Sunday, February 6, 2011

bobpino Is a Star

A decade or so ago, I sang in the choir of Christ United Methodist Church in Shenandoah, Virginia.  The pianist Norma Leap was talented, kind-hearted, and good to me in every way.  At some point in her battle with cancer, I prepared and delivered a meal to her and her husband Leroy and was taken aback by how gaunt and frail she had become.  Later, closer to the end of Norma's battle, God put a particular song on my heart, and I knew I was supposed to return to Norma's and Leroy's and sing it for Norma.  I practiced the song all the time: in the bathroom, in the car.  But I didn't return to the Leaps'; I didn't sing the song for Norma before she died.  I was too afraid.

I can think of very few things I have ever regretted more.  To this day, I can't talk (or write) about failing to sing for Norma without crying.  It grieves me that--when God called me to do something very specific for Him--I allowed fear to hold me back, that I lost the opportunity to reach out to a friend...that, ultimately, I missed out on a blessing. 

After years of nagging, painful regret, I am terrified of repeating my mistake.  I can't tell you (I wish I could!) that I never hestitate or argue with God.  What I can tell you is that--when God calls me to do something--it doesn't take long for me to think of Norma...

Twice, God called me to do something very specific for Bob and Jeannie Pino, and--both times--others came alongside in important ways.  I was called, first, to lay hands on Bob and pray for cancer to leave his body.  This was three or four months into 2009.  I had never been called to lay hands on anyone before, and I have never been called to lay hands on anyone, since.  I was nervous and uncomfortable at the thought of laying hands on Bob but more nervous and uncomfortable at the thought of not.  I went to Rachel with this thing on my heart.  She was glad to go with me, and she reached out to Bob and Jeannie, who were receptive to the idea.  Jackie Heberle accepted Rachel's invitation to join us, and my nine-year-old son Cade accepted mine.  So the evening came, and--while Baby Clementine slept off to the side, in her infant seat--Jeannie, Rachel, Jackie, Cade, and I placed our hands on Bob and prayed. 

A few things stand out in my mind from that time of praying.  I remember how difficult it was for me to pray aloud; I remember my voice cracking and breaking as I tried to push pleading words out of my aching heart.  I remember hearing the others pray things I hadn't thought to pray and truly understanding--for the first time, as our words interlocked and built something--the importance of gathering and praying together.  Finally, I remember Bob's praying for Rachel, who had gone to the doctor earlier that day for a little bit of help in conceiving a baby.  How incredible was it for Bob to take that moment (his moment) and pray for Rachel?!  And I believe with every fiber of my being that God responded to our group's heartfelt praying with two miracles: Bob's respite from cancer, and Rachel's son Zach.  (You can read more about the latter, here.)

Rachel & Clementine @ Bob's & Jeannie's, the Night We Laid Hands on Bob

Between this and the second time God called me to do something for Bob and Jeannie, my family spent a very small amount of time with them.  We saw them at Care-Team functions; Jim prepared a couple meals for them; and Bob was my most eager and supportive sugar-free-cookie taster.  Bob taught Cade and I a thing or two about backgammon (which we had already been playing, but incorrectly).  Bob and I had some meaningful e-mail exchanges on difficult subjects: Jim's unemployment, a situation with Cade.  And at one point--when Bob began to struggle, again, with his health--Clementine and I went to the Pinos', and I remember little beyond leaning against Bob's knees...trying to pray aloud while Clementine cried.  Bob interrupted my prayer with a sweetly-rendered: "It's ok, pick her up," or, "It's ok, give her to me." 

Bob loved my older children.  

Cade with Jeannie and Bob

Cade and Bob

Bob and Clementine

After the sure return of Bob's cancer, I cried and prayed myself sick, and my prayer group at Fine Creek prayed with me.  Bob's name was added to the back of our church bulletin.  Sometimes, updates on his condition were shared from the pulpit.  I prayed and prayed and prayedprayedprayed, and, one day, I heard God whisper, in His wordless way: "I love Bob more than you can imagine, and my plan for Bob is perfect.  His time with you is not long.  And the only job I have for you, right now, is to prepare Rachel."  I went to Rachel and told her what I'd experienced, after which my burden lifted and my grief subsided.

Here is a picture of the second thing God called me to do for Bob and Jeannie:

I had a lot of help in making the finished product--an anniversary gift--so terrific! 

