Happy Birthday, Bob Vradenburgh

Today I experienced the mountaintop and the valley within seconds of each other.

It started when I saw on Facebook that today is my friend Bob Vradenburgh’s 58th birthday.

I first met Bob, and his twin Bill, in 1978.  We worked together at The Chattanooga News-Free Press.  I was a freshman, they were seniors.

Bob and Bill were alike in so many ways.  They came from a large family, and each of their five siblings’ names began with a “B.”  They were both intellectuals.  They looked alike (I could only tell them apart by their different eyeglasses).  They sounded alike (I could never distinguish them by voice).  Each became engaged that year, Bob to Chlo and Bill to Debbie, each of them also co-workers at the newspaper.

But what I remember most is that they were among the most sincere and dedicated followers of Christ I had ever met.  I was young and brash, flush with new independence, and to the extent I ever had a wild-side, I suppose it was during that year in Chattanooga.  Not Bob.  Not Bill.  They were steady as Gibraltar.  And yet both were kind and gentle souls.  They never judged me, even though I was not at my best spiritually.

We went separate ways after that year.  I moved to Atlanta.  Bob came down and stayed with me once to attend a Bill Gothard seminar.  Meanwhile, He and Chlo spent the year raising support to become missionaries to the Cayman Islands, where Chlo’s parents also had been missionaries for many years.  Bob and Chlo sang at our wedding in 1980.

Over the next years, Debi and I supported them as missionaries.  We exchanged letters regularly.  Twice we visited them in the islands.  They had four children, and in keeping with the Vradenburgh tradition, each was named so that their initials would be “C. R.”  We prayed for them, especially when we learned in 1993 that Chlo had cystic fibrosis.  We rejoiced the next year when she received a double lung transplant.  They came to visit us a few years later when I pastored in Easley, SC.  We rejoiced in their triumphs, we wept when they wept.  Never more than in 2004, after we had moved to Clarion, PA, when we learned that Chlo had died.  It broke our hearts.  But true to form, we also learned that everyone who visited Chlo in the hospital to minister to her came away feeling they had been ministered to.  That was just her way.

We also stayed in touch with Bill and Debbie, though not to the same extent.  Bill settled in Mohawk, TN.  We spoke over the phone from time to time, and once when we were living in Atlanta, we made the trip up and spent a Saturday with their family.  They had twelve children.  Each of the girls’ names began with an “H” and each of the boys’ with an “R.” Bill and Debbie lived something of a “pioneer” life.  They home-schooled.  They grew their own food, even grains that they ground into flour.  Bill worked full-time at a Wal-Mart distribution center and part-time as a surveyor.

Just months after Chlo’s death, Debbie also died, a victim of cancer.  Bob later mused, “We were married in the same year, had our first child in the same year, and lost our wives in the same year.”

My mountaintop today was to see on Facebook that it was Bob’s 58th Birthday.  The news was posted by his new wife.  I am happy that he found her, that he found happiness.  He deserves it.

My valley was to learn in the same post that Bill died last year.  He was killed instantly as he left his second job, hit head on by a drunk driver with a long history of legal troubles, going the wrong way on a highway.  Something Bill did not deserve.

As I read through the details of the accident, I saw that the other driver had died two weeks later in the hospital.  One person, in response to the news report, commented the drunk driver was in hell getting what he deserved.  Perhaps he thought he was somehow honoring Bill.  But he clearly did not know Bill.  If he had, he would know that the way to truly honor that good man would involve blessing, not cursing.

Bob and Chlo, Bill and Debbie.  Sweet, sweet, sweet people. And good.

It’s so hard to believe that three of the four are gone.  It is not at all hard to believe that they are in heaven.

Bob, I hope for you length of days and long life.  For all of the difficulty suffered by your family, may the Lord visit you with blessing.

gkr1996 posted at 2013-7-13 Category: Personal