Meet my friends Jack and Marian.

(Be sure to read the postscript and the comments at the end.)

When Jack’s mother died, wife Marian realized that God finally had his attention.

Jack loved his mother, a godly woman whom he would never see again unless he changed his ways. Jack had no use for church and religion, but devoted all his weekends to hunting whatever was in season.

Marian asked a godly deacon in her church to pay Jack a visit. Dr. Norris Vest, dentist and devoted soulwinner, dropped in and led Jack to Christ.  That’s when Jack informed Marian he did not care to attend her church.  “Too big,” he said.

They’d heard me on the radio and decided to visit our church out at the edge of town.

I loved this little family from the start.  Jack and Marian had two small girls, Julie and Cindy, who fit right in with the children at our church.

Our friendship has now lasted over 45 years. Margaret and I saw Jack and Marian perhaps once or twice a decade, but we dropped the occasional note and always felt each other’s love.

But what I wanted to tell you is something very special God did with this couple. Well, one of the very special things.

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“Get on with your work,” said the Lord.

“Neither do these things move me,” said Paul. “Nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify of the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24).

I enjoy telling of the last words–okay, “some” of the last–of Ty Cobb, the baseball great.  For 22 years, he played lights-out ball for the Detroit Tigers, setting records many of which are still on the books.  I was told he gave his life to Jesus Christ and was transformed sometime in the last weeks or months of his life.

He sent a message to the men he’d played ball with.

“Tell them, ‘fellows, I got in the bottom of the ninth.  I sure wish I’d come in the top of the first.'”

If we think of our lives like a nine-inning ball game, the final inning would be our last time to do anything before the “game was called” and the park was darkened.

What inning are you in?

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Pastors of the larger churches and the other preachers in their community

“We then who are strong ought to bear with…the weak, and not to please ourselves.  Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, leading to edification.  For even Christ did not please Himself….” (Romans 15:1-3)

Outside observers are often surprised to learn that in many cities after churches grow to a certain size, they cut off fellowship with all the other congregations in their area.

Pastors of those mega-churches pull away from the ministers of the small congregations in the same city, as though they now live in different worlds.  They give the impression that they have been elevated to such a higher plane that the only ones who now speak their language lead churches of similar or greater size.

The truth, I sometimes suspect, is that they feel more comfortable with peers of similar status who also make the big bucks and do not feel guilty that their income is ten times that of the part-time preacher sitting next to them.

It’s utterly foolish, if you ask me. It’s prideful, egotistical, and completely counter-productive to the work of the Kingdom.

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Adjusting to the new reality

“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

I had to rewrite my resume’ today for our blog and for a program where I’ll be speaking soon.  That’s when I realized that somewhere the material should state that I was recently widowed.

How exactly does one do this? And what’s the best way? And is it absolutely necessary? And why does it hurt so badly to type in those words?

One of the decisions I find myself making daily is whether or not to tell the person I’m talking with that everything has changed in my life.  Does the lady at the dry cleaners need to know? Margaret never came in, so they didn’t know one another.

I told a complete stranger at Walmart today.

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“How are you feeling?” The hardest question.

It’s been over a month now since the hospital called saying simply, “Sir, you need to come to the emergency room. Now.”  Nothing more.

The lady said it twice. I got the message.

We had had no warning that my wife Margaret’s death was imminent.  We had welcomed family in over the Christmas holidays and Margaret had been doing pool therapy at the rehab hospital.  She wanted to be more independent and was driving herself from time to time. Twice recently she had said, “It’s time for you to buy another car and give me this one.”

“This one” was the Honda CR-V which, because it’s built a little higher off the ground than the Camrys we’ve driven for years, was easier for her to maneuver.  A year or more ago, we had given our other car to our local granddaughters. Margaret was putting 5 miles a month, at most, on it and Abby and Erin needed transportation.  When we began looking for cars, Margaret picked out this Honda with the understanding it was her car.  I smile at that. “Her car.”  To date, at 2 years 4 months old, the odometer shows over 72,000 miles, almost all put there by her preacher husband going hither and yon in the Lord’s work.  Still, she knew it was hers.

Life changes abruptly.  Your “other half”–boy, is that ever right!–is suddenly taken from you.  From the moment she coughed a couple of times and collapsed in the nail salon, then was whisked to the hospital a couple of miles away, until all life-support apparatus was removed and she took her last breath, was six days.  The death certificate lists January 29, 2015 as “the” day.

One I will never ever forget, I’ll tell you that.  If that is not the worst day of my life, then the previous Friday–January 23–when this happened, was.

“So, how are you feeling?”  Or, “How are you doing?”

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About my wife’s death: So much I’m thankful for

“A woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised.  Give her of the fruit of her own hands, and let her own works praise her in the gates” (Proverbs 31:30-31).

