I called him Uncle David – but in retrospect, I should have called him Mr. Wonderful.
It was his answer every time you asked him how he was doing – I can still hear his gentle voice tinged with joy, “well, I’m wonderful, darling!”
And it’s how he made us feel. Just plain wonderful. So this morning, as I process the news that Mr. Wonderful is now with His Savior, I find myself rejoicing in that beautifully gentle spirit he carried – but I have so many questions…
I didn’t know my Uncle David in his younger years. I didn’t know him when he fought in Vietnam, and I don’t know the horrors he lived through there. Those were memories he didn’t want to re-live, and that’s where it stayed. And I didn’t know him well as I was growing up – he was my Uncle, but I was on the other side of the world and saw him only every few years.
But as life weaves a beautiful tapestry around us so often, it brought my life and his closer, and I was blessed over the past few years to get to spend more time with this amazing man.
He called my kids silly names like “McGillicuty”. He made them laugh and brought so much joy to all of us. He poured life and love and goodness out on us in unending measure. And that’s what my heart can’t get over this morning as I sit here grasping for words in the midst of my tears. That impossible joy in the face of a life filled with much sorrow. How does that happen? I know it’s not an accident.
Because we all know the natural course of a human heart. Pain causes us to close up and grow hard. Life hurts, so we grow a shell around our spirits to protect us. Anger begets anger and we so often find ourselves in a vicious cycle of pain. So when you see a man who exudes joy and gentleness in the midst of such hardness, you have to stop and ask “why?” Or maybe the better question is “how ?”
He endured much pain. Marked by a hard a brutal war when he was young. He tragically lost his grandson a few years ago. His own beloved son died suddenly just last year. He suffered physically, carrying effects of Agent Orange in his body as well as many other struggles. When life hit hard and seemed to overwhelm, he would simply hug me and say he loved me. I would ask him how he’s hanging on, and he would say, “how can it help to be angry?” He knew the best protection of a soul comes in staying open – but how?
He must have known a secret. A life giving, beautiful secret that the rest of us need to remember. How do we best remember Uncle David? By making sure his spirit is carried on. He was a special man – and the greatest tragedy would be to let that special spirit die with him. Because what keeps flooding my heart and mind is this: the secret he had is available to all of us. And we honor Uncle David best by finding it and preserving it and letting it mark our own hearts.
In light of a hard life, he responded with gentleness and peace. It makes me think of these words, “the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” These words mark how I remember my Uncle David, and I think this is the secret that he would want to pass on to all of us. How did he do it? I see the answer in the next few words… “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with it’s passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:22-25) I believe Uncle David made a choice to let the Spirit of God shape his heart, and though he wasn’t perfect, he kept in step with the Spirit of God. He reflected a different Spirit than the world has to offer, and we were all marked by that.
I can’t quite stop the tears from flowing this morning. I’m thankful my precious Uncle David is no longer living in such pain, however I will desperately miss him and the light he carried. But I also know it’s not completely snuffed out. Because the Spirit of God that lived in him is alive. And there is no darkness it cannot enter and no hardness it cannot touch. And I know the best way we honor the legacy of this amazing man is to let that Spirit change us in the same way.
So here I sit at the foot of the cross. Here I reflect on the words that offer freedom – “if you declare with your mouth ‘Jesus is Lord’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9) and this – “But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8) Oh! and these beautiful words that many know but it takes a lifetime to fully grasp – “For God so loved ___________________ (put your name in here) that He gave His only Son (Jesus), that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life!” (John 3:16)
The everlasting life is what Uncle David is experiencing right now. The changed life is what we got to experience through him all these years. I find myself sitting here on this rainy fall morning asking my Jesus anew to form and shape this spirit that gets twisted by circumstances into a spirit molded by Him. Knowing that in the midst of the unbearable pain life brings us at times, there is freedom on the other side. Uncle David is seeing it unveiled with his own eyes for the first time, but he tasted and reflected the beauty of it all these years. And I want to reflect more of it today and tomorrow and the next. In honor of Uncle David. In honor of the Savior he loved so very much.
Oh – and Uncle David? Say hi to grandma and grandpa for me!!