I think the first time I saw Maurice, he was singing with the choir at church. Then I worked with him on staff at the church. When I started on staff, he was the Single’s/Young Adults Pastor. I’d originally come to Nashville because of music, but upon arriving I discovered that when EVERYONE sings, only the ones with the best connections (due to talent or some other factor) get to sing on stage. Maurice opened up the stage for me to sing in the single’s ministry. It was an intimate group, and I cherished it.
Maurice and I started making a habit of stopping by each other’s offices from time to time to chat. He was the one who encouraged me not to stop blogging when I faced some resistance in it. He encouraged me to do all I could with writing. He could sense the presence of God, tap into that power, and encourage me in a way that touched my heart deeply. Apparently, I’m not the only one he ministered to.
He was also an amazing musician. He had another life when he wasn’t ministering to me and others around the church. He was a back-up singer for Wynonna Judd and The Judds. He wrote songs, mentored others in music, and helped lead worship at our church. His talent was remarkable, but he didn’t treat anyone else like they weren’t important because of it. He rubbed elbows with some of the most famous people on earth and he never let on that he was kind of a big deal.
My last conversation with Maurice was unfinished. He was at church on the Sunday night after I got engaged. Rick was with me, and with Maurice’s travel schedule and Rick’s infrequent visits to the church (he lives out of town), they hadn’t had a chance to meet yet. I introduced them and Maurice immediately began getting to know Rick. Sensing that I wasn’t necessary to the conversation, I allowed them to talk and I moved on to speak to some other friends. When they finished, Maurice told me that I had a good man. He wanted to talk to me more about our plans and the changes coming in our lives, but he was heading to Japan for a mission trip the next day and that conversation would have to wait until he got back. I was looking forward to the next time I ran into him at Starbucks or after a service at church so we could talk more.
Exactly two weeks after that conversation, I received word that Maurice had died of a heart attack. He was 43 years old. I had just started driving home from my fiancé’s house and had a long drive ahead. Through tears, I attempted to make the right turns and find my way back on unfamiliar roads. No surprise: I got a little lost. I pulled over and called Rick, tearfully explaining that I needed his help to figure out where I was, and that I was extra upset because my friend had died. Rick got me on the right road again and I made it back to Nashville in a fog of grief.
This week has been hard. We’re having a service to honor Maurice on Sunday at church. I look around me and see the faces of so many that loved him, felt his friendship, and are aching from loss. He is in heaven with Jesus, but we are left with a hole in our hearts and in our community. Will I always think of Maurice when I see a bright yellow SUV? Will I always wonder what he’s laughing about when I hear loud laughter in the halls of the church? Will I always look for him when I walk into Starbucks? These are the questions I have, and my friendship with him was nothing compared with many who were much closer. My heart aches for his precious family, including two little nephews who adored him.
In the middle of all that, I’m trying to plan a wedding. My friend is gone, but I need to pick out a wedding cake design. Our church has lost a pastor, but I need to find a rehearsal dinner location. My friends are grieving, but I need to get their addresses for my guest list. My mind is a jumble of joy and grief right now. Do the trivial things like the color of my bridesmaid’s dresses even matter? Death puts a new perspective on everything. My dreams at night are a tangled web of a wedding service mixed with a funeral service.
And this must be the way many of us feel. We have children to raise, jobs to do, events to organize, and yet we bear the grief of missing our friend. It feels like the world should stop, but it doesn’t. Even his family must make plans and move forward while they stumble in grief.
We loved Maurice. We are happy for him that he is with the Lord. We are sad for ourselves.