Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Summoned by the King: A Lesson in Delight

When I first met Herb Stuart, he scared the daylights out of me.  I was an introverted freshman in college and got invited to the Stuart’s house by some girlfriends I had just met and started to adore.

Herb was sitting in his oversized forest green upholstered chair with his legs kicked up on the matching ottoman.  He was the king of the house; I knew it instantly.  Kings can be terrifying.

He didn’t say much, which made me extra nervous because I didn’t quite know what he was thinking.  Painfully shy around people I didn’t know, I probably didn’t say much either that evening.

Herb and I didn’t know it then, but we would find ourselves very related in a few years.  I married his first born and birthed his grandsons while he became my second father.

Kings can be good.

Herb was instrumental in shaping my theology.  I loved to think about God and worship God and he loved to offer me the freedom that a correct theology would provide.  I’ll never forget arguing with him that I really could lose my salvation.  He told me that if I were really dead in my transgressions then only God could call me unto life.  If I didn’t really have a choice in the salvation issue (even faith is a gift!) then I probably didn’t have much choice in maintaining my salvation (it is God who keeps us!)  He stretched his big palm out wide and told me I was right there in God’s palm, forever safe.

There is something to be said for freedom as you abide with the Father. The weight of the world started to slip away as this truth sank in. I guess the Word really is true…where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. I am the temple of the Spirit of the Living God.  I am forever free.

As the years sped past, my favorite thing to do was sit in a chair close to his as he watched golf and Fox news. Inevitably, we would start talking about eschatology.   Pretribulation, millennia, rapture…all these words encompassed our little talks.  I kept thinking surely Herb had all the end-times answers that no one else had been able to nail down.   

Herb was easy to be around, never judging or condemning.  He loved taking our boys to sports and helping grab them after school.  He was my guard dog, making sure I was safe when Eric traveled. He treated us to dinner, often a greasy burger, which was just fine by me. He almost always called me “Beck.”

I cry now, trying to type this out because I miss him terribly.

Cancer stole him away, his diagnosis being exactly one year ago. We had seven months and two days with him after we heard the words stage four lung cancer.  I am grateful for those days, time helping prepare our hearts for God’s sovereignty. Sometimes our human definitions of good simply don’t match those of the All-Knowing One.  Surrender leads to peace, though.  I was blessed to have already learned this excruciating lesson.

It seems that Herb was always in a state of teaching, even when his lips weren’t moving.  It was one of God’s callings on his life and he was one of the best.  If he wasn’t teaching the Word, then he was teaching us how to serve. If he wasn’t teaching husbands how to lead then he was teaching dads how to love.  If he wasn’t teaching my boys baseball mechanics, then he was teaching us how to see in this wayward culture. We are a people in desperate need of sight.

Even in Herb’s last days, he was teaching. In Herb’s last days, he taught us how to die with delight.

Two days before he passed away, I asked Herb if God had been teaching him anything new on his 7 month journey of battling cancer. (Yes, it was a selfish question but I needed to soak up everything that Jesus had been to him these last months.)  I guess I was expecting some long sermon or some Greek or Hebrew word, but he shocked me. It went something like this...

Yes, I have been thinking about God a lot lately.  But, more than that, I know God has been thinking about me.  You know, I just can't conceive how much the Father loves me.  It is just inconceivable to me.  I know He loves me and I am so thankful, but goodness, I just can't grasp the depth of it!

Despite the pain and shortness of breath, Herb was grinning from ear to ear as he said these words.  I knew at once he had not just accepted that he might die soon but that he was quite possibly excited about it.  If he had to die, he was going to do it with delight.

How beautiful that in Herb's last days, the Father's affection towards him is what stayed in his every thought.  A wise man's theology and deepest ponderings all the sudden boiled down to one thing:  a Father’s delight in His son.

I was sitting in church with Eric and Zach a couple of days later when we got the text.  Herb was ready to go home and wanted us to pray over him.  We sped there, my heart in my throat.  How on earth would I find the grace to tell this patriarch goodbye? Was he the thread that held the Stuart family together?  Would we unravel string by string once he left?

I want you to know there was a smile on Herb’s face on January 4, 2015.  The amount of pain he was enduring ripped my insides apart.  His cough was unbearable and his voice could hardly speak, due to the accumulation of fluid in his lungs.  What got to me the most was his inability to get a good breath.  I felt like he was suffocating.  I wanted the God of breath to come and breathe fresh into him. I have never witnessed such pain in my life.  At one point, I crucified my own selfish desires and starting begging God to take him home because it was simply too much.

Through all of this, Herb smiled anyway.

Herb laughed and cut up and made jokes in between gasps for air.  Eventually, the amount of morphine knocked him out, allowing some measure of rest.  But while coherent, he was trying to lighten the heavy load for us all.  He refused to complain or tell us how miserable he was.  There wasn’t a single ounce of fear in his countenance.

Every family member and friend that respectfully went to his bed side that day was offered a final word of blessing by Herb.  A whole group of men showed up to pray over him and were blindsided as Herb took over the prayer and blessed them instead. Giving was his way; it was in his very marrow.

Herb knew he was about to lay eyes on the Father who loved him with a depth he couldn’t fully grasp.  He told us he was excited and that we would all be ok.  He pulled me close and told me how blessed he was that I had joined our family.  He whispered a father’s love over me.

I’ll never forget the last lesson that Herb Stuart imparted to us all:  When the One True King summons you home, you go with delight.

{Last two photos by Todd Owens Photography}

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