Brent Page, our lifetime friend, went to Heaven yesterday.
At only 49, it seems far too early for us that God would call him home. But ironically, during my devotion time this morning, I read Isaiah's words in chapter 55, "My thoughts are not your thoughts. My ways are not your ways."
We've known the Pages since our youthful pastoring days in the mountains of NC. Their four children came along just about the same time as our little tribe. Frank and Brenton even looked a lot alike. They honestly could have passed for brothers.
Same build. Dark hair. Beard and mustache. Same stride. Wide smiles.
People at conferences where I had spoken, routinely approached Brenton saying, "Oh, your wife did such a great job!" Eventually, he quit trying to explain that he wasn't Frank Hawley and just responded, "Thanks!"
At one state event we attended, a lady kept coming up to Frank saying, "I have that air conditioner for you."
Frank thought she was just confused; we didn't know anything about an air conditioner. Only after she became totally frustrated and threatened to leave it in the church foyer did we realize the truth. She saw Frank and thought she was talking to Brent!
To make it more confusing, Lisa and I were both ministers, too. Had several precious little children in tow. And for a while, both had dark hair!
Last year, I spoke for a conference Lisa directed for the women of Ohio - where they now pastor. (Lisa directs women's ministry for that state and Brent has been the men's director for quite some time.) Frank went with me. He and Brent enjoyed three great days together!
The Pages have been the quintessential example of wonderful, long distance friends.
Sometimes we went a couple of years without hearing from one another. But when we finally got together, it was like no time had elapsed at all. Conversation came easily; laughter abounded! And a mutual appreciation for the friendship we treasured always served as the connective tissue.
When Lisa contacted us this summer to say Brent was sick, we began to pray. Brent had beaten cancer in his twenties. We loved sitting around their farmhouse table, rehearsing that testimony! And we fully expected that God would use this opportunity to once again show that He performs miracles.
This cancer became aggressive - very quickly. And one afternoon we found ourselves on the phone with Lisa as they rushed Brent to the hospital; he had become too weak to walk!
Frank felt an urgency to get to his friend!
A couple in our church learned of the situation and approached me in the foyer. "We want to pay for Pastor AND you to go to Ohio. Go, love on your friends." Oh, what a church we serve!
When we announced the next week that we would be flying to OH, our precious congregation took up a generous collection to help with the medical expenses the Pages faced. (The cancer from earlier left Brent un-insurable.)
Brent came home from the hospital and we flew to Columbus. As soon as we dropped off our bags at the hotel, we called to say we were on our way to their house.
When we turned into their driveway, we saw them. Brent and Lisa were standing, arm in arm, on the wrap around porch. Now we know the effort it took for Brent to meet Frank there!
The two, brawny preachers grabbed each other in a bear hug that lasted for a very long time.
The traditional clap on the back (which seems to signal the end of all men's hugs) was followed by surreptitious swiping at eyes that had become misty. And we followed them into the living room.
For two and a half marvelous days we sat together. Sometimes laughing; sometimes quiet. Praying! Always Praying!
I did whisk Lisa away for a visit to Starbucks. But mostly we sat all together; drawing strength; celebrating life; rehearsing God's greatness.
Frank has such an innate sensitivity for times like this. (Probably part of what makes him such a compassionate pastor.) He seems to always know when to be silent, when to speak and what words will bring encouragement to all involved. I followed his lead.
When it came time for us to head back to the airport, we gathered around Brent's chair. Frank led in prayer just as scripture mandates. We bowed our heads and asked our heavenly Father for a miracle!
The miracle has come but not in the way we thought. Today, Brent is completely free of cancer. He feels no pain at all and has the strength of his youth. Scripture tells us that he is looking on the face of his Savior! He has heard those marvelous words, "Well done, faithful servant!" We are so glad for him!
But our hearts break for Lisa, Lindsay, Garrett, Taylor and his wife, Brooks and his. We also grieve with the loving church family he left behind.
A mentor of ours (Martha Tennison) says that while we never question God's authority, we do ALL have questions! So true for me today.
How appropriate that the Lord sent me to Isaiah this morning. He also reminded me of the three amazing young men that Brent has raised to follow in his footsteps. I see Lisa preaching before their church and Lindsay directing everything from behind the scenes. I know they will go forward.
And in my heart I hear the whisper, "We don't grieve as those who have no hope. We will see Brent again!"