grasping heaven.

I’ve always hated the word “perspective.” To me, it always hit with a little bit of harshness, a slight sting that made me feel like I wasn’t mature, like I couldn’t handle what I was going through. Maybe this reveals a deep-seated need or desire in me to have my ego coddled, because I have always been of the mind that you need to feel what you feel, and the mountain in front of you is the tallest mountain in your life (or, perhaps a way of saying it is that you can’t expect yourself to face other people’s problems if yours aren’t that bad.)

I hold that to a certain extent, but I hold it with a much more open hand after learning of the passing of a good friend, Jeff Cole, after his battle with leukemia.

I’ll plug his blog really quickly, because if my blog is worth reading, then his is surpassingly moreso.

There are two halves to me: half of me wants to look at his story and talk about him, because he truly was an incredible man. I can count on my two hands the number of full conversations I had with him, but it would take me years to flesh out everything he’s taught me about manhood, servanthood, leadership, being a husband, being a father, being a worker, being a Christian, being a soldier, and being a human being.

The other half of me wants to take an introspective look upon his passing. I find it frighteningly easy to look at his life and then say, “man, I am a wreck. My life is nowhere as good as his was, my legacy won’t be anywhere near what his was.”
I really want to beat myself up for not praying for him more. I want to beat myself up for not driving down to Berea (or even over to the hospital at UK) to visit him and have another conversation.
I want to say that I’ll never be the man, the husband, or the father that he was.

But I think that if Jeff were still here, he would look at all of that and tell me how much bunk that really is.

See, the biggest thing I can learn from Jeff is obedience. Jeff was probably the most obedient man I have ever known. Now, I never saw certain sides of his life – I never saw him at the doctor’s office when he received hard news, I never saw him firsthand when he was serving in the military and perhaps received orders or instructions that he didn’t want to carry out. I never saw him have a fight with his wife. I’m sure all of that happened. Nobody battles leukemia without batting an eye. Nobody suffers without asking, “why?” Nobody has a perfect marriage. Nobody gets everything they want. Everyone has a bad day or two (or a lot) at their job.

But with Jeff, I learned the most from his perspective through all of that. I know he questioned why. I know his body was weak. I know he had a hard time. I know it was hard to think about leaving his wife and his beautiful daughters behind. I know it was difficult to suffer, especially when the doctor said he was down to just months left on this earth.

Never once did he abandon his faith. I have “nevertheless” tattooed on my arm, but he had “nevertheless” springing from his heart, informing every attitude he had towards his circumstances.

The last two years, I’ve spent my time wondering what I can get away with, what it means to be an adult, trying to criticize my upbringing, change my church culture, to “be young” while I still can, etc.

the last two years, Jeff grasped every memory with his wife that he could. He celebrated every small thing. He celebrated being able to stand up and walk, because there were times he couldn’t. I’ll never forget when he posted about how he could finally run again (Jeff was an avid runner before leukemia hit) even though it was just a mile, it was a victory. Slow pace? who cares. He could run! As things got worse, the celebrations got, dare I say, “smaller.” Things like, “I can see today, and it doesn’t hurt!” when his eyes weren’t in pain, which most of the time they were towards the final few months or so of his life.

And, again, I hear Jeff’s voice in my head (at least I think and hope it’s that Jeff’s, and not my own) saying that it’s okay to be young and figure it all out, because he was there once.

All the same, I get a lesson from him. His life was fuller than most that I’ve seen. He was a hard worker, a good manager of his money, a good leader of his family, an overall “good man.” Absolutely my benchmark for what a man should be. And I know that at every corner, through every circumstance, he was always pointing readers of his blog, his family, and himself back to Jesus.

Jeff had a stronger grasp on heaven than anyone else that I’ve ever met. And that’s the legacy he leaves for me: it’s all well and good to make memories here on earth – after all, his wife, Christi, and his daughters will be telling stories for years – but the point of our lives here is to always point back to Jesus. If I’m living a “good life,” and I’m not honoring Jesus, what’s the point? If I’m “blessed,” but I don’t know and honor the Lord, then what do I leave?

But if I live my life and “seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness,” if I store up my treasures in heaven, then I have nothing to lose here. Grasping heaven means having nothing to defend here on earth, and therefore having nothing to lose in any circumstance.

Jesus, let me always, with one hand, tend to the gifts You’ve given me here. With the other, let me grasp Your hand, and in doing so, grasp heaven, always being willing to go whenever You call me.

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