Things had just started to feel routine here and then, unexpectedly, a dear friend from church went home to be with the Lord late one Saturday afternoon. It’s been three weeks since Al left us all to be in eternity. He was only 61 and we all knew him really well as he’d been at Warrendale since before I was born. After his funeral, I left feeling a bit down, but at the same time, utterly encouraged, which is probably the strangest sensation I’ve ever had after any sort of service of the like. This man ran the race with endurance! When all was said and done, he was an epistle, written on a human heart, known and read of all men! Back about five years ago, my dad did a series on “Restarting Your Christian Life,” and Al decided to take up the challenge. Since then he’d become a great teacher and a fervent student of God’s Word, growing by leaps and bounds. It was truly an aroma of life like Paul talks about in 2 Corinthians. It was like a little book had suddenly closed and had been given from God to the family at Warrendale.
Al was a kid at heart, but was ever-so-diligent when it came to God’s Word and truth. He also had a gentle, but firm way of explaining the gospel to people. He so desperately wanted his family to come to know the Lord. The gospel was so clear at the funeral as his family listened–it was like Al was here making an appeal to them from beyond the grave. Everyone at our church loved him so much! This was a man that finished the race well! Just the Sunday before he’d been so excited about the lesson and about what God was teaching us all through the story of Naaman and Gehaiza. My mom said that she noticed Al was really revved up about the lesson even more so than usual that last Sunday he was with us. She said it reminded her of when Moses saw God on the mountain and his face glowed; Al kind of had the same feel about him that day. “That man has been with Jesus!” is what she said.
Al was also our church photographer and dumpster diver, generously and freely giving of all of his “treasures.” 🙂 Two Saturdays ago we threw a party, just the way he always did, with pizza, pop and ice cream. He’d seen all of us sisters go through youth group as well as so many others at Warrendale, and we’d all been to one of Al’s parties. We got to spend the first hour just sharing until our hearts were full, sharing about all that Al had meant to us as a part of our lives. The evening was finished with rejoicing and lots of sugar! Imprints of Al’s compassion, patience, and his humor stuck with us all that night.
At the funeral someone said, “All those things about Al that you all loved and wanted to replicate, all of that patience and kindness and love–that was Christ. Al studied God’s Word and came face to face with God! He was being changed into the image of his Savior. So you all, in a sense, met God in living flesh through Al.” –that thought was amazing to me!
I think God taught each of us a personal lesson of one variety or another through Al’s homegoing. About 24 hours after he’d died was when we got word from the family. We had wondered why he wasn’t at church. I was shocked when we heard the news, but all at once I realized that Al had been in heaven for just about 24 hours. It was like I could see him up there made whole–he was a hard-working steel worker who all in all had a pretty hard life. And now he had only been in eternity in his new self for a day. He was now beholding the face of God!!!! It was like as the door to heaven opened for Al to come in, I’d gotten an aroma of something that was beautifully tantalizing, something you can only experience when someone dies. I’ve had very real thoughts of heaven this since he died. I’m okay with letting them linger. I wish I could keep the aroma of heaven in a jar and take in a deep breath of it every once in a while to remind myself where my real home is.
Beyond reminders of eternity, I think Al gave all of us a healthy reminder that we should want our lives to count for something. I want to run like he did and hit the finish line giving every last inch of my heart and soul for the King and His Kingdom. He beautifully reflected the glory of God in such a way that is only possible at the end of a life well-lived. And so, Al is gone, but we have a living book left behind for us to remember and read as we finish out the race.