I was reminded again today how profoundly difficult it is to lose someone you love. Today my pastor, Alan Somers, was laid to rest following an eight-year battle with not one, but two types of cancer. To say he fought it hard is a vast understatement.
Pastor Al came to our little church from California, having pastored there for more than two decades. Ours is your old-time country Bible church, the proverbial white steepled church on the hill. Its congregation, now numbering a couple hundred on any given Sunday, is largely rural if not agricultural. So we weren't sure how he and his wife, Judy, would feel about rural living in western Illinois, where their closest neighbors had four legs instead of two.
As it turns out, we needn't have wondered. They loved it, and took to it as if they'd been born here. Judy's even become a goat farmer, running her own herd of Boer goats.
Their son, Steve, (California born and raised, though recently relocated here) shared today how he'd taken a phone call for his parents the first time he'd come to visit. The caller mistook him for his dad, and said they were calling from the Bushnell Meat Locker. They had the hog ready that had been brought in for them, and what did he want them to do with it?
Steve hesitated. "Is this a joke?" he asked, laughing. He realized pretty quickly that it wasn't, and that "Mom and Dad weren't in California anymore!"
Many things impressed me over the years about this man, not the least his passion for sharing his love for the Lord. He preached the Bible as it's written and he didn't mince words. He had a particular joy for teenagers, which my husband and I, as youth leaders, especially appreciated. We've learned over the past week the degree to which he's touched these teenagers' lives, taking time not just to joke with them, but to really talk and to counsel. They're hurting badly now, but how blessed they are to have had such a friend in him that it would hurt this much.
Pastor Al had said that although he loved the scenery here and the rolling hills and the farms and all that, those things weren't what made it home. It took the people to do that.
And this after all the spectacular places he'd lived and preached in his lifetime – the family in Michigan, the mountains in Colorado and the warmth in California. What an honor that he considered this place, this tiny little community in western Illinois, to be his home. What a confirmation of the good people we know to make up our little communities.
He was buried today in an old cemetery on a hill, where the handful of stones bear names of families that have lived here for generations. Yet he's right at home.