Our daughter’s father-in-law died a week ago today. Ottis was a faithful Christian, a loving husband to Karen, and very good father to his two sons, one of whom we are pleased to call our son-in-law. He was also a friend.
Alanna and Jonathan were engaged two years ago this month and married in Memphis on November 15, four months later. Ottis and I did not meet until the wedding weekend, but we connected immediately and began an occasional email correspondence. Last September, the week of the Pope’s visit to Philadelphia, Becky and I traveled to Auburn, Alabama, to visit Ottis and Karen along with Jonathan and Alanna who drove in from Memphis. We watched Auburn lose to Mississippi State and enjoyed wonderful hospitality. It was the last time we saw Ottis.
Ottis and I met nineteen month ago, were together only twice and exchanged a few emails. It was, despite its brevity, a glorious friendship.
As friendships go, ours was short on memories, but it was long on hope.
We had hoped to share family times now and then, perhaps baptisms and birthday parties. We would have been good co-grandpas to any children that Alanna and Jonathan might have, and we both enjoyed being fathers and fathers-in-law to the newlyweds and husbands to the mothers and mothers-in-law.
A month after Jonathan asked Alanna to marry him, Ottis was diagnosed with cancer. They had not so much hoped for a cure as for a treatment that would have allowed him to live with the cancer for a long time. That hope was finally disappointed a week ago today.
But there was another hope in our all-too-brief friendship, and that is what made it so glorious. That hope was not disappointed on July 1. The Apostle Paul reminds the Romans that “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3-5). Paul calls the hope that does not disappoint “the hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:2).
Ottis’ cancer diagnosis was a part of our glorious friendship for as long as our friendship lasted. In some ways it may have been like a dark cloud on the horizon. After every good and encouraging report from his doctors, the cloud was still there, a shadow over the hope for an effective treatment. “Whatever the outcome, I know that God is always working and that His plan is perfect,” Ottis wrote 15 months ago. “I am thankful for the grace I have been shown, it is something for which none of us can show enough gratitude,” he said this past October.
“I look forward to seeing you guys again, soon. Tell Becky we love her,” Ottis wrote in the last email I received from him. We were not able to see him again.
In our two times together and in our emails, Ottis and I talked about cancer and death because we could and we needed to. We talked about the cloud on the horizon. After Becky and I visited Auburn last September, we talked about someday the four of us, Karen and Ottis, Becky and me, Southerners and Northerners, walking the battlefield at Gettysburg. But we knew that walk might not happen. It turns out that it won’t.
But there was something about that cloud on the horizon that allowed the sunlight to stream through in ways it would not otherwise have done. It allowed hope, a hope that does not disappoint, hope in Christ, to stream through.
Ottis always signed his emails “Your brother in Christ.” He was my brother and my friend. Ours was a glorious friendship because of the hope we share in Christ.
Short in time and on memories, my friendship with Ottis was long on hope.
I am sad that Ottis and I will not share grandpa responsibilities and that he and Karen, Becky and I, will not be able to walk the battlefield at Gettysburg together. But I am not disappointed. As brief as our friendship was, it was a gift from God, and it was just as long as God intended it to be. And, yes, it was glorious; one of the best. God’s gifts never disappoint.
I don’t know how long walks and good conversations work in heaven. What we know in this hope that does not disappoint, is that we will share Christ’s glory.
Ottis Stephenson was my friend and a brother in Christ. I will miss him.
See you Sunday,