Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Sometimes God enters me through my tears

Photo: The Preacher and the Other Preacher (Rebekah Maul and Tim Black)

Sometimes the preacher can't make it, and it's important that somebody represent the church....
Sometimes the associate pastor can't go either...
Sometimes The Preacher's Husband gets to be emissary.

In the Presbyterian Church we have a nifty connectional system - the "Presbytery" functions as our regional body (around 80-plus churches in the Tampa Bay area). Consequently, I know  a number of the preachers fairly well. That's why, when both Rebekah and Tim were committed to two funeral services at home today, I put on my dark suit, drove to Forest Hills Presbyterian Church in Tampa, and attended Bekah Miller's memorial service on behalf of the pastors at fpcBrandon.

What a terrible tragedy... Bekah - a school psychology post-graduate degree candidate at FSU - died this past weekend of a pulmonary embolism. She was 24-years old, active in sports, home for the holidays, and in robust health.

So I stood in the long line and spoke with her father, Rev Craig Miller. Craig is senior pastor at Forest Hills.

"Craig," I said, hugging him briefly then holding on to his arm. "I'm here on behalf of Rebekah and Tim. We are so sorry. I..." (and I reached as deep as I could go, but to no avail) "... I have nothing that I can possibly say...."


"Thank you," Craig responded. "So many people feel obliged to say something, even if they have nothing to say. I'm glad you understand that there's really no need... Your presence is what matters."

Tears: And of course then the tears well up. I'm such a softie! But maybe not so much a softie as someone who is becoming increasingly familiar with stripping my soul bare. I really do understand this wall that so many men build around their authentic selves; they build the wall because once the shell is removed then the soul is - well - all there for all to see. And you (I) feel so vulnerable.

But this is what I believe (and please understand that I'm not only naturally suspicious of gratuitous emotion but I guard against the mistake of routinely confusing it with God.) I believe that the Holy Spirit does some of God's best work when we are broken down. Not "broken"; not "down"; but disassembled, broken down in terms of deconstructing the barriers we have erected.

So, yes, my eyes most certainly filled with tears. Not running over so much as full, But you know what? Water is a good conductor of Spirit! Think baptism. Think of the fact that we are, I'm estimating, 70% or more water ourselves. God enters me via my tears.

"Look to God's word for strength and comfort," one preacher said before a Bible reading. That's good so far as it goes. But I say this, "Look not only for comfort but also for explanation." Scripture is quite prepared to handle that question as well.

Craig Miller finished his daughter's eulogy by asking all of us to follow through on our intention when we say things like, "Is there anything I can do?" "Yes," he said, "there is. If you want to do something for us, then honor Bekah's sense of justice and sense of fairness, her refusal to write people off; her unwillingness to be so quick to judge. She wrote this on her facebook page, 'The greatest lesson we can learn is how to love, and how to be loved...'"

Like I keep saying, this Preacher's Husband gig is a privilege - a difficult one, and it is a severe joy.

Photo - left: The Celtic Cross on the island of Iona, Scotland.


  1. 2.5 years ago I lost my best friend in Washington to a pulmonary embolism. He was a very smart man and the best bass I've ever had the privilege of singing with, a good fat chewer.

    11 years ago my then wife lost her daughter to an automobile accident. Those who have not buried their child (and grandchild) have no idea how that feels. It is greatly appreciated when someone stops with, "I don't know what to say." There is really nothing to say, no words that can touch the pain. But your presence there says all that needs to be said.

  2. Helpful comment, Steve. Sorry about your friend.

    And you're right, burying a child is the hardest. Three of this week's four funerals have involved someone having to bury their child.

    I think that's what is so great about God. It's about presence, not an easy life.

  3. I love your take on God's best work being done when we are "broken down". God's desire is never to punish us, and if we are redeemed, that's not even possible. But loss can make a way for Jesus' kind recreating work, if we can yield to it.

    When I returned from my little brother's funeral this last year, the condolences from my sisters and brothers in Christ were so important. I would have really rather not had to deal with it. But each word prodded me forward to a new and different future than I had imagined and each hug reminded me that Jesus has and will inhabit every circumstance that life can offer.