Tag Archives: death

Bittersweet

When last we joined one another it was in a conversation about death. In particular, it was about the death of a young man which occurred on Wednesday, July 19, of this year – a mere three weeks ago.

There’s a family that has been asking ‘why’ and struggling with the loss of their son, brother, cousin, nephew, grandson and friend.

But what I left out of that glimpse into a father’s grief is that I was there. No, I wasn’t at the crash sight; I was in the hospital. I was there when the medevac helicopters flew in. I was there when the driver and passenger of the vehicle were brought to a hospital which would go on to save their lives while the life of their friend had already passed.

While the son of my friend died, while his friends were receiving care from one of the best hospitals in the state, I was experiencing pure elation. Well, perhaps not pure elation. It was definitely scarred by fits of terror, particularly associated with the fear of the unknown.

35 weeks, 2 days.

You see, I wasn’t supposed to be in that hospital. I was supposed to be at home with my wife. We were supposed to go in for a doctor’s visit in the afternoon, and we did. But they never let us leave. As a matter of fact, we wouldn’t leave the hospital until the following Sunday.

Oblivious to the fact that anything was going on in the outside world, let alone that my friend’s son had been in an accident that would claim his life, my wife and I were admitted to the hospital directly from the obstetrician’s office.

Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200.

They wouldn’t even let us go to the car to get the suitcase we’d stashed for just such an occasion. We did not expect to be there, yet we were.

And at about the same time that my friend’s son was thrown from a vehicle and took his final breath, my own daughter and son drew their first.

They were early, certainly, but they were everything we had hoped and prayed for. Our twins came out happy and healthy. They didn’t spend any time in the NICU. We were able to hold them. We were, a few short days later, able to take them home with minimal complications.

My wife had a rough couple of days, but that’s almost to be expected as the result of many major surgeries.

So when I heard the awful news Thursday morning, I was devastated. The loss of life alone would have broken me before, but now I, too, was a father. I, too, had a sense of what it means to love a child, if even for only a few hours. Something inside of me understood the loss on a different level than I have before.

Losing young people always hurts me more than losing those who’ve lived long lives, but this time it was strange and unfamiliar. I struggled on a whole new level to wrap my head around something that made no sense.

And then, hours after we were released from the hospital, I left my wife and newborn babies to join hundreds of other people in mourning the loss and celebrating the life of a child who was only three weeks away from starting college.

Why is it important for me to tell you all of this?

It’s important because through all of this, I have had to take care of myself. I have had to keep my side of the street clean. I have had to be there for my wife and children the last three weeks just like my friend has had to be there for his wife and kids.

But I can guarantee you one thing that he and I have had in common the last three weeks: we are not going through this alone. They say that it takes a village to raise a child. I can honestly say that we have been surrounded by a village. People have been fixing meals, dropping by to hold or help with the babies, and constantly checking in on us. I know that the same is true for my friend and his family.

This is why accountability is important. This is why having a sponsor is important. This is why making phone calls is important. This is why trying to do everything yourself, trying to be everything for everyone, doesn’t work.

Just as it takes a village to raise a child (let alone two), it also takes a village to become and remain sober.

I went to my first meeting this week since the birth of my children. And I’ll tell you what, I needed that meeting. I needed to hear the experience, strength and hope of others. I needed the reminder that I’m not alone in this.

As weird as it may sound, for the weeks I didn’t make it to a meeting, I didn’t even have time to think about my addiction. I didn’t have time to think about acting out. I barely had time to breathe and sleep because my entire focus was on the needs of my wife and children.

But when my entire focus is on people other than myself, that means that I’m running the risk of not taking care of myself. I’m running the risk of a lapse or a relapse because I’m not paying attention to how I feel. I’m not working the program. I’m not spending time in prayer. I’m not talking to my sponsor.

As much as my wife and children need me, they need me to be whole. They need me to be healthy.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’ve done some self-care. I’ve been sure to get out of the house occasionally to exercise or run some errands. But it’s not enough.

I have to get back to my routine. I have to get back into the swing of things. I have to do this one day at a time and not rest on my laurels because the moment I begin to think that the recovery time I have is enough to keep me going is the moment I start walking toward a relapse.

