Unsung Saints Advent 2020

The Name of Jesus, January 1

Colossians 2:6-12

Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.

Jab, Lover and Fighter

When we first came to St. Matthew’s in July 2004, Jab and Nancy stood out in their Sunday best. She had worked in fine dresses for Belk and later for Stein Mart, and so Nancy made sure Jab was dressed sharply, too. In the early days, they would bring their grandson Walker to worship with them, and he, too, was dressed to the nines each week. My wife and I remarked what a striking couple Jab and Nancy made.

I confess that I heard the man’s name wrongly for a good while. Since his initials were J.P., I thought his nickname was Jap. Finally, after having been called Jap for too many weeks at the communion rail, he let me know that Jab was his nickname. It turns out he had been a Golden Gloves boxer, and that’s how he acquired the name.

Jab served in the Navy, was a boxer, graduated from South Carolina, was a ship captain in Kure Beach, worked for the New Hanover County Schools as a coach and assistant principal, helped to start the oceanography program at UNCW, and served in the Coast Guard Auxiliary. A picture of Jab, the ship captain, looked like a young Marlon Brando.

I spotted Jab’s cognitive decline fairly early. You can’t take as many hits as a boxer does without some long-term damage. But when their youngest son, Mitch, died, Jab grieved so deeply that the decline increased rapidly. One Sunday he showed up at worship without Nancy. When I asked where she was, he looked at me blankly and then said, “She wasn’t feeling well.” Nancy told me later that Jab just got in the car and drove off.

My wife would see Jab occasionally at the Harris Teeter closest to their home, and she would express her concern that he seemed so lost, she doubted he was competent to drive. But men cannot stand to have our wings clipped, and that wasn’t a battle Nancy and the kids had the strength to fight for a while.

In a strange twist, Jab and Nancy’s oldest son, Jim, worked with my brother at a Montgomery, AL newspaper, owned by the New York Times. When we were planning his brother Mitch’s funeral, Jim and I discovered that connection. He didn’t know that my brother had died, and that led to a strange conversation about our losing brothers.

I shared with Jim that my brother’s death accelerated my mother’s dementia and that I thought his father would suffer in silence like most men. Indeed, that is what happened. Jab isolated more and more. If there was any silver lining, he talked less and less about Mitch over time. Jab seemed to live mostly within himself, but, as a former boxer, he could be very difficult to handle when he was angry.

In our parish, three sets of parents of adult children had a child to die within the last couple of weeks. I have never seen similar deaths scheduled so closely together. In the New Year, we will resume Grief Group on Sunday, January 10, after the late service. Why? The statute of limitations never runs out on grief. We all need to be able to talk about grief in order to begin to have, in time, more good days than bad. There is a season for everything, and we cannot deny the grief by putting on a happy face.

We cannot go back to Monday morning quarterbacking how we might have provided better care to Jab so that he didn’t go so deeply into the throes of grief. Men have been taught to show no weakness, and persistent offers to attend more closely to his grief might have been helpful but we will never know. Jab remained a strong man even when he was older and didn’t want his situation in life to be spoken aloud.

Thank you, dear heavenly Father, for Your Son Jesus, who was circumcised and named on this day in accordance with the Scriptures. Be with all the parents still suffering with grief over those children, who are safely with you now. Guide us waking, O Lord, and guard us sleeping that awake we may watch with Christ and asleep we may rest in peace. In Jesus’ holy name. Amen.
Place thirty-four pennies, nickels, or dimes in a bowl or box out of love for neighbors in need.

St Matthew's Pastor Sam Zumwalt

Pastor Samuel D. Zumwalt, STS
St Matthew's Evangelical Lutheran Church
Wilmington, NC

English Standard Version (ESV)

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.