It’s been a rough stretch.
Way back when I was traveling and playing music, Terry Kranyak taught me how to do basic electrical work. He owned a small non-union electrical company called Daystar Electric. In a way it “saved” me; it enabled me to earn some money when I was home and yet be flexible enough to go on the road for weeks at a time (and not earn money…). My wife and I loved Terry & Peggy Kranyak and their two little kids, Jesse & Meghan. As a matter of fact, we’d take their kids to Ault Park sometimes just to give them a break. They were amazing kids…and actually made us want to have some of our own, even with my crazy schedule and me continually saying, “Let’s wait one more year.”
Terry was a special guy. He was a cheerleader for our “bring-people-to-Jesus” Christian rock band. He had all of our albums and would play them for any of his non-Christian friends. We loved him so much that when his business tanked during a recession in the eighties, we collected unemployment while working for him full-time for free to help him get out of debt. Hippie-ish, organic, fun, fearless, incredibly generous, entrepreneurial, and a Jesus-lover. Somewhere along the way, he had gotten burned by a church…apparently being part of what was then referred to as a heavy “shepherding” congregation—authoritative and controlling. For whatever reason, they never really connected with a local church again, but loved being with other believers. When they moved away for Peggy to pursue a medical career, we missed them terribly. Once when we visited them in Virginia, I sensed that things were difficult in their marriage.
Later, for various reasons, they divorced. My wife cried like a baby when we got the news in Cincinnati. We lost touch, but Terry eventually moved to Kelley’s Island in Lake Erie, started a few different businesses, remarried and began a new life. We visited a couple of times, staying in a bed-and-breakfast that he built. He was still fun, energizing to be around, and always interested in what we were doing in the Vineyard. He loved hearing about what we were learning/teaching about the Kingdom.
The last time I saw him was a couple of years ago. He called to ask if I would consider baptizing his daughter Meghan in Lake Erie, now in her early twenties. Easy answer: Absolutely. I hadn’t seen the kids in many years. Peggy drove in from Cleveland as well. It was sweet. Terry and I would connect at best once a year by phone, but it always felt as though we could pick up like we had just seen each other at Frisch’s that morning arguing and laughing about some theological point.
Last week I got a call out of the blue from Meghan. After telling her what a happy surprise to hear her, she told me that Terry had just passed away. He had been in the hospital for a few weeks, gotten out, then took a sudden turn for the worse. I was shocked, to say the least, and could only respond with a stunned—and lame—“You’re kidding me, right?” as if a daughter would joke about that. Eventually I asked what arrangements had been made and she simply said, “Oh, you know dad. So unconventional. He didn’t want an obituary, he didn’t want a memorial service…just a party at the restaurant.” On Kelley’s Island.
Terry and I were the same age.
A day later Anita’s dad went into the hospital in Columbus. She drove up the next morning to check on him and the next day I received a text from her: He’s gone. I called her immediately, jumped in the car and two hours later ran into the hospital room. Anita and her sisters were there. David was lying in the bed, thin and pale with his mouth slightly open, his breath had slipped away with his spirit. He was a big, blustery, bigger-than-life personality. A lover of God. By Sunday we held a viewing, put together and spoke at a memorial on Monday and a graveside military sendoff that afternoon.
Two days later back in Cincinnati I awoke at 4:20 a.m. praying heavy and urgently in the Spirit for Charlie Matthews. I knew it was for him.
Charlie was one of the best pastors I’ve known, no fooling. Off-the-chart passionate about Jesus. Activistic, fiercely loyal, hard-working, authentically people-loving, fun, transparent, an intense learner…and ridiculously liberal in kind things to say about people. I knew that he had been through several tough and potentially cynicism-inducing church situations in his past, but I honestly never heard him say an unkind thing about anyone. And I mean anyone. The times we sat in Panera and the long-gone Barnes and Noble Bookstore on Kemper were always catalytic: Charlie asking lots of questions, always throwing out encouraging words, talking about his family and his desire to balance his love for them with his drive for the Kingdom. I remember thinking many times: this guy is going to bust up the gates of hell. He would take on any job in the Vineyard with gusto, but you knew he was like a racehorse waiting to rocket out of the gate to plant a church. He simply wanted to do what was right and whatever God wanted him to do. We knew he was the perfect fit for the relaunch of the Mason Vineyard.
Friday I received word that things were not good. More prayer. Saturday morning while at the office working on my message for the weekend, I got the phone call. Honestly?—expletive and anger. I jumped in my car, drove to Bethesda North, and went to his room. Family and friends were crying. Charlie was gone. After everyone left the room, I stared at Charlie for a long time from the foot of his bed. He looked exceptionally tired but peaceful to me. I cannot tell you what my prayers were.
The weekend was a bit of a blur. I sensed strongly that I had a message to deliver that was light-years from what I was feeling. It’s nothing heroic, but staying on point is part of the gig. Or at least that’s what I felt I should do. And, of course, second-guessing is somewhat continual.
Death sucks. There is absolutely nothing romantic about it; it’s flat-out ugly. On one hand it’s completely natural: everything we know dies. I’ve been at too many bedside deaths to not think about the whole cycle of life. I’ve spoken at funerals while watching a newborn wiggle in a mother’s arms in the back of the room. We’re born, we die. But at the same time there is this nagging drone in my soul that this is not how it’s supposed to be. Paul simply calls it the last enemy for Jesus to vanquish, the last step after all authorities and powers have been destroyed. And those early believers who lived with a hairline connection between costly faith and perpetually potential death must have longed desperately for the One they knew had conquered His own death to come back quickly. Maranatha. Rid us of this sword of Damocles, King Jesus. Please.
The questions are always around timing…and fairness. Some jerk who shafts his family, leeches off of society, and forever concerned with himself, lives a long unproductive and self-consumed life. A man who genuinely loves his wife and kids and fervently seeks the Kingdom is cut short at thirty-seven. I truly can relate to Paul’s words—and keep in mind Paul had more than his share of pain and loss—when he writes in 2 Corinthians 4:8: “…we are perplexed, but not in despair.”
I could write about potential answers and some tidy theological thoughts, but I think I want—need—less of that and more venting apart from this blog. And I promise to write a bit more about the questions…and what they mean. Somehow the questions seem more important to me.
Pray for Charlie’s wife Angie and their two little kids.
And even so, Come Lord Jesus. I trust You.