There are a lot of crazy stories that make it to the national news. In small, obscure towns some guy beats his wife and she dies and he leaves his kids and flees, and somehow, the attention drawn to it by reporters far and wide, seems to give this clown, fame. And yes, we need to find this person and seek justice and all that, but he still gets press, and face time, and an image imprinted in our brains that we can't shake.
So kids grow up with these ugly stories swirling in their confused brains, as they try to sort out what's significant and important, from what's for discarding.
And us too, we don't know what to believe in.
I know the whole argument about life imitating art, or art imitating life is there and we can't play victim to it, but we still get shaped by these sickening human neurosis from people who get to rise to the top of our thought life, while good people and profound stories of great impact go unnoticed.
There's this high school economics teacher, from a suburban Detroit mixed neighborhood. He goes to work like good citizens do. He shows up in his class every day, with a crisp, startched shirt and a tie... Studied, ready, and poised for impact, he does his job. Delivering the supply and demands, the cost to benefit analysis, the profits and losses lectures, he just does what he was made to do. Teach kids. He supports and takes care of his wife and two teenagers. He loves his neighbors. He attends church and drops his coins in the offering plate. And, as if some evil force just randomly decides to go knocking on doors one day and happens to show up at 22143 Nona Street, he is stricken with this completely rare blood disorder and is given months to live.
And, he keeps going.
As best he can.
But takes time to rest.
Nothing super spectacular with what he now does differently, because here was a man who was already living an exemplary life. Not rocked by his bleak future, he stands steady in his faith, still loving and protecting his children, still committed to teaching the countless students who adored him, and sorting through all the questions with his wife - to try and stay connected and engaged and living, as long as God would lend him breath.
And then, one late winter Saturday night, his heart gives way and he breathes his last...
In the arms of his wife, in their home.
And, it's all over.
All of it.
His massive, powerful, silent and humble strength that was making more impact and doing more good in the world than hundreds of people combined might do, is done. Finished.
The two generations of students, the siblings and in-laws and nieces and nephews, and parents, and wife, and kids, and church members and neighbors...left standing there in a cloud of disbelief are wondering, now what?
Trying to figure out a God who seems unfair, a world that seems skewed, a system slanted in a way so wrong - that this good man, doesn't get to finish what he started.
Why can't this man sit next to Matt Lauer and talk about the world he's in?
Why won't Diane Sawyer's research team seek him out?
Why can't Google searches, and twitter, and facebook posts, and MSN homepages be ringing with the sounds of this man's superior integrity and how it changed people? Why do those news sources highlight what's crooked and mundane and criminal and sick, over what's true and lasting and life re-directing like the beauty of this man, and the life he lived?
And then I remember, his influence isn't over.
God is holding the world.
And how things go, is ordered and numbered, and ordained, and within his reach and careful attention.
He knows it all.
He sees it all.
I can complain about why I had to lose this special friend so early, or I can look at the exquisite handprint he left on my heart and in the lives of my family, as a privilege I never deserved, but was given anyway. I can celebrate the legacy he is leaving, and that I ever got to be in its path. And, that death doesn't stop him at all. He is just fine. He is more than, just fine. God's work in the world isn't done and He's not done using Mike. As I sit here, alone in my office - sobbing at my keyboard, remembering this good man and the suffering of my nieces and nephews for losing their dear uncle, my sister for losing her brother-in-law, my brother-in-law for losing his brother, my friend, for losing her husband... his children, for losing their Daddy... I can look at this season of grieving for all of us as a new way to communicate God's love in a world that aches and breaks and has only tragic news stories to sing it to sleep at night.
That life cut short and the influence, snuffed out... isn't really over.
Though his body is gone, his life is here.
His love continues. His far reaching impact, lives deep in minds and hearts all over the world.
At his funeral, he was tributed by former students, his brother, a neighbor, the pastor, the Muslim principal of the high school where he worked. Everyone of them spoke of his consistent character, his unconditional love, his commitment to seeing the best in others. One student, traveling in from the University of Michigan - a Muslim woman, mentioned his Christian Character stating, "Mr. Grenfell could see with his eyes closed..." At the close of the service, when the motorcade circled through town, it made a stop at the high school where he taught for 27 years. The family tells the story. I wasn't there.
The blocks were lined with reverent students... still, quiet, respectful - Christian and Muslim, with hands on hearts as the hearse, carrying his body pulled into the circle drive and stood at attention.
An official from the school lowered the flag at half-mast - in utter respect of this simple economics teacher who had taught the town how to live.
You know that pastor, who set up a Q'uran burning in Florida? That Christian man - the one who then, planned to create another Q'uran burning event in Dearborn, Michigan where the United States' largest concentration of Arab Muslims live, outside of the Middle East. He was doing all this to make his point further about the violence in Islam, and how Christians need to take a stand for Christ?
Well, this economics teacher, was from that town.
The point for Christ was made.
I'm confident the story Rev. Terry Jones was trying to tell and failing miserably at, was being told at Edsel Ford High School in an economics classroom, for more than 25 years, by the humble and gentle spirit of a man our national news may never hear about. The man with the shirt and tie, and silver beard. The man with a wide embrace. The man with a heart for bridging Muslims and Christians, instead of giving them more reason to kill each other.
The man who just showed up to work every day and changed a generation.
And that's just the beginning.