A friend of mine (shout out to my girl Laura!) called to wish me a Happy New Year and also said “If you’re gonna have a blog, you need to write in it!” – so I’m going to start this year of more frequent blogging off with a piece that both broke and healed my heart while writing it.
Note: This blog post was originally written for my friend Jessica Dennis’s blog Leaven in the World.
Malachi 3:1-4, 23-24
“Behold I send my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?
For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, til they present right offerings to the Lord. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.
Behold I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children, and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the land with a curse.”
I really enjoy the Advent season. The readings of the prophecies of the King are some of my favorites, and the feeling of an excited anticipation for the Lord is one that I love. Paired with the Christmas and holiday spirit in the air, sweater weather, and the return of the peppermint white mocha, and I can’t help but be a little bit more joyful.
Christmas buzz aside, however, this reading from the Prophet Malachi that talks about messengers preparing the way of the Lord brings me back to memories of a person who was quite the messenger in my own life – my dear missionary brother Roger.
After graduating from college, I followed the Lord’s call to the Central American country of Honduras to serve as a lay missionary. What was an initial 4 month discernment and 2 year commitment turned into a 6 year season living a beautiful adventure (that full story will be saved for another day). I met countless people and gained forever friends who I now consider family. Roger is one of those people.
Living in a missionary house full of young adults from different countries is not always the easiest task. Though we all desired to serve the Lord that we loved so much, we were each working through our own difficulties and struggles, some learning a new language and culture, discerning our vocations, and exhausting ourselves in ministry. Needless to say, life at times could be a bit chaotic, and disagreements, jealousy, and moments of uncharitable words and actions were inevitable.
In the midst of that chaos, Roger was always a messenger of peace. And though he spoke calmly and quietly (most of the time), he did so with a transparency and boldness that commanded one’s attention. He wasn’t afraid to say what needed to be said, even if it wasn’t going to be an easy message. I am an infamous “venter” (or perhaps “ranter” would be more accurate) – and Roger, being a good listener, was always on the receiving end of my vent sessions. Lucky for me, he wasn’t a passive listener. I recall countless conversations with Roger’s interjection “Y de que te va a servir hacer eso?” “And how is doing that going to help you?” He talked me off many ledges, out of many bad decisions, and challenged me to be a better person every day.
Perhaps more powerful than his words, was his simple way of being. Roger knew how to get a message across without speaking a word.
I remember going through a time of barrenness, dryness, and even darkness while in Honduras. What was happening in my heart was overwhelming, and I felt abandoned and alone. Though some of my friends at the time chose not to accompany me in that darkness, Roger entered into it. He would call to check on me to see how I was doing, send me random texts of bible verses or jokes, and would hang out with me – even when some people thought it was better to keep their distance. He never once thought that was the right way to help me – and in many ways it saved me. That accompaniment, that relentlessness, helped pull me out of the darkness.
Roger was known to bring life to any party – clearly exhibited here when we danced at my wedding in July 2013.
In August 2016, at the age of 29, Roger was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. It was a whirlwind 2 and a half weeks from diagnosis to eternal life. Just like that, one of my dearest friends was gone. Having moved back to the US, the thousands of miles of distance made it hard for the reality to set in. It wasn’t until I returned to Honduras for a visit with my husband and two tiny kids the following October that it hit me. When I entered the chapel of our mission house for Holy Hour, like I did for so many years before, I went straight to the back left corner where I always sat because I led worship. I looked to the back right corner, where Roger always sat…and I realized he was not there. My eyes were drawn forward to the sanctuary, where instead his photo sat on a ledge adorned with flowers. I held it together until we sang “Alma Misionera,” the theme song of missionaries – and I cried deeply, for the brother that had gone before us.
And yet, even in his absence, Roger spoke to me. Whenever we used to talk, he would always sign off saying “Quien a Dios tiene, nada le falta” – a popular phrase of St. Teresa of Avila meaning “He who has God lacks nothing.” In that moment, as I kneeled before the King of King and Lord of Lords, I heard that phrase in a whisper in my heart, and I was overcome with great peace…and I knew it was Roger doing what he did best – keeping my eyes fixed on my God.
The Lord spoke volumes to me through my beloved friend. I know that his friendship, though imperfect due to our humanity, was a reflection of our friendship with the Lord, of the love the Lord has for us.
Roger was a truly messenger, preparing the way of the Lord in the hearts of so many people, and I know that he continues to do so now! And I pray that I, too, can do the same.