Last Saturday morning I woke up in Ravello, Italy, along with about 90 other women attending the spring PWOC retreat. Our theme was Walking Forward in Simplicity. This was my view at breakfast:
An hour later, we sat in the conference room, reeling from the shock of an announcement none of us could have possibly been prepared for: Chaplain John Keith had died during the night from complications in an unexpected surgery.
Passionate--so passionate about Jesus, about people. Passionate about worshiping our God. About teaching people God's truth. About reaching out to those who need Christ's love and compassion.
It's been a week since we lost our dear friend and pastor. I feel in many ways like I've lost a family member. Even though we only knew him a year and a half, there is just something about the bond we have as believers in Jesus. When we minister together in His name, when we pray and worship together, it's family. I grieve for our own family's loss, and I grieve because my heart hurts for Regina, who lost the love of her life, and for Josh and Jonathan, who lost their dad, their mentor. I grieve for what seems like unfinished work here in our community, even as I realize God is sovereign and makes no mistakes.
Yet we "do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope" (1 Thess. 4:13). For we have Christ in us, the hope of glory (Col. 1:27). God's Word tells us that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:6), so we know that John is in heaven right now. And I have no doubt that he heard those words that disciples of Jesus yearn to hear: "Well done, good and faithful servant!" Not because John Keith earned his way to heaven, but because he, in God's grace, accepted Jesus's death on the cross as atonement for his own sin, then walked in newness of life, a walk by faith, a walk that invited others along on the journey.
We are grateful for the time we did get to have with John, grateful for the vision he had for this community and for the way he invited all of us to play our own special parts in extending God's grace to others. And while the pain is very real and present, what grace there is in finding the strength to truly give thanks in ALL circumstances, to say the Lord gives and the Lord takes...blessed be the name of the Lord.
Reevaluating what is important in light of eternity, then walking forward in simplicity, focusing on Jesus our Savior--this is a gift given to us, wrapped in the distressing disguise of the death of a saint. May we be faithful to carry on with the calling we have received.