This week has been the culmination of two of the hardest years of our lives for me and my wife. On April 4, 2015, my mother Carrie Hazel Tabor transitioned to heaven 23 minutes prior to Easter from a hospice room in Abilene, Texas at the age of 65 years old. She had spent nearly 25 years year on dialysis after suffering kidney failure in 1991 only missing a handful of appointments yet the lack of circulation in her legs led to a fall that caused a uncontrollable brain bleed that would not clot due her thin blood from nearly 25 years of dialysis. I thought the kidney failure would eventually take her but it was a fall due to the years of kidney failure that did the job.
On May 13, 2015, just hours after my wife April received her second masters degree, her mother, my mother-in-love Vanessa Carol Wynn transitioned to heaven from a hospice room in Dallas, Texas just a day before mother’s day at the age of 56 years old. After having my wife at 19 years old, spending over 10 years as a flight attendant, dodging a potential tragedy on 911 and taking care of a father and mother who died of cancer, she lost her battle with brain cancer after two years of fighting. I thought she would live into her 90’s like her grandmother or at least into her 70’s like her mother but she didn’t make it to her 60’s.
On yesterday, November 28, 2017 just days after Thanksgiving, my wife’s stepfather, my father-in-love Rickey Jerome Wynn transitioned to heaven from a hospice room in Dallas, Texas after an over year long battle with adenocarcinoma in the salvatory gland that eventually spread to his spine at the age of 63 years old. I thought he would live in his 90’s like my grandmothers but he didn’t make it to the expected retirement age of 65.
As a staff pastor at Greater Mt. Zion Baptist Church from 2003-2005 (volunteer staff) 2005-2009 (paid staff), we would host sometimes 40-50 funerals per year. We might show up to work one day and there be a limousine in the front of the church parking lot and a casket at the front of the building. I kept a black suit in my office because any given day we would be called to read a scripture of comfort, pray words of comfort for a family or simply be present to walk a family member into the sanctuary who legs struggled to hold them up under the pressure of such a great loss. Sadly at times you could become desensitized to the losses especially if it was a family member of a family member of a family member of a member of the church who you did not know or had not had the privilege of personally knowing. I would often sit on stage and imagine my parents in that casket to relate and empathize with what the family was going through. Now I don’t have to imagine, I know the feeling. Everyone feels differently when losing a loved one but whether it was expected or sudden, the final loss of life on this side called death is uniquely painful.
Though I have now lost 3 of my four parents and my daughter has lost 3 of four grandparents, I will never say I know exactly how someone feels at the loss of a loved one because I don’t know how they feel but I know how I feel. I feel angry at the sin the entered the world in the garden leading to separation from God and our loved ones through death in this body. I feel grateful for the sacrifice of Jesus that pays the penally for our sin so we don’t have experience eternal separation from God in a place the Bible calls hell. I feel hurt for my wife has loss two of the closest people in her world to this world in the last six months. I feel guilty because many have lost their living parents to drug addiction, alcohol addiction, incarceration, deportation and the like. I feel disappointed due to the nearly 60 million babies in the US and nearly 1.5 billion across the world who never knew life outside of the womb due to their parent or parents aborting them in the womb. I feel confused that in 2016 17,250 murders outside of the womb were committed in the U.S. We know that Cain killed Abel, which was the third crime in the garden after Adam and Eve stole fruit from God and made those ugly clothes from the hide of animals Adam had just named (joke :).
So as you can see I have all kinds of feelings but what is grounding me in this season is not my feelings by my faith that usurps the fact that my 3 of my four parents are no longer on this planet in the physical shell we know as a body but their spirits live on in eternity based on what the Bible, the holy inspired word of God in which I believe.
The following scriptures give me foundational hope to handle the hurt in this season.
- Romans 12:15 – Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.
- Matthew 5:4 – Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
- 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 – Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.
- 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 – Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.
- John 14:1-3 – “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.
- 2 Corinthians 4:12 – 5:10 – So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you. It is written: “I believed; therefore I have spoken.” Since we have that same spirit of faith, we also believe and therefore speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself. All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God. Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord.For we live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.
These passages and many others give me a biblical perspective on death but I cannot only cognate death, I must hope in eternal life so I am committing to reading the book “Imagine Heaven” by Pastor John Burke to gain a perspective on what my loved ones who had faith in Christ are experiencing now.
I will also worship listening to these two songs along with others that encourage my heart in times of physical loss.
Finally, I will listen to this sermon that I preached on October 1, 2003 at Greater Mt. Zion Baptist Church to consider what I want to be said of me when I have transitioned to heaven at some point rather through the rapture or in physical death.
Click below to hear this message Legacy or Liability: What Will Your Mark Be