bewildered, joyful tears. I don't think I've ever been so aware of Becky's absence and at the same time been so aware of the scope of the needs in the world -- in places where Dave Black is needed. It's such a strange thing, this knowing that I am in the center of God's will but wanting so badly to go back in time, to be with someone you loved for so long. We're all on this adventure together, zigzagging down the road less traveled. I've made it through the first week and a half. Now I just need to figure out how to negotiate the rest of the journey. In some ways I'm looking forward to being away from home. I can't explain how difficult it is for me to even go into our bedroom. I've surfed 30-footers at Sunset Beach, climbed the Pyramids of Egypt, did battle with malaria, and nothing is scarier than trying to adjust to a house without Becky. I can't get used to it. It's hard to find my balance. How long? How long before I regain a sense of normalcy? How long do husbands grieve over the loss of their wives? I have no way of knowing. I feel so small, and yet God reminded me today of His care and concern for every single detail of my life. I am so grateful for His Word. I have been so blessed by His presence. As much as I wish my heart wasn't broken, I'm so grateful that I have Him.
Yesterday I was convicted about something. May I share it with you? Once in a while I hear someone say, "Poor Becky. She died so young." That thought has even crossed my mind on more than one occasion. But the notion is wrong, so very wrong. No one need feel sorry for Becky Lynn Black. She accomplished more in 60 years than most people could accomplish in ten lifetimes. I have to keep reminding myself: It's not the quantity of years that counts, but the quality. Jack London, the famous writer who died in 1916, had this to say about death:
Then he added these famous words:
If ever there was a spark, a meteor that burned itself out in a brilliant blaze, that was Becky. Do not feel sad that she only lived for 60 years. Rejoice that she was a vessel of honor for the Master's use. Every minute mattered to Becky. I want to live like that. I want to live every second of my life with passion. I want to give 1,000 percent to whatever I know is the will of God for my life. And what is that will? I was born to be a teacher. Let me, then, teach with everything I've got. And what of my Christian calling? If I was born to be a teacher, I was born again to be a fulltime minister of the Gospel. So were you. So was Becky. That's why we were partners in the Gospel, she and I. That's why she could die, not with despair, but with childlike trust. "Only one life, 'twill soon be past, and only what's done for Christ will last." Why should we spend our lives investing our time and energy in things that won't last a week or a year, much less outlast our earthly lives? Becky devoted all her energy to the cause of Christ and in the daily doing of God's will for her life. Becky realized that death could not touch her until her earthly work was done. She gave up everything she didn't need. She kept everything that mattered. She held everything else loosely. As a result, she eventually gained what she never had before -- heaven, perfect peace, inexpressible joy, Jesus Himself.
Let me ask two questions: 1) What are you living for? 2) Whom are you influencing for Christ? What is your goal in life, and how will that make a difference in the lives of others? If your mission in life is anything other than the Great Commission, then you're living for the wrong mission. At one time I lived for my scholarship, for my academic reputation. Today, the only thing that matters to me is knowing Christ and making Him known. Howard Hendricks, whose funeral I attended in Dallas earlier this year, put it this way: "Only two things in this world are eternal -- the Word of God and people." God's Word lasts forever. And people last forever. Everything else will disappear. Becky made a difference in the lives of others because she knew this to be true. She invested her life in something that would outlast her. That's why she could be joyful in a grumpy world. Jesus said, "Let your light so shine before people that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven." Becky was a bright star in a dark world. How many countless people did she guide safely Home? The Gospel expects nothing less of us. We cannot evade this responsibility. God's grace is free but never cheap. Let's seek first the kingdom of God and seize every opportunity to share Christ's love with a lost world. Like Becky, let's face difficulty with joy. Let's refuse to complain or blame others.
Give up everything you don't need.
Keep everything that matters.
Hold everything else loosely -- except Jesus.
Do something with your life.
Don't just exist.
Becky lived only 60 short years. I had a front row seat for 40 of them. I was an eye-witness to the magnificence that comes from a living relationship with Jesus Christ. He alone is Lord. He gave Himself for us. And now He invites us to come to Him and allow Him to give us a brand new purpose for living.
So I apologize. I apologize for every time I said to myself or to others, "Poor Becky. She died so young." I am trying to learn every single lesson that God wants me to learn through this painful loss. To be perfectly honest, I am the one who needs to learn these lessons the most. I feel like a small child wading on the shore of a limitless ocean. I am so grateful to have known Becky, to have stood by her side for 37 years. I have been so blessed by her love and by the grace she showed me. When I think of my life without her, my heart breaks into a million splinters. The one thing I know is that her influence is not over. It has only just begun. I know, too, that she has much to teach me still, to teach all of us. That's why, spilling past the raw hurt, is a joy, the joy of having known her. And I will live the rest of my days in the light of that blessing.
Thanks so much for listening.
12:40 PM So it's been a couple of days. I have a good excuse, though. My daughters insisted that I get away for a few days at the beach and, being the obedient father that I am, I accommodated them. Here's where I stayed in Atlantic Beach (courtesy of Karen and Rick Godwin -- thank you!).
I spent a lot of time in the water of course, grabbing my board, donning a wet suit, and frolicking in the gigantic surf.
It was so huge, in fact, that the waves apparently scared away all the locals, as I was the only one in the water or even on the beach for that matter.
While in Atlantic Beach I also met up with Kevin Brown and his family who were visiting their eldest daughter and son-in-law (who is stationed at a nearby Marine base). We had a great meal together last night sharing about the goodness of the Lord in our lives.
This trip was just what the doctor ordered. I desperately miss Becky, and I think her loss is starting to catch up with me. Up until a week ago, my schedule was peppered with visits to and from friends and family, and with all the comings and goings it was hard to realize you were alone. Becky's absence hits me at odd moments, like now, sitting here at the computer, listening to the quiet sounds of the farm, lost in this cavernous house that was once filled with so much activity and laughter. As I type this, I am planning my future travels. The church in Ethiopia has asked me to come and help them process the Homegoing of their dear Mama B, so I'll be leaving next week for a 12-day trip to hold memorial services in Alaba, Burji, and the capital of Addis Ababa. Then it will be back to India and another Asian nation where I've been pretty active the past few years. I may even return to Ukraine to teach another class at the Baptist seminary there (my last visit there was in April of this year). I love doing ministry (as you know!), especially in an era when technology allows me to share photos and stories with my audience almost in real time. Just today I received an update from Joel and the India Team. He wrote:
You bet, Joel, it is my joy and honor to pray for you! I sink to my knees as I trace the line of God's mercy in that part of India and can't wait to be there myself.
I could post a hundred more pix of my trip to the beach and they still wouldn't begin to describe what just getting away meant to me. But I would like to leave you with a final photo. You know that I've been writing a book called Seven Marks of a New Testament Church. Well, I had no idea that such a church actually existed -- until today. I snapped this photo on my drive home today.
A picture is worth a thousand words, they say.
I'll be back later with another update and some thoughts that I wrote about Becky while I was gone, but first I have to unpack and check on the animals. Living alone is so much harder than I ever imagined, which is why I suppose it's okay for me to share my thoughts and aspirations with you. We both know the future is going to be pretty awesome.
