I woke up this morning, not really sure of what day it is. Actually, Terri woke me up. She came back to the bedroom to let me know what time it was: 7:30. Wow. Almost 12 hours since we crashed. My head hurts. My neck is stiff. I feel like I’m all cried out. It’s been a whirlwind week of emotions with enough highs and lows to give a man whiplash.
Last Sunday we were getting ready for church and looking forward to taking a road trip out to East Texas to visit my Mom for Christmas. We had enjoyed a great family time with my wife Terri’s parents and her sister Sheri’s family. Jay, our niece Lauren’s boyfriend, joined us for the occasion. Natalie, our niece, was missing. But that wasn’t all together unusual. We had a great meal at Texas Land and Cattle, our go to place for the Walker family Christmas meal. Afterwards, we went over to Gary and Joyce’s home, next door to ours, and spent time talking and catching up on each other’s lives. Sheri and her husband David were in good spirits, as were Lauren and Jay, and our nephew Brandon. It was really a joyful time well spent.
We woke up Sunday morning, December 22 and went to church. I was playing keyboards with the worship band that morning, so I had to get up there early. Terri would just meet up there, as is often the case on Sunday mornings. It’s one of the hidden, unseen things involved in ministry that others don’t realize. We rarely get to do something simple like ride to church together with our family. That’s not a complaint. Just an observation. God’s called us to ministry and we accept that there are sacrifices we all have to make.
Anyway, church went fine, as scheduled. Pastor Jeff presented us with a Christmas message on the Incarnation. Pastor Mark led us in worship, along with myself and the others in the band. For a variety of reasons that morning, it seemed like I was bound to struggle with maintaining a worshipful heart. But God provides, as always. Perhaps it’s just a reminder to depend on Him. Maybe it’s the Spirit moving through the crowd of people that I’m sensing. Maybe it’s the number of distractions I’m fighting off this morning. You’d be amazed at what not having the public Wi-Fi working properly does in a 21st century suburban North Dallas church . My “day-job” is that of Church Administrator. So I’m everyone’s go to guy if there’s a problem, no matter what that problem is. But hey… that’s another blog subject. Back to the story at hand…
We went to church, worshipped the Lord, and then headed home to finish packing and load up for our trip to Marshall. Since we are travelling with our animal menagerie, 2 cats and 1 big dog, we take two cars. I joke with Terri we might need to think about getting an RV. Once we were packed and loaded up we hit the road. We were on I-20 headed east.
We had gotten unloaded at my Mom’s when Terri’s cell phone rang. Somehow I knew it was bad news. After all it was Sunday night and both of our offices were closed for Christmas. She walked into the living room where I was sitting and said:
Natalie’s death shocked and stunned us.
The next day, Terri and I, with our animal menagerie in tow, drove back to Dallas. My mom said she’d be disappointed in us if we didn’t go back to minister to our other family members in need. We spent Monday night visiting with Natalie’s folks, David and Sheri, and her brother Brandon and sister Lauren. We also spent time visiting with Terri’s parents, Gary and Joyce. Our hearts were heavy. Our spirits were shattered. But we could feel His Spirit comforting us.
The week was filled with the business of preparing for a funeral and a memorial service. I watched my brother and sister in law power through fueled by the sheer courage their faith provided them. I saw my nephew and niece move forward, helping their folks get through the most difficult of weeks. I witnessed my in-laws, Terri’s folks, do what the moment called on them to do…parents loving their children, grandparents loving their grandchildren.
Wednesday came along. It was Christmas Day. We had Christmas because Natalie would have wanted it that way and because we each knew in whom our hope rested in, even in this time of adversity. He had not abandoned us. He had not forsaken us. God was faithful. He provided us supernatural strength and incredible comfort. Our sense of unity as a family this Christmas was stronger than ever before. We were one through Him who can do all things. It was still hard. It was still difficult. But we made it through.
On Friday night, December 27, Terri and I went down to the Union Gospel Mission Dallas, to hold the 4th Friday chapel service, like we do every month. We were joined by people from our church and had a great time ministering to 250+ men that were there. God had dramatically changed the message that I was to deliver. Real life, real love, real faith.
On Saturday, December 28, we had a private graveside service followed by an afternoon Memorial service to remember Natalie, reflect on her life and retune for the future. We shared songs of praise, hymns of comfort, memories of laughter and joy, and the gift of the Gospel. Our niece, Natalie, who had her struggles, would want that. She would tell you…”You need to get saved. You need Jesus.” No, she didn’t live out her faith perfectly. However, she did believe. Even in her darkest moments, Natalie believed.
So how about you…what will YOU do with Jesus?