Yesterday morning I woke up at 5:30 am to go bike riding in the well fields with my friends. Because I was up so early I never checked my e-mail before I left the house. When I came home and settled in with a cup of coffee and started glancing through my mail I saw that there was a private facebook message sent to me personally at 4 AM from Arline Grabill, wife of Pastor Paul Grabill, who is a treasured friend. He had passed away the previous night, going home to his heavenly reward. I stand in awe of the fact that his wife was so kind as to get on facebook and write me a personal note hours before they were making it public at 7 am. My friend Pastor Walt Smith also sent me a personal note so that I wouldn't have to read the news first on a facebook status and for this I'm ever grateful. Moments after reading Arline and Walt's private messages I went to the facebook newsfeed to see that tons of statuses were going up about his graduation to heaven, paying honor and tribute to him. Paul was a man who was so loved and respected by scores of people and is basically considered by many to be the spiritual father of State College, PA. The official announcement by State College Assembly of God of his passing can be found here.
Thousands of people will share their perspectives about him, I'm sure. I'd like to share mine today here on my blog. Paul was a professor at the bible college Larry and I attended and we knew him because of that when we were just teenagers, but the main way I really got to know him was through blogging. I happened upon his blog one day and started commenting. At first I just verbally dipped my toe in the water, but soon I jumped all the way in and sometimes a few other commenters wondered, "does this woman have a life? It seems she must do nothing but comment on this blog!" and some had no problem telling me that. I'm sure they had no idea I type over 140 words a minute most times without error and can leave a few paragraphs on a comment thread in seconds with one hand tied behind my back. :) But whatever.
I may also hold the record for being the commenter who had the most spirited as well as lengthy debates with Paul on his blog over quite a number of years time. We held opposite views on many things and there were no holds barred in discussing them, but it was never in a mean spirit nor was there EVER any doubt in my mind that we were truly friends with deep mutual respect. One time he even dedicated a post to me and made me and my views the subject of a post he knew would be quite controversial. He contacted me the night before he published it to ask me if it was okay. His wife Arline was afraid it would hurt my feelings, bless her heart, and implored him to check with me about it ahead of time. I thought that was so sweet of her to even care about it or insist that he talk to me about it first. He assured Arline that I was a tough cookie and that it wouldn't phase me. He was right. He posted the blog and we went toe to toe on the issue as usual in the comment section, and at the end of the day had more respect for each other than ever. For all the debate, when he shut down his blog on January 17, 2010, it was tragic to me! Seriously. I went through withdrawals. So did a lot of other people who gathered at "Beside the Point," which was the name of his very popular blog which site visits numbered in the six figure range. You could always count on great subjects, lots of commenters and the most stimulating discussion ever at BTP.
He stopped blogging to focus on something else of a very important spiritual nature that all of us who knew the details about understood. It saddened me that the blog was not only stopped but completely deleted except for a final post of explanation, and the archives weren't there to go back and read again and again. That would have helped me in my state of grief over the blog shutdown, but understanding how that might impact the project he was working on, I understood his reasons for taking the blog down. I never doubted his pure heart and desire to please the Lord and use all of the time He had here on earth, maximized for His glory. Incidentally the project he was working on was something we agreed wholeheartedly on, and as I am not a spokesperson in any way regarding that, I do not feel at liberty to share the details. However, it is something I will continue to support in prayer and any other way I can with those who pick up the mantle that Paul held in that regard and move forward with it.
I will sorely miss the conversation we had on things about which we disagreed and agreed. Although our world political views were polar opposites, on church polity/governance issues we were aligned. I so miss the intellectual stimulation of a conversation with Paul on politics and the way he challenged me to think things through. Sometimes a talk with him solidified what I believed even more and at other times it caused me to re-examine everything I'd ever held true. I would say he is largely responsible for the fact that I'm no longer a Republican. If it weren't for him, I wouldn't have really examined the party under a microscope like I have in the past few years. Some things he pointed out to me, I just couldn't logically deny and had to acquiesce. I'm not a Democrat either but now I place myself in between an Independent and Libertarian. And quite honestly some days I just think the whole thing is a colossal mess and I have no idea what I am anymore, except a believer. In that I guess I may have truly come to Paul's way of thinking as that more than anything is the banner he was exclusively under here on earth.
