Graveside Chats10:04 PM
Standing in front of his grave all I could think to say was “Jack, thank you for showing me your country. Thank you for letting me into your life. Thank you for teaching me some of your language. Dankeschoen Jack. Danke dass du mir dein Land gezeigt hast. Danke dass du mir in dein Leben gelassen hast. Danke dass du mir ein bisschen deine Sprache gelernt hast.“
Rewind two years. I’m sitting with my friends in Jack’s car as we drive down to the end of a short street in a tiny village inNorthern Bavaria. “This is where I and the baron’s son used to play as children.” He points to an ancient castle surrounded by ramparts. He is so proud of his land, his hometown, and his people. Next we drive to his Lederhosen store. I am completely impressed not only by its sheer modernity but also by the quality of everything inside. This is no country bumpkin shop. We all play dress up and try on Lederhosen and Dirndl’s and make a truly Franconian photo shoot. The next day we go on a motorcycle tour through the vineyards and nearby villages from Wuerzburg. Everything about this place enchants me and in those 36 hours I find my heart’s desire lies not in the distant shores ofCaliforniabut in Deutschland. I long to tell the Germans about Jesus!
Fast forward. It’s a Monday morning in May 2012. I hear the front door open and shut. I wake up startled and confused. Franzi had already left for work 15 minutes before. It wasn’t like her to return so quickly. Next I hear her hysterically crying in her room and I drag myself from out of bed to see if she’s okay. And then she tells me the news that would rock my world and shake me to my very core. “Rachel, something horrible has happened. It’s Jack. He’s dead” she sobs. As I hold onto her, the world around me seems to spin. It’s just too impossible. Jack was only 35. Just like Natalie. Just like Nat. In his famous graduation speech “Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen)” Baz Luhrmann says that “The real troubles of your life are apt to be the things that never crossed your mind; the kind that blindside you at 4pm on some idle Tuesday.” This was one of those horribly unforgettable moments. And during the next few days of reigning shock and hysteria, a pit opened up before me that I never thought I’d be able to crawl out of. We were all somewhat prepared for Natalie’s death. She fought cancer for the past two years. But for Jack, the picture of health, with the whole world before him, a girlfriend he loved, a fantastic business and a burning zest for life, it was just too much to believe.
Pause: And yet, it would have been bearable if we’d been sure of his future, sure of where he was. Due to various factors, neither of us had been in close contact with him the past few years and in that time we had no idea what had happened between him and God. The yawning chasm before us lay not in the fact that he was dead but in the fact that we weren’t sure what that meant. Where was Jack in that moment and for the rest of eternity? The torment of those questions was unlike any physical pain I’ve ever endured. In the midst of it all, God came in via a very large half Germ half Turk. On Wednesday we cancelled our prayer night but someone didn’t get the message. As we sat and talked with Nail (pronounced Nial) on the balcony, he told us how it didn’t matter what happened in someone’s life or if they had seemed to walk away from God. He told us that every day you could have wake up and pray “dear Lord, I’m so weak forgive me” and that God would hear. “He’s only one station ahead!” he called out as he left. What overwhelming comfort.
At a German wake, it is customary to have pastries and coffee for the mourners who wish to stay. As we sat there amongst Jack’s friends and colleagues we met one of his best friends a lady named Sandra. She told us about the day Jack met Jesus. She had had a miscarriage and Jack came over to comfort her. Before he got there, she sat and talked with Jesus. As she opened the door for Jack, he looked at her in shock. “How are you smiling right now?” he asked in stunned surprise. And then she explained to him about how it is with Jesus and that he had a father who loved him so very much. They talked all through the night and Jack gave his life to Jesus. After seeing his best friend come to Jesus, her husband, previously a staunch skeptic also gave his life to the Lord! Sandra, through tears mingled with joy said “If through my dead baby, two people got saved, think of how many more will come because of the death of Jack.”
