Friday morning, right before I left for work, I received notice that my dear friend, Liz, had died.
When I first entered full-time ministry, back in 2004, Bob and Liz were one of the first older couples who really extended a hand to me.
They were saucy and un-PC, but not in a racist or mean way, like SOME older people get - they were deliciously un-PC and hilarious.
I'll never forget when Liz, who was 40 years my senior, saw me in a jacket and tie for the first time.
She snuck up next to me, gave my arm a squeeze, and said, under her breath, "Hey, you clean up pretty good." And then she smiled and winked at me.
I responded with something like, "You're looking pretty good yourself, young lady," but, even though I was trying to play it cool, I don't think my face had ever been so red. She got me good. That was a quintessential "Liz moment."
In retrospect, I think Bob and Liz were a perfect example of people who'd been authentically transformed by the love of Jesus, because they were fully on-board with the mission of Jesus and his church, but yet were still wholly, authentically themselves.
With Bob and Liz, what you saw was what you got. They never put on a mask or pretended to be perfect, they just served and lived and loved, in their very Bob-and-Liz sort of way.
When Bob’s health started to decline, I wanted to do what I could to be a friend to Bob and to help out Liz. I would swing by once a week to help with some household chores and play Rummikub with Bob (who almost always won - I’m pretty sure he cheated). And during that time, I got to know both of them much better. So when Bob passed, I was crushed.
I stopped by several times after that, to see how Liz was doing, and sometimes I spent the whole time trying to help her with her new iPad, but other times, we had long talks about her hubby, and her kids, and her time in the military, and her love and concern for the church, and her ideas about the afterlife, and all sorts of other interesting things.
It was during these visits that I learned what a tough old broad Liz was, and I kept thinking to myself, "Man, I wish I'd met this couple 20 years sooner. I bet they were a hoot. How much could I have learned from them?"
But then I moved to Chicagoland to plant a church, and Liz and I kind of lost touch. We played Words With Friends for awhile, but then she got sick, and we didn't even do that anymore. I feel bad that I only got to see her one more time after I moved up here, especially now that it's too late.
And I'm sure they had an impact on many people over the years, but they definitely had an impact on me. If they'd done nothing but change the way I think about what devoted, lifelong Jesus followers are supposed to look like, that would've been enough, because there's a little bit of Bob and Liz in every sermon I give.
Their lives, lived on the Way of Jesus, are a significant part of my evidence that what I teach is actually true.
But what would've happened had Bob and Liz considered their faith a “personal thing - just between them and God?” And what if I'd never visited Bob as his health began to decline? And what if I'd never thought to check on Liz after Bob passed? I would've lost so much.
But that's NOT what happened. And there's only one reason for it.
The church. That rickety, broken-down, antiquated institution that Bob and Liz loved so much. That's the common thread that made it all happen.
They never would've met me if not for the church.
I never would've gotten to know them if not for the church.
Our lives collided because God, in his infinite wisdom, designed the church to crash people like Bob and Liz and me together.
That’s the whole point.
I will miss them.