The blue lights of the sanctuary covered the back wall and reflected off the horns that were scattered across the stage. Trumpets, coronets and flugelhorns all caught the light and reflected it out to the seats below creating an atmosphere that was at once soothing and sad, much like the jazz that my friend had played on them.
I was walking in to say my goodbyes along with several hundred other people, all of whom were touched in some way by this man.
His death was unexpected and heartbreaking. He was a grandfather, husband, brother and father – all of the things one would expect of a man of a certain age – and yet he was so much more.
As a musician, he challenged everyone he played with to be better; to be more than they were before the set started. As a man of faith, he carried with him a sense of peace and joy that exuded through every part of his being and showered down on those he came into contact with. I don’t doubt that he had days of uncertainty and struggle, but during the brief time I was blessed to know him, I never saw a glimpse of that. As the song from then musical Wicked says, I have been changed by knowing him.
It’s hard to say goodbye, isn’t it? Even at times when the goodbye isn’t necessarily permanent, the very word seems to stick in our heart like a barb. It isn’t supposed to be like this, our heart cries! My time with this person was supposed to be longer! I never got the chance to say thank you or I’m sorry or whatever it is we so desperately want to say when the option no longer exists.
As I listened to the sermon during this somber event, the pastor of the church indicated that God didn’t intend for us to say goodbye; that our need to do so only exists because of the fall of man in the garden. While this may not be a popular opinion, I beg to differ.
I don’t, as I’ve said in the past, believe that God makes mistakes. Therefore, it only logically follows that God absolutely created us to feel loss and ache at the departure of people and things we love. To me, to believe otherwise means that God neither foresaw Adam and Eve partaking of the fruit nor planned for the repercussions thereafter. For me, my God is bigger than that. He knew before He created a single microorganism that we would fail. Actually, to me, He created us to do so because the bigger plan was dependent upon our human curiosity to overtake our desire to obey.
Sounds contrary to probably everything you have ever been taught, but follow me on this for a moment.
Without failure, we would never learn that we need God. We would mindlessly follow, devoid of passion or conviction. The God I believe in wants so much more for us than that.
I believe that God created the ability for us to sin so we would learn to turn to Him; that he created the ability to stumble so we would feel the security of being carried; the ability to mourn losses great and small so that we could know the full breadth of love.
Love is bigger than happiness and joy. It aches with yearning, cries out with pain, and sobs uncontrollably for endings. The ability to feel these things is what makes love such a unique and complex emotion and is the one thing that makes us truly a part of God.
At times like this – the death of a friend or loved one – it certainly doesn’t seem like much of a gift, but it truly is.
Without the depths of despair that loss brings we would never fully realize the heights of bliss that are also part of our emotional spectrum.
Perhaps more importantly, without the stillness that comes with loss we would never come to experience the excitement of renewal. If nothing ever left our lives, there would be no need for us to reach out for something new – a new hobby, a new friend, a new life experience. The life that God envisioned for us would not exist.
Maybe it seems odd to say, but I would absolutely choose the life of emotional ups and downs over a life of status quo. It seems to me that God created me to be able to feel these things so I could know Him more fully; so I could more fully grasp the extent of His love for me and the purpose He has for my life.
I know what you’re thinking. What kind of sadistic god would want me to suffer?
The thing is, it’s not that He wants us to suffer per se, but that He wants us to realize that through these experiences we can grow to be so much more that who we were before them. Oh sure, we can choose to wallow in self-pity for the rest of out lives, or we can change.
As I thought about how this particular death was calling me to change, I took a moment to look around the sanctuary all of the various people who had been affected by this person – and it hit me.
I desire to make a difference the way my friend did. No, I’m not going to take up brass instruments and try to teach or try to replicate his life. That would just be silly and I would be an utter failure. But what I am going to do is make a conscious effort to be that person that makes others feel welcome and comfortable; to be that person that creates a sense of peace and laughter.
On the day of my first gig with the band I met this wonderful man in, I was nervous and felt uncertain of my ability to carry the role I had been given. This man not only told me at every opportunity that I was doing a great job, but caught my eye to do silly things like use his horn as a dancing snake making me laugh and relax. This is the piece of my friend I want to carry forward.
Thanks to my friend, I am going to work harder to reflect the characteristics of God to others so they can feel His presence in their lives, even when they don’t realize that’s what they feel.
I only hope that when I meet him in heaven, he will be able to see the change he made in me and the way I was able to carry the torch for him.