Monday, November 11
9:20 AM The latest from Joel in India:
8:02 AM Latest surf report for Atlantic Beach, NC ....
Is the Lord trying to tell me something?
7:12 AM Yet another tribute from a very dear friend: She is Home!
6:32 AM Monday morning update:
1) Cowabunga dude. Off to the beach for a couple of days. (Thanks to the Megg family for house/farm sitting while I'm gone.) Without a doubt I'm a hopeless romantic -- I'm taking along a picture of Becky. Other items I'll pack in my Woody:
2) Just ordered: What Protestants Need to Know About Roman Catholics. It's the latest in the Topical Line Drives series from Energion.
I had the honor of speaking to a group of Catholic students in February at the annual Joseph LaGrange Biblical Conference in DC. (For a review, go here.) I lectured on the authorship of Hebrews -- the very same lecture I gave at the University of Oxford several years ago. I was a bit surprised at how well received the lecture was in both venues. Looking forward to further interaction with Catholic students in the future.
3) The India team arrived safely in Bagdogra. Praise God!
4) Couldn't resist:
Sunday, November 10
6:30 PM Becky wanted to have only one simple yellow rose on her casket. I am going to preserve it.
Isn't is beautiful? My yellow rose of Texas.
My how I love her!
5:28 PM This just came from our dear brother Oshe in Burji:
If I could, Oshe, I'd get on the plane tonight! I love you! Papa B
5:23 PM India Team update: They've arrived safely in Delhi, praise God! Now a 12-hour layover before flying to Bagdogra. Pray for endurance. I am so excited for them.
5:20 PM Question: How can our generation reach the world for Christ? Answer: By each of us becoming a global Christian. That's the thrust of Paul Himes' latest blog post, and it is a winner: Some Thoughts on Missions. You'll love his (unique) definition of "missions." You'll also appreciate his thoughts about Christian nationalism (which he calls an "idol" -- Amen, brother!). Finally, he mentions the blessing that Becky's Homegoing Celebration last Sunday was to him. My prayer? For several hundred thousand more like Paul with the spiritual sensitivity to hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches. Well done, Paul, well done!
1:02 PM Pray for Nigusse, poor guy. I'm cooking his meals from now on :) Today's menu? Cream tuna over rice.
9:38 AM Here's something pretty cool. I saw it at a friend's Twitter feed. It's called Create Your Visited States and Provinces Map.
How many states have you been in? I've been in 49 (Alaska, I'm on my way). What a great nation we live in!
9:04 AM Joel Bradsher (elder at Clement Baptist Church) sent along this email. He, along with 5 others, left for India yesterday. I urge all of us to be praying for a fruitful ministry as they come alongside the local church there. Thank you! Dave
Please pray that we will faithfully instruct the young church in NE India. Pray that we will be resilient in our efforts to encourage and edify our brothers and sisters there. We also desire that the Father forge some partnerships in order that upon our return sister churches will actively engage in supporting the church planting efforts of the Peniel Gospel Team.
Nov. 16th - 17th
Traveling to Darjeeling (if possible) to see possibilities of ministry in Tibetan Refugee camps.
Thanks for your love for the gospel,
8:42 AM Here's another tribute I missed the other day: Her Deeds Will Follow Her.
8:14 AM Happy Resurrection Day, folks! I find myself increasingly frustrated with knowing what to blog about these days. I feel that if I keep on talking about Becky I will become just another broken-record-blog. As I've been contemplating all this, I've been thinking a lot about what the Gospel is, and what the church ought to be in light of that Gospel. At dinner the other night, Joel (who just left for India) and I were talking about the passage he will be focusing on there: Phil. 1:27-30. This is the heart of Philippians, and the reason we know that is because Paul says, "The only thing that matters is...." Now when Paul says "The only thing that matters," that's the only thing that matters. "The only thing that matters is that you live as good citizens in a manner worthy of the Gospel." But what does that mean? Nobody is worthy of the Gospel. Here is how I translated this verse in my essay The Real Message of Philippians: "The only thing that matters is that you live together as good citizens of heaven in a way that the Gospel of Christ requires" (1:27). Did you see that little word "requires"? This is a far cry from the "normal" Gospel presentation of "You're a sinner, and all you have to do is accept Jesus and you'll go to heaven." That is true, of course, but the Gospel is so much more than that. The gift of eternal life requires involvement in the new community of the Spirit called the church. It requires the sharing of one's possessions among the community members and giving to anyone in need. The gift of imputed righteousness is incomplete with a new heart and new life in Christ Jesus. So where you see this Gospel at work, you will see churches proclaiming Jesus as Lord and doing irrational works of service in their communities -- loving on, wrestling with, even laughing with the homosexuals and atheists and Muslims. Go ahead: Have your three day conference on Reformed theology. Just be sure to follow it up by having each of your famous speakers serve at the local food kitchen for three days as well. What a message that would send.
The blog world is strange, honestly. It's mostly talk. There's very little about doing the Christian life. It doesn't really matter in the end if anybody ever reads what I have to say. What I write must spill out onto the screen and beyond it to the world. I have nothing of earth-shattering importance to share with you in these pages. The most I can do is point you to the One who will shake your life up big time. Today I am just as petrified as the moment Becky died. But I hear a still small voice telling me not to give up, not to get too comfortable, not to pack it in and retreat from this strange and wonderful and hurtful world in which I am called to live out my Christianity. A bigger heart than mine is seeking to love it through me.
Well, sorry for the rather protracted rambling, but I get in these moods every so often. It's hard to know what to say to your web audience when your heart is broken and nothing you do can blunt the searing pain. Given all this, I cannot be too thankful for those who have gone out of their way to love on me and Nigusse. Last night was such an experience as we dined on excellent Ethiopian food at the Queen of Sheba in Chapel Hill with Jon and Matthea and the kids. Underneath the fear and shining through the tears I could see their love so clearly. This is the story of my life right now: crying out to God privately while enjoying others' company publicly. If you've never looked into the eyes of a two-year old who soothingly says, "Papa B,' then I submit to you that you are missing out on the fullness of life.
By the way, Friesh, the owner of the Queen of Sheba, was celebrating her 5 year anniversary last night in her current location. Nigu and I got her a dozen roses for the occasion, as well as another bouquet just to say "thank you" for the many times she drove to the farm to visit with Becky. There's something so wonderful about the Ethiopians we met last night. It defies my best efforts to describe them. Solemn brown eyes peering at you from a face filled with a smile. Calm, dignified, eager to converse. I can't tell you how many times the restaurant erupted into shouts of laughter. It was a good time, a very good time. Just what the doctor ordered for a man who doesn't even know what to blog about.
In case you didn't know, tomorrow I'm going surfing. It will be the first time I've been on my board since I took it to the Outer Banks 15 years ago, when we first moved to the East Coast. Somehow this seems so right. Somehow, when I am at the beach, everything seems okay again. I will think back about all the wonderful times Becky and I went to the beach together in Hawaii, California, even the Mediterranean. Can you smell it? It smells like summer again, like innocence. What more could I ask for?
