Seven days later and I'm still speechless. Where does one find words or reason when someone dies so suddenly....is there even a need to? Last Wednesday evening, my husband had come home from a long day at the church. He told me how Elder Bender had been fired up that night and had "preached the house down". I was still in the brace, recovering from my silly fall on my wet kitchen floor, so I couldn't go to service that night. Austin was watching a television program and I was reading with my leg propped up, It only took my worn-out husband a few minutes, in his favorite chair, until he dozed off and my son soon followed. Then...the phone rang and everything changed forever.
I just wrote about this last week; one call, one message and life can drastically change. The caller told me that Elder Bender had been in an accident, on his way home from church, and was en route to the hospital. I shared this news and further details with my husband and the look on his face still haunts me...it's as if he knew then. He ran down the stairs, changed clothes, and told me who to call. Frantically, I started calling as my heart took a leap into my throat. Afterward, I waited for any news and prayed. Austin prayed as we waited for Ashton to come home. I knew I had to tell her this news. Elder Bender was her boss at Valor Christian College. She spoke often of how he was her advocate and how much she loved working for him. Honestly, he watched her grow up and pretty much let her do what she wanted just like her dad. He told her something that her dad actually said to her years ago. She was asking his permission to do something and he replied,"Sister, you don't need my approval." Ashton said,"But, Brother Bender, you're my superior and this is proper protocol so I do need your approval." He said these words that I'll never forget, "You don't need my approval, you always have my approval."
It makes me cry just thinking of those words. It wasn't a boss to a subordinate, it was a father-figure to a young lady that he'd known since she was born. That was Elder Bender...that was him. I hate even writing in the past tense.
When update after update came and then the final call from my husband who told me he'd just been in the room to tell his dear brother good-bye, I felt every bit of air leave as I gasped to accept the unacceptable.
This is a man who has stood by my husband's side through it all and did so for 23 years. His loss is incomparable and incomprehensible. My first thoughts went to his sweet wife Barb and their two precious girls; my heart began breaking for the pain I knew they had to be feeling.I thought of how my husband, who just lost one of his dearest friends last week, was now going to deal with this. Then, the thought...I have to tell Ashton. I walked into the room where she was crying and praying and told her. My heart continued to break and after a few minutes filled with cries that belong between us, she said she had to get to the students at Valor dorms who were all awake and huddled together praying. She called some young leaders to join her and at 4:00 am, they went to break this horrific news to the students that adored and honored their teacher and mentor.
His death is far-reaching because his life was far-reaching. He touched so many lives which was reflected in the hundreds of former students who came, from all over, to attend his tribute service which was beautiful, I might add. He, too, was a man's man, a patriot as a former marine, a wonderful husband, father, teacher, preacher, mentor, and friend. His smile was infectious and his booming voice thundered with power as he spoke from a heart on fire for God and His people. What a huge, gaping whole he leaves in our lives, our church, and our services. Now, we are left to move beyond and find a new normal. As my husband said Sunday, we are limping but limp we will. When you lose the person who helped hold you steady, the person on whom you leaned, it leaves you limping. For years it has been the three pillars preaching on the platform of our church-Pastor Rod, Elder Canfield and Elder Bender. Because of those two men, my husband could be obedient to his calling to preach throughout the nations; they held down the fort, so to speak.
Now here we are, hurting but not hopeless, grieving but not without grace, minus our brother but not our Father. In times like these, there are no answers and no reason to even look for any. In all my floundering, I find the comfort of God's warm embrace, His undeniable presence that answers my solitude, and a love that is so deep and abiding that it leaves me well...speechless.
You may join us as we continue to honor the life and ministry of our Elder Tom Bender by watching his tribute service from Oct.9 Sunday morning. It was, in a word, perfect.