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Wednesday, December 21, 2005
An Ode to a "Stranger"
A man who I hardly knew passed away this week. He was the head deacon in our church, a church I have attended for only a few months. Although I knew little about the man, I also found myself knowing a lot more than I realized.
You see, this man was the face of our little church, the friendliest, most welcoming man I have ever known. His death has affected me profoundly, and I realized neither the extent of that affect nor the reasons for it until tonight.
As I went to the funeral home for the viewing, I witnessed literally hundreds of people who had come to pay their last respects to the gentleman. I watched the smiles on the faces of people young and old to whom this man had been a grandfather figure, a cohort, and a friend. As I walked by his coffin, I couldn't bring myself to gaze at him, because I chose to remember his life.
This man, an angel really, was the first to greet my family when we visited the church during a hot Sabbath in June. When we finally moved here, there he was, smiling, shaking our hands, as if we were a long lost member of his own family. From that day forward, and even now, I firmly believe that we were, and we are, and we always will be a member of his family. That's how he saw everyone. And that's how Christian elders, deacons, and church members are supposed to be.
When we finally decided to start attending Sabbath afternoon potlucks, he wasn't there anymore. There was one week when a man passed away in our church, and my heart sank. I thought it was this beautiful man who had been so warm and friendly to us. To my pleasant surprise, it wasn't. Yet I found out that he himself was sick, and not doing so well.
My wife and I saw him come to church that Sabbath, walking down the center aisle, oxygen bag in tow, still smiling, still loving his church family as only he could. He greeted dozens of well-wishers outside the vestibule, just as he always had.
Weeks later, his wonderful wife and several other ladies in the church gave my wife a baby shower. Now, we've only been here a few months. The last thing we expected was to be lavished with gifts by our new church. I chose not to go to the event, since it was on a Sunday, and football was on, and what man wants to sit through a baby shower anyway?
My wife told me afterward that the man about whom I speak now was the only man there, as it was, of course, his home. He sat in the living room most of the time, sipping a Diet Mountain Dew, and watching football. A man of my own heart, he was.
It wasn't too long afterward that we got a call from the church, telling us that the man had died that day. My heart sank. My heart really hasn't returned to its normal stature.
How is it that a man, a "stranger" really, affects someone so profoundly? I realized tonight that I cannot point to a particular instance in my life when I felt so welcomed in a house of worship, so accepted, so made to feel as if I had been there my entire life. It wouldn't have mattered if I was a prince, or a pauper, he would have been equally thrilled to have me in his presence. You see, it is our mission as Christians to welcome everyone, to treat everyone as if they are our lifelong friends, and to witness to others through our actions, to exhibit kindness, love, and respect to each individual without prejudice and without exception.
Only a man like Lynn Ray has ever made me feel that way. And I will miss him, as I would if I had lost my own grandfather. In fact, I already do.
So Lynn, the next time I am drinking a Diet Mountain Dew, and watching a football game on TV, I'll be thinking of you. And the next time a stranger comes to our lovely little church, I'll look up to the sky, and pray, and ask God to help me to be just half of the Christian that you were.
You will be missed.
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