Everyone probably assumed Richard Schmidt would keep it together after his wife died of breast cancer in 1994. Surely he had the inside track on why Becky Schmidt had to suffer, how her death at age 46 fit into a grand cosmic plan. Plus, he just seemed holier. He went to work three days after she died.
That's what happens when the title in front of your name is "the Reverend."
In reality, Schmidt was a broken husband. Becky died on a Thursday; he struggled with whether to take the pulpit that Sunday.
On his bookshelf was Where is God When It Hurts?. It was by a writer named Philip Yancey, whose aunt, Ruth Lott, belonged to Schmidt's flock at First United Methodist Church.
He had met the author of such titles as Disappointment with God, Church: Why Bother?, and The Gift of Pain when Yancey was visiting his aunt. He was moved by the fact that someone with the stature of Yancey, editor-at-large for Christianity Today magazine and praised by the Rev. Billy Graham, freely admits his own doubts and fears about his faith.
"I kind of devoured those books," Schmidt said. "They spoke to my heart where I was with Becky."
Over the years, Schmidt has met with Yancey a couple of times. He has used Yancey's books as church curriculum. Once, he sent comments to Yancey from his congregation, along with a note asking if the busy author could make it to his church. Tuesday, Schmidt's dream is coming true. Yancey will visit First United Methodist to discuss and sign copies of his new book, Prayer: Does it Make Any Difference?
"It's been electrifying," said Lott, whose main contact with Yancey has been by phone or through her sister, Yancey's mother, because of the author's hectic touring schedule. "Everyone has been so amazed that we've been able to get him."
The church has been promoting Yancey's visit through its newsletter, e-mails and through the Florida United Methodist Conference.
The sanctuary seats about 1,000, but "we'll open up the choir loft if we have to," Schmidt said. "People are calling, asking about the cost, but the church isn't getting anything." (Admission is free.)
Lott, who among other jobs runs the school store at Hudson High, said her nephew prayed and anointed her head with oil when she, like Schmidt's first wife, had breast cancer. "It was awe-inspiring. I was very touched by that."
Schmidt described the tall, slender man with the beard and bushy gray hair as humble, despite his fame among evangelicals. "He's very unassuming, very down to earth, a good listener," he said. "He'd have a made a great pastor if he hadn't been such a great writer."
Schmidt, 60, who has since remarried, said he sometimes considers drawing on inspiration from Yancey and writing a book about being a pastor and dealing with his own grief.
The title? When You Can't Walk Away.
Lisa Buie is the central/east Pasco editor. She can be reached at (813) 909-4607 or toll-free 1-800-333-7505, ext. 4607. Her e-mail address is email@example.com.
An Evening with Philip Yancey
Where: First United Methodist Church, 13123 U.S. 19, Hudson
When: 7 p.m. Tuesday (A 10 a.m. talk is also scheduled but is geared toward clergy members and church staff.)
Call: (727) 868-6178 For information on Yancey, visit www.philipyancey.com
"Philip Yancey is that rare example of a self-proclaimed recovering fundamentalist who is actually a spiritually healthy human being. As such, he is able to help others think about the troubling places in life. ... Weaving story and Scripture, he concedes that we may not know how to reconcile the conviction that God's purposes will prevail with the tragic loss of others. Real and senseless loss visits the righteous. But while such faith may strike some as the "ultimate rationalism," for the others it is an "ultimate act of faith."
From the Lexington Herald-Leader in a review of Yancey's latest book, Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference?