John had disappeared. For several hours we had been trying to retrace his steps. I knew something was very wrong because he left his downtown office late in the afternoon but never came home for dinner. It had been one of those teamwork nights for us: me at a meeting, him planning to come home from work to have dinner with the kids.
But, when I got back home from my meeting around 8:30, he wasn’t there and the kids said they had never heard from him. That wasn’t like John. Now it was close to 10:00, and every call to him had been unanswered.
Desperately, we were searching the city.
As I reached out to receive the phone from John’s mom, I couldn’t see her face to prepare myself for what I was about to hear. I was desperate to know but afraid to know. Sometimes knowing is the last thing you really want. Not knowing means you are still sheltered by hope. And hope still burned in my heart.
After all, maybe there was a reasonable explanation and my fears were unfounded. Maybe a work issue got complicated, and he was in a late meeting. Maybe there was a classic John story of helping someone fix their flat tire. Maybe he was in the hospital, and we just hadn’t been told. Maybe I’d be wrapped up soon in his arms laughing and crying with relief and enjoying salty kisses and feeling silly for calling the police and assuming the worst.
Those were my last few seconds of life as I knew it.
I took the phone and heard the words I dreaded. My father-in-law told me John had collapsed and died late in the afternoon on a jogging path at the university where he taught. When he was found they tried repeatedly to resuscitate him but couldn’t. He was gone. Gone from this life. Gone from my life. Gone from our kids’ lives. And gone from everyone else’s life as well.
Impossible. Incomprehensible shock and sorrow slammed me like a giant wave, catapulting me head over heels in one stunning violent motion. Our life leveled.
Within moments of the initial wave of grief, I realized I had to tell our kids. “How am I supposed to do this? How can I tell them their dad is gone? This can’t be happening. They are too young for this. I have four kids and only two arms. I can’t gather them all up. I can’t even hold them all at once. God, please help us.”
I stood up, numb with shock, and turned to walk into the house.
The home where John and I had lived and laughed and loved,
where our four children were waiting,
and as I reached for the door, that is when I was aware of Him.
The Lord quietly, gently spoke to my heart, “There are enough arms here. I provided people to be here with you tonight.” He was right. Some of our closest family and friends had gathered to wait with us. People my children loved and trusted. We weren’t alone.
In the days to come I marveled at how He had made sure we were together and surrounded by friends and family when we found out.
I knew He was present in our pain. He had caught us in His arms. John’s death wasn’t a surprise to Him. The Lord was with us. And, I was also confident that John was safe. The Lord had caught him in His arms too.
Because on that night, His cross broke our fall.
Without the hope we have in Jesus Christ, John’s death would have utterly devastated me. Instead, the free-fall of despair was stopped by knowing that we weren’t meeting death alone and powerless. Jesus had been there first. He willingly died for us so that death would be replaced with eternal life. He knew a day like this would come and we would need Him.
The whole world needs Him because everyone faces death.
In the midst of the pain of that night, there was undeniable comfort and hope as death and faith met face-to-face. Somehow, even now, the best word to describe it is holy. The Lord provided Jesus Christ to take on death so we didn’t have to face it alone on March 8, 2012.
You will have to face death, but you don’t have to face it alone.