I'll give you the important bit before you begin: this is LONG. I would have broken it into sections and posted a couple smaller portions instead of one only, but, if you read it, I think you'll understand why that wasn't truly possible.
I wrote this 28 years ago. AND the main part of the story occurred 30 years ago today. Earlier this week, I felt the Lord lay this on me to post, so I will. I know it's a busy time of year... I haven't even had time to read some of yours for a few days and today I am going to spend HOURS to catch up with you. Fit me in when and if you can.
When the church hall phone rang on December 17, 1981, and it was for me, I was irritated. The women's fellowship group was running a little later than usual, and I was positive it was my husband calling to tell me to get home and put the kids to bed. As I walked toward the phone, I was thinking of a variety of retorts to toss at him.
It was my husband, but the message was entirely different than anything I had assumed. "Frankie just called from the Mission," he said. "There's been a fight and Roy was killed." A few seconds later, in a state of shock, I hung up the phone and began to cry. It was so hard to believe. I suddenly became convinced Lowell had heard wrong. After all, he hadn't met Roy, and was never very good with names.
I called the Mission. My friend, Alex, answered the phone. He was kind, but very matter-of-fact. "Yes, Joanne, it was Roy ... he was stabbed ... he is dead ... Ernie did it." At that point, I heard myself nearly screaming, "Ernie? Not Ernie! He LIKED Roy." After I hung up, I walked back to the fellowship group, stunned.
My friends prayed and cried with me. They reminded me that, since Roy had turned his life over to God, he was Home. Mentally, I agreed with them, but that didn't take away the ache in my heart.
It was unreal. It made no sense. Roy had struggled with the knotty question of God's claim on his life. He was proud of being Norwegian, proud of being Lutheran -- and totally impatient with anyone who crossed the invisible boundaries he had established. When someone inadvertently stumbled across the lines, he received the full brunt of Roy's ire. "Who does that odd ball think he is, telling me I need to change?" And then he would bellow and stomp around like a wounded bull while others scattered.
I met Roy in June, 1981. Through a series of events, a couple years earlier, I was asked to teach a weekly class to the men at this downtown street Mission. Although the residents were not as transient as the men on the street, there was a large turnover, and it was sometimes difficult to establish a trusting, solid relationship.
Roy and I became friends quickly. One August morning when it was very hot in the chapel, Roy stopped me after class. "Next week it'll be cooler, Girlie. Someone gave us this old air-conditioner and I'm fixing it."
In September, nearly blinded by cataracts, he was going to the VA Hospital for eye surgery. When I offered to visit him, he said he'd like that, so the Sunday after the operation I went to see him. He "adopted" me that day. I wasn't much older than his daughters, and he wasn't many years younger than my dad, so the arrangement was comfortable.
The anticipated stay of two weeks in the hospital, stretched into two months. Doctors discovered a spot on his lung. It threw him into a state of depression. His self-confident facade began to crack. For three weeks he waited for his eye to heal sufficiently to undergo lung surgery. During that three weeks, he talked to the Hospital chaplain often. The chaplain's initial inroad into Roy's life was based on the fact that he, too, was a Norwegian Lutheran. Roy listened to him, without the usual barriers, and liked what he heard. Before the operation was performed, Roy made his peace with God. He knew he might not survive the operation, or its diagnosis, but he was prepared.
Happily, although his lung was cancerous, the malignancy was confined to the lower portion, which was then removed. He came through beautifully. After two weeks of recuperation, he was released from the hospital. The other cataract was to be removed after Christmas. In the meantime, he had new teeth, one good eye, a repaired lung, and a "new" heart.
He still had moments of cantankerous behavior, but his changed life was definitely evident. He wasn't so quick to "con" the men in authority over him at the Mission or condemn those who had ideas that differed from his.
On December 5th, I was having a difficult time deciding what to use for the basis of our class discussion. A magazine came in the mail that morning and contained an article about the Believer's expectations after death. I decided to talk about death, using testimonies of after-life experiences and scripture. It was the first time Roy had been to class since late September, and I was a little disappointed when he took a seat in the back of the chapel instead of the front row, as he had always done. The men listened, and a few of them seemed a little nervous as the subject hit too close to home.
When class was over, Roy came up and hugged me. He flashed a big smile to show his new teeth, and said, "I sat in back because it's a different kind of chair. It doesn't hurt my incision." Then he said, "Little One, I wanted to tell them it's OK. You come to Jesus and you don't have to be afraid to die. It's going to be all right."
A few days later, in the Mission dining room during a drunken rage, his best friend, Ernie, grabbed a 16-inch carving knife out of the kitchen and stabbed Roy in the side. Within minutes he was dead.
The next few days were filled with contrasting activities. Parties, shopping, a funeral, joy of the Christmas season, sorrow for the loss of a friend. I couldn't understand "why", but somehow peace began to emerge and the knowledge that God is in control became a settled conviction once more.
Life goes on. Being a Christian, I trust that God's Word will not return void, that Roy's death was not in vain.
Ernie is in prison. He did not know at the time that he had killed Roy; he was drunk and does not remember it at all. He was, of course, arrested immediately and woke up in jail, not even knowing why he was there.
So far, he is still rejecting Christ, although he seems to be far less cocky, far less defensive, than before. Sometimes he calls me and asks me to come visit him, because no one else will. We have become friends -- a status I couldn't have imagined before the murder, and most certainly not when it occurred.
Most of the time, I don't think about the event on that cold December night. When I do, I often smile. My imagination carries me to a time when I, too, will enter heaven's gates. I fully expect a tall, burly Norwegian with a big smile to hug me and say, "Hello, Little One. Welcome Home."