A recent picture of Larry in Arizona.
Most of you who have read this blog over the years know about my beloved sister, Darlaine, and her sad sojourn with Alzheimer's disease. Not long ago I asked readers of this blog to pray for my brother-in-law, Larry. He had been diagnosed with lung cancer and about to be admitted to the Cancer Treatment Centers of America campus in Illinois. I had not seen Larry since Darlaine's funeral. Ken and I travelled there and had lunch with Larry and his new wife, Earlene. It was a good day. Larry cried and hugged the stuffing outta me and told me I was like a sister to him. We ate Mexican food and laughed and just enjoyed being together.
After the cancer surgery, Larry and Earlene went to Arizona for his recuperation and things seemed to be going well. Then a short while ago, he had a sudden stroke and collapsed. A few days later he was gone, never having regained consciousness.
I have, of course, been thinking about Larry in recent days, and thinking of Larry has led me to thinking about people and about God and about grace--and what a wonderful mystery it all is after all.
There are many things I could say about Larry. His story is an interesting one. He was Jewish, but not religious, and he met my sister, Darlaine just as she was in the midst of a divorce and at a time when her own faith was pretty tattered, to say the least.
They were a little wild, and not a little strange. They had what I can only describe as a goofy hippie wedding. They put nude posters of themselves on the hallway and the bedroom wall (way too much information). My poor dad was horrified. Makes me grin to think of it now, but it wasn't funny at the time. They went to a commune in Tennessee for a while, called The Farm. Thankfully, when they discovered it was really a cult, they left. My sister shocked me with her increasing change from the youth group leader, singer in the choir and Sunday School teacher to pot smoking agnostic. Of course, we blamed Larry.
Over time Darlaine began to realize that she really did believe in her Christian faith after all, and later Larry, a professed atheist, had an unusual experience after which he burst into the room where she was, exclaiming, "Darlaine, God is real and just revealed himself to me!"
They started attending a small Christian and Missionary Alliance Church Bible study, and Larry deliberately antagonized them to see what they would do. Once, he later told me, he showed up at a home Bible study drunk and high and plopped his muddy boots on the coffee table. They loved him anyway, he said, and their love won him over. The first thing Larry got rid of in his new life was not booze, nor smokes, nor pot. It was his beloved Dr. Bronner's castille soap (with weird religious stuff on the label, much of it anti Christian). Yes, Larry was one-of-a-kind.
He was sometimes arrogant, often talked too much, and micromanaged everyone who would let him. He was a fairly autocratic and often patriarchal husband and father, and if you know me at all well you already know how I feel about that.
Even after Larry became a committed believer in Jesus, he could be infuriating (according to one of his kids, sometimes even more than before). He was a long-time Campus Crusade for Christ staff member, as was Darlaine. They mostly worked with Campus Crusade's prison ministry, and Larry had a hand in Ken's eventual interest in being a prison chaplain. That can be good, and I'm not dissing CCC, but in Larry's case it was also sometimes bad. His passion for Jesus was real, and he shared God's love with many people, but I think he also pushed some people away with his sometimes misplaced zeal.
Recently Tom, also a Campus Crusade staffer and Larry's long-time best friend, called me about some estate issues. One of the first things he said, with a catch in his voice, was, "The guy drove me crazy! But I really loved him, and I sure am going to miss him." I laughed. I couldn't help it. I told Tom I thought I was the only one who felt that way. Tom added, "Larry made me just nuts sometimes, but something I really appreciated about they guy was the he wasn't afraid to say, 'Please forgive me. I was wrong.' Sometimes he just couldn't see that he had made a serious mistake, but if he did see it he was quick to own up to it and try to make amends.'"
Larry and I became close about five years ago after my sister was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's disease. It is my opinion that the disease began much earlier, but she was a very intelligent woman; her vocabulary was always extensive, and I think that fooled the doctors for a long while (and Larry as well). Not much would have changed, even if he had known the truth.
