Simone Weil once said, “There are only two things that pierce the human heart. One is beauty. The other is affliction.”
What do you do when beauty and affliction are present in the same person? On January 11, 2008 at 1:12 pm a beautiful soul named Josh Bixler, my nephew, took his life at the age of 14. And now our hearts are pierced.
Fifteen years ago this Easter will mark the day I held Joshua Brandon Bixler in my arms before a loving congregation and prayed God’s blessings on his life at his baby dedication. Standing beside me were his mom and dad and big sister. I held a chubby cheeked, blond-haired and blue-eyed beautiful baby boy. He squirmed, drooled and cried as I asked Jesus to bless his life. I had no idea at the time that almost 15 years later I would be standing before a loving congregation with his mom and dad and big sister to say good bye.
The pain of this last week is almost unbearable. We feel afflicted. We feel despair, but not despair as if we have no hope. For we do have hope. We know that Josh had a relationship with Jesus. And because of that…all we who have a relationship with Jesus shall see him again.
Was my baby dedication prayer answered? Did Jesus bless his life? If it is true that you can only give what you posses, then I invite you to look at the hundreds of faces that gathered at his memorial service and ask did Josh bless the lives of people in his world?
Yet, it was a reciprocal blessing. Many people impacted Josh like so many streams and tributaries that flowed into his life: coaches, friends, teammates, teachers, cousins, aunts and uncles, grandpa Jim and grandpa Cliff, grandma Wanda and grandma Inez… all flowed into the life of Josh in ways the depth of which we will only know when we get to heaven and understand all things.
With his leaving this earth the way that he did, the chasm of pain is beyond the limits of language. I am grateful for the promise of Scripture that says that when our pain is so deep and our anguish so intense that we find ourselves bereft of words to speak to God that the Holy Spirit speaks for us.
The Apostle Paul said in Romans 8:27:
“…the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.”
For many, during times like these we describe what our beloved did with their lives. But that would not give you an adequate picture of Josh. For Josh’s impact on lives was his way with people.
He loved to have fun. He loved to bring people together and see the best in people. I remember his sense of humor. The guy had a sharp wit and would not back down from a big, mean looking uncle.
Two summers ago while visiting in Colorado, Nette and I were to drive grandpa Jim’s pickup truck back to Washington State. On a whim I said why you don’t come back with us. It was a joke. I was kidding. Josh said, “Okay, I’ll ask my dad.” As he left to go call his dad, I looked at Nette and said, “Now, we’ve done it. He called my bluff, but I would take 10 of him on his worst day.”
Both his dad and mom said yes and Lindsey rushed to get him some clothes together. We traveled through Yellowstone and Montana on our way home.
At one point I told him about how Caleb’s older brothers Cole and Clint teased Caleb when he was very little that if he didn’t straighten up and not be such a bother that what happened to their other little brother would happen to him.
That other little brother was a pretend kid they made up and named Clay. They told Caleb that Clay was given to gypsies and never seen again so he better straighten up. Josh thought that was funny.
I would tease him saying if you don’t quit leaning on me I am going to put you out up here at this next stop. He would shoot back, “Go ahead. I would probably get there faster hitchhiking with Gypsies.”
Brian told me how he used to tickle Josh. He would hold him down and tickle and tickle until the little fella would almost burst with laughter, begging dad to stop. When he could take no more tickling, Brian would stop. They would catch their breath. Then Josh would say, “Do it again Daddy. Do it again.”
I took Josh backpacking with Caleb to Flapjack lakes in the Olympic Mountains a couple of summers ago and as we arrived at the lake, up ahead in the willows about 20 yards away was a black bear. The bear looked at us, snorted and ran off.
Later that night after we had finished supper Josh looked over at me and said, “Hey uncle, do you think that bear is going to come back? I said that I didn’t think so. Josh asked, “What makes you so sure?” I said because he is eating blueberries and we don’t have any blueberries. Besides he has probably tasted “boy meat” before and knows that it is not as sweet as blueberries.” Under his breath Josh muttered to no one in particular, “Well, this ‘boy meat’ is pretty sweet.”
One time I teased him for sleeping too much. He said, “I need my beauty sleep.” I said if you don’t stop sleeping you are going to be prettier than a girl.” He never smiled. Looked right at me and said, “Uncle, you didn’t sleep much when you were my age did you.” Why I oughta…
Josh was fearless. At the lakes we decided to go swimming. Josh was the first one to jump in the lake. The water was cold and clear, but he dove right in. He swam out to a tall rock about 50 feet out from shore and climbed to the top. Everyone else was still fearful of the cold water and Josh was on top of the rock with arms raised in victory. We dared him to jump. He never hesitated. Splash! Then one by one…we all jumped in and swam to the rock and did some cliff jumping. He and I would climb to the top and tried to time our jumps so that we hit the water at the same time. He came up gasping for air laughing and said, “Let’s do it again Uncle. Let’s do it again.”
We had been up in the mountains a couple of days and I was fixing supper one night and said, “I miss my wife.” Everyone went around the circle and said who they missed. When it came to Josh he said, “Well, I miss my sister Lindsey.”
Josh loved his sister. I have never known two siblings who were more in love with each other than Josh and Lindsey Caye.
Josh’s best friend Casey told me that he would ask Josh if he and his sister ever fought. Josh said not much. Casey said, “The relationship Josh had with his sister…that was “gold.”
Lindsey, Josh was the wonderful person that he was due in large part to you. Both your mom and dad would agree that you had as much of an influence on his life as anyone in the world.
Lindsey, you shall see him again.
Josh loved is dad.