(My wife Margaret collapsed around 11 am on Friday, January 23, 2015.  After six days and nights of intensive hospital care during which she was completely unresonsive, she took her last breath of earthly air on Thursday, January 29.  Her memorial service was held at our church on Monday, February 2.)

A longtime friend who saw on Facebook a photo of my wife of over half a century, said, “I don’t think Margaret ever knew how beautiful she was.”

I agree.  Margaret Henderson McKeever was a victim of perfectionism, her own–which rarely let her feel satisfied with anything she was or had done–and that of a few significant others in her upbringing.  I will not be dumping on them here; for the most part, they themselves were the victims of someone else’s poor child-rearing.  Margaret overcame signifcant obstacles to become a wonderful Christian woman, a terrific pastor’s wife, a loving mother, a college graduate “with honors,” and in short, “somebody.”

Nothing in these writings should give the impression she was perfect.  Margaret was an imperfect woman married to a flawed husband, but the redeemed child of a Savior who does all things well. “Christ receiveth sinful men, even me with all my sin…..”

“Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!”

Okay, now.  Through my tears, which show no sign of abating, I give thanks….

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Today my wife told me she loved me

“Herein is love, not that we loved God–but that God loved us and sent His Son…”  (I John 4:10)

I found the note today–five days after Margaret’s funeral–where she had listed in her handwriting some of the reasons she loved me.

Here’s what happened.

Just before Christmas, our pastor, Dr. Mike Miller, told the church how one year his wife Terri filled a jar with 100 notes, each one telling why she loved him. Each day he drew out one and read it and basked in the glow. He was reluctant to draw out the last one, he said, and has left it there ever since.

Margaret and I teased about that afterwards, as to whether we could do it. I told her I could list a hundred reasons she loved me.  She laughed that she might have trouble getting to a dozen.  Then, over the next few days, if one of us did something the other didn’t care for, we would tease, “Okay. One less reason” or “You’re now down to 5.”

It turned out she actually was making such a list.

And today, I ran across it.

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Margaret Ann Henderson McKeever (June 9, 1942 – January 29, 2015)

“Beauty is deceitful and popularity is vain. But a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised. Give her of the fruit of her own hands, and let her own works praise her in the gates” (Proverbs 31:30-31).

Margaret would be embarrassed to know I used Proverb 31 on her.

But she was in many respects every ounce that strong woman to whom someone is paying tribute.  She had to be, considering all the hurdles she cleared, the obstacles she overcame, the setbacks and hardships and difficulties life handed her, all of which she met head-on and surmounted.

I wish you could have known her in her prime.

She could be fierce in her faith and soft in her sweetness, and focused like a laser when she set her mind to do a thing.  Only in her later years did the burdens begin to outnumber and overwhelm her.  Even then, she was a fighter.  Her calendar is filled with appointments I am having to cancel–meetings with therapists, nutritionists, pain management clinic, physical therapy, a psychiatrist, and a few other things. She was not giving up, she was not going down without a fight.

Joe married a fighter.  April 13, 1962.  A Friday night in Birmingham, Alabama.

She would have to be a fighter. She was tying herself to a young preacher who hardly knew how to be a husband, breadwinner, pastor, or a father, and much less a caretaker, lover, best friend.  I would have to learn all of this, and some lessons came harder than others.

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A few notes about my wife Margaret

Margaret is still with us as I write, so this is not an obit.

I just wanted to express more fully the appreciation of our family for the faithful prayers of countless friends far and wide who have lifted her and us to the Father since Margaret’s massive heart attack last Friday around noon.

WHAT HAPPENED...

Friday morning perhaps around 11 am, Margaret had driven herself to the nail salon for a pedicure.The ladies there say she had just seated herself on the chair when she began coughing. Then, she passed out.

They ran next door to the laundromat and asked for help. Someone called 911. The Harahan police station is a block away, and they responded immediately, followed by the firefighters.  They started CPR, and rushed her to Ochsner’s Hospital, some three miles or so to the east.

The hospital called my house. “Sir, you need to come to the emergency immediately.”  Daughter-in-law Julie had to drive me since we have only the one car.(I was afraid Margaret might have been in an accident. She’s driving very little these days and has been getting around with a walker or cane. But this drive was short and the parking was easy. Still, I was concerned.)

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The day you started to die

I was reading the short wikipedia bio of a British entertainer whom you might know (but who will remain anonymous here simply because his name does not matter).

The writer told how the celebrity was a regular on British television for over three decades.  Finally, the network decided his work was declining along with his audience and so canceled him.  Within three years, the man was dead, even though he was still in his 60s.  This sentence remains with me: “The day they canceled his contract is the day he began to die.”

We’ve all known of individuals who died shortly after retiring from their life work.  Whether retirement caused the death, hastened the death, or was completely irrelevant is something no one can know. But we each have our own suspicions.

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