Sunday, September 1, 2019 is not a day I will likely forget. Our family got up that morning and went through our normal routine and headed to church. Around 11am my phone started buzzing. I was helping out with the Kindergarten Worship time, and did not answer it. 20 minutes later, my husband opens the door and tells me that I need to take an important phone call. I knew it was not good.
As soon as I took the phone, I heard my dad’s deep grief. One of our worst nightmares had finally happened. My 36 year old younger brother had passed away. He had suffered from epilepsy since he was around 20 years old. The first time we found out about his seizures was when he was driving in our parents neighborhood and drove into our neighbors front lawn. He had seized while driving. So began the next 16 years of us worrying about him daily. Would he seize while driving again and die in some horrific car accident? Would he seize while at work at his manual labor job? He had always worked the night shift unloading trucks at Lowe’s Home Improvement and then eventually Fed Ex. Would he seize while lifting some heavy load and then be crushed by the load? And each night we would pray, often begging, “Lord please keep all of our family safe. Lord I pray that everyone we know would come to know You if they don’t already…”
On the phone my dad cries out, “He’s gone! Jonathan is gone!” I stood there in silence and shock, my brain denying what it was hearing. My dad had seen my brother in bed, and left the house for a few minutes to grab coffee. When he came back, my brother was on the floor. As soon as my dad saw him, he knew Jonathan was gone. He tried CPR and then called 911; the paramedics tried everything to no avail. I tried to talk logically and ask my dad questions to make sense of what I was hearing. As if by denying it would bring my brother back.
My dad had just come up for a quick visit. My dad had been staying with his girlfriend in Louisville, KY, which was only 4 hours from where my brother was living in South Bend, Indiana. My dad got in around 5pm Saturday, August 31st. They had a great night of hanging out at a local bar, watching the NC State vs. ECU game. Their team, NC State, had won and they had were in high spirits. My brother was at the end of a sad divorce with his wife and was talking about moving back to NC. We so worried about him having a seizure or other health problem while living alone in Indiana and were eager to have him near us.
When the realization hit me that my brother was gone, and the grief and tears came, I started to cry out to God. “Why did You take my brother already? But we had prayed and asked You to give my brother more time! To give him time to know You! My brother was only 36! He still wanted to have kids one day!” He loved kids and looked forward to having his own children.
By day two the Holy Spirit had revealed to me several important comforting things about my brother’s death.
One. That even though we loved Jonathan, His creator loved him even more.
- Jeremiah 31:3 “I have loved you with an everlasting love;
I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.”
- Romans 5:8 “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
- Romans 8:37-39 “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Two. Of all the ways my brother could have died, he died safely and comfortably in his bed. We will all die, and in my opinion, that is the best way to go.
Three. Jonathan did not die alone. God allowed his body to fail while my dad was in town. We had so worried about something happening to Jonathan while he was alone, and God in His great mercy and love took care of that.
Four. God gifted my dad and brother with one last great night together.
Five. God gifted us with 4 visits with my brother this year.
- My brother was not known for his communication skills and since his move and marriage in Indiana we had not seen or heard from him much. We would call, text, email and almost never get a response. Before the visits in 2019, the last time we had seen him (or even really heard from him) was when he joined us for a running race in Raleigh, October 2017. And before that was at a family reunion in New Mexico, July 2016.
- But during these last several months while he was going through the divorce he surprised us with a week long visit in February, and then another surprise visit on Mother’s Day. In June, he came and supported us at a running race, and then last minute joined my youngest brother and I for a visit in Texas with family.
- My last communication with him was August 10th when he texted me that he loved his birthday gift. It was a medals display that said “Beast Mode” on top and could hold his medals from the Spartan and running races.
I honestly don’t know what my brother’s relationship with the Lord entailed. I know that he never questioned the existence of God. He always believed in God and His son Jesus Christ. He did not regularly attend church, but he didn’t mind attending when people invited him. He had attended Catholic mass a few times with my dad over the last several months and had attended our church in NC when he was in town on a Sunday, and during his visits with us in Arizona. He was not a deep thinker or reader, but to begin and develop a relationship with Jesus is not complicated. Indeed, the Bible tells us that we are to have faith like a child.
Mark 10:14 says: “When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”
On Sunday I prayed that God would bring my brother back like he did Lazarus in the Bible. Mary and Martha had a brother named Lazarus whom died, and 4 days later Jesus brought him back. “Lord, I know you are capable – would you do that for us too? Would you bring my brother back?” From the thousands of prayers we have uttered on my brothers behalf over the years, we can only surmise that it is possible that God did give us more time than we might have gotten otherwise.
God does respond to prayers! Our prayers are powerful!
Matthew 7:7 says, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”
I know that we planted many seeds with Jonathan since my own conversion in 2004/2005. But I think I will still always have some regrets. There is a fine line between intentionally sharing the Good News and being so aggressive so that you alienate your loved ones. Did I do enough? Maybe I should have been texted him John 3:16 daily? I constantly begged God for more time with him – did I make good use of the time God gave us? I am still undecided. God, please forgive me for wasting time. God please have mercy on Jonathan.
Jonathan was not perfect. None of us are perfect. For ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Yet God loves us. So much so that He even allowed His own son to be the final sacrifice for OUR sins. John 3:16 says: For God so loved the world that He gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. None of us are guaranteed even another minute. Get right with God TODAY! Confess your sins (we all have them!), and invite God and His son into your life today.
Revelation 3:20 “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.”
Share Jesus with those around you today. It might be your last chance.