I wrote the following last winter. I asked Mary if she would mind if I posted my thoughts from back then. So with her permission, I would like to share with you one of the most difficult experiences I had as a young youth pastor's wife more than 30 years ago. Amazingly, the story isn't over as you will see.
We said goodbye to a dear friend this week. His name was Roe, and he was 77 years old. He spent most of his years farming, working at a profession he loved with his whole heart. He and his wife Mary had three children, two daughters and a son. The son was in the middle. His name was Rick.
Larry had just graduated from seminary and God placed us in a tiny little community in Northeast Pennsylvania. North Rome had a growing church plopped down in the middle of nowhere. There are four or five roads that lead there, and on Sunday mornings the parking lot would fill up with cars and trucks coming in from all directions.
We had come to pastor the youth, and it didn't take long to discover that these kids were hungry. One in particular was really hungry, Rick. Newly graduated from high school, he latched onto Larry like a magnet to metal. He never missed youth group and began studying his Bible voraciously, asking questions and seeking counsel about some personal things in his life. We sensed that God was doing something pretty deep, preparing him for something special, perhaps even the ministry.
Since Rick had been raised a farm boy, he was pretty comfortable handling the equipment. One time he drove his dad's brand new tractor pulling a hay wagon filled with teens over some back country roads. Nobody thought much of the sound of gravel kicking up behind the tires, pinging against metal It wasn't until the next morning when daylight broke that Roe found every inch of his brand new John Deere splattered in tar. Rick set to work cleaning up that tractor. Immediately. I imagine it took a good while.
Rick had a younger cousin, Ed. Although he attended church with his family, he really wasn't very interested in much beyond that. We had two teen groups going, one for those more his age and then one for the older youth. But we couldn't seem to pull him in.
The following October Larry and I decided to take some vacation time, travel to Florida and see some family. While there we received a call. There had been an accident. Rick had been shot while hunting. A bullet had hit him in the throat, and he died a short time later. Ed had fired the gun.
I have memories of a particular picture that hung at the top of the stairs in my grandparents' house while I was growing up. The picture and the setting are forever imprinted in my memory, never changing. In the same way, I will always see Rick's young cousin on his Aunt's living room couch, his parents sitting stiffly on either side. It was the night before the funeral and I remember well the awkward way he sat, the way his hands laid in his lap and the look of bewilderment on his face.
I don't know if it was that tragedy alone that began the change in Ed, but I'm pretty sure it had something to do with it. I believe he knew he couldn't go it alone, and he didn't. He became more involved with the youth, his walk with Christ deepened and one day he answered the call to be a pastor.
Back to the present, back to Roe. His funeral was this week. His wife Mary was there and his two daughters and their families of course. There were several other family members and friends as well, not unusual for such an occasion. And Ed was there. He along with his wife and four young children had traveled several hundred miles to attend.
All those years ago, more than 30 now, who would have ever imagined what could be. For though Ed is family, he is also pastor. And though he had come to grieve as family, he had also come to comfort as pastor. And he did just that as he stood there, speaking of the assurance and hope that a grieving family craves in times like this. But there was still more to be said, and in a very personal moment he spoke of how as a young seminary student he was finally able to accept their forgiveness. His gratitude was evident.
When Rick died, we had a hard time making any sense out of it. I still don't understand it all. But I'm getting some glimmers, little pieces of it, like a puzzle coming together. And for now, that's enough.