“Live (and die) so that anyone who knows you knows God is good.”
The night before we left to meet family for Christmas, my husband John and I drove 45 minutes to Pawleys Island (Pawleys for short), a community where we bought a creek lot this past summer. We wanted to decorate the property by hanging an ornament and putting spotlights on the live oak that shades it. One of the appeals of buying in Pawleys was its close proximity to The Abbey, a church we joined just months before we made our purchase.
On the way there, John said, “They’ve called in hospice for Chuck.”
“I hated to blurt it out tonight,” he said, “but there wasn’t going to be a good time to tell you.”
Bishop Chuck Murphy was our rector at The Abbey until he resigned three weeks ago. He died a few days later.
Chuck was diagnosed last January with stage 4 brain cancer. Most of us anticipated him living many more years because he had powerful believers praying for and expecting his healing.
At Chuck’s funeral, Philip Jones, his successor as chairman of the Anglican Mission in America, told the story about Chuck saying to Margaret when they were 18-years-old and dating, “I don’t want to be 65 and not have made a difference in the world.”
Chuck ministered to thousands of people, probably tens of thousands. He oversaw the planting of more than 200 churches in America including The Abbey, where we started attending about two years ago. We also worshipped under Chuck’s leadership for six years at All Saints, another church in Pawleys. His bold regard for scripture changed the landscape of Anglicanism and impacted the world, and John and me too.
Bagpipers accompanied Chuck’s family to the entryway of the church. During his service, a trumpeter played Revelle. We sang, “What a Beautiful Name.” Twenty plus robed clergy traveled to pay homage.
Things were said like “Chuck left a legacy of family, leadership, and character.”
“He flew 40,000 feet higher and saw beyond what most of us see. He had a singular focus on the Kingdom of God.”
“He had little use for the praise of men, but wanted it from heaven.”
“His ways were generous and he was always asking, ‘How can I come alongside you and help make this happen?’”
The day after hearing the hospice news, John and I drove separately to the mountains to haul all the food and Christmas presents. On the way, I bargained with God that if he’d heal Chuck, I’d complete my manuscript. I couldn’t think of anything more important to wager. I pleaded with him when I remembered Abraham’s appeals for a town in the Bible called Sodom. I begged and bargained and bawled.
An hour and a half into my trip, I looked up and saw a billboard, a sign, advertising a can of Glory Foods field peas. I laughed at God choosing one with humor that said, “Peas Be With You.”
I hoped it was a “sign” that Chuck was being healed the way I wanted the miracle to happen. Having him survive and seeing prayer work so powerfully made sense for our church and for us. Attending The Abbey’s been a big part of John’s and my restoration in our marriage and individually. For us, Chuck’s healing wasn’t about only Chuck getting better. It was about us too.
We thought we needed more lessons from his nearly 50-year marriage to Margaret. We watched his three daughters and their families attend The Abbey and sit together Sunday after Sunday. We learned from watching Chuck act as spiritual head of his household, as well as our church home.
He played his guitar and performed on the church piano, not for the congregation, but his family. I’ve never seen him play except in videos posted by one of his daughters. He believed every word of the Bible and taught it in a way that made me believe it too. He talked about dancing in the streets of heaven with Jesus. He laughed when he preached. I bet he was laughing when he died.
Margaret forwarded this message on January 9th, “Chuck, as he would say, peacefully went down the water flume before us this morning at 1:30, right into the glorious Kingdom of God. Our family is doing ok, but we know Chuck is doing great as he joins his Saviour and Lord.”
My stomach knots up when I think about Chuck not being here for our move to Pawleys and for us to move forward.
It’s at The Abbey where I’ve seen John raise his hands and get on his knees, tear up often, and soften.
It’s where I’ve felt safe and not because we have a security guard walking the grounds. It’s the place I learned to trust and lean into God being good. Genuinely good, not cliché good. It helped to watch Chuck and his family believe in God’s goodness in sickness and in health.
I’ve tried spiritualizing my pain instead of feeling it. Maybe you do this too. I like to think I’ll stop hurting if I pray, talk to friends, read inspirational books, read the Bible, practice gratitude, trust God, journal about it, ask others to pray, worship, listen to uplifting songs, seek wise counsel, do the next good deed. These things all help for a little while.
I thought about a passage in one of my inspirational daily readers. It says, “God is not a terrorist.” I imagine plenty of us question if God is out to get us sometimes. If Chuck was going to die so soon and the pain and loss feel so big, why’d I even stumble onto a post about The Abbey one late night on Facebook? This past week, I almost wished I hadn’t.
But it’s like the quote in Shadowlands, the movie about C. S. Lewis’ life, when he struggled to handle his wife Joy’s death. He repeated to his good friend something similar to what Joy had told him earlier, “The pain now is part of the happiness then. That’s the deal.”
Just as poignant even though from a cartoon character, Winnie the Pooh said, “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”
Trying to make sense of Chuck’s death reminds me about a mom trying to do the same after letting go of her 41-year-old daughter to breast cancer. When questioned about God’s goodness, she said something like this, “I would never have said ‘yes’ to something like this no matter what good changes I was promised, but I also would never return to the person I was before my daughter died. Watching her die, I learned about benevolence and bravery and being ready to meet Jesus.”
Like the mom, neither would I go back to who I was before The Abbey and before witnessing Chuck and his family deal with dying and death.
Have you ever questioned God’s goodness? This time around, I’m trying not to question since I’ve noticed if we’ll give Him time (even if it’s a decade or so), he’ll prove himself good again and again.
In This Together,