Live Wholeheartedly

Always enjoying the scenery!

Always enjoying the scenery!

So, while many see the closed door re a bone marrow transplant as a setback, I am grateful to now give full attention to the writing projects the Lord has laid in my lap instead of exploring medical mazes.

One of my priorities is to expand on the 12+ couplets I used in various memorial services for Jeremiah last year.  But, I want this to be a collaborative effort.  So, I’m presenting (by way of overview) the text of one of those services.  If your life was uniquely touched by Jeremiah in one (or more) of these dimensions and you recall a specific event/situation in which he demonstrated it, I’d love to fill a book with stories that will help readers embrace these life-shaping “markers.”

What a tribute this has been to our son’s life and legacy.  Thank you for sharing in what will last in our family’s heritage for generations.

Jeremiah was keenly aware that his talents and virtues were not the result of some personal strength or inner potential –he journaled about the people God had put into his path, the heritage of generations who feared God, and the influence many of you had in shaping his life.  So, although this is a celebration of his life, it is very much a celebration of life-giving relationships.

This is the fourth memorial service we’ve had for Jeremiah.  In the city of Sulaimaniyah we were surrounded by hundreds of his students, their families, co-workers from the school, news media, dignitaries, and many who benefited from his community development projects.  It was a very significant gathering as the nation awaited confirmation that we were not going to demand a blood price for our son’s death.  News of our public forgiveness was broadcast around the world because Jeremiah’s death had stunned the Kurdish people –he was the first American to be killed on Kurdish soil.  We were overwhelmed by the sincere condolences expressed by the governor, the prime minister, and even strangers who approached us on the plane after we left Iraq.  If they doubted our sincerity, the fact that we buried Jeremiah in their city was the inescapable proof that we meant what we said.

As you can imagine, we could go on a long time with stories about Jeremiah’s life and the many testimonies that have been shared with us.  The past two weeks have convinced us that while Jeremiah touched hundreds of people deeply during his life, his death has the potential to affect many more.  It is humbling for our family to be on the front row as God works His mysterious ways through this tragedy.

From the day the story broke we have been inundated with news media seeking any stories behind the story.  One of the recurring questions has been, “Who was your son?” or “What made him the successful young man that he was?”  Trying to capture the essence of Jeremiah into a sound bite for their cameras was hardly possible.  As the days have unfolded bringing more and more testimonies of his influence in lives young and old, I began to organize the impressions into a series of couplets.  

The first pair of words that formed in my mind just hours after getting the phone call is LIFE MATTERS.  Shocked by the suddenness and finality of the news, I desperately hoped it wasn’t true.  Everything inside me convulsed at the thought that our full-of-life, 33 year-young, first-born son with whom I had spoken on the phone for 45 minutes just the night before –lay dead in his classroom; that I would never again hear his voice on the other end of the phone, that there would be no new emails in my inbox from his address.  The pain all of us have shared over the past week is a testament to the universal Truth that life matters!

The sad reality is, though, that meeting someone who lives as though everything about LIFE MATTERS is rare.  Jeremiah’s approach to life wasn’t theoretical or generic.  He grew up knowing that his life mattered deeply and he treated everyone he met as though their life was of infinite significance.  Whether it was the kids he was chasing down the hall, shopkeepers in the Bazaar or poverty-stricken men from Bangladesh needing food and clothing –he valued whoever he was with.

How does a life like that develop?  What are the building blocks of such a life?  I suggest that it begins with LIVING LOVED.  Jeremiah was raised in a family that was committed to learning to love one another.  But far more life-shaping than the love of family was when Jeremiah came to embrace for himself the amazing LOVE with which God pursued him.  Jeremiah was convinced that his life mattered to God and that God’s love for him was intensely practical and personal.  His loving nature was the result of LIVING LOVED by God.

Another dimension that defined Jeremiah from an early age is that he FEARED or HONORED GOD.  Yes, he knew he was LOVED but this was not the doting, permissive “my little boy can do no wrong” kind of love –this was bold, intentional, disciplining love of the Almighty, Ruler of the Universe, Maker of heaven and earth.  Jeremiah learned early on that every thought, every action, and every choice he made was done under the watchful, righteous eyes of a powerful God.  So he learned to FEAR/HONOR the GOD who LOVED him.

