Monday, November 02, 2009

a rough stretch

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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.
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14 comments:

  1. Dear Uncle Dave,

    I am so incredibly sorry. I had no idea you had that rough of a week. Grandpa's death was harsh; but to find out that your two other brothers in Christ had passed was crushing to read. Throughout the whole ordeal [grandpa's funeral, etc] you were a rock for all of us in the family. Your laughter and love for your family, be it in Christ or through bloodlines, flourished when all of His children needed to be shown strength and love.

    I have a professor who is a Christian and he sent me an e-mail that touched my heart and I think it is a reminder to everyone that we are not alone in our sorrows. The e-mail was short and it said: "The shortest sentence in the Bible is "Jesus wept" in response to Lazarus' death (John 11?) - know that He understands your pain."

    You are an amazing friend, Pastor, Uncle, and Brother in Christ. Jesus knows how we feel when we love someone so much that it hurts when we are surrounded with loss. Remember Jesus wept for His loss, but God weeps for our sorrows.

    I love you Uncle Dave,

    Anna

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  2. Death of a great man or woman of God is always bitter sweet! Knowing we will see them again is conforting and knowing that person is in a whole better place is great as well. What is difficult is that great man Charlie Matthews had only just begun the journey. Working in the ICU @ Bethesda North I see so much sorrow and pain. But when I would go in to pray with Charlie I knew the Holy Spirit was there and never left his side. The impact Charlie and his family made on the staff at BN will not soon be forgotten. Lives were changed because Charlie was there, and now we wait with expectation for the Lord to be glorifed by his life and death. Angie is the most amazing wife who I can not say enough good things about and she too, fought the good fight. Life is so very short.....love Jesus and each other! Diane

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  3. The Lord is with you, Mighty Warrior.

    Hugs.

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  4. I have said it before, I do not really know Charlie. I know many who do know him and they all loved him.

    I started to read his Caring Bridge journal (kept up by his wife) and I felt connected to this man. He seemed like a great guy who loved his wife and kids.

    And that is where it really breaks my heart. I pray for his wife and kids. I pray God is her strength and He fills the role of their daddy. I still cannot wrap my mind around this, and I did not even know him.

    I think that really says something about this man. I did not know him, but I still get a knot in my throat when I see pictures of him with his wife and kids or read the stories and the blogs talking about him.

    Come Lord Jesus indeed.

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  5. A rough stretch indeed. As a pastor, I've had periods when the deaths just keep coming. Very difficult, especially when they are so close. May the peace of Christ fill your every moment, Dave; you are a blessing to so many.
    Mark <><
    Mark Wright
    Honduras

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  6. I didn't know Charlie but also felt a connection to him after hearing he was sick and also getting updates online on his condition. I was shocked to read that he passed away.

    Definitely made me think. I am 37, have two kids, recently went to Disney World and a whole host of similarities. Really made me think. I'm praying for his family daily now and will continue to do so. I especially think about his kids losing a father at such a young age. He sounded like a good man.

    Stay strong Dave! You truly have no idea how you inspire us all and keep all of us going with your energy and love of Christ!

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  7. Man that's way too much death for one person to deal with all at once. My heart goes out to you for holding it together over and over again on Sunday. I was fortunate enough to be a part of Charlies legacy, as I was an Alpha table leader the whole time he was part of the Alpha ministry. I've been following on Caring Bridge since day one, and never could have predicted the outcome, and was in no way prepared. I was fortunate to be able to reconnect with Charlie recently while working at IKEA, as he rennovated his entire kitchen from bits and pieces from AS-IS. We'd see him, Angie and the kids several times a week as he scavanged parts from AS-IS.....so Charlie....determined to get it done, and do it inexpensively. He was able to chat about the new relaunch and talk about how good things were going. It was always fun to catch a glimpse of his bald head scavenging through stuff in AS-IS as I'd go up the employee staircase. I may miss that the most.....thanks for your words, it's helped alot.

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  8. I remember when 3 people in my life died in same year. Tom, this dear friend who was like a dad to me. Always said he loved me and said he considered me a son. I remember when he was buried it was in Janurary and was 70 degrees during the time of the burial. Before and after it was really cold.

    My last grandma died later that year, she was always loving and dear to me.

    My dad died later that year in december. He was a failure as a dad and was never around, drunk adn drugy, and died at 63. He recieved Jesus at the end, never understood. Forgave him since then over and over....

    That year was a hard road for me. Its a hard road for you.

    I actually got help from a therapist for this overwhelming grief. Helped me a lot on how to deal with it.

    I journaled, met with friends and did outreach to get out of myself.

    It was hard to get past all the grief but God is there always. As much as i wonder away from God, he is not far away.

    I hope you find your way, I will pray for you.

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  9. I am so sorry for these losses, Dave. You guys are in our hearts and on our minds- especially during this difficult time. Much grace and strength to you as you weather this. Val

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  10. The thing I find that makes me appreciate and value you so much is that you are real.....you say what you think and feel without hesitation (well, maybe a little). I went through a period of time when I had 2 clients who died and had a relative pass away within a few months. I remember thinking "I did not sign up for this." I felt like a hospice worker. It was hard for me. It is hard to be strong in the face of so much sadness. May God continue to bless you, use you and give you peace and comfort. Kathy

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  11. Pastor Dave,

    May the present risen Christ in all of His tenderness hold you, your family, Charlie's family, the Mason Vineyard and VCC family close to His heart as He shares in our sorrows. May we somehow get a glimpse in our spirits of the great celebration in heaven where faith has become sight. May we remember in our grief that soon, AND VERY SOON, we are going to see the King. Abba, we belong to you.

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