Uncle Kenny died on Sunday afternoon.
Grandpa found him sitting in his easy chair, the television still tuned to his favorite channel, and my kids' most recent homemade works of art posted on his refrigerator. Putting down the plate of still-warm food my mother had sent Grandpa to deliver, he called 9-1-1 and checked his best friend's body for a pulse. There was none.
Let me clarify: Uncle Kenny wasn't really our uncle, he was my father's uncle. That got a little too confusing for us and even more complicated for the kids, so we all just called him what my dad called him: Uncle Kenny. More than an uncle, though, he was my grandfather's first cousin by blood (not hard in a family of seventeen kids!) and best friend for life. A single father of four adult daughters, he wasn't afraid of our family chaos or the occasional childish interruption.
Grandpa and Kenny always reminded me of Grumpy Old Men, only they weren't grumpy. They were energetic, funny, and child-like in their awe of the world. They spent endless hours hunting the high desert for ghost towns, blue rocks (requested by my daughter), and treasures untold. When we went along for the fun, they strapped kids on the backs of their quads and ventured off into the dust. A kid's heaven, for sure, as was the bowl of Jell-O Great-Grandma had made them afterward.
Uncle Kenny celebrated every birthday and holiday with our family, including the religious ones that he did not necessarily ascribe to. Last Easter, he asked my mom why Jesus was so important to the Christians. I was secretly glad he hadn't asked me after I heard how good her answer was.
Then, just a few weeks ago, Grandpa and Uncle Kenny stopped by our house. I brewed coffee and cut brownies, the kind that's thick with frosting. Both the kids and Uncle Kenny ate the frosting first.
Between stories of political woes and travesties, I shook my head and said, "The answer is Jesus, we just need Jesus." Such a cliche answer, in retrospect.
"You think so?" Uncle Kenny asked.
"Yeah," I answered shyly, but gaining momentum. "Real life doesn't start the minute we get to heaven; it starts the minute we know Jesus."
He smiled encouragingly, even nodded around his coffee cup. But I wonder what he really thought. Was I the religious nutcase that kept serving him Jesus-talk with his brownie? Was I a misguided zealot? A weak-minded intolerant conservative?
We ended the conversation with hugs, and off those two went, nagging and teasing each other all the way to the truck. It was only two weeks until my dad's birthday, when the family would all gather around my mother's buffet spread, but Uncle Kenny decided the morning of our get-together to stay home and rest. And he died that afternoon.
If I could have done it again, I would have said it a hundred more ways (to make sure he was fully convinced I was a religious nutcase!). Not because I needed to change his mind, but because God loved him, plain and simple. Why not tell a person this?
So, to all the Uncle Kenny's out there who I have yet to bravely risk embarrassing myself and them, here's what I should have said:
Jesus is the reason I get up in the morning.
Life without Him is hopeless for me.
A walk with Jesus is a walk of faith - there are no perfect proofs or scientific experiments that make it all sensible. In fact, if anything, this Christian life seems the exact opposite of logic. A.W. Tozer says it this way:
"A real Christian is an odd number, anyway. He feels supreme love for One whom he has never seen; talks familiarly every day to Someone he cannot see; expects to go to heaven on the virtue of Another; empties himself in order to be full; admits he is wrong so he can be declared right; goes down in order to get up; is strongest when he is weakest; richest when he is poorest and happiest when he feels the worst. He dies so he can live; forsakes in order to have; gives away so he can keep; sees the invisible; hears the inaudible; and knows that which passeth knowledge." (excerpt taken from Kenneth Boa's Conformed to His Image, p. 260)
No matter how skeptical you are, what do you lose by finding out more? A little time, perhaps? A little ridicule, maybe? If it's nothing, you've wasted little. If it's something - or everything - you've gained purpose, identity, love, hope, security, and life itself.
This "hidden in Christ" kind of "tucked in" I spout about cannot allow me to wallow in regret, only step forward knowing that if God could find me, He could certainly find Uncle Kenny. What a way to go - into Arms wide open, cozier than the easy chair. I hope he found that safe place, tucked in to Him.
Resting in Faith,