I'm glad I have a family that loves me, and I'm even more glad that I have time to spend with them. Because I love them. Very much. Which is why I sit down at the computer and ask God to use these hands to type out these posts.
Saturday, November 9
10:46 AM During the war, Robert E. Lee's daughter Annie died. "I cannot express the anguish I feel at the death of sweet Annie," wrote Lee.
I have found this to be very true today, this difficult day. God always mingles mercy with the blow. That's just His character. Memory brings into sharp focus a woman whom I loved with all my heart. It has been faith that has sustained me through her loss -- faith in the God of the Bible, faith in the God of the living and the dead. God is not small enough to be understood but He is big enough to be praised.
So here I offer my praise to Thee, Oh God. What ever will I do without Becky? Thou knowest. I take all that is precious to me and offer it with open hands, surrendering it, laying it down in dust. I love you, Lord. Thy will be done.
9:33 AM Newsflash! The publisher of Becky's book has moved the publication up from April to January. I couldn't be more pleased. I will write the preface, and Kevin Brown has graciously agreed to write the foreword. The book will include color photos. Isn't God good? Becky is still having an influence!
7:20 AM Good morning, cyber friends! Exactly one week ago, a 60-year old woman took her last breath. With all her heart she had determined to please the One who called her into service as a foot soldier in the kingdom. She accepted her duties without complaint. She was awed by her responsibilities. I was privileged to have known her for 40 years, 37 of them as my wife. Her commitment to the Gospel was unconditional and unsurpassed.
A week later, it's time to take stock. What has this time been like? What has made me recoil, laugh, cry? If you don't mind, I think I'll sit here and take stock.
1) Intellectually, I'm reconciled to the fact that Becky is gone. She is safe in the arms of Jesus, enjoying perfect peace and joy. Emotionally, I'm still a basket case. Life would be terrifying were it not for a truth that keeps hounding me: I know it is not for nothing. I'm on a pilgrim road that winds upward to the very end, and if I look, really look, I can see the Unseen, and that is enough. The same Jesus who "upholds all things by His powerful Word" (Heb. 1:3) is the same One who is somehow holding me together, and not only me but my sons and daughters. We can't do this by ourselves. But He can do it, and He will do it through us.
2) What decisions one has to make! Here again, I have never traveled this road before. Even with the advice of others, these decisions are mine to make and mine alone. When do I take off my wedding ring? I never imagined in a million years that I'd ever have to ask myself that question. How would you answer it? The other day, a good friend heard me talking about my dilemma and gave me the best advice I think I've ever received: You will take it off whenever you are good and ready to take it off. Enough said about decision-making!
3) It's easy to look back and oversimplify your life and marriage. You tend to forget the bad and remember only the good. And that is a very healthy thing. The problem is that others may be tempted to put you on some kind of a pedestal. The fact of the matter is: "Those who marry will have worldly troubles." Thus says Paul in 1 Corinthians 7. I love Jill and Stuart Briscoe. Jill once said that she and her husband were incompatible. Her point was a simple one: All of us are incompatible in one way or another. Love has a huge price tag. That Becky and I were willing to pay that price is not the result of anything good in us. The man who chooses to divorce his wife ("I just don't love her any more") actually chooses the harder way. Things get tough so you just bug out. Folks, I took a vow to cleave to Becky in sickness and in health, for better or for worse, till death do us part. She did the same. I do not, I admit, know what you may be going through in your marriage. But I do know One who knows it -- all of it -- and I know that it is always possible to do what He tells us to do. Husband friend, love your wife. In marriage we're daily trying to do our lessons in the school of faith and obedience. Please, before dumping her, send me an email. Sticking with it is worth it, every minute of it.
4) I have leaned upon the Psalms as never before. To hear King David wail about his loneliness is strangely comforting. When words fail me, the Psalms speak for me. Praise, adoration, complaint, anguish -- it's all there. I cannot stand stillness. (I like to be active.) Yet I need it. The greatest authors are those who have learned how to be quiet and allow another Voice to speak to them. They are willing to shut their mouths, think, and pray over what they are writing. What it comes down to, with regard to contemplation, is we need to cook our own meals rather than eat at MacDonald's every day. Becky's death has forced me into the Word as never before. What a huge blessing.
5) I am not alone. First off, there are the dogs. Have you ever noticed how animals live -- one day at a time, trustfully? Neither Sheba nor Dayda ever worry about the morrow. They look to me, and that is enough. Likewise, in a thoroughly dog-like way, I can entrust my life to my Master. After all, did not the animals (and angels) come and minister to Him? Secondly, there are friends, and boy have they been inventive. My social calendar has never been fuller. Just last night the Johnsons invited Nigusse and me to dinner at their newly-remodeled home in Roxboro. Along with the Bradsher clan we feasted on steaks and the most delicious salad concoction I've ever had.
Tonight we are enjoying Ethiopian food with the Glasses. Next week at Atlantic Beach the Kevin Brown clan has invited me to dinner (they just "happened" to be vacationing at the same beach). Christ knew I would need company, and lots of it. No one deserves the love of others less than I do. No one can be more grateful than I for it, to whom so much has been forgiven.
So there you have it, folks. At exactly 6:52 this morning I knelt on the exact spot where Becky's spirit ascended into Heaven and I prayed and wept and rejoiced in the faithfulness of God. In that very moment one week ago, Becky and I knew ourselves to be guilty, naked, and powerless. There was nothing to do but to cast ourselves on God's mercy, and mercy met us. Today I have a choice to make. I can draw about myself a cloak of self-pity, or I can turn my loneliness into solitude, and my solitude into prayer. The heart that trusts its Lover has no worries. Its emptiness is filled with the love of God, and there is peace.
Friday, November 8
10:02 AM Very grateful to all who posted about Becky's Homecoming. God bless you.
Home to glory: Craig Bennett
The Truck or the Shadow: Kevin Brown
Becky Black: Jacob Cerone
MamaB, Blameless With Great Joy: Thomas Hudgins
Homegoing Message For MamaB: Thomas Hudgins
Journey Well, Becky Black: Robert Martin
Vale Becky Black: Mark Stevens
Becky Black: Brother Geoff
Becky Lynn Passed Away This Morning: Alan Knox
9:50 AM While we were burying Becky, a very good friend of mine was burying his father. The text of his graveside sermon was Ecclesiastes 7:3-4.
I watched his YouTube. It was a powerful reminder to me that graveside services matter. They are reminders that we will all die one day. Yet at the very same time they are celebrations.
They are a visible sign of the invisible reality that one day there will be a resurrection. We can say our goodbyes and resign our loved one to the grave in the confidence that one day we will see each other again.
Becky and I planned together every detail of her Celebration Service and her Graveside Service. We had time to discuss these matters together before she went to Heaven. It was perhaps the last "trip" we planned together. Let's be honest. It's not easy for a family to plan for someone's death. But I appeal to you: plan now for these things. At least write down the fact that you desire to have a funeral or a memorial service or a graveside service or whatever. Do not leave these decisions to others. Rituals have their place. Death is terrifying, yes, but it is not the last word.
Last weekend (was it only last weekend?) Becky finished her journey. She beheld the Celestial City, the Face of Faces. She beheld Him. She became like Him. And that is cause for great celebration.
