When You Get The Call

On Tuesday night I got a call that we all dread getting.

As I was taking my kids out of the bath during our nightly bed time routine, I saw my friend, Andre, was calling. I picked up and made some silly joke thinking he was telling me that he was outside my house on a family walk with his kids. He wasn't. He was at Royal Columbian Hospital and he was sobbing deeply.

"Bobby's gone."

My loud reaction of disbelief startled my 6 month old who I was holding with my other hand. I was shocked and had a feeling in my gut I will not soon forget.

That's the call we never want to get.

I got to the hospital as quick as I could, driving in silence and praying that God would help me be a source of comfort to Bobby's grieving friends and family.

My heart was broken for Amanda. My constant prayers for her since then are that she and her boys would experience some touch of God's peace and light in this tragic, dark hour.

Standing With Bobby and Family

That night at the hospital was one of my toughest pastoral challenges. What would I say to a new bride, a mother-to-be who whose child will never get to meet their dad? They don't teach you much in seminary about how to deal with these kinds of situations. 

I've learned you just show up, keep your mouth shut, hug, cry, and pray. I don't know what I would say even if I had to talk. There are no easy answers to a tragedy like this.

I got to stand beside Amanda and the body of her husband, my friend, Bobby. A rush of memories came to mind: I remember when he first came to church how he looked a little sheepish (as most men do when returning to church). Bobby shook my hand without saying much after some pleasantries. In the weeks that followed, we got to know each other, he came to Alpha where he committed his life to Jesus. He got baptized in November, got engaged and then he and Amanda asked if I could officiate their wedding. Between the baptism, the engagement, getting married and announcing their pregnancy, Bobby was in an amazing season of life. He was so excited for what was coming next - to have the baby and become a dad in January.

He was so excited for what was coming next - to have the baby and become a dad in January.

All those memories flooded my mind and heart as I stared at Bobby's lifeless body. Dreams were dashed in a moment.

Having spent time with him and knowing his story as a Christian, I knew that Bobby's corpse was just a shell now. His soul was with Jesus. As happy as he was on Earth, he was experiencing the unfathomable, eternal joys of heaven. 

That doesn't mean the rest of us don't hurt.

We Hurt Deeply and Differently

People grieve in different ways. I'm sensitive to all expressions though still learning about how I personally grieve. I think writing helps me. That's partly what this blog post is for. I know I have a lot to learn from Bobby's Barbados-born side of the family. They know how to feel things deeply. Even better, they know how to physically express what they are feeling. There was a lot of weeping in that hospital that night.

After a few hours at the hospital, I had another quiet drive home. I confess that I drove a lot slower this time. I had a new understanding of how fragile our lives are. I returned home, kissed my wife and kids and committed to enjoying every moment that I get with them.

It's been two days and I still feel that sense of appreciation to be alive. I'm dreading the moment it wears off.

The Facebook Post

When I woke up that morning, I felt like I had to express something to my community on Facebook. I have shared so many joyous moments online, I thought that people needed to hear that there was a husband, father, friend and parishioner behind that headline story on the news.

I wrote,

Life is full of joyful moments and excruciatingly painful ones.
In this picture, I had the joy of officiating the wedding of a guy who was so loved he had 13 groomsmen!
I remember the first day this huge man Bobby Vanderhoef came to church, then came to Alpha, then gave his life to Jesus and got baptized with his then fiancee.
We celebrated with them upon hearing that they were pregnant.
Last night my heart was ripped apart as he was in a work-related accident in Coquitlam and died because of his injuries.
This is as dark as it gets.
Bobby is with Jesus now.
I will see you again, my brother.

Because Bobby was tagged in the post, it showed up on his Facebook feed. I would never have expected what would happen next.

An hour later, some reporters contacted me through my website and asked if I would be willing to share something about Bobby from a pastor's point of view. They wanted to be respectful of family members who were deeply grieving.

So they asked if I would share what Bobby was like. "They" in this case are:

I'm thankful for all the reporters I talked to on Wednesday. They were genuine, respectful, honouring of Bobby and even one had tears in her eyes during the interview.

Of course, whenever you are interviewing for the media, you go in with the full acceptance that they get to control the story. They keep what they want and leave the rest. There is a significant part of Bobby's story that never made the air.

These Calls Don't Happen All the Time But They Do Happen

I'll never forget when Andre phoned me in tears to tell me about Bobby's passing. It was the call you never want to get.

But, let's accept this: we all will get this call at some time. One day, it will be about us.

Death hits us all at some point. 

This is sin's greatest curse on humanity. Sin leads to death and death cuts us off from the living God. Thankfully, "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16). There's a reason why that Bible verse is so popular. 

It's because when considering the sudden end that death brings, we need to cling to some hope. Bobby had hope that when he died, he would still live forever.

I was Bobby's pastor and I know that he trusted in the truth that Jesus died for Bobby, paying for his sins on the cross and giving him eternal life in exchange. Jesus said to his disciples in John 14:19, "Because I live, you also will live."

Jesus was Bobby's Saviour. When Jesus is your Saviour, you are saved from death. That is why in my great grief today, there is a greater hope. 

When the call is about me one day, I know I will see my brother, Bobby, again. It's not because I'm good or that Bobby was good - it is all because Jesus is good. He loves us and invites us all into the joy and hope of knowing him.

The Bible passage that came to my mind most often is 1 Thessalonians 4:13,

"Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope."

Bobby loved his wife, Amanda and her two boys. He loved his unborn baby. He loved his mom and dad; the family and all his dear friends. He loved life. He also loved Jesus and would want you to pause for a moment to make sure you are right with him.

Bobby would want me to tell you that. You need to know that about him.