In early February Jana and I flew to Lake Charles, LA on a mission we long knew was inevitable but hard to make regardless. The passing of a parent is a rite of passage for millions of people, but that doesn’t make it any easier when it is your turn. Officiating at two funerals for Dad (FBC Princeton and home) was a difficult ministry opportunity yet I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Here are some recent journal entries since that journey back to my roots in SW Louisiana.
Our adult boys were there and wanted to see the old haunts of my younger years. As we drove around town the phrase “no longer there” kept recurring to me. My grandmother’s home out on Prien Lake in the old pecan groves, the one with a wrap around screened-in porch complete with pool table, marks all over the wooden floor from cousins’ toys, the beds where we cousins spent countless nights listening to rain on the tin roof, where we fought and fell out of the screens into the hedges, where Sundays had been spent with uncles and aunts singing around the piano after fried chicken, rice, and gravy---no longer there, the hub of my childhood, replaced by a tony Mediterranean style villa in a gated community. The trailer park where we had lived in a single wide in my college years as Dad built his dream home during retirement---no longer there, replaced by a public walking park with a spectacular view (Google images of Prien Lake Park). As we drove to church the next day, we passed the site of the old single screen Pitt theater where as a 9 yr. old I received Christ in a special revival service---no longer there, a blank concrete foundation. My home church is downtown, and at one time had 1400 in attendance. Perhaps 150 were there as we visited; when I return next year for my 50th HS reunion, they will likely have sold the property and relocated---no longer there; my spiritual home preschool through college, where Dad had led for years in the intercessory prayer ministry. The most searing memory was the cemetery when Taps was played, the honor guard handed me the folded flag and said how grateful the nation was for Dad’s service---no longer there, gone on to glory to be sure, but he was gone.
Luke 9. 57-62 has always seemed harsh (“Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God”); one translation’s subheading is ‘Exacting Discipleship.’ Christ emphasized family often so He was not devaluing our loved ones. He was saying ‘eyes ahead,’ our foremost priority the Kingdom of God. The past is meant to be instructive, honored, and appreciated, but never designed to be a permanent dwelling. The only two things that will translate from this earthly existence to an eternal one are the Word of God and the souls of men. I am indebted to all those places that were part of my early formation, and I am indebted to all those people who shaped me, including Dad. I whispered to him on his deathbed it was okay to let go; in an intimate moment I saw him raise both hands up over ten times in a row in either adoration or greeting, stretching hard, gibbering to no one in particular, then leaning over to smile at me, and repeating it. In the end he had already parted with most of his possessions, lost his mental clarity due to dementia, but he had his salvation and life of service for his Savior. He therefore died a rich man and now enjoys the splendors of heaven. I have to let go and look forward.
Our church buildings, our accomplishments, our possessions, our heritage, even our current partners in life---they are all precious and not to be discounted, but we must hold all things loosely in light of the Gospel and follow the One we worship, the one to whom we owe our ultimate allegiance. Join us Tuesday, March 3, 7pm, College Ave. BC, Bluefield, for our 3rd annual Solemn Assembly. No preaching, it is a formal service of intense prayer and praise as we shed that which hinders us as an association and we look forward to the Kingdom of God and drawing closer to our King (Col. 1.16-18).