9:43 AM My thanks to Thomas and Lesly Hudgins for hosting me in DC this week. What a great (and Great-Commission-minded) couple you are. You blessed my socks off. What a beautiful home you have. Gracias, mis amigos.
7:56 AM Good morning, dear friends. I just shared the following letter with my daughters. If you are experiencing grief today, perhaps it will be of some help. Love you! Dave
Thursday, November 7
7:06 PM Hey folks! Today I was honored to speak to the faculty of Capital Seminary and Graduate School in DC.
I just loved the warmth and humility of these people. It appeared to me that my talk was well-received, which is, of course, not to say that everybody agreed with me! I spoke from 1 Cor. 7:29 and 9:5, where Paul says, "Because the time is so short until Jesus comes back, you married folk should live as though you're not married" and "Don't we apostles have the right to take a sister-wife with us on our missionary journeys?" My point? Jesus keeps calling all of us to prioritize the Gospel, whether we are single or married! Missionary statesman Gorger Verwer once said that most American Christians are only "playing soldier." I am convinced that this can be true even among those of us who teach in a seminary. We must stop outsourcing missions to professionals. I am a missionary and you are a missionary. A missionary is anybody Jesus sends to establish a Christian witness, even if it's only with the janitor of the building you're renting in DC. Unless we abandon the Bible-centricity implied in our seminaries and get out into the world where Jesus is sending us, we will never reach the lost for Christ. I hope something I said may have rekindled the passion for global evangelism among these precious scholars. I want to thank my friend and colleague Gary Bredfeldt, the CBS dean, for his gracious invitation to speak to his faculty today.
Gary also teaches at Southeastern and thus wears two gigantic hats! Last night I had yet another honor, that of addressing Thomas Hudgins' Greek class in DC. I showed our Ethiopia slides and then fielded questions.
As I spoke I felt the power of God envelop me. I felt like a zero, a zero that God still wanted to use. I had a blast sharing my life story with these guys!
At the end of class, the students crowded around me to pray for an anointing of power upon my ministry as a single man.
It was marvelous! Finally, here's a photo of the sunset we witnessed last night as we drove to campus from the Hudgins' town home.
For me, life is a bit like that sunset. Life has begun a new chapter, one without Becky. God is teaching me to find my satisfaction in Him. If His lordship is really established over me, it does not matter how easy or difficult my life is. He bore my griefs and carried my sorrows. It is He who is healing my broken spirit and binding up my wounds. And one huge way He does that is through you. When I arrived back at the farm I was surprised that the mailbox was packed. Are people still sending Becky cards? I asked myself. It never occurred to me that you all would send me sympathy cards. But you have, and by the dozens. I have read each one of them, twice over. My inbox, likewise, is filled with love. When Becky was alive, I longed to enter into her sufferings insofar as that was possible. Now I see that you are doing the same thing with me. In fact, I have so many offers for dinner that I feel like a shark in a fish tank that everyone is poking and prodding just to make sure he's still moving and that water is still passing through his gills. Yes, folks, I'm still alive!
All I can say is this. If you could have slipped into our bedroom last Saturday morning and held Becky's hand, you would have been grateful at what you witnessed. Grateful for the way she died, but mostly grateful for the way she lived. I too am grateful, but not always. Sometimes I slip (again!) into self-pity. Time and again I am confronted by the sinfulness of my own heart and how much dross there is in me that God still has to purify. Even though I have a doctorate in theology, I still struggle to obey the simplest teachings of Scripture. How excruciating it is for me to submit to Him who never permits the least form of self-centeredness. God knows that what I need right now is not simply more theology but more sanctification, purifying. Are you not finding that to be true also? Is He not proving His Word to be true in your lives? Is He not challenging you, in new and unexpected ways, to let go of what the world calls security and find your only safety in Him? Life has to go on. There are classes to teach and books to write and guest lectures to give and young men to mentor and a world to change. My cry to the faculty this morning, and to the body of Christ, is to turn back to the true Gospel, that cruciform, radical, scandalous Calvary-love that each of us has experienced. And I am asking that this revival start in my own life. Can't we all take a deep breath and start being honest with ourselves? Are we really completely sold out to Jesus? I want to "see" God, to know Him. I want to offer myself unreservedly into His hands. Day after day I cry out to Him and seek His face. That's my heart. And that's why emails like the following one mean so much to me:
Folks, the time is short. We are indeed to "continue the fight." You who are married should live as though you are not. Yes, enjoy the wife of your youth, but don't idolize your marriage, and don't place a higher value on it than you should. Whether single or married, serve the Lord with gladness, with all your might. "Wherever you are," said Jim Elliott, "be all there, and live to the hilt whatever you are convinced is the will of God for your life."
A final program note: I'm heading to Atlantic Beach for a couple of days next week, and yes, I'm taking my surfboard. The surf report calls for 1-2 feet swells. I'm a bit bummed by this, but that's not the main reason I'm going anyway. Have you done something just for yourself lately? Folks, stay awake to the weirdness and wonder of this quickly passing adventure we call life!
Wednesday, November 6
6:25 AM "A Hand to Soothe His Forehead." Such is the title of a chapter in Roger Steer's wonderful book J. Hudson Taylor: A Man in Christ. The chapter describes his engagement to his dear Maria. The two of them have just slipped away into a private room. They sit on a sofa; he places his arm around her and takes her hand. Later he recorded his impressions:
After their honeymoon, Hudson wrote:
The week of our honeymoon in Hawaii, I discovered the joy and pleasure of a woman's love. From that moment on we were like iron sharpening iron. I realize that no worship of God on this earth could be more significant than two lives being joined together seeking to do His will, seeking to die to themselves and serve others. This is what a good marriage is all about. Modeling Christ and the church -- this is the one essential truth it seeks to embody, explore, and exploit to the fullest. When a marriage looses this outward focus, when love for its own sake become central, then it dies. Marriage is the greatest and most persistent reminder that we do not live for ourselves. Our job is to be peopling heaven with those whom He loves.
I tell you all this because I realized something very important this morning. The task of loving others, of living for the kingdom, of serving and sacrificing as Becky and I did for so many years together -- this task can continue, unabated, unstoppably, inexorably, if I allow it to. I must wait on God and simply trust Him to use my single life to glorify Him. This morning I woke up early again and realized: I am not alone. I have had such a sense of the presence of God with me as never before, and such desire to pray as never before. If I may say so, I think I do love Him more than ever and have a deeper yearning to serve Him than at any other time in my life.
Yesterday my assistant and I mapped out the remaining months of my sabbatical. There are 5 book projects we must complete and, by God's grace, will complete. The first, of course, is publishing Becky's life story. If the cross will not get more comfortable, then perhaps the fruit it bears will be sweeter. In addition to my publications, I have jump-started my travels. In the next few weeks I have added to my calendar: Trip to DC to visit the Lee Memorial in Arlington with some friends ... dinners with church members ... a trip to Atlantic Beach with my surfboard ... teaching again in Asia (with a stopover in Hawaii on the way there). I must learn to open Bradford Hall to guests again. Maple Ridge stands ready for use. I desire to keep busy but not frenetically so.
