I can’t. I can’t make any sense of this. My dear friend, Auline Platt, died yesterday. She leaves behind her faithful husband, Mike, who is a good man. And 11 children.
Michelle and I met Mike and Auline in 1994. I remember it like it was yesterday. The church I was serving as youth pastor in Dayton, OH was growing fast. My youth group was growing fast too. 8 kids at my first youth group meeting had turned into 50 in one year – and 150 in five years. I needed help. I got a phone call one evening from a guy named Mike. He told me that he and his wife were in the military and would only be in Dayton for a year. They had decided to attend my church and wanted to know if they could serve as youth leaders. I had just attended a seminar at a National Youth Workers Convention that had scared me straight about the potential risks of volunteer youth workers. In the seminar, I learned a 10-step process for vetting potential volunteers. I told Mike that night that he and Auline would have to go through all 10 steps. They were the only ones I made do this because after I put them through it, I saw how ridiculous it was. To this day, I laugh when I look at all the paperwork I made them fill out. So do they. I kept it all.
The first night Mike and Auline attended a youth group meeting back in 1994, we let our then 3 year old daughter, Emily, ride with them alone to a restaurant afterwards. We didn’t know them from Adam, but they had passed my 10-step vetting process, so I guess I felt like I could trust them – strangers – with my daughter. Auline reminded me of this often…and laughed. That night began what would become a lifelong friendship – a bond – that would stand the test of time and the test of miles. The Platts moved to Albuquerque in 1996. We had only a bit more than a year with them in Dayton, but our friendship had been solidified. They fell in love with our children there and became dear, dear friends.
A few years later, Mike called me and said that he had put my name in for the open youth pastor position at Foothills Fellowship – the church they were attending in Albuquerque. When he told me this, I told him that he was a jerk for doing it. I was happy in Dayton. Why in the world would he do such a thing? But over the next 13 months, God moved my heart and placed a calling on me and Michelle to take the position. So, by faith – and knowing that we would be reunited with our dear friends, the Platts – we left Dayton for Albuquerque in 1999…and had another year with them. Then they left – this time for multiple overseas military assignments. But our friendship grew nonetheless.
All this time, Mike and Auline loved on our children (and many others) while trying to have children of their own. Even back then, they talked of someday having a lot of children – biologically and through adoption. Ironically, for years, they couldn’t have children. And then along came Seth. And then precious Maggie – who passed away after only a few days on this earth. And then sweet Ava. Then, they set their minds and hearts on adoption, and along came 4 adopted children. And then, foster care…and 5 more children. 11 in all.
They returned to Albuquerque a few years ago specifically to be a part of our church plant in the International District of Albuquerque. They could have gone anywhere. They made deep friendships all over the world, but they decided to return here to move into one of the poorest areas of the city so they could minister to and live among poor and hurting people. They moved their entire family into an area of town that many people try to move out of.
In December of 2016, my church commissioned them and a few other families to begin a new church there – a church made up of people who had sacrificed much to move into one of the poorest and most dangerous parts of our city to bring the Kingdom of God there, and Auline was a key piece of this new ministry. Her ability to connect with and love people – regardless of who they are or what they had done – was unparalleled.
And yesterday, Auline died. And I can’t make any sense of this. And I may never…
It’s in times like these that I must enact my faith – regardless of how I feel or of what I understand or don’t understand. The Scriptures make it clear that God’s ways are higher than mine. It also makes it clear that death is not part of the ultimate and perfect plan of God. Death is part of the curse of sin that Jesus came to defeat. And He did. God’s Kingdom broke through on this earth at the coming of Jesus, but sadly, it’s not here yet in all its glory and perfection. Already but not yet – and as long as the not yet is not yet, we will suffer and we will die.
As Auline’s husband, Mike, walked through these last days with his precious wife, his faith astounded and encouraged me. He led his family in prayer a couple of different times, and through his tears, he proclaimed his faith to the Lord by saying things like, “Lord, even though we don’t understand this, what we do know is that you are good.” This is where I choose to be too. Confused, devastated, incredibly sad…yet still clinging to what I know of the Lord – that He is loving and good.
Will everything be ok? I don’t know. Would it have been better if Auline had not died? I sure do think so, but I’m not all-knowing. Are all of her precious children going to make it through this tragedy ok? I don’t know, but I pray so. Is our church plant in its infant stage going to be as effective in reaching their community with her gone? I can’t see how, but I HAVE to trust the Lord and believe that “for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”
I truly believe that for Auline, all things are better now. No more struggling with the curse of sin and the brokenness of this sin-stained world. I also truly believe that Mike will be ok too because He loves God and is one who is called according to His purpose. And our church plant will be ok too, because the birth of this church is an obvious call of the Lord.
I can’t make any sense of this, but I have no choice but to trust in the God who knows all, loves His people, and works in mysterious ways. My heart is broken, but my faith is strong. May yours be too.