Remember that in and through all things, self-care is a necessity. Self-care is not selfish. Self-care keeps us sane and allows us to put our best foot forward.

 Elijah was afraid and fled for his life. He went to Beersheba, a town in Judah, and he left his servant there. Then he went on alone into the wilderness, traveling all day. He sat down under a solitary broom tree and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life, for I am no better than my ancestors who have already died.”

Then he lay down and slept under the broom tree. But as he was sleeping, an angel touched him and told him, “Get up and eat!” He looked around and there beside his head was some bread baked on hot stones and a jar of water! So he ate and drank and lay down again.

Then the angel of the Lord came again and touched him and said, “Get up and eat some more, or the journey ahead will be too much for you.”

So he got up and ate and drank, and the food gave him enough strength to travel forty days and forty nights to Mount Sinai, the mountain of God. There he came to a cave, where he spent the night.

1 Kings 19:3-9

One life ends and new life begins. It seems obvious enough, but it’s not everyday that we’re affected so intimately by both happening at the same time. It certainly puts a new perspective on things.

Dear God, creator of all things. We come to you today humbled by the fact that you sent Jesus to die on a cross. We are in awe of life itself. We are only beginning to understand the expanses of the universe and will surely never be able to fully understand you. We are sorry that no matter how hard we try, we fall short of doing your will at all times. Sometimes we even forget to ask what your will is. We’ll try to do better. It’s really all we can do. Thank you for giving us life, for giving us families, for giving us friends. No matter how much or how little time we spend on this earth, we are grateful for the relationships that we’ve been able to cultivate. We are grateful for the memories that we’re making and the memories that we have to hold on to. We ask that you continue to shower us with grace and mercy. We value your guidance and direction for our lives. Please be with us in the good times and the bad. We will continue working to be faithful to you just as you have asked. All this we pray in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

– Alex Walker

#celebratebraddog

We spend a lot of time in recovery talking about what it means to be real – what it means to be authentic – what it means to be true to who we really are.

This is, without a doubt, one of the most difficult parts of getting better – of becoming whole – of becoming a new and different version of ourselves. Because of that, or in spite of it, facing reality is also one of the most necessary parts of moving forward.

But, as you very well know, recovery isn’t just about drugs or alcohol. It’s not just about codependency or addictive and compulsive behaviors. Recovery is about walking alongside the least, the lost and the lonely. Recovery is about dealing with the parts of life that hurt. And as some of us know all too well, recovery is about dealing with grief, loss and pain.

Death is ubiquitous. We expect people to die. But we expect people to die from old age or cancer. We don’t expect people to die from freak accidents. We don’t expect people to die when they were out trying to have a little fun. We don’t expect to bury our children.

As Dave Matthews put it in his song Gravedigger:

Now you should never have to watch
As your only children lowered in the ground
I mean you should never have to bury your own babies

And yet this is what life presents to us. Twice in the last month I’ve watched helplessly as friends of mine have had to bury their eighteen year old sons. I’d love to sit here and lament what could’ve been. I’d like to tell you what was in store for them and what their futures might have looked like, but I can’t.

What I can do is offer a glimpse into the grief and turmoil they’re going through. When all they want is an answer from God to the question “Why?”, I have nothing to give. But they do.

One of my friends has been very vocal and very forward about the grieving process. I know he’s not alone. I know there are others out there who need to hear that it’s okay not to be okay. This is a picture of grief. I’m sorry if you find yourself in it, but I’m grateful for the opportunity to share it.

This story begins on Wednesday evening 19 July 2017. What follows is a series of stream of conscience processing. This healthy form of putting things out in the open helps everyone as we journey together through loss and mourning.

7/20
…this has been the absolute worst day of my life! Not because I lost some money, or lost my keys, or lost my phone, but because I LOST MY SON!
And in losing my son, today I have lost my happiness, my joy, my purpose, my strength, my health, and one third of my fatherhood. I’ve lost my security because I’m afraid to sleep, afraid to leave the house, afraid for my family to leave the house, afraid to allow those I love to get too far out of reach.