And how am I? The swells are gigantic. Wave after wave of emotion pass over me. I have never gone through such a distressful period. But for the knowledge that God is with me I should have fainted. The Lord brings dozens of encouraging emails to me each day, and I trust Him to show me how to answer them. I warn you, though: should you ask me about Becky, I will probably break down in sobs. The Gardener came and plucked a rose, and I will never see it again this side of glory. She was more precious than rubies to me. How I miss her sweet voice in the morning. It is impossible to accept that I will never again look into those sparking blue eyes. There is nothing to do but to offer myself on the altar of service to Christ -- and to get some much needed rest.
Family: I am terribly sorry. I am not very good at encouraging you right now. The minute I try to write to you the thought of her death comes anew like a throb of agony. But I love you. I do love you. Only God knows what my dear wife meant to each one of you. He knows that she was the joy of your heart. You feel alone, yet -- am I not right? -- God is nearer to you than ever before. God took her home, and in His love He took her painlessly. And now we must suffer and toil on.
To all of my DBO readers: I love you. Your emails have been an encouragement to me in my difficulties. I have often thought that God has humbled me, has made me little, in order to show what a great God He is. Too much of our lives, our possessions, are not His. We obey Him provided it does not involve too great a sacrifice. Becky made her decision: Christ had commanded His followers to carry the Good News to every creature. She would obey it. Will we?
Rejoicing in hope,
Tuesday, November 5
6:22 PM Tonight Nigu is on campus so I am here alone -- with the dogs, of course. I plan on reading Sherlock Holmes (The Hound of the Baskervilles) tonight and listen to Brahm's great German Requiem. In the meantime, please enjoy this wonderful hymn of the faith: For All the Saints. Here's my favorite stanza (think of our Becky!):
O blest communion,
6:10 PM Becky's mother (Mrs. Betty Lapsley) just sent along these beautiful thoughts about her eldest daughter. Thank you, mom!
3:48 PM Thankful for this wise advice:
3:28 PM Took Nigu to campus today and then had lunch with my assistant to thank him for all he does for me. Thought about Becky the whole time (but don't tell him). The other day someone asked me what it was like to be married to Becky. "To me, Becky was ..." I stammered, unable to describe the story of our life together. William Lane once said, "When God gives a gift, He wraps it in a person." Marriage must be lived out to be properly understood. A marriage is organic; it flexes and grows. It is a life, not a dogma to be explained. It is truth, fleshed out and alive. What a gift Becky was to me and to so many others. Not simply because of who she was but most especially because of whose she was.
The first thing I noticed about Becky in that cafeteria line 40 years ago was her walk -- quiet, graceful, elegant. When she stopped in line behind me, in that very instant I knew she was special. Behind her glasses flashed those beautiful blue eyes. One ear, I noticed, stuck out more than the other. Cute, I said to myself. We met, and the rest was history as they say.
It is impossible to estimate the significance of that first encounter. Two lives intersected in a "chance" encounter, as if the meeting had been preordained. (It was.) Becky would introduce me to the Truth in ways I never thought possible. That Truth set us free, free from the shackles of the Churchianity we both had been living. With Becky's help, I became alive to how good God is, and how much He loves the nations. After all, that's one of the tasks of a spouse: to wake us up to what Reality is and to encourage us to take our eyes off of ourselves and the "good life" of the American Dream. Through those bright blue eyes I could see it all for myself. I discovered the joy of close friendship with my newly-found partner in the Gospel. We began to be gripped by the apostle Paul and his vision of self-supporting missions. Bec was particularly gifted at seeing the future, at envisioning the ministries God would eventually call us to. Struggling with godly manhood, I was eager to learn from her. I felt honored that God had given me such a special gift. It was as if God had created my ears just to hear His voice through hers.
Middle age came before either us realized it. Then the cancer struck with all its fury. We did the best we could to understand the monster that was ravaging her body. In reality, it was worse than we had imagined. It is more important to say "I trust You" to God than to say "I love You." Becky knew this, and that's why we decided from the very first day to be transparent about our cancer journey. We began publishing her essays on the subject, the final one of which was called Running to Home Base. As I look back on Becky's life and ministry, I am reminded of the three phases in Jesus' pattern of discipleship. In Mark 3:13-15, the disciples are first of all called to be with Jesus. Then in Mark 6:12-13, they are commissioned and sent out. Finally, in Mark 6:30-31 they return to Jesus and report to Him all they had seen and heard. It was only after they had done His work that He said to them, "Come with Me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest" (Mark 6:31). Becky used this verse for our retreat ministry at the farm. I never imagined it would describe perfectly her own going from death to her eternal Rest.
Becky always felt it was important to be well-prepared for our mission trips to Ethiopia. She knew we would confront the demonic in direct ways. After all, she was a TCK -- a Third Culture Kid. She grew up witnessing the impact of demonic activity firsthand. In her final days she was assaulted directly by the Evil One. In her heart she knew that Jesus alone had the power to get her into heaven. Being His "soul-friend," she finally was able to rest in His arms, the One who considered it a joy to endure the pain required in order that the two of them could walk together as friends. As far as I know, that was the only time Becky ever doubted her salvation. She knew better than anyone else her own failures. But she also knew that Jesus was her Friend, and that friends always love and always forgive.
As I sought to listen to her, I sought also to listen to God. What was He trying to teach me? I recall the story that Eberhard Bethge, Bonhoeffer's biographer, tells about their days in an underground seminary in Germany. When the young men became distracted during their two-hour long silent prayer meetings, Bonhoeffer would tell them not to fight the distractions but instead to "Follow your mind wherever it goes. Follow your thoughts until they stop, and then wherever they stop, make that person or problem a matter for prayer." During the past few months, Becky and I learned to listen to God. He desires to be with us. He wants to fill our emptiness with His presence. And that's exactly what He's done with our Becky. She understood where she was going when she died. God calls each of us to take this step of faith, to become totally and completely dependent upon Him and His promises. This is the kind of childlike faith that made Becky a woman of God. She knew that this old world is not all there is, that one day she would stand before her Judge and receive her reward. In the death of a Christian, God's love is expressed in sharpest detail.
On Saturday, November 2, Becky lost her battle with cancer. Or did she? Jesus always referred to death as "sleep," a state from which we will be awakened by Him. Becky was created not only to perform the good works for which she is justly famous, but for more, for something infinitely better, for eternal life. And now, what she has left unfinished, we must complete. Becky's magnum opus, her "big one," was nothing she did on the mission field. It was her simple, childlike trust in One who is the Magnus Salvator, the Great Savior of the world. "Be faithful to Him, Dave," she would often tell me. "Be faithful." "Yes, honey, I will."
Last Saturday morning Jesus said to Becky, "Come with Me and rest." Her faithful duties were over. As she breathed her last, I had the sense that I was escorting a fallen warrior off the battlefield.
She had fought the fight, and had won.
5:14 AM Thank you for these words, Craig.
