Sunday, November 2, 2008
A Part of God's Big Story
It's hard to believe that I am writing not much past 24 hours since I got the tragic news that my husband's son, Michael, died in his sleep. It is a real shock. We were all in such shock yesterday when we got the news, I don't think any of us believed it was true. But sadly, it is.
Michael was born in New York shortly after Vinnie married his first wife. But when Michael was 7 and his mother left Vinnie, she took him and his sister back to where she was from - Sicily, yes, in Italy. Michael and Christine learned Italian and grew up in the culture of that part of the world, which in many ways, is quite different from here. Their lives weren't simple, to say the least, as they had to adjust to life without their Daddy, never really understanding the truth about where he was and why he wasn't with them.
Christine and Michael grew up differently than Amy and Michelle, the two children that Vinnie and I had, and when Michael was 21, his grandmother sent him to America so he could 'get to know his Daddy again.' We were elated! Vinnie and I hoped for years earlier in our marriage, that his kids would one day be part of our family. We had lost that hope for a while but at age 21 - well, we were thankful to have him with us at all. When Vinnie and I had been married for a year a half, we went to Italy (well, we also traveled throughout Europe) specifically to try and arrange some kind of visitation rights so he could see the kids once in a while. Those arrangements could not be made. (That's a whole other story!)
Michael had been a wild child but we wanted to think that God brought him to us and that there was hope that he would become a new creation in Christ. You know how us Christians think! Well, I'll add here, that he did eventually become that new creation in Christ and now he is as perfect as one can get before we are living together in the New Earth promised in Revelation. But we didn't expect the arrival 'there' to be so long, drawn out and sometimes quite weary. What we quickly learned when Michael came is that he had a drug problem but when we realized this, we hoped we could do something to help.
He could not speak English when he came to us but within a week he had figured out who the gangs are in this town (to all those who know where we live - yes, there are gangs, plural, gangs, in this town). There were fights, car wrecks, and all kinds of stuff to deal with. Our hope for the "little boy to be returned to Vinnie and be part of our happy home" was becoming a nightmare! We were also new Believers. Vinnie had been in seminary most of his youth fulfilling what he thought was a call to be a priest. As a young man he turned from that path and in 1995, shortly after we moved to this area and attended this great church I am still involved in, he realized that what was missing from his experience was a genuine relationship with God, not just knowledge about Him. He made the rest of his life a commitment to grow in the relationship God freely offered him through His Son, Jesus. Our faith was being tested BIG time!
So here we were, new Believers, hoping that the love of Jesus would transform Mikey too. If I went into all the details of the journey with Mikey you all might just get the book you've been telling me I should write - Mikey, Book II! I can't get into all that much detail in this blog but I can tell you this - it was hard, tragic, scary and there were many, many times when we were shocked that Michael was still alive! We couldn't figure out how many lives God would really give one young man! About three years ago he was once again arrested. He was sent to prison for a crime that this time he didn't seem to have really committed. But he was there, struggled, and finally got out two years later. That was about a year and a half ago. He struggled when he got out of prison and had a strong desire to be married and settle down with children. His quest to marry lead him to meet Stephanie, via the Internet.
You see how happy I was for Mikey in the picture above at his wedding, but I was a bit concerned when shortly after they met they were engaged! I believe it was by Christmas (they met that fall) they were planning an October wedding. It turned out that Stephanie was the best thing that ever happened to Mikey. To me she was a wonderful example of being a help mate to him. It was clear, over time, that God had put them together. They were just married three weeks ago yesterday! One week after their honeymoon at a beach along the Carolinas, Stephanie was rushed to the ER. She was having trouble breathing. She been in the hospital for nine days now and is only now beginning to show tiny signs of progress. Michael was very concerned about her. He was afraid she was going to die. He wanted to be a good husband to her too and was discouraged because he was feeling so terribly exhausted. His complaint of exhaustion should have been a red flag for me - Mikey was like the Energizer Bunny - he never ran out of energy! But he'd never been married before either and I figured that he was riddled with worry for his new bride. That alone can take a toll on one's body. I suggested a game plan to get some extra rest that night. I am not sure what time he went home - I hope it was not too late, but he got more rest than I ever expected. He never woke up!
They'd been staying at Stephanie's mother's house. Stephanie's mother had called Michael a few times but he didn't wake up. She finally went in his room and found him not breathing. He's been in a hospital all this weekend while we wait the results of an autopsy report. The doctors at the hospital where Stephanie is think they may have contracted some kind of virus on their honeymoon. They suspect that the virus targeted them in different ways - in the lungs for Stephanie and a different way for Mikey. We won't know until tomorrow.
I've wrestled with God over this for awhile yesterday but have found peace in two things. One, I am called to be thankful IN all things (not necessarily FOR all things). So I thought about all that I am thankful for IN this situation. I am thankful that Mikey came to America, that he has been a major part of our family, and that he did become a new creation in Christ. I am thankful that he didn't die from an overdose of drugs or some other wasteful means. And I am terrible thankful that he died AFTER Vinnie so Vinnie would not have to suffer the loss of his son. Secondly, I am peace with the fact that this and all the events of this life on this earth are all part of one big story - God's story.
I look at my life as a job, after all, aren't we told we would labor all the days of our lives on earth (Genesis 2:19)? In this light, it could be said that I like the career path but not the tasks it takes to get there. The "there" for us as Believers is the New Heaven and the New Earth where God will walk amongst His people. THAT is our true Home! It's what we were made for. Remember in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve heard God walking? (Genesis 2:8 8 "Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day...") We were made to live in the most amazingly beautiful place - so beautiful and perfect, God walked there too! This place we live now is NOT it! But the New Earth will come. All this that we know now is part of God's plan to get us and as many others as we can lead to the cross there too! I WILL be together with these recently lost loved ones. We will live where there is no pain, sickness, death, or sorrow. We will. It is what our HOME is like.So why are we left here? Look around. If you think we are the only ones suffering from tragedy, look again. There are hurting people all over the place. How else would the hopeless have hope if not for those of us that do? And how can we give them hope if we ourselves have no idea what it means to suffer too? We need to learn to suffer WITH hope! We are left here for that reason.
I am not an evangelist but I am taking my job pretty serious these days. My husband, his son and my grand babies, Logan and Lauren, are in Heaven now worshiping a worthy God. They want me to join them, even in the most adequate way possible that I can worship while I am still here. God still has work for me to do. I have no choice. I pray God will show me how to know joy in the midst of this sorrow and loss. I pray God shows me where and how I am to show that to others - and not so that I or we can know some kind of awesome everlasting bliss now - but so that we will inherit what's been promised to us who Believe - a HOME with GOD! I am finding it easier now to say, "I'll see you later" because I am beginning to understand what the conclusion of God's big story is and some of what it's going to take to get us all there.