And to my sweet, loving, life filled [son]. I MISS YOU SO MUCH. I LOVE YOU SO MUCH. I will never say goodbye. Only, until we see each other again. Roll Tide, bud.

7/21

My call from God is to be a pastor. It is one I serve with great honor especially when I walk alongside those who mourn. On this day I had to do what I have done many times before as a pastor, only this time I had to do it while mourning myself and working through the deepest darkness of my life.

I had to write an obituary for my own sweet [son]. I had to plan a celebration of life for my son and also hope it will serve him right. All while trying to care for a devastated wife whom I love more than anything and understand where I am in my own grief. Grief that started the day in much anger especially when on the way to the funeral home I had to pass the home of the person who my son was riding with on his fateful night. But an anger that subsided while at the funeral home when a calming spirit came upon me. I later learned of the prayers being lifted by the wonderful district I serve as they were holding a special service at that hour.

 

I love you [sic]. I miss you [sic]. Never goodbye. Only until we see each other again.

7/22

First time I’ve had to take an emotional stabilizing drug.
First time my friends have arrived from out of town to attend something other than a wedding or casual get together.
First time I’ve ever questioned God’s motives.
First time I’ve ever gone to the hospital as a victim visiting the other victim.
First time I’ve had to hold my sweet mother to help her stop shaking.
First time I’ve had to share a horrific personal story with my brother.
First time I’ve gone to sleep knowing that when I awake it will be the day I formally return my son back to my creator God.

Never goodbye, bud.
Until we see each other again.
I love you. I miss you.
RTR

7/23
I apologize in advance if you see me tonight and all I can say is thank you. Know that my feelings for you go way beyond a impersonal “thank you.” I love you all!

7/23
Tears brought on by seeing the wind blowing outside my windows and knowing [his] face would never feel the breeze again.
Tears brought on by seeing our fire pit outside that he loved to spend evenings at and knowing he wouldn’t be around the fire with us anymore.
Tears, once again, at the absence of his truck in the driveway because it’s been at a family members house since the accident.
Tears brought on by people asking me how I want the pictures laid out, the line placement in the Service, what food I wanted on my plate, things people were doing for me because they love me but petty things that I REALLY DIDN’T CARE ABOUT. So, I finally said, “I don’t care! Just do it!” I said that because I was given permission earlier in the day that I didn’t have to make any decisions and, besides, I wasn’t in the frame of mind to do so anyway.
So, I then began to get angry. 

And God was still at work! You don’t see a bunch of Tennessee fans wearing crimson and saying Roll Tide. But tonight you did!
I love you [sic]. I miss you [sic].
Never goodbye.
Until we see each other again. RTR

7/24

Tomorrow I would like to awake, get showered, dressed and go to work. Attend meetings, read emails, visit churches, return phone calls and talk to pastors about ministry. It’s my new job and it’s what I have awoken ready to do for the past few weeks.

But, tomorrow, I can’t. And I weep because I want to.

My body won’t let me. My mind won’t let me. My heart won’t let me. My soul won’t let me.

So I continue to weep for my [son]. I weep for the greatness he was and I weep for the greatness he was going to be. I weep for my time with him and I weep for the time I no longer have with him. I weep for his smile and I weep for his stubbornness.

But I weep knowing that each tear makes me better. Each tears mends my wounds. Each tear makes me closer to being ready for ministry again. And for that I am excited.

I love you [sic]. I miss you [sic].
Never goodbye.
Until we see each other again. RTR

7/25

…I knew we had another emotixhausting day. I made up that word, as you can tell. It means the feeling of exhaustion as a result of extra emotional activity. If you have been to see a therapist, psychologist, or counselor you know what I mean.

A good friend who happens to be a great counselor opened her doors to us today. She cleared two hours out of her busy calendar.

I promised MH to take her to see his cross so I offered if anyone else wanted to go. A resounding YES! So, we loaded up the van and headed to Sevierville to #celebratebraddog. Stories and laughter continued to be shared. We arrived to the cross, got out of the van and held each other while thinking of [him]. It was a great moment and gave me one of my few smiles of the day.

We came back to the house, the girls left, and my tears came back. Dang, I thought I was doing better.

