If you read my last post, you know I mentioned that we at Journey lost a wonderful man last week, Robert Heidrich. I asked Chris Raider, who is the pastor leading our Children’s ministries to share some thoughts. He did & they are wonderful. I edited it a little. This is longer than my normal posts, but I promise it’s worth it.
Last week started Saturday at 3:00 am. When the phone rings at 3:00 am, it can’t be good. As I picked up the phone I could hear LOUD crying on the other end. “Chris…it’s Robert….he’s gone!” I recognized Mirella’s Italian accent immediately. “…I’ll be right there.”
I have known Robert and Mirella for over 6 years. Their son Mateo (now age 15) was in piano classes with our two boys. Robert and Mirella also have 2 twin daughters, Daniella and Serena, now age 10.
When I met Robert, he was having problems with his hands…carpal tunnel syndrome?? Lime Disease?? As certain options were ruled out, any of the remaining options were not good.
During that year, Laura and I spent many hours with Robert and Mirella, usually over dinner. Mirella is a great cook (I love Italian food), and it was usually served in traditional Italian style…one course at a time…over several hours. Both Robert and Mirella had grown up in a very traditional church and had become very disillusioned with the church as an organization. Robert had many questions…many of the usual. “Why does God allow suffering?” “Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?”
There were many times when I would buy his favorite Chicago Beef sandwiches and meet him at his office for lunch. Almost always our conversation went towards “God stuff”.
After several months, Robert finally realized that what he needed, wanted, was a personal relationship with Jesus. One night over dinner, Robert and Mirella prayed and asked Jesus to be their Lord and Savior. You could see – almost immediately – the peace that came over Robert.
Robert and Mirella were baptized at the next JCC baptism.
Seeing the smile on Robert’s face was priceless. Watching Mirella flinch at being in the cold water was fun too!
After Mirella was baptized, she paused as she was walking out. Almost collapsing in the water. Overcome with the meaning of what had just happened. She knelt down in the water to pray/cry.
Over the next few years, there were many BBQs at their house. But Robert’s health was deteriorating. After many tests, doctors finally confirmed ALS. It was also suggested at this time that while he was still healthy, to have a tube surgically inserted into his stomach. This allowed Robert to “eat” once his neck and mouth muscles stopped working. For 2 years, Robert lived on protein shakes.
As his speech slurred and became more difficult to understand, Robert managed to use his left hand to type out on the keyboard different things he needed/wanted.
At this time, Laura was going over every Friday morning to help Mirella with Robert. Robert’s care was now 24/7. Standing up required assistance…going to the bathroom, getting a shower etc. Little things like scratching his head had to be done for him. Mirella seemed to work around the clock taking care of Robert and trying to keep up with a “normal” house and home.
Ed’s comment: this is AMAZING! Get ready.
I remember a conversation I had with Robert one day. A conversation he also had with Steve Clark, his men’s ministry small group leader. One day Robert said he was “glad” that he contracted ALS. “If it weren’t for ALS, I never would have sought the Lord.” He was too comfortable in his life, business was good, life was good, who needed God! I said “Robert, don’t you mean thankful rather than glad? Glad is a bit strong.” He said, “no…glad.”
On the night before his memorial service, Mirella asked me to come over and video tape the girls – they wanted to say “goodbye” to dad on camera and show the video at the memorial service. Never mind that I had already spent 16 hours on the video, scanning pictures, editing wedding video etc. and I was “done”.
I video taped the girls – they both did a very nice job. At the last minute I turned the camera on Mirella and asked her to just say what is on her heart. She hit me and said no….”what about my hair…I don’t have any makeup on!” I ensured her I could touch up the video during editing and make it look just fine (I lied!)
“it was an honor being with you….an honor that I was able to give you and show you the amount of love and dedication… that I was given an opportunity to show you especially this last 2 years. I was very happy to fully live the meaning of love and sacrifice.”
She went on to say along the lines of ….most people say “in sickness and in health” but don’t really mean it – I had the opportunity to show you that I meant it…I had an opportunity to not just say I love you, but to demonstrate just how deep that love is.
The memorial service was packed! 160-175 people in the video café. Extra seats were brought in…people standing in the back. When the video played there wasn’t a dry eye in the place. EVERYONE stayed afterwards and shared stores with each other about how Robert had impacted their lives. Many close friends from Chicago and Vegas made the trip.
I spoke with several people after the service and several others spoke to Mirella saying the same thing. “I need to get my (spiritual) life back on track, Journey looks like a church I would be comfortable in checking that out.”
For 2 years Mirella worked 24/7 – taking care of the family, getting kids to school…piano lessons…getting Robert to work…to Doctors appointments, packing up the wheelchairs, neck braces, arm slings, slim fast, medicine etc. just to go to church. No reflection on you Ed, but one Sunday I went in to the Video Café and Mirella and Robert were leaning on each other totally asleep. They were exhausted.
One night I shared with Robert – Phil 1:23,24 “for I am hard pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better, nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you.” I saw in Robert’s eyes the tension of being so tired of all the difficulties – his desire to be with the Lord…and yet, concern for his family that he leaves behind.
One chapter in this story has come to a close. Robert is now in heaven – at peace with his maker. A new chapter begins for Mirella and the children. Robert had no life insurance. His business had dropped off 60-70% because of the economy and may not be able to survive especially without Robert as the driving force.
This type of doing life together/care type ministry is very exhausting, consuming and doesn’t always fall into the “9 to 5” category that we might like. But as we heard in this past Sunday’s message – we are to be salt and light.