In Memory of Michael Anthony Webb April 29, 1955-August 13, 2013
This summer I and my two daughters, Heidi and Dietlinde, traveled to Binghampton, NY for Heidi’s bridal shower. There were many things on our mind, but we hadn’t forgotten to contact Michael. However, we hadn’t reached him and figured we would miss out on seeing him.
Partway through our time in Binghampton, however, we received a phone call from Georgia, Michael’s long-time girlfriend. They had broken up earlier in the year. She told us that – although we were far away in Pennsylvania – she wanted us to know Michael was ill and in the hospital. What were the odds that we would be in Bingamton when she called us? But we were, and we rushed to the hospital to see him. There we learned that he had been in for more than a month, and he was dying of cancer. The doctors figured he only had a few days left at best. We were stunned, but in a small way happy that we could be there when he needed us. God’s timing is incredible!
From the time we realized Michael was sick until we received the word that he had died, I was reading each morning from the Gospel of Luke. It seemed that every paragraph related to our relationship with Michael. For instance, Luke 17:1 says, “Things that cause people to sin are bound to come, but woe to that person through whom they come…” I think it’s saying that sin is everywhere. The temptations are bound to come. The opportunity to sin is right in our faces in our culture BUT shame on the person who is actively promoting sin, wooing other people to sin. I thought of some of the men who kept pushing a bottle of beer in front of Michael even though they knew he was fighting it. Those so-called friends who kept urging him, “Aww, come on Michael. Join us for old times’ sake. One bottle isn’t going to hurt you.” We are quick to say that he shouldn’t have yielded to the temptation but if we say that we probably don’t fully understand the power of addiction and how very difficult it is, especially if you are one against several, to run away. This verse was a reminder to me to always point people to Jesus, to what is wholesome and good, and to never to lead anyone astray.
In Luke 18 Jesus tells the story of the persistent widow. “Always pray and not give up.” Again I thought of Michael and how he persistently struggled against alcoholism. Every time he’d fall, he’d pick himself up and go straight to the hospital and sign himself in for rehab. Others of his buddies seemed to just give in to their cravings, always turning to the bottle as if it would solve their problems. Michael tried so hard. We were so proud when he reached the two year mark completely free of alcohol. Statistics say that if someone goes that long without drinking there it is unlikely that they would go back to drinking.
Michael wrote this letter. We cried as we read his heartfelt words. I include it in this blog because I think it is a beautiful expression of what he wanted deep in his heart. My daughter, Dietlinde, added the graphics and we framed a copy for him.
A few verses later in Luke 18 Jesus tells the parable of two men going to prayer. The Pharisee prayed, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.”
Immediately I thought of someone who said to me, “Why do you even bother with Michael? Why can’t he pull himself together? He’ll never amount to anything. Just forget about him.”
This man’s words remind me of the Pharisee with his proud identity. By contrast the tax collector, the sinner, can’t even look up (vs. 13). In shame and humility he beats his breast and asks God for mercy. This man reminds me so much of Michael. And I believe it was Michael who was justified before God, not my friend who scolded me for caring for Michael.
Then Immediately after that parable we come to the tender and warm story of the parents bringing their little children to Jesus. These parents must have sensed the love and winsomeness of Jesus. “Oh, wouldn’t it be a beautiful thing if this kind man would caress my Johnny.” I’m not sure what the disciples were thinking but they rebuke the parents. Jesus intervenes and sharply informs his disciples that little children and the kingdom of God belong together.
As a writer I try to visualize the scene. He stretches out his arms and calls the children to Him. I imagine He whispers sweet words to them, peace filled thoughts, hugging them, tickling them, giving a piggy back ride, a gentle squeeze or ruffling a child’s hair. The same story recorded in Mark 10 says that “He took them in His arms one by one and placed His hands upon them, and fervently blessed them.” This isn’t some clergyman’s group benediction. He took time to press each one close to his heart.
I picture Jesus saying to Michael, “Your heavenly Father feels this way about you. He loves you.” And to the rest of us this story is a reminder that He blessed them all. If we think there is some kind of false condition in order to be a recipient of God’s grace, think again. He doesn’t have favorites. He blessed them all—even those kids who didn’t have it all together.
In Luke 19 we read about Zacchaeus. I love this story because I think that it must have been the most exciting day of Zacchaeus’ life when Jesus looked up and said, “Come on down here. I’m planning to go to your house today.” Here’s a hated man but Jesus is willing to be seen with him. This story gives us the gospel in monosyllabic form: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”
These and many other Scriptures have come to mind as I am still grieving over the loss of Michael. It is hard to believe that I won’t hear his voice over the phone, “Hello, Mom. This is your prodigal son, checking in. I love you.” But he won’t need his “mom” any more because today, and forevermore, he has his Father.