On the day the mat was signed, Jim was home alone with the babies, and I couldn't linger long, so I rushed up to Bob and Jeannie to hug them and express my love for them.  Bob said: "I love you, too," but I could tell he no longer knew me. 

In the following months, I didn't want to steal precious moments from Bob's family and close friends, so I didn't return to him.  But late last night, Rachel drove Charleigh (who had never met Bob) and me to the hospital.  I hugged Jeannie, who introduced me to everyone in the room, and I sat down next to Bob's sister Alice.  After I talked with her for a minute, I closed my eyes, rested my chin on Charleigh's soft head, and sang this song at Bob's bedside:

He Set Me Free

verse 1)
once like a bird in prison i dwelt
no freedom from my sorrow i felt
but Jesus came, and He listened to me
and glory to God He set me free

He set me free; He set me free
and He broke the bonds of prison for me
i'm glory bound my Jesus to see
for glory to God He set me free

(verse 2)
goodbye to sin and things that confound
naught of the world shall turn me around
daily i'm working i'm praying too
and glory to God i'm going through

(repeat chorus)

(verse 3)
now i am climbing higher each day
darkness of night has drifted away
my feet are planted on higher ground
and glory to God i'm homeward bound

(repeat chorus)

It's the song I had because it's the one I know best: the one I've sung over and over, to each of my crying babies.  It came out of my center, from that place that doesn't forget, the one that can function on auto-repeat.

I could tell you that my singing was beautiful, but it wasn't; I sang more off-key than I've ever sung in my life.  I could tell you that I made, at least, a joyful noise, but I didn't; my voice was small and sad in its cracking and breaking and out-of-tune terribleness.  I could tell you that I felt called to sing for Bob, but I didn't.  I sang neither for Bob (who was snoring softly, unresponsive) nor for any other person in that room save myself. 

I sang as an offering to God: forgive me.  Forgive me for, ten years ago, failing to sing for Norma.  Here I am.  Here, God, I am.  See?  I can do it, and I will, God.  Call me, and I will answer.  I will obey.  I promise.

Bob would have approved my using his bedside for this.  Bob was a man who breathed God's grace--the grace he had been extended--back out of himself. 

So, ten years after the fact, I have decided to try and forgive myself for failing to sing for Norma.  I came home last night and paid to register a star.  I should be able to name it tomorrow: bobpino.  I will tell you, later, how to locate it in the night sky.

bobpino might be a star, but Bob Pino is not.  Bob Pino is a man-soul living in the presence of Jesus Christ.  When Bob Pino was here, he changed us.  He helped us believe that we really are loved--and can be forgiven--by Almighty God.  Bob Pino the man-soul is beautiful, and he lives in us, still, when we reach--through the hub of him and the God he served--toward one another and decide to function as spokes on a wheel... 


  1. Thank you.

    I keep crying and crying and crying because I MISS HIM. We worshiped in church today and it was joyful and authentic, and new for me: every time I thought about Jesus, about lifting our worship to the great and glorious God, I SAW Bob. In the presence of God. In the company of angels. It was glorious, beautiful, a blessing, amazing.

    And then I get in the car and drive and I cry and cry and cry and cry. I miss him.

    This odd place, maybe sort of like what it is to be in and not of the world. Happy and sad. Joy and sorrow.

    Thanks for your post and the beautiful photos. I am so glad to know how your journey intertwined with his and with all of us who follow Christ.


  2. Beth, re "in and not of the world": our girl Christy pulled something she learned from Beth Moore from her apron pocket, yesterday, and offered it to me. Evidently, BM teaches that--when someone we love leaves this world--we suffer because we are made for eternity. We aren't made for separation; we are made for forever. I understand your words and really, really feel them. Lots and lots of love to you.

  3. oh brandee... my heart aches... bob, he had such a kind face, such a good soul. and you, your heart is so beautiful... i love how you're conquering fear and serving others in the midst of suffering. and you have no idea how much it means to know you're praying for my mum. your comment made me cry today. praying his healing on you as you heal... also, on bob's family... on this broken world.

  4. its so hard to loose a friend or someone you love...........I remember when shane died how sad I was.........sad (selfishly) because I would miss him, not because he left this world ..actually for him things were better.........for me........not so much......... I think this is the case with mr. bob pino that I didn't know personally.......... for him.......its all good........ for those he left behind "heart wrenching" because of what they no longer have. For me I had to "celebrate" each memory that I was able to make and the richness brought to my own life through his. YOU ARE SO ON POINT BRANDEE