SOUTHGATE, MI – I have started this article a couple of times, and hoping the creative juices will flow easier with each new beginning. Since the last time I put pen to paper (or fingertips to keys) to share, my dad went home to be with Jesus. Exactly halfway between the beginning of December and Christmas, our family gathered at the house as paramedics worked to revive my dad, who at that point was gone by earthly standards, yet already more alive than he had ever been before. The very next night, we hosted a special concert with Ernie Haase and Signature Sound. An evening made possible, more than anything else, because of my dad. A church our size had no business hosting a night like that, and I was baffled that it had all worked out.
God planned the perfect night of hope and healing for our church family. Instead of having to somehow muddle through two nights of community driven concerts that weekend, we instead hosted the community to his viewing and homegoing celebration. They drove to Detroit from as far away as the Upper Peninsula, Illinois, Tennessee, Wisconsin, and all points in between. It was a wonderful tribute. Let me try to share just a few life lessons that have been part of the process of hurt, hope and healing that have taken place.
First of all, is the need to give thanks; give thanks for the memories, give thanks for the lessons taught, give thanks for the time shared. Can I admit something to you? I can find myself questioning, doubting, even resenting God’s timing. But I endeavor to quickly eradicate that thinking and move into the lane of gratefulness. Here is something that may sound a bit on the crazy side, but has been a recurring theme. I am thankful for the hurt! If only because in this case, the pain of losing him at this stage of life has simply shed light on all the years he was with us. I am keenly aware that is not the case for everyone, and it moves you to have more empathy with those not as fortunate in their parental relationships.
Speaking of the hurt, emotion is a wave that can be ridden, but rarely completely controlled. Just a couple of days removed from the funeral, my wife mentioned that she felt she had cried so much, there were no more tears to be shed. We, of course, have found many more. I know there are some of you that might fit into the “never let em see you weep” category, but that was not my dad, and it’s definitely not me. Let grief happen, and if it happens with tears than so be it. It is a far better venue of relief than many other mechanisms of coping with loss. And do not be surprised at how that emotion can arise seemingly out of nowhere. Interestingly I have had a hard time at the end of my sermons.
Another piece of advice that bears repeating because of its relevance. There have been times where in my selfishness I wish that dad was back here. Even if it’s in a hospital bed or a rehab assistance center, I need to see him, hear his voice, get his advice, know his love and encouragement. It’s what I need! At those times, it is helpful to try to imagine what he is doing, what he is part of, who he might be with. When the realization of heaven becomes real, I love him too much to continue wishing he was still here.
Finally, but most important, there really is a peace that passes earthly understanding that can only be truly understood when life is anything but peaceful. The Sunday after his passing, I was continuing a series on “Unwrapping Christmas,” and the gift we just happened to be opening that day was PEACE. The prophets promised peace, and peace on earth was delivered that first Christmas. I don’t think it would have been wrong for me to skip speaking that Sunday, but dad had engrained in all of us that if “the show must go on” in the entertainment industry, the ministry was far more important than that, With or without dad’s “stick with it” mentality, the only explanation for what happened that morning, and throughout the days to come, was a God-given grace that could only be experienced by those having a relationship with the Prince of Peace.
The Apostle Paul tells us in Romans 12:10, “If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Dad understood the importance of that. He lived at peace, and he died at peace, because he knew the Prince of Peace and his greatest desire was for others to know Him, too. At the end of so many of his messages, he would share John 1:12; “But to as many as receive Him to them He gave the power to become children of God, even to them that believe on His name.” To God’s glory, dad spoke to well over a million people in his lifetime, and personally shook the hand of more than 30,000 who gave their lives to Jesus Christ. He also prayed with hundreds of others who today serve around the world in full time ministry, and attribute that decision to a message and invitation he had given. He leaves a tremendous legacy and shoes too big to personally fill.
My dad was definitely my hero, and the thing about our heroes is that they are supposed to be invincible. I am sure that is one reason why this has been one of the most difficult seasons I’ve ever dealt with. But here’s the final thing, the lesson he taught above and beyond everything else. As much as my earthly father loved me, my Heavenly Father loves me even more. There are countless numbers of people who still need to experience that love. While they may not have the earthly experience I’ve been fortunate enough to have, they can know my Jesus, and by God’s grace, I will do everything in my power to continue to share that Good News until the day I see my dad again. I cling to this promise – Dad is with the Lord, and the Lord is with us, and someday we will all be together again.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Billy Walker is the lead Pastor of Calvary Church in Southgate, MI. He serves as the President of the BSCM Pastor’s Conference, and the Vice President of the Billy Walker Evangelistic Association. He lives in the downriver Detroit area with his wife Laurie. You can read more at www.billywalker.org.