My nephew, Greg, died on January 18, 2015. I will never forget the call I got that morning from my sister, Pat. Her heart was broken, and I never felt the distance of seven hours as I did that day. I would not go on to church as planned. Instead I would get in the car, alone, to once again face a familiar companion, grief.
This time around, I knew better than to ask why. I knew better than to require an explanation.
Greg died from an overdose in his parents' bathroom after completing two rounds of rehab. He was given 60 days to "fix" what war and poor choices had done to him. Just 60 days. As I write this, Greg's been gone for 60 days, certainly not near enough time to "fix" what war and poor choices have done to his family--not nearly enough time to "fix" the broken hearts left in death's wake.
I spoke at Greg's funeral. Because I needed to. Because someone had to speak about redemption.
January 24, 2015
Once upon a time—well, actually, twenty-eight years, five months, and five days ago, Gregory Joseph Gorski was born. From the initial gaze into his eyes, it was love at first sight for his mom and dad. There was not a doubt in their minds that he was a gift straight from the hand of God. In that moment, their hearts were filled with wonder and hope and a fierce love that every parent in this church can relate to.
This week we have all been tempted to flip quickly through the story of Greg’s life to the final chapters, to the soldier Greg section. Perhaps that is because it is where his story seems to climax, where he actually goes to battle and slays some pretty big dragons. It is where he becomes the hero to many while serving his country proudly. It is a great part of the story.
But there is more to his story than the soldier Greg chapters. Long before he was a soldier, he was the little boy with the dimpled smile and the tender heart. There were chapters filled with the seemingly ordinary: birthday parties, baseball games, family dinners, Christmas mornings. All of those chapters are intertwined with laughter, written with that same fierce love.
And then there were the chapters where things got complicated. We don’t always know what to do with the complicated. Sometimes we are tempted to quickly flip through that part in an effort to reach the happily-ever-after. But every great storyteller knows that it is in the complicated, the conflict, that the story is truly birthed. And every Christian knows that it is where God comes in to grow us. We don’t need to skip those chapters. We shouldn’t skip those chapters. We need to receive something big from them—something life changing.
They are the gift chapters.
It is there where Greg, the gift-giver, sent some pretty priceless presents—presents not wrapped in fancy paper, but in his pain. Their labels read Open Immediately. And inside those pain-wrapped boxes were lessons in patience, forgiveness, loyalty, and unconditional love. There was even a special one for his mom containing lessons in prayer. Through those lessons, she learned how to trust in the Lord with all of her heart.
If you did not visit those chapters, perhaps you should. In them you will also find lessons in compassion and acceptance. Are these easy gifts to receive? Certainly not. But they are what Greg has left for us. Yes, we may have preferred a neat little package topped off with a bow made of all things wonderful.
But that was not to be.
Well, we have reached the happily-ever-after part of the story.
We all need to know that there is a happily-ever-after. The chorus of the Tenth Avenue North song, Worn, says:
Let me see redemption win
Let me know the struggle ends
That YOU can mend a heart
That’s frail and torn
I wanna know a song can rise
From the ashes of a broken life
And all that’s dead inside can be reborn
The happily-ever-after is this: Redemption does win, my friends. It wins because of that same fierce love between a heavenly Father and His children.
That story is Christ.
Romans 5:8 states: But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.