And another new couplet that pushed its way into this outline as I scanned page after page of his journals and as I listened to co-workers and friends describe him was that he COMMUNED CONSTANTLY with his Lord.  Prayer was not a checked box on his to-do list, it spontaneously burst onto the pages of his journal, it was like breathing to him and his last breath on earth was spent saying, “amen!” as he prayed over his class that Thursday morning.

That “fear-of-the-Lord,” love-driven communion with God, fueled by his study of God’s Word, produced a sense of destiny, a vision for the unique things God could do on earth through him.  By shaping his life choices around that growing burden he was able to LIVE CALLED.  There were things he could not or would not do because of God’s call on his life.  This focus energized him to pack a lifetime’s worth of productivity into 33 short years.

I must squeeze in another couplet that I found in his journal just yesterday:  FORGIVE LIBERALLY!  He notes that forgiveness is the ‘tipping point’ in the Lord’s Prayer, that it is NOT a utilitarian tool for achieving peace but is, in fact, the very nature of God (and he references Psalm 86).  He says, “because God has forgiven, our persons are transformed:  there is no longer room for illiberality.”  He suggests that whenever we have trouble forgiving we revisit the GOSPEL of our own salvation –that forgiveness enables us to rest in the mercy of God.  Therefore, friends, FORGIVE LIBERALLY!  As God, in Christ, has forgiven you.

Jeremiah would want me to quickly add to these personal, subjective components the vital need to FIND MENTORS.  He knew that there was much to learn in every part of life and he placed himself under teachers and leaders who could supply what he was lacking –whether that was spiritual, theological, philosophical or scientific, Jeremiah read widely, studied voraciously, and humbly took hold of TRUTH taught him by others.  The fact that he learned from others made him a much-sought-after mentor by many friends, students and co-workers. 

Yet another compelling duty in Jeremiah’s mind was to SEEK TRUTH. His appetite for TRUTH meant he was never content with pat answers.  He had to do the hard work of study and critical thinking.  As a result, not only did he learn TRUTH but he learned how to pass on to others a passion for SEEKING TRUTH.

I hear Jeremiah saying, “but don’t forget to LOVE LIFE!”  The majority of his facebook pictures and comments from those who knew him describe a man who loved nature, loved people, and loved being alive in God’s world.  He had the potential to waste away his life in introspection and self-examination (being a perfectionist when it came to self-expectations) but he overcame that with a compelling appetite for adventure.  And his love for life was “contagious” –he infected everyone around him with it.

Part of loving life meant that Jeremiah wasn’t afraid to TAKE RISKS.  He wasn’t one for staying safe.  Several of his students commented that the way Jeremiah forced them to overcome their fears and do things they didn’t think they could do was their most life-changing memory.

Something else that was true of Jeremiah was that he firmly believed God rewards those who seek Him and serve Him, so he INVESTED ETERNALLY.  Through the years there were opportunities to make money or pursue careers that would have provided “the good life.”  Jer opted for a more long-term investment, deferred annuity, if you will.  Or as one of his students put it, “You preached delayed gratification over instant and through your death, you practiced it.”

Jeremiah’s belief in eternal reward was not some “pie-in-the-sky” idea that rendered him passive or “so heavenly-minded he was of no earthly good.”  No, his understanding of TRUTH was that the most satisfaction and fulfillment in life only comes when you GIVE YOURSELF!  Jeremiah GAVE HIMSELF to the point where many of us worried about his health.  He seemed to give away more money than he kept for himself.  He gave time to those around him day-after-day, weekends, holidays, and whenever else they called him. 

I could go on and on with more insights into Jeremiah’s life.  I’d like to end with one more couplet that is vital to all of us as we move forward through this veil of tears.  If Jeremiah could say only two words to us this afternoon, I believe they would be: TRUST PROVIDENCE.  Jeremiah knew that a God big enough to work all things together for the benefit of His beloved child was a God he could trust.  His was a God who routinely took what others “meant for evil” and “mean it for good, for deliverance.”  The facts surrounding his death contain great mysteries.  Only as we deeply trust a compassionate, sovereign God can we hope to build a life that matters. 


One final epilogue:  Just before returning to Suli for the last time, Jeremiah talked with a friend who encouraged him to ask God for a one-word THEME to define his life in 2012.  The next day he told us that the word he wanted to define him in 2012 was “INCREASE.”  We believe that was providential.

So, friends, students, co-workers (basically anyone who spent time around Jeremiah), you have your assignment.  Let’s write a book!