I love you [sic]. I miss you [sic].
Never goodbye.
Until we see each other again. RTR

This is real life. This is what grief looks like. This is what pain looks like. And this is a reminder that pastors are people, too. In recovery we are all the same because we are all human.

It doesn’t matter whether we work low-wage, low-skilled jobs 80 hours a week or serve as senior executives in Fortune 500 companies. Addiction is indiscriminate. Grief is indiscriminate.

We are all susceptible to the full spectrum of human emotion because what we share at the most basic level is that we are all human. We all matter. We are all of sacred worth.

Every life lost is a life that matters. We all matter to someone, and we all matter to God.

And I am confident that the one thing my friend Jason hasn’t lost is his faith.

Even in his darkest hour, he was able to say things like:

I know God is at work and that God will continue to work in powerful ways.

I know this will be difficult to avoid, but I pray that no parent has to write their own child’s obituary. That no parent has to sign that paperwork. That no parent has to meet with me in the future to plan a celebration of a life short lived.
But, if it does happen I will be able to say, I understand. And I will be able to say that God is at work and that God will continue to work in powerful ways.

Their is pain, anger, disbelief, and a whole host of emotions none of us ever want to have to deal with. But we deal. We may never get over it. But we deal. We learn what it means to live with a new normal. We don’t like it, and we don’t have to. We just do because that’s the next right thing.

And we can do it because there are people who have been there before. There are people who know what it’s like. We’re not in this alone. We’re not meant to be. We don’t have to be.

Thank you, friend, for allowing me to share your agony with others.

Helplessness is next to Godliness

They say that cleanliness is next to godliness
Keeping a clean and ordered lifestyle
Grants a break from the chaos of life
The more ordered our life, the closer we are to God

They are wrong

God does not need our order
God does not need us to be clean or pure
God will take us as we are
God loves us as we are
God meets us as we are

And when we find ourselves in the pit of despair
When we hit rock bottom
When we discover that rock bottom wasn’t even close to as low as low can go

What do we do?
We cry out to God
Those who don’t believe in God
Those who don’t know God
Those who’ve fervently denied an existence of God
Cry out to God in their deepest, darkest hour

The same is true of a newborn child
A child can’t do anything on its own
But sleep and cry
So that’s what it does when it needs something
Cry out to something bigger than it
Cry out to something greater than it
Cry out to something that loves it unconditionally
Cry out to something that will take care of it
Cry out to something that will give it what it needs

It is not cleanliness that’s next to godliness
It’s helplessness

Helplessness is next to Godliness

AKW

 

– Alex Walker

The Pastor I Most Want To Be Like

Most of the admirable characteristics in my life are gifts from God that have been carefully cultivated by Christian mentors.  When it comes to mentors, I have an embarrassment of riches.  My father, who has always been and will always be the man I most want to be like, was a pastor.  So growing up I had no shortage of pastors take an interest me and bless me in countless ways.  When I discovered to my great surprise that I wanted to be a pastor, I began to intentionally seek out older wiser pastors who could guide me on a faithful path.  This search has led me into relationship with nationally and internationally known church leaders as well as profound pastors whose churches will probably never exceed 100 folks on a Sunday.

When I came to Lebanon Memorial UMC in Lebanon, VA in 2010, I soon met Jeff Williams who was the pastor of Lebanon Community Fellowship (LCF), a vibrant growing nondenominational church just down the road.  Jeff took me out to lunch, shared his story of struggles and victories in life and ministry, and assured me he was my #1 fan and praying for the ministry of my church.  He did all this before he even hardly knew me.  That was just Jeff.

One of the toughest phone calls of my professional life was to Jeff.  Over the years, Jeff and I had come to share a mutual admiration for one another and discovered that we each shared a passion for recovery ministry.   We felt our community desperately needed a recovery ministry, but we didn’t want to launch competing ministries in a small community.  After several conversations, it became apparent that LCF was not ready to launch a ministry in the near future and my church decided to go for it.   As the time for the launch of our recovery ministry appeared, we had everything we needed for a successful ministry except a good band.  So one day after taking a few deep breaths, I picked up the phone and called Jeff whose church happened to have one of the best worship bands I had ever heard.  I asked Jeff if I could just borrow one musician who could play guitar and sing.  We just needed something.  (Note: Asking a pastor to share one of their musicians is kind of like asking a football coach to share his quarterback.  It’s a big ask.)  I’ll never forget Jeff’s response: “Wil, not only will I give you a musician, I will give you my whole band, myself, and my whole church.  We will serve your church in order to serve our community.  Just don’t tell my band about this, because they don’t know they are going to do it yet.”

