O Death, Where is Your Victory?

Death surrounds me.
Constantly enveloping me!
Muriwai's picture of Bob running and leaping and hugging God
It is no joke, it creeps around seeking it's prey.
Unexpectedly, nabbing another fragile victim.
 
Together we grieve.
Alone we mourn another tragedy.
Countless tears flood their inner cliques. 
Sparking an avalanche of emotion.
 
Celebration rises from the dust.
Life creeps around resurrecting the prey
Death's grip loses it's crumbling power.
Mortality has become immortality.
 
The perishable are raised imperishable
The dishonorable are raised in glory
The weak are raised in power
The natural are raised spiritual
 
"Death has been swallowed up in victory."
 
We were really surprised at Muriwai's response. When she heard of Bob's passing, she burst into tears and screamed out, "he was such a nice man, I'm gonna miss him!" She cried uncontrollably, trying to come to terms with a new concept; Death! It's hard for a 7 year old to comprehend. As we tried to comfort our little compassionate girl, she became overjoyed by the reality of Bob being released from his natural life confined in a wheelchair and being given a body free of everything that kept him captive. Through her own beautiful mind, she prayed a simply gorgeous prayer that evening:
"I pray for Bob, that he'll be alright, that he'll have fun in heaven, running and leaping and hugging God." 
 
Over the following few days, our community (JPUSA) mourned Bob's sudden and somewhat unexpected passing. We reflected on his humble life. We reflected on a man full of so much grace and love. Yet, his death and memorial service also brought about a lot of celebration; he is now free from the mortality that made him have to rely on a bunch of young idiots like me. He touched all our lives, especially us young fellas who entered the doors of JPUSA for the first time. We were suddenly given the responsibility to look after and help a man incapable of taking care of his own basic needs; we brushed his teeth, fed him food, got him dressed, took him to the toilet, read him books and arranged him in his wheelchair. It was an absolute honor to assist Bob with all these things and so much more. As we slept restlessly in silence, on his hard wood floor, as we waited for his beckon and call, I think we all reflected on the frailty and weaknesses of his life and our own lives. We spent those quiet hours praying for him and other needs. We were all touched and humbled by the humiliation Bob had to suffer through daily. Yet, I think I'm not exaggerating by saying, that such reflection and contemplation was a powerfully positive experience for most of us young men.  
 
During the evening of his memorial service, in that overly crowded room, everyone celebrated Bob's life. Tears flowed from both young and old, male and female. Story after story echoed through the lips of so many people. I think everyone was visualizing Bob tossing aside that wheelchair and using his legs to run, jump and leap, or as one guy profoundly said "Bob can now simply have the pleasure of scratching his own nose, without the help of another individual"  
 
As I sat there, I started reflecting on all the folk I know who have also passed away since I returned from New Zealand, just a couple months ago. Most of these people had suffered the plight of homelessness, or were caught in the midst of it's grasp. Bob may have only been 60 when he died, (a lot younger that the national average for a white man), but he outlived all expectations; most people who struggle with Bob's condition, rarely make it past the age of 40. This is testament to the fact he had a bunch of caring people around him in the community, in his family and having a roof over his head, along with the mighty faith that shone ever so brightly from him. These wonderful realities carried him far beyond his years! And, we at JPUSA, have been forever blessed to have lived with Bob. 
 
As I gazed up at the amazingly peaceful and serene "black n' white" photo of Bob, names of other people came into my mind; people who have been prematurely snatched and taken from us, well before their time! I sat there mourning the injustice of homelessness and poverty, which callously pulls the trigger and puts another person in the grave. I've written before on the many and frequent deaths of the homeless, and I can think of another 9 people who have died recently. I can soberly say that poverty is the number one cause! In differing degrees, these 9 lacked many of the benefits Bob had; they existed in very stressful circumstances, often without health insurance, often without their medications and living in circumstances that meant grave inconsistencies in their eating and sleeping habits. A very high percentage of the homeless live with compromised immune systems, and it is vital for such people to live free from the above worries.

Without the means of a consistent bed, consistent healthy meals, a consistent roof over our heads, consistent stress-free rest, consistent visits to the doctor and consistent getting and taking our medications, death crouches at our doors!
 
It's sad, but true!
 
I will now attempt to pay utmost respect to these 9 homeless people who were snatched from this earth prematurely. They were ignored and forgotten in their lives, and for reasons unknown, some of them didn't even receive recognition in their death. Sadly some didn't even receive a funeral, or a memorial service, or even a few lonely folk standing with candles; these men and women simply faded into black; ignored by day, ignored by night. This is my attempt to recognize, honor and pay tribute to these men and women; people loved and cherished by their Creator!
 
9 different people with 9 different names, born from 9 different women. I can only presume they were all wooed over as babies, not expecting homelessness to snatch their dreams and expectations. They weren't expecting a life filled with all their future rejection and humiliation; they wanted love and acceptance, just like you and me. Earthly grace gradually vanished from their lives, finding themselves isolated from mainstream America.  
 
John was born with strength-less shriveled up legs, he rolled around Uptown in his wheelchair and slept nightly on a loading dock. In the cold months, he found reprieve in our dining room. His survival skills were amazing, but the streets took it's toll and a vicious stroke left him even more paralyzed than he already was. This tragedy landed him in a local Nursing Home, and that is where he breathed his last. John's story of strength and perseverance is just one of the 9 who occupied our streets.

Theresa died of cancer, Dave mysteriously drowned in Lake Michigan, Charles went into a diabetic coma, Lynn was murdered by the power of the gun, Dante suffered the fatal reality of a heart attack, Vince's asthma got the better of him, Henry had many physical and mental complications and diabetes also claimed Clara's life! Sadly, all but two of them managed to reach the age of 60; poverty, homelessness and the lack of healthcare helped quicken their final moments on this earth and shorten their life.
 
I'd be wrong to stop at this point, because it does not stop there.....
 
Whereas, poverty creates great inequalities in the natural, God brings about perfect justice in the spiritual. He has the power and is putting right all the wrong that possesses our world. This is the power and mystery of the Gospel and Easter; the resurrection of Jesus!
 
Jesus died prematurely and unjustly, by the brutal hands of law-making Roman political thugs and unforgiving Jewish religious gangsters. They murdered Jesus on Friday, but in the famous words of the preacher; "it's Friday, but Sunday's coming", giving us unbelievable and marvelous hope in the resurrection and in the One who puts everything right!
 
That Resurrection Sunday gives us irrefutable reason to celebrate, as death and injustice has been defeated. Bob will freely move with all joy, John will also have strength in his legs to be able to run and leap, Dave will no longer be tormented by a mind that was intensely tortured by the reality of war and mental illness and Clara's amputated toes will once again be felt at the end her feet.
 
The One who rose from the dead said; "The first shall be last and the last shall be first!"
What hope!  
What assurance!
What grace!
 
As they enter into a Life where there will be "no lying, no crying, no dying, no fear", we can all sing aloud with the Apostle Paul:
"DEATH IS SWALLOWED UP IN VICTORY.
O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR VICTORY?
O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR STING?"
(1 Corinthians 15:54-55 NASB)

Photo Album "Honoring the Memory of Our Homeless Friends" 
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