The words of the wisest man, King Solomon, have been on my mind this week. He wrote in the book of Ecclesiastes 7:1-2, "A good name is better than a good ointment, and the day of one's death is better than the day of one's birth. It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, because that is the end of every man, and the living takes it to heart."
As a pastor, I have found myself in the "house of mourning" more than I would apart from this calling. Each situation is unique and they forever leave a lasting impression on me.
My week this week didn't go as planned--do they ever? It all started Sunday night when I was called to the house of a couple from the church. Hospice had been called in and a few guys were needed to move the hospital bed from the bedroom to the living room in order to give the Tom a more central location. He had been sick and in declining health for sometime, but we didn't see his departure coming so soon. Certainly, his death was not on my mind Sunday evening as we transferred him from his chair to his bed.
Unfortunately the next morning, I received a call saying that the hospice nurse had stated that Tom only had 3-7 days of life left. I could hardly believe it even though I knew his health was in decline. I went to visit with him Tuesday afternoon to pray and to read some Scripture with him. John 14:1-6 came to mind and so I read, or tried... I was only able to read the first verse of Jesus' words, "Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me..." at this point I pretty much started crying. I new what the rest of the passage says, and I started imagining that Jesus had finished making preparations for Tom to come home and He was coming to get Tom soon. I couldn't speak. Thankfully Ruth, his wife, was able to quote the rest of the passage for me to Tom. She was so cheerful and was very helpful in helping her pastor gain his composure again...I know, great pastor who breaks down on you in your time of need! :)
I remember driving home that night thinking, "How is this better than the house of feasting (as Solomon wrote)?" I don't know that I have all the answers, but I believe the Lord is impressing a few thought upon me at this time.
First, as a Christian, there is hope. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 and 2 Corinthians 5:6-8 teach us that those who die as Christians go to be immediately with the Lord and this brings comfort to us. I do believe that Tom is with the Lord with his new body and free of pain. I am so thankful that this is not the end and that my journey to the next life is based on Christ's work alone and not on my striving--for I know that I could never make the mark that God requires.
My second thought is about "the dash." A few weeks ago, I was finally able to to visit the gravestone of my grandmother-in-law who passed back in August. As I was searching for her gravestone, "the dash" just seemed to jump out at me--especially those whose spouse had died, but they had not. Everything was engraved on the gravestone for the living spouse except the death date. All we get is "the dash"--or the time between our birth and our death. We have no control over the dates, but the dash we do. It is up to us to make the most of what God is giving us! I am reminded to enjoy today to the fullest, because I know not what tomorrow brings.
Finally, for now, Ruth has made a tremendous impact in my life. You see, I never knew Tom before his stroke. I only received a glimpse of who he was prior through his sense of humor and witty comments from time to time. Aside from this, I believe I saw what kind of man Tom was before his stroke (10 years ago or so) through his wife's love and care for him. Ruth took tremendous care of Tom for years. I never heard her mutter or complain about anything against him in the slightest. Tears come to my eyes just thinking about her sacrificial love for him. It was evident to all that this was her man who she loves and respects with her whole heart. I recently preached through Titus 2:3-5 which are verses about the example that older women are to set for younger women. Ruth was a living picture of the biblical example set in this passage. I am so blessed to pastor a church where there is this example to the younger ladies in the church. While, I never knew Tom before his stroke, I am encouraged to foster love in my marriage that I saw in theirs.
I will miss Tom. He almost always could get a smile or chuckle out of me. It brought me great joy to see his excitement and involvement of the restarting of Valley Baptist Church. I don't think many people saw it other than Ruth, but his joy for coming to church and counting all the people will not leave my memory. I resist the temptation to say "Rest in Peace Tom" because I am certain that he is living it up in heaven with Jesus and his new body right now.
Please continue to pray for Ruth as she mourns the loss of Tom.