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A Heartfelt Farewell

Last Thursday I had a distinct honor and privilege.  I had the opportunity to be with my mother as she entered into glory.  Readers will remember from my post "Startled by Grace?" that my mom had spoken with me and my wife on a Saturday night a week and a half ago shortly after she had been relocated from the local hospital to the area rehabilitation center.  My mother, Carole Lynn Waddington, glowed with joy as she told us she was ready to meet her Lord.  She said to us, "I love you all, but I love my Lord even more."  That Saturday night my wife Ruth and I realized that we had been the recipients of the gift of my mom's blessing and as I noted in the previous post, we will carry her words in our hearts from here to glory.  I pray that I will be able to do the same for my family when my time to meet my Savior comes. My wife felt compelled to fulfill a promise she made to mom sometime back to the effect that if she ever entered a nursing home that Ruth would bring tea and they would have a tea party.  So Monday afternoon my wife Ruth and my daughter Carolynne and I trucked from Philadelphia over to the Asbury Park region of New Jersey where my folks retired to two years ago.  My mom was visibly declining even over the two days since we had last met with her.  After we returned from taking my dad out to dinner we had that lavish tea party, although my mom sipped water through a straw.  We had brought a CD player so my mom could listen to her favorite hymns and she seemed to enjoy them.  During our Monday night visit my daughter Suzannah, now off to college, called and spoke to her grandmother.  With all the energy she could muster my mom told my daughter she loved her very much.  That was pretty much the sum of the conversation.  That evening it was decided that my mom would go on hospice care.  Not wanting to tax my mom or my dad we returned home that night believing that time was short. But we could not have guessed how short.  When my wife called me late on Wednesday morning to tell me that the hospice nurse had called and that in her experienced opinion, if we wanted to be with my mom as she passed into glory we needed to get there ASAP.  I began calling my sisters and some close family friends to apprise them of the situation.  My sisters live in the Boston area and I did not know if they could make it down.  Once we were ready to make the trek we took Carolynne to my ministerial colleague Jim Cassidy's home where he and his wife Eve and their three children provided a loving environment for Carolynne while Ruth and I were with my mom and family.  I need to tell you that there is nothing like a supportive church community. When my wife and I arrived at the rehab center, my mom was surrounded by her pastor and his wife, a friend from her church, my dad and my Uncle Frank and Aunt Linda.  They were singing hymns and reading Scriptures to my mom.  It was an amazing sight to see.  The pastor's wife cradled my mom's face in her hands and cooled her brow with moist cloths and talked with her about heaven and recited Bible verses.  It was also a sobering sight to see for me.  My mom was clearly in a semi-comatose state now (I say this from a layman's perspective) and was not able to verbally communicate with us as she had done just two days before. After some conversation the visitors left and I encouraged my dad and Uncle Frank and Aunt Linda to go out and get a good meal.  They acquiesced and so my wife and I were left alone with my mom.  It was hard watching my mom in her present condition.  I too patted her hair and told her I loved her very much.  I told her that as much as I wanted  her to stay around I really wanted her to run into the arms of Jesus.  Every now and then there seemed to be some recognition on her part to what was said to her but I am not sure. Later in the evening my Uncle Roy and Aunt Lynn arrived from Troy, NY.  Roy is my mom's younger brother.  The irony of the situation of my mom lying in bed and my Uncle Roy standing over her and talking to her and patting her hair was not lost on anyone.  You see, a few years back the tables were turned.  My mom stood over my Uncle as he was lying in a bed having suffered a massive heart attack.  I have learned not to think I know how our life stories will unfold.  Only the Lord knows for sure how these things will turn out.  Remember Deuteronomy 29:29, "The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law." A few hours later the family departed and my wife and I remained to keep the night watch with my mother.  We promised that if anything should happen we would call the family.  As it turned out my sisters Jennifer and Karen (I am the youngest of three) were able to make the trip from the Boston area.  Around 1:30 AM my sisters arrived and they were able to communicate their love for my mom and tell her it was OK for her to go home to Jesus.  