4:38 AM It's early morning. There is a fog of silence upon the heaths and hills of the farm. I awoke and gave thanks for the rest God gave me, for my family and friends, for work to do today. I read that great first chapter of 2 Corinthians about comfort. It is a reminder that the God of all comfort does not hide His eyes from the groanings of a freshly-minted widower. "God has no problems," wrote Corrie ten Boom, "only plans." I'm thankful for Kim, who cleaned my bedroom yesterday. I can't bring myself to sleep in it yet, though. I have often thought of that horrific trash heap Job sat on, scratching and shrieking. Can we watch him suffer and not cry along with him? I suffer because I am human, and we suffer together because we are members of the same body. Through His Word, and through your words, the Lord has made His face to shine upon me this morning and has given me peace. He is gradually bringing the sunshine back into the house. If ever a woman accepted change it was Becky. Hers was a positive and active acceptance of everything God gave her. She lived for others, no matter what her own circumstances were. Thanks be to God. Shall I not follow her example? All right, Dave. Let's try it again. Love means sacrifice. Sacrifice means death. I really do believe you can do it with My help. Want to try it again today? Acceptance of change is not possible without a deep and abiding belief in the sovereign love of God. Will I accept His will for my life? Or will I grumble, gripe, and complain? Ingratitude in the midst of change is nothing less than rebellion against God.
One day Becky and I were lying in bed when an earthquake shook our California home. Without hesitation we grabbed each other, intent on protecting the other person. Today I cannot bring myself to sleep on that same bed. What will happen when disaster strikes? Who will I hold on to? I am not a husband any more. Singleness? That's for Catholic priests. I have a right to feel sorry for myself. It is a terrifying thing to feel alone, to feel isolated without a bedmate. You are not a couple any longer but a fifth wheel. It is not your fault yet you keep blaming yourself. Wasn't there more I could do? Why didn't I get the cancer instead of Becky? But this will not work. The things that break our hearts are not just gifts from God. They are the gift of Himself. You can't ever truly be alone as a Christian. Nothing in that dark bedroom is mysterious to Him.
My life is anything but a good example of walking by faith. Occasionally I get a glimpse of how deep His love is for me. Sometimes the sense of His presence is overwhelming. But not always. It is immensely comforting to know that even the Psalmists complained about loneliness. Long before dawn this morning, I am called to get my bearings before entering the day. I have found that the only reliable compass is the Word of God, even when it reproves me, even when it drags me to the bottom and makes my gasp for breath.
Have you met with God yet today? Have you thought of thanking Him for a new day? Have you asked Him to give you the strength and courage to enter that room you are afraid even to think about? The Word cuts and cleanses. It creates hope and courage.
Without it, what would we ever do?
Monday, November 4
5:56 PM Well, it's time to put on my Augustine hat. Yes, I have a confession to make. Are you ready?
It's been quite a day today. It's been like riding a 25-footer at Sunset Beach: Scared to death. I thought last Saturday was rough. I thought watching Becky die was tough. That was nothing compared to today. C. S. Lewis once said, "There is no square inch of this world which isn't claimed by God [so far, so good] and counter-claimed by Satan [ugh -- now why did you have to go and add that, Jack?]." My world right now is a gigantic minefield. I take a step here and there, absolutely terrified I'm going to step on a bomb. I'm in a battle between good and evil, big time. I had no idea that the infamous "day after" would be so crazy. Up until today my life was non-stop people. Family members flew or drove in, the house was a beehive of activity, and I was surrounded by love and affection. Today everything changed. Everything went back to "normal," and the house is now deadly quiet. Yesterday I was up at 4:00 am thinking about Becky. Last night I slept not a wink for the same reason. The result is utter exhaustion -- and a huge dose of self-pity. I am lingering on negative thoughts, and I don't like it. Not. One. Bit.
Rather than giving grace, this morning I became upset and bitter. Yes, the same Dave who told everyone to "Rejoice!" is the Dave who lost it. Where is everyone today? I expected someone -- anyone -- to be here cleaning out my bedroom. That was my perception. My guess is that my family and friends were having difficulty deciding whether or not to come and see me. "Does he need me there, or does he want privacy?" Truth is, they need as much encouragement, comfort, and strength as I do. It's okay for us to process Becky's death differently. We don't have to follow tradition. We don't have to do what everyone expects us to do. Each of us has to grieve in our own way. Should I try to make you feel guilty because you didn't do this or you didn't do that, don't. The one thing we must not do is let our relationships drift apart now that the ceremonies are over. Let's not let funerals be the only thing that unite us. Let's continue to be there for each other. There you go again, Dave: Preaching what you don't practice. But I mean it. I really mean it. That's my heart, folks.
To my family I say: "I love you. I know you love me. I'll try and do a better job of communicating to you what I need. I know we're all stumbling along. Let's just stumble along together."
And to the Lord I say: "Please, give me some sleep tonight!"
10:30 AM Update: I asked one of my elders to meet me for lunch today in South Boston ... getting a haircut and shave while in town ... going to the bank to report Becky's death ... calling the Social Security Administration to cancel her disability payments ... having the hospital bed and oxygen removed from our bedroom. I also had on my list "clean bedroom" but I can't bring myself to go into it yet. My emotions are like a roller coaster. So much to do, so little help. Just sent an SOS to one of my daughters.
8:26 AM Pastor and brother Kevin Brown (Ethiopia vet and one of my closest friends) reflects on Becky's graveside service. Never has Kevin wielded a more powerful pen. Thank you, Sir, for driving 4 hours to be with us last night with your beautiful family. I am so honored and blessed.
8:08 AM In the coming days I'll be blogging about what it's like to adjust to life without Becky, about what it's like to find your land legs after being out on the stormy waters for so long. But I just want to say here and now what SEBTS has meant to me, and how much I appreciate all of my colleagues and friends who attended yesterday's service on campus, who took the time to celebrate Becky's life with me, from our Provost Bruce Ashford (pictured here giving the opening prayer) to staff members to students whom I persecuted in Greek class.
I miss the people and place I should be surrounded with, this home I call Southeastern. Thank you, all of you, for reaching out to your grieving colleague with words and letters and touches of affection. I love all of you.
7:46 AM From an email I just received:
Amen. He added, "Stay not too long alone." Good advice, Mark, and I shall try to heed it.
7:10 AM The Celebration Service yesterday on campus affected me deeply. I took away several things:
1) I am infinitely more fragile and helpless than even I think I am sometimes. As I watched the video of Becky's life, I was a basket case. I longed to see her again in this life, to have her slip into my arms for a few minutes in one last embrace. But that was denied. My lover was dead. And I grieved.
2) Grieving is okay. Super-okay. When Moses died, the Israelites grieved for 30 days. When Stephen was martyred, "devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him." It is right and proper that we should grieve, as long as we recognize that, since life is Christ, death is ultimately nothing but gain.
3) Express your grief in full. I'm not in the least ashamed of my tears, because it is the Lord Himself who called me to experience the loss of Becky Lynn. Groaning, simply because its human, makes me a real man.
4) Focus on the future. Bec and I are separated only for a short while. All He is asking of me just now is the willingness to accept the relatively small and temporal discipline of loneliness.