Despite feeling like a political misfit at this point, I still fly my American flag, and if Paul were still here, I'd taunt him about it on Flag Day, or all the other plethora of holidays that Americans typically come out in droves with our flags on. After all the teasing he still considered me a friend. I loved him for that. I loved him as a friend even on the day he publicly accused me of blaspheming the Holy Spirit. Wow, that was an interesting day for sure. He called me a blasphemer but at the end of the day we shut off our computers and were still friends. Now, how many people can you say that about? Yesterday in her letter to me Arline said, "there aren't many like Paul." INDEED! You can say that again. Although he dubbed me a blasphemer he subsequently said he hoped Larry and I could get together for dinner with he and Arline at General Council in Phoenix. Then again, knowing Paul he may have believed that a lot of other blasphemers were going to be at Council! Ha ha! I guess this blasphemer was in good company. We have argued about so many things I now honestly can't remember whether he called me a blasphemer over my support of the American flag, my collection of Wonder Woman memorabilia, or my views on gun control. I think it was the American flag issue, but at any rate he obviously never made it to Phoenix. He was too sick to come and was in his final days. I know it was really, really on his heart to be there. I talked with several people there who missed his presence so much and now that we know we can't just jot him an e-mail or a facebook to chat, it's really hard.
I will so miss the kindred spirit I had in Paul when it came to church structure and and denominational (oops, excuse me..."voluntary cooperative fellowship") issues. For all the debating we did, very little was about church things. It was so nice to have conversation with someone who understood operating by Kingdom principles, truly believing for a spiritual awakening in our cities/nation/world, and operating a church or a fellowship (the AG or any other) as the Bible tells us to. (What a novel idea...) When I would talk to Paul about these things I would finally feel like I was talking to someone who was actually reading their bible first and not a constitution and bylaws. I'll miss that.
Aside from the blog and our spirited discussion, there were also times I privately shared with Paul some challenges Larry and I had at times in pastoring or asked for counsel or prayer. He was always faithful to help and I am ever grateful. He took the time although he was pastoring a very large church, as well as serving as assistant superintendent of the Penn-Del District of the AG. It was never lost on me that he took the time to stop and care.
I'm just one person. Scores of other people could write a blog about their unique relationship with Paul and I'm sure many probably will. I wanted to take the opportunity on my blog to say what I'll miss.
I know he's in heaven. I know he's healed. But can I just say, it's hard to be happy? I've had to stop typing this and walk away three times now, to get more kleenex as I'm sitting here with tears streaming down the whole time I type, my face is beet red and I have little globs of tissues stuck to my eyelashes. I'm just so sad. And to be perfectly honest, I'm kinda mad. This is awesome for Paul, not so awesome for those left behind. Imagine the way Arline feels. Put yourself in the shoes of their two boys and their "daughter-in-grace" as they are fond of calling her. Think of the church family. It's an indescribable void. Every Wednesday night and Thursday morning for the last year, our church has been praying for Paul, his family and the church. We will continue, of course. For a long time we will continue.
It made my heart happy that Paul had another birthday right before he went home to be with the Lord.
It also gave me joy to see the photos on his facebook of his recent vacation with his family. I'm so glad they had that time together!
Right before his passing he recorded a CD entitled, "By Request" that contains songs frequently requested by his wife or the congregation. The music is absolutely beautiful and characterizes his unique gospel jazz style. If you would like to order the CD, go here. You can also listen to samples of the CD there on the website, before ordering. I am looking forward to using my copy to play at special events and during times of prayer.
Goodbye for now, my friend. There won't be debates in heaven. On this I'm sure we can agree. There will be no more tears and friends united, and all the essential things of faith which we did agree on. You are so missed and so loved, and the legacy you left on this earth will be evidenced forever in your investment in people and all the things that mattered.