I've been trying for a week to think of how to write this blog post.
A week ago yesterday, we buried one of the most wonderful men I've ever known.
I've struggled to try to explain what his life has meant to mine since the moment I realized he was gone, early in the morning on the day Abigail was coming into the world just a year ago. The impact he had was so enormous that in trying to play the "what if we had never met" scenario I'm not sure I can even comprehend what my life would be if he had never come into it. It's almost like trying to imagine what would've happened if one of your parents had never been born. You simply wouldn't exist, that's what. In a way, without this man, I wouldn't exist.
I know. It sounds melodramatic and ridiculous and might even sound like hero-worship. It's not. God used this man in a way men very rarely allow themselves to be used and the results have been - and will continue to be - tremendous.
Joe was not a very imposing man. In many ways, he would seem at first glance very average. But he wasn't because he believed a very simple concept about himself and about God: he believed - still DOES, since God is not a God of the dead but the living - that God created him in God's image. It wasn't that he thought he himself was so great, but he believed in a great God. He believed more that God was greater than anyone else I've ever met. He believed God was so great that God created all things to be good and therefore all things had the potential to be good. They were made to be good, redeemed to be brought back to good, and therefore could be good.
Stop and think about that a moment.
A lot of people will say that God created everything.
Fewer but still quite a few will say that God is good.
Even fewer will say that God made things - including us - to BE good.
And out of all those, very few at all actually believe any of it.
You can tell by the fruit their life bears. If a tree says it's an apple tree and bears oranges, you can't believe a word the tree said about it's identity. With humans, their beliefs dictate what kind of tree they are and what kind of fruit they bear. You can say all day long that you're a hippie and a free spirit, but if you voluntarily wear a suit and tie to work every day, cut your hair short, believe in keeping all the laws you encounter, and love authority and structure...no one can or should believe that you really believe what you're saying you believe. If you say you believe in a God who created all things good and say you serve him but have all the same troubles and problems as people who don't, then you don't either.
When Joe said he didn't believe in Terrible Twos because his beloved children were created by God to be good and Terrible Twos sounded like nothing God would look at and say "it is very good"...his children were delightful two-year-olds and just kept on getting better with age. Not only that, but his grandchildren were (and are) wonderful two-year-olds too. This was often the first thing that attracted other people to him: his children. His wonderful, happy, blunt, imaginative, humorous, creative, industrious, obedient children. Then teens. Then young adults. Then married with their own children. He understood and valued love and marriage and fatherhood like no other (he was asked to leave a very conservative church because they said he "valued fatherhood too much") because he believed whole-heartedly that God made all those things good and God himself was the original after whom husbands and fathers were modeled. He held himself to those standards not as a rigid authoritarian but as an enthusiastic, gentle and joy-filled leader; and it was impossible to talk to him without getting at least a sense of this.
To him, God is a person, a father, a leader, a Creator who - even though he is so much greater and more than we can even imagine - still wants to live in our homes with us and interact with us as a father does with his children. God is wonderful and he was interested in a wonderful God. And he made the same wonderful God attractive to other people when they kept coming to him over and over and saying, "Tell us how you're doing what you're doing!"
Peter advises his readers in 1 Peter 3:
"Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame."
Joe was the best evangelist I've ever met, not so much because of what he said as how he lived. His life brought God glory because when other people looked at him and wanted to know how to have what he had, the answer was he had what God is always ready to give. He really possessed the peace that passes understanding and the joy that only God can give; and it was very, very, very attractive to anyone who really had a chance to see it. People would think, "Boy, if this is what the God you serve can do...tell me about your God!"
My parents were like that. They first began really talking with him when they were 24 and I was about 6 weeks old. He was only a little older than Ben is now, but there was something about him and the God he loved that was so attractive that they were drawn to what he had. And when he began describing the things he'd learned about God that had brought him to where he was, they listened. They were already afraid to put me in school because of things they were hearing from the teenagers they were teaching at church. They looked at Joe and realized he'd done the unthinkable: he'd been afraid too, so he'd simply removed his children from school. Who does that?
Well, he had and it was clearly working. Because he believed God gave children to their parents and they were therefore fully equipped to raise those children to be the kind of men and women God was looking for. If school got in the way, then school had to go and it would be a good thing that it was gone.
I'm not sure my parents would've ever had the courage to take me and my siblings out of school without being able to see positive proof that it could be done and it could work really well. So without Joe, I would probably have gone to school.
That would already make me a totally different me.
When my sister was born and died around the time I was four, much of my parents' ability to weather that kind of storm - one that tears apart a sickening majority of marriages - came from reliance on the God they'd come to know so much better through Joe. It also came from his encouragement, advice and example. Without him, there is every possibility my parents would not have had the faith and fortitude to bring their marriage through Elaina's life and death. This would have made for a drastically different me. I would have been one of three children from a broken family, educated in the public school system and bounced between my parents' households.
And it only goes on from there. My peaceful growing-up years that left me with a profound trust of my parents and love for my siblings. My understanding of how to see a good man that meant I found Ben so wonderful. My view of marriage and children and family which means Abigail exists and Grandma Lila doesn't live in assisted living. My belief in a God so wonderful that I can be at peace with my baby dying because I believe God is good and does not do anything evil. That same belief which leads Ben and I to do things even other Christians think odd simply because we believe God has always worked for the good of his people. All this came because God sent my family a very good teacher. And that teacher was Joe.
I was talking to Ben about this last week. He looked at me soberly and said, "Joe saved your life."
He did. And my life is what it is because God decided to save it; and he used Joe to suggest and model the things first my parents and then I needed to know about God and God's ways so that my life could be saved. Not saved just in the sense that I can hopefully go to Heaven instead of Hell when I die someday: saved right now so that Ben and I and our children can live in God's Kingdom during our lives too.
In a way, this post has been about Joe, but ultimately it's really about God. I've had occasion to reflect on these things, on what my life is and what it would've been without God's intervention, because Joe was able for the first time to stand face-to-face with God sometime in the morning of Ben and Abigail's birthday, January 28th, 2014. It wasn't the easiest funeral to go to because we were feeling the hole left behind when a good man isn't around to see and talk to anymore. But it was the best funeral I've ever gone to because I have never been as certain with anyone else as I was with him that he is delighted to be finally in the presence of the God he spent his whole life loving so faithfully and completely. It was a good day. And his children and those who loved him were singing while the dirt was put into the grave.
God is good. He is very good. Joe's life was a good gift to us. And I'm overwhelmingly grateful for the life I have because of his.
Wife of Benjamin and mother to two wonderful little girls who are getting bigger every day. Enjoys writing down thoughts and discussions we are having within the family and sharing them with whoever is interested in reading.
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