People with Alzheimer's usually can't express themselves as well as Darlaine did. Once I was visiting and she was searching for her shoes. She spent most of every day searching for her shoes or her jacket. She said, looking distressed, "This is such a frustrating conundrum." Then she turned to me, with her lopsided grin, and said, "I can't remember who I am and I can't find my shoes, but I still have my vocabulary!" I didn't know whether to laugh or cry, so I hugged her.
Anyway, when it became clear that she was genuinely ill and it wasn't going to get better, Larry turned to me for help. It seems I became the sounding board he had always needed and my sister had formerly been. We discussed Alzheimer's disease, finances, Larry's somewhat fragile health, living wills, long-term care arrangements, family issues, and much more. Larry, for once, was often at a loss, and I am grateful that he allowed me to help in at least some ways.
I made several trips to Washington. I brought my aging mother to visit while she and my sister could still enjoy one another. We also had fun, in bittersweet ways. Ken and I joined them and some other family members a couple of times at their time share condo in California. We sang songs (something my sister and I had done together since we were children), prayed, cried, laughed...and I found myself growing to love Larry to a degree I never expected.
He really didn't know what to think about having a sister-in-law that was a pastor, but he tried his best to be supportive. Once he said, "Well, I'm glad you were willing to go to a difficult place. Sometimes if men don't listen to God then God will send a woman instead."
Yeah. You already know how that went over. And when I told him that comment was rude and insulting he was genuinely shocked. I can't say he was ever enthusiastic about my role in the church, but he did modify his point of view--to a degree I found gratifying. He was insulted on my behalf when his pastor did not give me the respect Larry had decided I, as a fellow minister, was due. I was amazed.
I did not back down when Larry got bossy. I told him to stop--and he usually did. I saw a kinder, gentler, side of him. I heard him express hope and pride in Jessica (his "daughter-in-love" as he called her) who cared for Darlaine with tenderness and wisdom for a long time. I heard many of his regrets.
I listened in surprise as he told me he now realized (too late) that he had not really known how to be a nurturing parent or husband. He grieved the estrangements that had happened in the family. He praised my sister. He talked about their combined family of children and some of the things he hoped for each of them. He agonized over some of his mistakes. I cried with him as he sobbed one day, facing my sister's imminent leaving home for a long-term care facility. We both felt guilty, even though we knew it was for the best. At Darlaine's funeral he held my hand and tapped his foot to Mahalia Jackson music and grinned even as the tears pooled in his eyes.
He shared the love and forgiveness of Jesus with prisoners, foreign students, inner-city poor. He spent some time in jail for his work with the anti-abortion group, Operation Rescue. He sang country gospel off key but with gusto. He loved the sun and the beach and good food and the writings of his "friend and mentor" Oswald Chambers. He took pride in his Jewish heritage.
In short, Larry was like all of us. He was a mix of human pride and surprising humility, sinfulness and goodness, and love and fun and sorrow and wisdom and incredible foolishness. His mix of traits were just more obvious than in some of us. He was who he was, for good or ill, and he just didn't seem to be able to modify or contain his feelings. Sometimes I wonder if the Apostle Paul was a bit like Larry. I suspect Paul might not have been the easiest person to be around, but all who knew him knew he loved his Lord, and that was true of Larry too.
It is not yet real that Larry is gone. There have been so many losses in my life these last few years that I'm having trouble taking this one in. As I ponder how it should be that this dear brother-in-law can be someone who made me furious and also someone who left a deep void in my life, I am compelled to thank God for the unutterable grace and mercy that he shows each of us.
From Romans 5
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God...But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us...For if, while we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation...
those who receive God's abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!...But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
I too am both a sinner and a saint. What you hear about me depends on who you ask. Some people love me and some people do not. How glad I am that when I stand before God I will not need to depend on my own good deeds, or wisdom, or holiness. Neither does Larry. He can stand, free at last, in the robe of righteousness that Jesus gave to him. Rest in peace, my dear friend! I hope you enjoyed your reunion with my beloved sister, and I'll see you both soon.