5) Don't forget the present. You heard it said over and over again yesterday: Becky's commitment to obedience was unconditional. She welcomed life with both hands, renounced all rights for His sake, and found her significance in serving Him by serving others. It seemed that the harder the obstacles, the greater her determination to be a vessel used of Him. Christ's own radical diminishments -- including His suffering and death -- accomplished great things, including our eternal salvation. What that means is that nothing -- absolutely nothing -- is useless in the down-to-earth lifestyle to which Christianity calls each one of us.
6) Rejoice! "I will extol the Lord at all times," wrote the Psalmist. "His praise will always be on my lips. I will glory in the Lord. Let the afflicted hear and rejoice" (Psalm 34). Adds Paul (Rom. 5:3-5): "We can be full of joy here and now, even in our trials and troubles. These very things will give us patient endurance; this in turn will develop a mature character, and a character of this sort produces a steady hope, a hope that will never disappoint us." Loss carries with it a particular kind of blessing. Becky's death is what Lewis might have called a severe mercy. It means to strengthen and purify. So rejoice!
7) Love God first. Becky found her fulfillment and joy in Christ, not in her marriage. If we love our spouses or families more than we love God, we are guilty of idolatry. God's pleasure is in those who fear Him. Is He not my true Love? If so, He will see that I make it through this lonesome valley. "The Lord gives a new heart to the humble" (Psalm 147:6). "All things that happen to us fit into a pattern for good" (Rom. 8:28). When a man or a woman, a boy or girl, accepts loss for Christ's sake, there are cosmic ramifications if they receive it by faith. Put Him first. Continually give Him your thoughts and affections.
8) Finally, prioritize the kingdom. (You knew this was coming, didn't you?) Those who place self over Savior will never be satisfied. What made Becky a spiritual parent to so many was her devotion to Christ and to His purposes in this world. I believe we all are meant to reproduce, to be spiritual fathers and mothers.
This privilege is not beyond any of us who will give ourselves wholly to God.
In conclusion, Becky's example has changed my response to life. I am called close to the side of Jesus and given a small assignment: receive His grace with thanksgiving and then dispense it to others. "This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters" (1 John 3:16-17). Eugene Peterson puts it like this: "Christ sacrificed his life for us. This is why we ought to live sacrificially for our fellow believers, and not just be out for ourselves." That's it. Pour yourself out for others. Thank the Lord for whatever affliction He has given you. Offer it up to Him for service. Offer it up! It is wonderfully comforting to be absolutely sure that He will use it to accomplish His will. Move with flint-like resolution toward the cross, with all its humiliations and disappointments. Offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving.
Have you really given me the gift of singleness? Then I'll use it for You, Lord. Here it is. Please take it. I love you. Dave
Sunday, November 3
8:24 AM It is amazing to me that so many of you would take the time to write. Thank you! I just have to share with you this email I just received from a former student:
"In Christ alone," he signs off. That is one of the congregational hymns that will be sung today at Becky's Home-going Celebration.
Thank you Craig and the rest of you for blessing me and my family in this way. I do hope many of you can come to the ceremony today at 2:00 on campus. It will be a party and that's for sure!
7:44 AM This wonderful email just arrived from Addis Ababa:
Thank you, brother Woyita. God bless all the brethren in my second home and Becky's first home of Ethiopia.
7:20 AM To all who grieve this morning:
7:10 AM It was so good to see my former assistant Thomas Hudgins (left) and my current one Jacob Cerone (right) at the visitation last night.
Thomas joked about the typo he found in an essay we just co-authored for a Spanish Festschrift. Glad for the levity. One of the leading causes of depression is perfectionism, according to an article I read this morning called Depression: The Lawyers' Epidemic. This morning I was also studying the ebook of James, where we read in chapter 3:
So if you find a spelling error or two on my blog (or anyone else's for that matter), don't take it too seriously. Blogging is not an ode to perfectionism but a means of self-expression. Besides, we all know that Spellchecker isn't perfekt.
5:48 AM I awoke this morning at 4:00 and couldn't get back to sleep. Oh how I miss you, Becky! So what to do? I read more emails (each one is precious to me). A small sampling:
And then I read His words. Words like "But David encouraged himself in the Lord his God" (1 Sam. 30:6). When I think of all the Lord has done for Becky and me and my family in the past few days, I am greatly encouraged. As people passed through the visitation line last night, I asked, "Has Becky impacted your life?" Each of us has ten thousand stories to tell of how Becky shook us up and drove us from our complacency. How she modeled both gracious Christian womanhood and intrepid Christian discipleship. Thank you, those who came, for sharing your stories with me. One lady had been asked by Becky to sew eyeglass cases for the reading glasses ministry we had in Burji. She produced hundreds of them. She was no less a "missionary to Ethiopia" than Becky was.
As I looked at Becky in her simple wooden casket, I thought to myself, She will rise. We will all rise. And together we shall forever be with the Lord. I looked at her hands, the same hands that once caressed me, that once sewed and quilted and cooked meals for me and typed emails to Ethiopia and planted seeds in our garden beds. The woman those hands belong to has only been gone a day, and yet somehow I have trouble remembering how it felt when she last touched me with them. I am beginning to realize that the tears, the pain, the loneliness (one can be lonely in a crowd of people, you know) are all a part of the process of healing for me right now. He will supply my needs and guide me in the right way, at the right time. Still, I desperately want to hold those hands again, to husband Becky as I had done for all those many years.
But that is not to be. God has called me to be alone. That is His appointment for this time. It is He who has placed into my hands the gift of widowerhood. He now calls me to "Be thankful, whatever the circumstances might be, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus." He asks me to make of my pain an offering, to give my singleness back to Him in order that He might make something beautiful of it. Love accepts. Nothing takes God by surprise. But nothing He does is purposeless. God has a plan for every hardship He asks us to endure. And He is there to help and cheer us if we will simply ask Him to. Even as I type these words there is so much to be grateful for. I can't believe how good those years of marriage were. Even our final months together were a blessing. It was my joy to serve and support Becky in her cancer. In my heart of hearts I purposed to be faithful to her until the end. I also prayed that I would be faithful to persevere in tribulation and not grow bitter. Have I succeeded? By the grace of God, I have.
The disciple should not be surprised if, as he travels the road with Christ, there is abject, total loss. Far from being bad for us, the death of a spouse may be the means of spiritual growth and of experiencing a new beginning. The Giver and Taker-Away of life can be trusted. And even when sorrow clouds our vision, we can find peace as we look up to the Father from whom "every good gifting and every complete gift comes." I am learning that the same God who gave me the gift of marriage 37 years ago has now given me the gift of singleness. Will I receive it as from His hand? Is Becky's death the end of the story? A million times No. Out of the darkness emerges a ray of light, even if I am unable to see it clearly. Can this thicket of thorns produce a rose? The answer is Yes. In some mysterious way that I can't explain, God enables the sufferer to endure loneliness without bitterness. Remember what I'm teaching you, Dave. I bring life out of death, gain out of loss. If you allow me to, I can even transform your sadness into joy unspeakable.
Saturday, November 2
10:44 AM Just removed Becky's wedding ring, per her request. This was the ring I slipped on her finger 37 years ago. They will go to someone very special to us when she is given in marriage.
I haven't removed these pictures yet, however.
They sustained us through our long vigil -- family and Scripture. I will keep them up in my bedroom for a while.