While this was not an Exodus 3 moment, it seemed as if we were on hallowed ground there and then. So the night watch continued.  Death is not pretty, beloved.  It is not coated with sugar even for the saint.  My family asked me to pray for my mom and so we held hands together and I rested my hand on my mom's forehead and I prayed similar words to what I had prayed the previous Saturday.  I prayed "Lord, if it be your will to take my mom, please take her gently and swiftly."  While my sisters and my wife and I continued to talk I noticed my mom's breathing pattern changed to shorter breaths and my wife immediately switched into nursing mode (she is an RN and is the assistant director of nursing at an area retirement community) and began calling my dad and the others and from the beginning of the first call to the end of the last call my mom had departed this world for the next.  I looked down and then looked up at my mom and saw the life drain out of her face.  Her body lay in that bed but my mom was now in heaven with her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Ruth, Jennifer, Karen, and I were dumbfounded.  You cannot choreograph the exit of a saint.  When the Lord summons, the saint must obey. I must confess to having mixed emotions about the effectiveness of my prayer.  James 5:16 tells us that the prayers of a righteous man are effective.  I claim no righteousness of my own.  The only righteousness I possess is that which my mom possessed before her home going.  Christ had lived a perfect life for us and died a sacrificial death for us and and his Holy Spirit was busy conforming us to his image.  But I am a sinner saved by grace.  My mom was a sinner saved by grace.  Yes, she came to faith in Jesus Christ at 12 years of age and so had many years to serve and sit at the Master's feet. The job of telling the family members that my mom had already passed into glory fell to me.  The first to arrive was the pastor's wife and she was a true blessing.  Then my Uncle Roy and Aunt Lynn arrived.  They sensed already that mom had died.  Then my dad and Uncle Frank and Aunt Linda arrived.  It was with a heavy heart that I had to tell my dad that his wife of 53 years had already gone ahead of him into glory before he could get there.  The next few hours involved the family gathered around my mom's body for prayer and reminiscences.  And then my mom's body was taken away and I will see her no more this side of heaven.  But you see, beloved, I have a sure hope of the resurrection at which point there will be a grand family reunion.  In my mom's denomination, they refer to the death of a saint as a "promotion to glory."  And indeed that is what she has experienced. I have already noted that death is not pretty.  I felt its pinch last Thursday morning around 3:05 AM.  I say "pinch" quite purposely.  For the sting has been removed by our Lord.  It was removed in two ways.  Remember that death is the result of the fall (Genesis 3 and Romans 5).  And so the sting of death has been removed by our Lord's death on the cross of Calvary.  That is why I glory in the atonement.  But the sting of death has also been removed by our Lord's resurrection.  The resurrection is no fairy tale.  It really happened and because it really happened I can rest assured in my mom's gracious passage to glory.  Nothing you or I do or can do will earn our way to the new heavens and the new earth.  That is all of grace.  Praise God for 1st Corinthians 15! But brother and sister, we ought not to buy into the silly notion that Christians cannot mourn the loss of a friend or loved one.  On the contrary, we are called to mourn in a godly fashion.  Consider this fact.  Jesus, standing before the tomb of his beloved friend Lazarus, knowing he would soon raise him back to life, wept (John 11).  Paul in 1st Thessalonians 4:13 tells us that we are not grieve as others do who have no hope.  He does not say that we are not to grieve at all.  We do and must grieve, but we do it with an eye all the while on the coming resurrection day. Death is not pretty.  But death has been vanquished by Jesus Christ!  My mom has just transferred from the church militant to the church triumphant.  She is experiencing the likes of which we read about in Revelation 5.  She is now bowing before the throne of God and the lamb and singing "Worthy is the Lamb."  I pray that I will join her some day in glory where we may sing together the praises of the Lamb. I want to close with an interesting fact.  We were playing music in the background for my mom and as she entered glory the CD was playing the Hallelujah Chorus!  Now I could not have planned that if I tried. A postscript:  On the same morning as my mom's passing, a beloved elder in my own congregation, Charles Danberry, also went to glory.  Methinks my mom was on hand to welcome our beloved Charlie into glory.

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