Friday, April 6, 2012

Love Of A Father

Yesterday's memorial service for Matt was pretty much overwhelming.  Overwhelmingly full of love.  I have no idea how many people fit in the sanctuary of Heartland Community Church, but if I were to guess I would bet there was about a thousand people there.  If I am way off, ok.  It sure seemed like there were a thousand people there.  I knew that so many people were connected to the Nagel's in one way or another, but it was astonishing to watch that community show up in full force.  And I know there were a lot of people who couldn't be there.  It was oddly peaceful to be in a crowd that size, mostly because it felt like a giant family.  People who had been loving and supporting the Nagel's for so long, most of whom I did not know, and yet sitting with them all seemed normal.  Like a weird, giant group hug.

It was such a perfect service...so very much what I have in my head of Matt.  (Side note:  I did NOT know Matt well.  I know Molly.  I know their story. I know their little one.  And I knew Matt through all of that.  So if this seems oddly peripheral, so be it.)  Anyway, it was joyful.  That might sound strange to some of you. But it was a celebration.  Matt really was 'that guy.'  He was happy, the REAL kind of happy.  He loved God, he loved his wife, and his daughter(s).  He loved the kids he worked with at the Hope Center.  And I am not sure there wasn't a time when I didn't see him with a huge smile on his face that was sincere.  Deeply sincere.  While I certainly don't think he was perfect or some kind of saint, he obviously loved his life and lived it to the fullest. The service reflected nothing but that happy, smiling guy.

A few people spoke, but the most amazing was Matt's dad. I have only met his parents once, briefly, at a fundraiser a friend and I did for Matt and Molly a couple of years ago.  Having not spent time with his dad, I was unsure what to expect from his speaking at his son's memorial service.  I can't imagine being in that position, and I was preparing for a heart wrenching outpouring of love.  I wasn't wrong.  It was a heart wrenching outpouring of love, but not the kind that one would expect.  His confidence in his son was solid.  SOLID.  Confidence in who he was, what he believed, and that he is now in heaven.  It wasn't a tooting of his own parenting horn as he readily admitted there were mistakes that had been made.  It was just an assurance that he had done his best, without regrets.  He had spent time with his sons, getting to know them for the people they were and were going to become, and respecting them for how they loved their own families.  He taught them that being a Christian isn't about a giant book of rules that dictates life.  It's about loving God with all your heart...so much so that you WANT to be better for Him.  His words weren't without tears or sadness.  The loss of someone so young is just too hard to understand.  As I wait for Gretel's arrival, it's unfathomable already that a parent would ever have to bury a child.  I also wasn't expecting him to address the question of 'why.'  That's a HUGE undertaking, and one that seems unanswerable.  To some degree, it is unanswerable.  Everyone says 'What kind of God would ALLOW this to happen?'  Well, it's a fallen world, folks.  If it were perfect, that question would be fair.  However, it's not.  And Mr. Nagel referenced a passage from Deuteronomy. I am paraphrasing here, but the essence is God will take care of the hidden things, and the things that are revealed are our business.  At first, I pretty much hated that.  Hidden things don't bring Molly's husband back.  Hidden things don't allow me to be in control.  But if I am going to believe in one part of the Bible, I have to believe in all of it.  I can't pick and choose the things I like, and leave the rest behind.  And really...God owes us nothing.  So who says we get to know everything?  Just because I am selfish, and I think I should doesn't mean that's how it will work.  It's what that whole faith thing is based on.

Back to Mr. Nagel...throughout his entire time speaking, he was peaceful.  He loved his son, he knew who Matt was, and the life he lived.  He wanted to share these things to help everyone who would listen.  While I certainly don't think that he was speaking those things directly to D and me, it sure felt like it.  As we wait for Gretel's arrival, we have constant conversations of who she will be.  An athlete? (If D has his way, of course.) An academic?  A band geek? Introvert, extrovert, the list goes on. In the end, we always know that whatever she is, we will love her.  And if she wants to do ballet, we will be the parents at the dance recitals doing the Arsenio with air horns.  Because that's how you support...with noise.  We will most certainly screw up, and make mistakes, and hopefully not scar her permanently, but I hope we can parent without regrets.  It was a moment for me, as I sat there with D's hand on Gretel.  He is so excited to be a daddy, and he is going to be amazing at it.  We listened to Matt's dad talk about his son, and how he was proud to be his father.  We were reminded that even in the midst of this chaos, the Father has His hand in all of it.

It was a bit surreal sitting there, it was so perfectly 'Nagel' that it was hard to understand that Matt wasn't sitting with Molly and Harper.  It was such an exact reflection of his life, it seemed impossible that he wasn't there with them and the rest of us.  It was, by no means, a time of closure.  It was a time of grieving for our friend who was lost, and his family who had lost him.  This tragedy will tear at their hearts for a long time.  It wasn't really a time of healing.  It was too soon, too fresh.  But it was freaking peaceful.  There is no other way to say it.  It was a joyful celebration of Matt, and a tearful goodbye as he is gone too soon.  And sitting in the midst of a huge group of people, coming together as one community to support this precious family was overwhelming.  I can only hope that Molly, Harper, and the rest of their family could feel it too.  Thousands are standing with them.  God is standing with them too, even though it might seem like He isn't.  I am still amazed at Molly.  She is somehow still pressing forward.  I pray that when she finally sits, and the devastation hits full force, she finds rest, that she finds a God and a community that love her, that she finds that Matt is still with her.

Like I said before, in the middle of this whole mess, there has been hope.  It's Good Friday which is more than ironic.  Yet, this weekend is the apex of Christianity.  Today is the dark day.  The day when it seemed all was lost.  We are left in disbelief and heartbreak at the loss of our Savior.  But hope is just around the corner.  We are not to live in darkness, but in light.  And the Light has not left us forever.

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