Jack had always had one big dream in his life and that was to meet his future wife. He said that he wouldn’t mind dying if he just got to know her first! The Lord heard and honored this prayer as well and for the last two years, he had been with the love of his life, Nadja whom he planned on marrying in October. And so, on the 19th of May, on a particularly sunny day outside and after a particularly tiresome day at work, he decided to go out for a quick motorcycle ride. The sun was shining, the grass waving in the gentle breeze and the flowers were in glorious full bloom. It was his daily ten minute ride he took to de-stress. He went the way he always went; down the road, through the rolling green hillsides and further down to the roundabout. And it was there on that beautiful spring day that the Lederhosen man with the cheeky smile was run over by a truck that didn’t see him and breathed his last.
With death comes a strange clarity that I believe makes you see the world as you always should but seldom do. Did he know he was loved? Had he done all he’d wanted to? Did he know Jesus? After asking myself about Jack’s life, I began to question my own. I know that I know that I know that when I die, I will meet Jesus, my Abba, my beloved. The shock and horror of not knowing if someone you cared about knew Jesus is something I am determined to try my best never to live again. Francis Chan often says “Don’t go to work today. Don’t get in your car. Don’t go about your day until you know that you are right with God.” Do you know you are right with God? Do you know He cares about you? It is a wonderful thing to have a job, to have a family, to have true love and a dream but it’s all nothing in comparison to knowing God and telling others about Him. I’ll say it again, there is NOTHING worth doing except knowing Him and bringing others to Him.
Last week in the heyday of my sorrow and morose, I told one of my students about Jack and asked her what she would do if today were her last day to live. She replied “Oh let’s talk about happy things!” I felt my stomach hit the floor. I know it seems macabre but there is a time to face the truth. You, in this moment, are making a decision about Jesus. Was he a “liar, lunatic or Lord?” I literally ache for you out there living without Him. We need to start living not as if we’re going to die but as if we are going to live forever! For we most certainly are going to live forever, the only question remains as to where. Many people are playing around with the idea of there not being a hell or hell not being eternal. Do you really want to put all your money on that horse? Yes, our God is loving, compassionate, merciful, and glorious. He is also righteous and just. Please think about your life. Please get to know Him. Please stop what you are doing and take the time to actually think about your life. You are not promised tomorrow. No doubt you are reading this thinking “she’s just upset over the loss of her friend.” Yes, that’s very true. I am very very sad but I know that I’m going to see Jack again someday and I want the same guarantee for all those I love!
To the Christians out there, we have to stop “hiding the light under a bushel.” We have to stop thinking that if we tell people about Jesus we’ll only drive them away. Are we more determined to preserve our popularity than to direct as many people into His arms as possible? Would you give up your relationship with Jesus for anything? Hopefully not! Allow them the same opportunity afforded you. I look back on my life in shame and regret as I think of the many wasted and misused opportunities to tell people about the love and power of God! We are so terrified to be Bible bashers that we shudder at hearing the truth come out of our own mouths. You know why I say this? I say this because I have lived my entire life in fear of speaking the truth. No more. Perhaps it takes death to call us to life. I only pray I never lose the perspective I’ve been given now. And I am fully aware that the people who will react poorly to this blog are not those people who don’t call themselves Christians but rather those that do. We have got to stop this friendly fire and fight for Jesus together while there is an ounce of breath in our bodies. It isn’t just about saving people from hellfire whether you believe in that or not (though if you do this should be a pretty dang good reason to talk to and pray for people) it’s because heaven is so stinking great! God is so, so good! This life here is the absolute dregs. There’s sickness and death and crime and abuse and problems everywhere! I’m telling you there’s more. You have more to look forward to in your life than that TV show coming back on in the fall. You exist for more than being entertained. You are called to greatness and a destiny. It’s been said that we are a story addicted culture. You want a great story? Let God write it. You want a happy ending? Imagine heaven. I ain’t talking about strumming some gosh awful harp on a marshmallow cloudlike formation. I am talking about the ecstasy of being fully loved at last. That’s when the adventure begins. This is just the prologue. Those foretastes of heaven I’ve had when Jesus was so close remain the best moments of my life. I long for you to have that to. I long for you to know Him like I do, better than I do. I ask again that you consider your life, whether Christian or non. Whether you believe you evolved from slime or were created by an almighty hand, think about the gift you’ve been given and consider that a gift isn’t usually an accident. You are not an accident. You are providence. Let’s start living like it.