Heaven: The Equalizer, The Far-reaching Grace of God

My dad’s name was Paul. When my brother Paul was born he was named Paul Robert. To differentiate, the rest of the family called him Bob. On his first day of kindergarten, Bob’s teacher was doing roll call and said, “Paul Loomis.” No one answered. Again she called out, “Paul Loomis.” Nothing. That afternoon when Bob got off the school bus, he ran to mom and said, “You’re not going to believe what happened in school today.” Before mom could respond, he said, “A boy in our class has the same name as dad. And guess what, mom? The dumb kid didn’t even answer when the teacher called his name!”

Naturally, Bob never lived it down. This humorous story was repeated many times over at family get-togethers. Bob was the tallest of us four brothers, perhaps the most socially awkward, athletic, prone to be misunderstood and sometimes inadvertently a nuisance.  He had difficulty making sound decisions, and spent most of his life in isolation. He was diagnosed with autism during his adult years. 

Bob recently passed away from Alzheimer’s Disease.

As a pastor, I have come alongside many families in their life struggles. I have preached funerals for several who committed suicide. I have stood with family members as they faced other life-altering tragedies. Numerous times I have held hands with those dying and watched as they drew their final breath. Wasting diseases – cancer, Parkinson’s Disease, MS, ALS, dementia, and others – have taken away those I loved. The list goes on.

And yet, I find myself more disturbed over my brother’s demise. A near fatal car crash resulted in severe brain damage when he was 18, just three months out of high school. His misjudgment drove him into the path of an oncoming 18-wheeler, no match for his tiny Volkswagon Bug. In the years that followed he suffered memory lapses, a failed tour in the United States Air Force, headaches and other body ailments that were relieved only by heavy pain killers. Bob’s life, of necessity, drew him into a shell that outsiders had a difficult time transcending. In retrospect, I see just how desperate my brother must have been.  

For a brief time, Bob lived in the French Quarter of New Orleans. Grand mal seizures became his almost daily nemesis, and one afternoon, while on the sidewalk reeling from a seizure, he was stripped nearly naked and all his possessions were stolen by thugs. My brother later married a much older woman. From my perspective, she needed a companion; he needed a caretaker, so the arrangement seemed to make sense. His wife died after only a few years, leaving my brother with an uncertain future. Bob’s final years were spent in a nursing facility, where he experienced limited mobility, continued seizures, and finally became bedridden, as Alzheimer’s Disease stole both his dignity and eventually his life.

Today, I’m not sad because he left us. I’m sad because of the life he lived. My brother spent most of his 67 years enduring hardships, pain and lonely days that few of us relate to. My faith is stretched to the limits of comprehension when I think of Bob. Consequences from bad choices cause all of us to question the meaning of life. And some, like Bob, seem to experience more than his share of life traumas, making their consequences far more damaging. 

Bob, I believe, found pleasure in pursuing the many church and religious expressions in his youth, so I’m sure the Lord met with him when his mind-brain mechanisms failed. This I believe about the far-reaching grace of God. That’s why I say heaven is the great equalizer. One glimpse of the Savior restored and negated all of earth’s pain and struggles. Heaven rights all wrongs, and in that knowledge comes incredible peace to sustain me and others who knew Bob. The hymn writer penned it well: “One glimpse of his dear face, all sorrow will erase.” Concerning Bob’s life, we who lived alongside him at some level remember the pain and the tragic outcomes of his daily life; but heaven offers the pleasures of a new body, new mind, renewed conversation with those Bob knew and loved on earth. Without heaven, Bob’s life would seem a cruel joke. But God’s sovereignty makes heaven the equalizer, and provides the solace necessary for all of us to move on.

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