This past Saturday dawned much like any other day, but within a few hours, the sun's rays didn't seem as bright as usual.
In a hospital in Greensboro, North Carolina, my Uncle Bob, who had hung on for over ten weeks after suffering a traumatic brain injury, finally came to the end of his earthly journey.
Uncle Bob had been doing what he loved, bicycling around the area, when he had his accident and suffered his injury. And that probably gives us a window into Uncle Bob. It seemed that whatever he was up to, he was doing something he loved.
Whether it was taking a walk through the nearby arboretum, dabbling in photography, taking one of his dedicated long-distance runs, biking across states like North Carolina or Kansas, playing with his grandchildren, or finding ways to heal the struggles and fissures in marriages, I think it's fair to say Uncle Bob found joy in each journey.
Over the years of my own existence, there has been plenty of opportunity to know and enjoy Bob, whom I knew probably the most out of all my uncles. It went beyond visits during Thanksgiving or Christmas holidays. Once during a sabbatical in Atlanta, Bob flew over to Mississippi to spend time with my folks and it coincided with my seminary fall break. And October mornings in Mississippi are some nice hours to spend some four-mile runs with Uncle Bob.
But it was when we lived geographically closer to Bob and Aunt Judy that we were most appreciative. When I was a pastor in North Carolina, I found the going difficult and--honestly--depressing. It was hard recognizing the greatest resistance to the Gospel could come from people you were trying to lead, and I couldn't find a way out of that darkness. During those two difficult years, I think it's fair to say that thanks to Bob and Judy's kindness and consistent encouragement, we managed to make it through to the next vocational step. The encouragement didn't stop when we moved away. When I published my first novel in 2013, Bob sent an email about how much he enjoyed reading it (even saying it left other well-known authors in the dust, a comment that humbled me and I continue to prize).
It's also fair to say that throughout his life, Uncle Bob found a way to be a healer. He recognized soon after entering the pastorate that he'd be wise to train in marriage and family counseling, and that decision eventually led him to over three decades of service as the director of a counseling center in Greensboro (which he founded). I attended one of his training seminars for clergy when we were living in North Carolina, and I manage to bring in a number of those principles even in teaching when talking to kids about relationships and preparation for life. Uncle Bob believed so much in the importance of marriage that he wrote about it. In marked contrast to a society that preached personal fulfillment and reckless individualistic happiness, Uncle Bob calmly but definitively lifted the banner of promise keeping. It is not making ourselves overjoyed that makes us human, he indicated. Rather, faithfulness, monogamy, and the stubborn and steadfast love of another is what empowers us to flourish. The Piedmont Triad area of North Carolina has many marriages that have been prepared and repaired because Uncle Bob held consistently to this mantra.
It wasn't just couples that Uncle Bob sought to help, but also those fraught with scarcity. His work with Bread for the World underscored his concern for others to have the basic needs of food and sustenance. So much of that was behind the scenes, but it was passionate living out of his beliefs all the same.
A life of passion, a life of hope. I think it's altogether appropriate that one who lived his earthly days as a healer for others has now received his complete healing from the Great Physician, and one who has given wisdom to others has entered the presence of the Wonderful Counselor (Isaiah 9).
Uncle Bob, thank you for a life well lived. And it's been humbling I was able to intersect with it.