Last week was an anniversary. It has blown into my heart like the icy winds outside. It was an emotional anniversary…a day of remembrance, even though those memories sometimes desire to be suppressed rather than exposed in the light. But as I’ve been told, your emotions make you human. To bury or ignore them is to live in the shadows and refuse to come out into the sunlight; into reality. To be human is just as much to laugh and dance, to worship and worry, as it is to cry and experience excruciating sadness at hurt, heartache, and loss.
Still, we do well to remember, even the times, places, and people to which our emotions and memories attach themselves. Memories – especially the good ones – are treasures that I believe our heavenly Father allows us to possess and open time and again. Even when what we love is gone, we still hold our memories dear. And they are priceless.
One such bittersweet memory occurred on January 4, 2016. It’s one of those moments that causes you to recall exactly where you were and what you were doing. This was the day Craig Strickland’s body was discovered above the shores of Kaw Lake in Northcentral Oklahoma.
It’s a humbling thing to trust and obey, especially God, whom many claim they cannot see or hear. But that is faith. As Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” I don’t know the countless prayers of intercession uplifted throughout the world in the days between Craig and Chase being lost and Craig’s body being found. My prayer was that he be found…alive, safe, and well.
That prayer was not dismissed. While it was not answered the way in which I envisioned, it was answered by God. God did have Craig – more fully alive than he’d ever been, safe in His almighty arms, and well in His glorious presence. It was just not on earth.
I remember being asked by family to help prepare for two services in the ensuing days. One was a private ceremony for family and close friends. The other was a public memorial service at Cross Church in Rogers, Arkansas. I remember praying for wisdom and grace to handle my responsibilities as an officiant well. It’s one thing to minister the Word of God as a pastor – to publicly proclaim the Gospel and shepherd souls. It’s another to speak about your friend as a fellow mourner. It’s difficult when you hurt to authentically edify and encourage others who are hurting, but God is gracious in His constant care and provision. He supplies supernatural strength in our weakness. And I unashamedly admit my weakness before Him – that day and most days. Were it not for God’s mercy and grace our struggles would be insurmountable.
I’ll never forget the day we laid Craig’s earthly body to rest. To this day it is a surreal moment. I still sometimes expect to get a text from him or to be able to call and hear the charisma and energy exuding from the other end of the phone. I miss him. We miss him. I loved my friend, but he’s to be envied. All that he’s experiencing is the eternal hope of every believer in Jesus Christ. Craig’s inheritance is being fully enjoyed in the presence of our Lord and Savior. It doesn’t extinguish the sting of death or the pain of his absence, but it is a joyful reminder of where he is and where we may be as well if our faith is like his – in Christ!
Aaron Matthews, Pastor First Baptist Lowell, AR