The past eleven days have been probably the hardest days of my life. Death robbed me of two friends I loved deeply. I was shocked at the news of the death of Tom Smith. Tom was the sole person who talked me into going into to ministry. Tom Smith was a confidant, a colleague, someone I could confide in and trust. He was the one phone call who I know could give me good solid advice; in life, ministry, and guidance. For me Tom was a rock. Tom was an awesome minister, friend, and servant of God. Without warning, death stole Tom for me in the middle of the night. The details surrounding his death seem to continue to haunt me like a ghost in the night as my heart was broken. My soul was diminished. The joy and enthusiasm for life had seemed to be snuffed out.
While still in shock and mourning over Tom’s death on the day after I returned home from his funeral. Death kicked me again while I was down. A phone call interrupted my normal day to reveal that my best friend from second grade David Tucker was rushed to the hospital in Memphis. As I drove to Memphis, 35 years of a friendship that was nurtured over my lifetime as my entire existence has held memories of David Tucker. He was the first kid to talk to me when I was the new kid at the school in second grade. He was the best man at our wedding, broke into to labor and delivery in a tux to hold our first born daughter. David was my encourager, always knew the right thing to say and knew me the best. He was the only person in my life that I not once ever had a disagreement with. He brought joy where ever he went. Death robbed David from us a little at a time. Out of his love for us, he suffered in silence as his body failed. I held the hand of my best friend at that intimate time when he left me for heaven. The pain, the anger, the confusion of the past twelve days has left me broken, beaten, and battered.
But what have I learned? What has these two tragedies taught me about myself? How can I go on in life without them?
The first thing I learned is life at times can suck. There is no theologically eloquence here; there are periods in our life that just suck. The routines of our daily life can become too comfortable and can be turned upside down with one phone call, one text message, or one email. Shock, pain, and confusion can hit you and knock you down without any warning. It hurts; as there is no reasoning. Death in most cases carries no noble cause or moral victory. Death of a loved one hurts, and sometimes the pain is unbearable.
I have learned that through the tears, through the memories, through my grieving, I have come to find gratitude. I was grateful to have two people in my life that I loved deeply. Friendship like the two I had is a rare commodity as we travel through life. The void that is left will never be filled but I was blessed that God placed them in my life. I recount the benefits of having two such cherished friendships.
I have learned that I am not alone. Yes, I am not alone in my pain. Yes, the twenty third Psalm that is branded in my mind from the innocence of my faith, I know God walks through this dark valley of death with me. In my pain I can feel His presence. I know this because I am still able to function. I can get out of bed, hold a conversation, and barely function. I am still able to see joy in the darkest of time although it may be masterfully hidden. My faith reinforces that God is with me but it is more tangible than that. Tom and David both were two very unique people. Both touched the lives of many not just mine. Both had children that they loved so much. As I feel the pain of death, I look around and see hundreds of more people going through the same nightmare as me. We, who have loved these two dudes, quickly hold something in common. A distant family member, I have never met quickly becomes a friend as we share our memories together. There is a comfort hidden there. Beneath our pain, we find unity, in the fact that the one that is gone impacted our lives forever. This bond grows as I read all the emails from people who are praying for me during this time.
I learned that what God has called me to do, is a gift. Who I am as Gods servant can be a gift to those hurting as I. I do not mean that what I do is a gift. I am not gifted. It is not a skill or vocation or some type of talent. No! I mean what I say, how I act, and my insight, how God works through me, and what I do in the aftermath of death is a gift, an offering to the families. When you look into the eyes of the families that share the same love for the loved one you do, how I minister is a gift to the one who died. Being able to minister to Tom and David’s family in their time of great pain, in my time of great pain, made me realize that how God uses me is a gift unwrapped by the ones who share the same pain. Even in the greatest pain I have ever experienced at one time in my life, God still used me for His good and glory. For me that is really scary.
Last but not least, I learned that in the most horrible time in my life, the most hard-hitting time in my life, with everyone surrounding me with prayer; I am one tough guy. Death can rob me of my friends but it cannot defeat me. It may beat me to a pulp but it cannot win the fight. I will hurt at their passing everyday of my life but I will learn to live with that pain. God’s grace is more powerful than the hurt I am feeling. God’s love for me brings me hope. I am reminded that heaven for me got brighter as two of my friends were called home. In the processes of writing the eulogy for David Tucker although so difficult and full of sadness, as I can’t imagine my life without him in it, I can acknowledge how having him in my life made me a better person. Without either two of these people in my life, I would not be the person, father, husband, or minster I am today. My soul aches, my heart is in pieces, and the darkness reigns over me but I know without a doubt one day I will dwell in the house of our Lord forever with my best friends Tom Smith and David Tucker.