Dr. Jack Acree, my pastor for several years and a dear, brilliant friend, went Home to the Lord last Saturday. Brother Jack and I shared an enormous love of books. He forgave me my fiction predilection, I ceased attempting to understand his nonfiction obsession. True or non, though, we both loved good stories and I think he’d get a kick out of the one I could tell today, having just arrived home from attending his funeral service.
Arriving at the church with my husband and son brought its own swirl of memories. Next door was the church where I’d been honored with incredible support from Brother Jack in 2007 as a group of ladies and I worked diligently to create a women’s ministry in the face of opposition from those who liked things just as they were. It was also the church where the deacons forced Brother Jack’s resignation, a story on its own that serves as a stark example of what happens when a leader of deacons desires power and control more than exhibiting the kindness and humility our Savior practiced. Brother Jack, though, taught me how to love and pray for enemies by his walk through that particular fire.
I tried to set those memories aside as we entered the church and saw familiar faces from those days. Walking down the aisle with my seven-year-old son, I began to answer his questions of why Brother Jack was in that box and to assure him that, yes, Brother Jack’s soul was now in Heaven with Jesus. We hugged the family, said our Until That Days, and circled back around to find seats for the service.
That’s when I ran into Dr. Don McCulley – my pastor from elementary school and junior high. I babysat his daughter waaayyy back in the day and had just been surprised by a friend request from her on Facebook yesterday. We hugged, said it was good to see each other, then went on our way. I didn’t have much time to reflect on the strangeness of seeing him in this place…two towns and two decades removed from the last place I knew him…before the service. With confusion, I watched him file onto the stage and take a seat alongside our pastor, our worship minister, and two other men. Hmm.
After two speakers shared their memories and reminded us all why we loved Brother Jack, Dr. McCulley stood up. He, too, began sharing memories of this friend he’d known since seminary days. He talked about visiting Brother Jack, about talking on the phone in those last days, about their days on the golf course discussing theology.
And, despite the tears over how much I’ll miss Brother Jack this side of Heaven, I realized a smile rested on my lips. Here stood the embodiment of a characteristic both Brother Jack and I so love about the God we serve: His infinite storywriting. Brother Jack knew me as a married woman, as a mother, as a ministry leader, as a member of his flock. I knew Dr. McCulley as a student, a daughter, an adolescent, an employee, and a member of his flock.
Here, in this place, I learned that two men separated in my life by two decades and two towns had known each other for years. They no doubt shared lots of laughter and words along the way.
It’s like discovering a prequel to a favorite novel. How incredible, how brilliant, our God must be to weave our lives in ways we may never even see until we see Him face to face. How much fun it’s going to be, to see each other again one day and realize how we all fit together! We don’t know how our relationships this side of eternity play into our existence there, but it’s awfully fun to think about running into Brother Jack, telling him I want to introduce him to my friend Dr. McCulley, and having both of them exclaim, “Hey, I remember you!”
As a writer, I often share the lament with my author clients about keeping characters straight – especially when writing a series where relationships get entangled and untangled. What a God, that He not only keeps us all straight, but is working with every single one of us individually toward His ultimate purpose: everyone experiencing his love and forgiveness.
One last flash of insight into the God we adore from my friend and pastor who spent a life loving Him: Brother Jack.