It was close to 9:30 on the evening of Saturday, April 17. My phone rang. The name of the senior pastor at our church appeared on the screen.
“Bill, this is Larry, I apologize for calling you late, but I have some bad news,” he said.
There was a slight pause, and then with no hesitation, he stated: “Jason Coats died this afternoon.”
He continued, “Jason had gone out for a run. He had a heart attack and died. His uncle called to notify me.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
Jason was the chairman of the Trustees for our church.
Since September, we had talked by phone, exchanged e-mails, participated in Zoom meetings with the Trustees, and during the last few weeks, we had actually met at the church to discuss the work of the Trustees.
Larry asked me to notify the Trustees. As soon as I hung up, I pulled out my computer to send an e-mail. Since it was late, I let the Trustees know they could call me on Sunday morning.
On Sunday morning, the vice-chair of the Trustees called. Catherine, like me, and the rest of our church couldn’t believe the loss. We talked for several minutes. Even though Catherine had worked with Jason since September, she told me because of the pandemic—“I had never met him in person.”
To look at Jason, he was the picture of health. There was no hint of a potential problem.
I thought of all the runs and races I had participated in during my old life. Not once, no matter the distance, weather conditions, or how I felt did I ever think I wouldn’t cross the finish line or complete the workout, and not come back home.
I can only imagine how Jason’s wife and their two children were feeling. Numb, crushed, heartbroken, fearful, and weary come to mind.
On the following Saturday, a private memorial service complete with COVID-19 protocols was held for family and close friends. The service was also live streamed, but that afternoon 46 people were in attendance in our sanctuary to pay their respects.
The service was beautiful from the heartfelt table display of personal items capturing the favorites of Jason’s life, a stunning video of photographs of family and friends, and the tearful tributes to Jason by two close friends and his wife, Valerie.
Their emotional stories were just what they needed to be—unique to their memories and experiences with Jason. Through their words, it was clear that love impacted everything that Jason did in his 46 years.
In Beth Macy’s book Dopesick, a weary mother who lost her son(Scott) to a drug overdose confronts the young man(Spencer) who provided the lethal drugs. In the federal court sentencing hearing, the mother looks Spencer in the eyes and ask him a series of stinging questions:
“Spencer, will you be there to visit me when I am old and lonely? Neither will Scott.
“Spencer, will you be there to eat dinner with me, mow my lawn, and wish me happy birthday? Neither will Scott.
“Spencer, will you be there to hold my hand when I am sick and dying? Neither will Scott.” (Macy page 115)
No one who spoke at Jason’s funeral pointed a finger of blame at God for this tragic loss.
But, I imagine, being human like me, they have questions for God. Questions like the grief stricken mother asked in the courtroom.
“God, where were you on that Saturday afternoon, where was Jason’s guardian angel, where was a Good Samaritan, where was your simple saving touch?”
Just in case you haven’t noticed God, losing people like Jason wears on us, it wears us down, it makes us weary.
We have been worn weary by the pandemic, senseless acts of gun violence, our incivility toward each other, our inability to solve the divides that grow between us, the starving in Yemen, and the civil unrest in Myanmar.
In truth God, no matter where we look in this world, there are challenges, challenges that wear people down— causing them to lose hope.
Isaiah 40 verse 28 states: “Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.”
You can tell me to take a hike, but I have to ask God—are you “tired and weary?”
There is no shame in answering truthfully, but I can understand how you might be tired and weary.
God, you are dealing nonstop with a world in constant turmoil and chaos, a world that seems far removed from you. A world that has lost its bearings, its compass, a world that does not know which way to turn.
And, God, I have to tell you, when we lose a person like Jason— I lose my bearings, my compass. I don’t know which way to turn because I look to you to prevent a loss like this.
I have bugged you about this before—why, why, why, why?
I do not understand.
How can an evil plotting terrorist continue to live, and a church loving, God fearing gentleman like Jason lose his life.
Yes, I know, I’m being a pain.
But, I worry about you being tired and weary—why?
Well, quite simply, I sense that you are tired and weary.
And that’s because at this very moment, I believe many people are tired and weary too.
At my mother’s funeral, one of the pastors read these words from Isaiah 40:
“He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”
God, that weariness out there touches us all. And as discouraged as I sometimes feel, I’m going to hang on to one word in that scripture—hope.
I have always liked the words of screenwriter, Frank Darabont, from the movie, The Shawshank Redemption.
In the letter that Andy wrote to his friend, Red, he said: “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best thing, and no good thing ever dies.”
With much sadness in our hearts, everyday, we lose good people like Jason Coats.
I will never understand those losses.
But, I believe the challenge after a loss is to inch forward. To inch forward, we must carry with us Jason’s love, his goodness, his passion. Those good, essential qualities can’t die.
And I am sure that even though God will not admit that he is tired and weary, I can’t let God’s goodness, his hope, his strength die in me too.
Yes, I am weary, but I will find renewal in hope, and I pray that somehow we will all find that hope too.
That hope is the only way.
Rest in peace Jason, and God hold his family.