I don’t know what Jeff told his band, but it must have been good.   Rarely, I have ever been a part of something as fulfilling and inspiring as serving alongside Jeff and the LCF band in the Recovery at Lebanon ministry that came to be as a result of our partnership.  Jeff had as busy a schedule as anyone in town, but there he was every Thursday doing anything he could to help others find the freedom from addiction and the joy that comes with faith.

Often Jeff and I would sit around and talk for some time on those evenings about the challenges facing Christianity in our culture and the challenges facing our each of our churches. In these conversations, I learned that Jeff was one of those people who had wisely chosen to recklessly pursue God’s calling in his life.

Jeff respected the denominational traditions in which he was raised, but he would not let anything prevent him from fully living out the calling God had given him.  He shepherded LCF through lean years of struggle when the future was uncertain without being tempted by greener pastures elsewhere because he knew the pasture to which he was called.

Jeff had an encouraging spirit the likes of which I have rarely encountered.  He was always smiling, always encouraging, always believing that God was more than ready to work miracles.  I saw this spirit in his interactions with folks locked in a life and death struggle with addiction.  And I saw it in his interactions with me.  I don’t know what a busy pastor at a large growing church would think he would get out of a relationship with a much younger pastor at a smaller church of a different denomination.  Thankfully, I don’t think that Jeff looked at our relationship in that manner.  I think he just saw us as two guys desperately trying to follow God, love our families, and lead our churches.

It wasn’t unusual in our conversations for Jeff to ask me my opinion about tough decisions facing his church.  I also learned that Jeff’s encouraging spirit was accompanied by a keen intellect.  Jeff read widely and thought on the deepest level about what it really takes to accept faith and then to grow and be conformed into the likeness of Christ.  I was selfishly looking forward to mooching off of Jeff’s wisdom for years to come.

Instead, this morning I got an email telling me that Jeff had passed away last night.  It is hard for me to wrap my mind around just what a loss Jeff’s passing is to the Church; to LCF, to the Church in Russell County, to the Church in America and, honestly, to the Church throughout the world.  How do you ever replace the servant’s heart, encouraging spirit, and renewed mind that we experienced through Jeff?  Though Jeff is now a vital part of the Church Triumphant in heaven, I can’t help but wonder if the Church Militant on earth isn’t weaker now with his passing?

But today is Maundy Thursday.  The day we celebrate Jesus’ last supper with his disciples before his crucifixion on Good Friday.  Maundy comes from the Latin word mandatum, which means command. Today we remember Jesus’ command on the day before He died to “love one another just as I have loved you (Luke 13:34).”

Just a little later that night Jesus also told his disciples, “You will do greater works than I.”  Now that must have been hard to believe.   That would have been much more difficult to believe than believing the church in our day and age can be even stronger now that Jeff is gone than when he was here.

The Christian movement gained strength after Jesus was gone because of the way his followers imitated His love.  I have no doubts we will be able to say the same for the Church in Russell County, in East TN, or in whatever part of the world we find ourselves today if we simply choose to imitate the way God loved us through Jeff’s encouraging spirit, intellectual vigor, tenacious faith, and reckless pursuit of Christ.

Jeff and I didn’t read the Bible quite the same.  Our theological beliefs had some subtle, but substantial differences.  And our churches came from different branches of Christianity.   But that really didn’t matter that much to Jeff because somewhere along the way he became infatuated with the calling of Christ to love one another as He loved us.  For this reason, I can honestly say that Jeff is the pastor I most want to be like.  And on this Maundy Thursday I rededicate myself to loving as Christ has loved me and as for the past several years Christ has loved me through Jeff.

Goodbye for now, friend.  Thank you.

– Wil Cantrell, 24 March 2016

The Pastor I Most Want To Be Like

https://wilcantrell.com/