20 07 2014

I didn’t become a Minister because I needed a job! I have always looked at what I do as more of my “life call” than just my profession. I don’t put on my “Pastor” hat during the day and then take it off right before I go to sleep at night. God made it very clear to my heart that he wanted me to give my life to follow him and to serve him by preaching and teaching and shepherding others. This has at times been incredibly rewarding and at other times- much like it was this past week- excruciatingly difficult!

We had to say goodbye to a very precious 11 year old girl named Morgan, who was killed in a tragic auto accident. She was quickly ushered from this world and carried into the waiting arms of her Savior, Jesus. She was a bright light and a nurturing soul to all of us who had the privilege to have this special angel as a part of our world. While society might have labeled her as one thing- I knew she was a true treasure to anyone who invested the time to discover the genuine masterpiece that she was. I wish we were all like Morgan- loving and open and hospitable to anyone we come in contact with. Why is it that so called “normal” individuals can be so full of themselves that they leave no room for wonder and magic? Maybe that is why Jesus made it very clear that unless we become like little children- Heaven would never interest us!

My grandkids live seven hours away in Johnstown, Pennsylvania so I like spoiling my adopted grandkids at our church. Morgan was one that I would always try to sneak a candy bar to. She would ask quite inquisitively, “Where do you get all that candy Pastor Rudy?” And I would smile back and tell her that I would buy it for amazing kids like her! She was also one of the few very brave individuals who actually liked to sit right up front when I preach at The Lighthouse Church. My daughter Leah coached Morgan’s soccer team and my son Joel had her in his class for several years in Dennis Township. So having to be the one to officiate her funeral ripped my heart to its seams!

Losing a child is something that can’t be fixed! My wife Terri and I have buried two of our sons- Nicholas who was born when we lived in Omaha, Nebraska and Benjamin who was born back in 1999 while living here in Cape May County. Our boys were born to only live a short time on this planet. But those few hours have changed our lives for the rest of forever! No words can ease the pain. No amount of time that has passed has made the enormous canyon that they have left in our hearts any smaller. Only the grace and mercy and reality of God has kept Terri and myself from residing in a rubber room or not living at all. Where was God when all of this happened? The same place he was when Morgan graduated to glory! He was holding on to us parents when we couldn’t muster the energy to lift a finger! I share this all because the best thing anyone can do to help somebody who has been through a tragedy of this magnitude is to not attempt to make the pain go away but to accompany and love that wounded mother or father through the valley of the shadow of death! Only resurrection and reunion will ever be enough to heal the shattered remains that will abide as long as we remain this side of heaven.

So last Wednesday, I stood before a grieving audience with no intentions of trying to answer any of the “Why” questions. I have learned that it is only the “Who” answers that are what we need to limp through to yet another dawning day! Loving God and having others who love us enough to walk with us through the rain and the pain is what will have to suffice until our empty arms are filled once again! As a matter of fact, when we drove over to Cold Springs Cemetery, I actually did the graveside remembrance for Morgan while standing on my own son’s grave! I looked down and saw the marker that read, Benjamin P Sheptock. Nothing can prepare you for that! Coincidence—I don’t think so! And God’s grace found me and the family and friends right there in the middle of the muck of our misery! Don’t ask me what I said or how I did it. I lead with love and allowed my heart to be vulnerable and absolutely available and I know God met us there.

I asked Morgan’s Daddy if I could take a picture of her bicycle before I left his home the other day. Morgan loved to ride it and greet her neighbors while she did. Her bike still had training wheels attached to it. And seeing it I am reminded of two things. First, we all need the training wheels of a real relationship with God while living here on earth. There is just too much suffering and injustice to bear without God there to keep us from ending our journey in the nearest ditch! Second, Morgan doesn’t need those training wheels anymore! She is popping wheelies as she wanders trying to meet everybody she can and I know she is offering them some lemonade in the process! I live with my feet on the ground but a large chunk of my heart already in eternity. Morgan reminded me of that fact loud and clear this week! “See you soon Sweetie and I’ll have a candy bar for you!”



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