But, a number of the guys I spend Saturday mornings with had agreed to help me move Jonathan's things from his apartment into storage today, and I didn't really think it right not to show up for our Bible study. And, I am so glad I did.
This year the group seemed to start off in a deeper place than we have been before. The guys generally seemed more passionate than ever about drawing closer to God and closer to one another. They also seemed to have a greater zeal than ever before about doing good works of all kinds outside of the church. In fact, through all of January it really felt like God was taking us somewhere new -- building toward something significant.
This morning my friend Mark led the study. Mark has led many times in the past, and he always does a great job. But today was different. Several times Mark's emotions got the better of him as he talked about the sacrifice that God made for us and the kind of love that God calls us to have for one another. He took us to that place where the teaching of Jesus is stripped down to its essence. He spoke passionately about how this revelation about love was changing dramatically his marriage and his family -- indeed how it was changing him.
Honestly, I really believe that today may have been a game changer for this group of men. Although Mark was speaking, it felt like he was speaking for the entire group. And, for perhaps the first time, I felt like collectively we got it. For the first time I felt that collectively we finally understood at a heart level that the Christian walk really does largely boil down to putting God first and putting others ahead of ourselves.
Perhaps that seems simple. But I really believe that it is a revelation that few Christians ever really understand.
When we finished for the morning I was both excited about what I had just witnessed, and uneasy about the next few hours. My friend Brad and I headed over to pack up Jonathan's remaining belongings from his apartment, before other friends would arrive to help load the truck. It was the scene of the terrible events of just over a week ago -- the very place where my son drew his last breath.
At first I was surprised by the business-like way I was able to go about sorting through his things -- deciding which things would come home and which would go into storage. But ultimately and inevitably I found myself overwhelmed by the emotion the moment.
I know that my thoughts were far from rational, but perhaps they never are in times like these. As we began to move furniture and bags of clothes outside to the truck the reality of the situation began to sink in. Jonathan was gone and he was not coming back to us. It is, of course, a reality I had already accepted. But, somehow with every new milestone it is a reality that I am forced to accept all over again, and this time was more painful than any of the milestones that had preceded it.
When the apartment was empty I went to lock the door for the last time, and somehow was caught off guard by the flood of emotion in that moment. As I turned the key and the deadbolt moved into place, it felt as though I was locking Jonathan himself into that terrible place. It was as if all of the hopes and dreams that Pam and I had for our son, and all the hopes and dreams that he had for himself, were being sealed inside of that apartment. Our family's future without Jonathan never seemed so real to me.
Pam and I continue to gain comfort from the knowledge that Jonathan is in a better place, and cannot imagine how anyone could survive this kind of loss without faith and without the love and support of a church family. We know that one day joy will return to us. But we also know that this hole will never be filled. We know that in the future even in the times of our greatest joy, indeed particularly during our times of greatest joy, we will also experience our greatest pain -- the pain that will come from knowing that our son is not there to celebrate with us. Like it or not, that is our new normal.