I am calling the body "Becky," by the way, not the corpse or the remains. Becky's salvation will not be complete until her soul is reunited with her body at the resurrection. They are picking Becky up at noon. She will be washed and then dressed in her finest Ethiopian clothes. Can't wait to see her tonight at the visitation all purtified. After the hearse leaves at 12:30 I am taking the family out for lunch to celebrate the life and legacy of one awesome woman.
Thankful your your prayers and emails. They are helping to assuage my grief.
10:12 AM FYI:
7:55 AM The moment I have dreaded, and the moment I have been praying for, has arrived. Exactly one hour ago my beloved wife, precious lover, mother of my children, and closest partner in the Gospel, surrounded by friends and family, crossed the finished line. Yes, folks, she made it.
Hooray for Becky!
Three cheers for my gal!
You did it, honey!
Faithful to the end!
Praise the Lord!
Glory to God in the highest!
In case you didn't know, Becky is scheduled to receive official sainthood from the Church. Well, not really. But she should. Why? Because she married the world's biggest knucklehead. For 37 years she put up with his rough-sawn personality and taught him how to love other people. She is one of a handful of people you will never forgot. God used her time and again to remind me what life is all about -- that people are more important than one's profession. You really gotta hand it to old Solomon when he penned Proverbs 31. How in the world could he describe Becky when he had never even met her? I bet he's standing in line to greet her now.
I can't imagine the crown that's awaiting her as she enters her heavenly Home. "'Crown' did you say, Dave?"
Honey, if I could send you a letter up there in glory, it would probably say something this:
Finally, a very special request. Please pray for Brad and Betty Lapsley, Becky's dad and mom, who are now with us here on the farm. They just lost the eldest of their 6 children. I am near tears when I realize how much that will pain them.
This morning, I held my wife's cold hand as she took her final breath. I wish you could have seen her face. I have never in my 61 years witnessed anything more beautiful. Oh my Becky, how beautiful art thou! The moment she crossed the finished line a huge sense of joy swelled my breast as I thought of what she was doing that very moment at the feet of Jesus. Then I led the family in prayer and we sang the doxology.
The Scripture says, "Precious in the eyes of the Lord is the death of His holy ones." No, I did not write "saints." If ever there was a holy one, that person was Becky Lynn Lapsley Black. Her life was separated, sanctified for the Master's use -- every last cell of it, even the cancerous ones. She has left a legacy that will last into eternity. Will you, will I, follow her lead? Will we live as well as she did, and die as well?
Fare thee well, my darling. I love you with all of my heart. You loved me well. I shall never, ever forget you.
Thursday, October 31
8:32 AM "Everyone gets broken on the wheel of love, and the breaking that takes place is like nothing else under the sun. It is not like the breaking that happens in bankruptcy or in a crop failure or in the loss of a job or the collapse of a lifetime's work. For in marriage the breaking that is done is done by the very heel of love itself.... There is no hurt like the hurt that happens in the place that we love.... Many give up and run away, their entire lives collapsing in ruins. But even those who hang on face inevitable ruin, for they must be broken too."
-- Mike Mason (The Mystery of Marriage).
7:46 AM A Reformation Day prayer:
7:38 AM So how are we doing? Does rejoicing through tears make any sense? Today I am trying to get caught up on answering emails. The ladies have cleaned the house from stem to stern (Becky would be proud of them). They are trying to remind me to eat (I've lost 15 pounds in 2 weeks).
And Becky is still with us.
Last night I asked everyone to leave the bedroom. It was time to be alone with Becky -- not on our marriage bed, but on our hospital bed, our death bed. We have never shared more intimate moments. "I love you." "I love you too." "We've had a good life together." "Yes." "Do you remember when I offered you that macadamia nut 40 years ago?" "Yes." "God has blessed our marriage, hasn't He? "Yes." Then I rehearsed the many works God has accomplished through Becky's life. "Do you remember the church buildings we erected in Alaba?" "Yes." "Do you remember the health clinic we established in Burji?" "Yes." As you can imagine, it was a long list -- these "works that God had ordained beforehand that she should walk in them" as evidence of her saving faith in Jesus. And then we worshipped. I quoted to her some of her favorite passages from Scripture (John 14, Psalm 23), and then I led us in prayer as I have done for 37 years. I can say that "we" prayed even though I did all the talking. I could feel her assent, even at times hear a muffled "Amen." Then she fell fast asleep. At peace with herself and the world.
Occasional Becky will ramble on about something. The other day she kept saying to herself, "I'll get it the second time. I'll get it the second time. I just have to keep reviewing my vocabulary cards. That's all it takes." She was referring, of course, to the time I taught beginning Greek in my home church. Becky was one of my best students until she had to drop out for cancer treatments. May I share with you one more dialogue?
Becky (speaking in words as clear as a bell, and obviously referring to herself in the third person):
Dave (whispering to her intensely):
Becky (repeating herself):
Dave (now sobbing):
Dave (realizing what she is saying):
And then the conversation was over. Becky lapsed into silence, and the vigil continued.
I am beginning to realize how much bigger this story is than just another Home-going. God is taking good care of us, just as He always has. Whenever things seem hopeless, I remember a macadamia nut, a wedding vow, and a marriage bed, reminders that God has never left us, has led us all the way. The morning will dawn, even though it will not look like anything either of us has ever seen before.
Wednesday, October 30
11:15 AM My dear, dear friends! I love you so much. The house is quiet. Liz is here from New York. Leigh spent the night with us. Karen and Nigusse, of course, have been fabulous. I ask myself, "Why are you blogging, Dave, when your wife is dying?" Because I have no choice. I must. There are a thousand and one decisions that need to be made, and only I can make them. Yet can I? I am so weak. Tears are my constant companion. Liz read to me from Isaiah 55 this morning:
God's ways are inscrutable. I know that. I even accept that. Yet my theologian brain wants to make sense of it all, has to make sense of it all.
Dare I even question God like that? The only thing I hang on to is His Word. I read Philippians 3 this morning on the front porch as the sun was rising. It was exactly what I needed. Paul writes:
Yes, that's it! Yes, Lord, that's what Becky helped me to see! That all of my worldly and academic accomplishments mean nothing. They are less than nothing. If I'm ever asked to speak in chapel again, I know what I'm going to do. I'm going to get out my Basel diploma (if I can find it) and rip it to shreds in front of my audience. Wouldn't that be something?
That's exactly the work of grace that God did in our marriage years ago. God gave us, in His great mercy, a brand new priority system.
If that isn't Becky! No one I know has experienced more of Christ's power in the midst of enduring arthritis and cancer. No one has been more eager to partake of Christ's sufferings by living a selfless life for others. Becky has even been willing to go all the way to death for His sake. I know. I have seen it. Oh Becky, how I love you! How Christ-like you are!
I said that the only thing sustaining me is His Word. But that's not true. There is also the love of my family. There is the aid of a doctor friend who calls and says, "If you need me, I'll be right over." And then there's you. We need you right now. We need you storming the gates of heaven on our behalf as Becky is carried over that one, last, humanly-impossible hurdle.
So please pray for us. Pray for me. I can't do this alone.