At the intersection of writing and life with the author of the Cameron Ballack mysteries

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Westminster: A Family of Grace in Deepest Grief

Six years ago this week, my father was piecing together the Sunday service at the church he pastored at the time in Mississippi. With careful planning he began by placing--at the beginning of the service--a prayer for meditation. It was a supplication by William Jay in the nineteenth century, and it went as follows:

     "If we are indulged with prosperity let not our prosperity destroy us nor injure us. If we are exercised with adversity, suffer us not to sink in the hour of trouble, or sin against God. May we know how to be abased without despondence, and to abound without pride. If our relative comforts are continued to us, may we love them without idolatry, and hold them at Thy disposal; and if they are recalled from us, may we be enabled to say, The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord."

Dad has said since that given the events of that next Sunday, it was indeed a providential passage. I have occasionally re-read that prayer since, but an hour ago, one thing leapt out at me: Ten times in that prayer, you have some form of the first person plural pronoun, either "we", "our", or "us". That became a reality for us when Dad's church was meditating on that prayer the next Sunday, November 23, 2008, about six hundred miles away from us.

That morning. 

Our sweet son, Jordan.  Nineteen months old. Afflicted with myotubular myopathy like his older brother Joshua, yet so brave and joyful. Little Jordan had suddenly and peacefully passed away in his crib. And our world shattered.

Over the course of the next week, all the way to and past the funeral, a bevy of family and friends came into town to be with us, to grieve with and for us. Mom and Dad arrived the day after Jordan died, friends from our church in Florida came in the day before the funeral. We felt incredibly remembered and profoundly loved.

The more the years pass, I recall more and more later on during the morning and that evening after Jordan went to be with the Lord. It was originally a blur, but the major factor that got us through that day was the steady flow of visitors from Westminster Christian Academy, where I was in my first year on staff.

If there's a school community that tops Westminster in flooding such weary, grieving souls with comfort, grace, and peace, I haven't run across such an institution.

I remember headmaster Jim Marsh coming to our door, entering in and grasping Christy and I in a massive double-hug, absorbing the shock of death and sadness with kindness. There was Lucy Erdman and Kathy Karigan, who brought art supplies over for our kids so they could draw and color and healthily distract themselves from what had hit them that day. Sherrie Blough went out and got a Build-a-Bear gift card for Lindsay. Craig Dunham--then my Bible department colleague and now a headmaster in Oklahoma City--came by to sit, chat, and listen. The word got around to the entire school and those who weren't able to come by called on the phone or helped out in other ways: Jim Stange's entire Art class made a massive sympathy card the next day at Westminster.

We didn't have Jordan with us anymore, but one thing we recognized we had that day was a community...a school family that barely knew us at the time, but still loved us. And even as we were (and are still at times) asking God "Why?" regarding his mysterious providence, we could see the "Who" of God's hands and heart that were displayed in the people of Westminster who reached out to us, who listened, who wept, and who anchored us in community.

It is my theological conviction that God's grace is certain and comes through in concrete fashion, even in times when his mercy seems more savage than kind. And as the years go by, and as I continue to miss my boy, I become more and more grateful for being a part of Westminster, a place that God has seen fit to pour out his kindness to us in hardships like these. In days when more and more people can lack a sense of relational depth, Westminster has become more and more an anchored community for me and my family. This weekend I feel that all the more because it's when that flavor of grace began six years ago, and for which I remain exceedingly thankful.

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