While fishing with Josh one day at the Flapjack lakes, I commented to him that I had fished with his Dad a couple of times. But that his dad was 10 times the fisherman that I was. I asked if he liked to fish with his dad and he said yes, but that he really liked going four wheeling with his dad more than anything. He told of going to Utah and spending lots of time going over impossible terrain. He loved spending time with his dad.
Brian, Josh’s dad told me a story that tells much about his heart. Because of difficult family dynamics, I hadn’t seen Josh’s dad Brian for almost 9 years until last fall when we attended Aunt Suzanne’s funeral. I saw Brian across the room and went up to him, we shook hands, hugged, and spoke for a little. Brian said he glanced across the room and caught Josh looking at his dad and uncle hugging and had a smile on his face as if to say, “That is cool.”
The angels are enjoying the most beautiful boy they have ever seen. Brian, the fact that so many people are here honoring your son’s life is testimony to the character you built into his life as his father. You were a good father to Josh. I watched you with him. You were patient and tender. He had an inner strength that he got from you.
Brian, you shall see him again.
Josh loved his mom. And Cyndi I know you loved Josh. Do you remember the message he wrote in the soap scum on your shower? “I love you mom.” Do you remember the vitamin C he slipped under your door one time when you were coming down with a cold?
Cyndi do you remember a prayer Josh offered the day one of his friends died?
Thank you for taking care of my friend and making him happy again in heaven. Thank you for loving me too. And dear God, remember that question I asked you? When do I get to go?
You said that Josh’s eight year old version of heaven: fishing streams, doggy houses, and Jesus coming over to visit.
The next time you see him he won’t have long hair and baggy pants that were about to fall off his butt. You won’t see him sad. You won’t see him in despair. No, the next time you see your Josh he will be transformed into a being of unspeakable splendor. He will dazzle you with his smile, he will amaze you with his understanding, he will tell you stories about what he and grandpa Bixler have been doing in heaven and he will take you by the hand and lead you to Aunt Suzanne’s mansion…he will tell you things about Jesus that you never knew.
Cyndi, you shall see him again.
Caleb, my dear son, Josh loved you too.
Caleb and Josh were more like brothers than cousins. They were famous for their Lego and Star Wars collections. Their names even go together. In the bible it was always Joshua and Caleb. These Old Testament warriors were partners in believing that with God on their side that the children of Israel could whip the Canaanites and conquer the land.
That sounds like Caleb Chambers and Joshua Bixler. They fought many epic battles together in grandpa’s backyard with duct-taped swords and cardboard shields. They always won the day. In fact in the history of the Chambers/Bixler alliance they never lost a battle. Untold hordes of barbarians were slain over the years. All of us owe our freedom and safety to these two brave warriors.
Caleb, Josh loved you like a brother. He thought of you at the end. Caleb, you shall see him again.
Chuck Swindoll wrote in Improving Your Serve:“It was well-known author and pastor Charles Allen who first told the story of a little lad named John Todd, born in Rutland, Vermont, in the autumn of 1800. Shortly after the boy’s birth, the Todd family moved to the little village of Killingsworth. It was there, when John was only six, that both his parents died. All the children had to be parceled out among relatives — and a kind-hearted aunt who lived ten miles away agreed to take John, to love him, care for him, and to give him a home.
The boy lived there for some fifteen years and finally left as he went on to school to study for the ministry. Time passed gently as he began and later excelled in his work as a pastor. While he was in middle life, his elderly aunt fell desperately ill. Realizing death was not far off, in great distress she wrote her nephew. The pitiful letter included some of the same questions all of us must one day ask: “What will death be like? Will it mean the end of everything?” Fear and uncertainty was easily traced in the quivering lines of her letter.
Moved with compassion and swamped with the memories of yesteryear, he wrote her these words of reassurance:
It is now thirty-five years since I, a little boy of six, was left quite alone in the world. You sent me word you would give me a home and be a kind mother to me. I have never forgotten the day when I made the long journey of ten miles to your house in North Killingsworth. I can still recall my disappointment when, instead of coming for me yourself, you sent your colored man, Caesar, to fetch me. I well remember my tears and my anxiety as, perched high on your horse and clinging tight to Caesar, I rode off to my new home. Night fell before we finished the journey and as it grew dark, I became lonely and afraid.
‘Do you think she’ll go to bed before I get there?’ I asked Caesar anxiously. ‘O no,’ he said reassuringly. ‘She’ll sure stay up FOR YOU. When we get out of these here woods you’ll see her candle shining in the window.’ Presently we did ride out in the clearing and there, sure enough, was your candle. I remember you were waiting at the door, that you put your arms close about me and that you lifted me — a tired and bewildered little boy — down from the horse. You had a big fire burning on the hearth, a hot supper waiting for me on the stove. After supper, you took me to my new room, you heard me say my prayers and then you sat beside me until I fell asleep.
You probably realize why I am recalling all this to your memory. Some day soon, God will send for you, to take you to a new home. Don’t fear the summons — the strange journey — or the dark messenger of death. God can be trusted to do as much for you as you were kind enough to do for me so many years ago. At the end of the road you will find love and a welcome waiting, and you will be safe in God’s care. I shall watch you and pray for you until you are out of sight, and then wait for the day when I shall make the journey myself and find you waiting at the end of the road to greet me.
Not only is that a beautiful, true story, it is the hope of all who know Jesus as their Savior. It is the way it will be. We are expected. Jesus is waiting to welcome us. And Josh will be by his side.
Joshua Brandon Bixler. A beautiful soul and a young man who died too young. I love him. I miss him.
I shall see him again.