This week marks the 30th anniversary of the deaths of my big brother Paul and nephew ‘Lil Tim. Rarely a day goes by that I do not think about both of them.
I shared my memories of that night and the next morning after the accident with my family and some close friends last year, and have expanded those to share with you.
That Saturday is one of those events in my life where I can STILL see, hear, smell, and taste, all the things that happened around me as the event unfolded.
I was at a hotel in Nashville, attending a Tennessee WMU Acteens Conference where I was to lead a seminar. I had already gone up to my room that evening when my mom’s brother, Uncle Bill Thomason who lived in Nashville, called me from the lobby of the hotel and asked me to come down.
As I made the trip down in the elevator, myriad questions flooded my mind: Why was he there? How did he know where I was? These questions were accompanied by a foreboding sense that something horrible had happened—someone had died.
I sat on the sofa as Uncle Bill began telling me the details about the train hitting Paul and ‘Lil Tim. I sat stunned, in silent disbelief, trying to process all that I was hearing. ‘Lil Tim, dead. Paul, seriously injured, will not live. Chas, cuts and bruises, but OK.
I can still see the tears trickling down my Uncle’s face as he gently and lovingly answered my question, “Are you sure you got this right? This is impossible!” I remember the scent of my Uncle’s cologne and remember the strength of his arms as he hugged me tightly. I remember hearing his gentle whispers, “It’s OK. I love you. You’re OK.” Chicago’s “You’re the Inspiration” played in the background. I remember the smell of roses in a beautiful flower arrangement on a nearby table. I remember the taste of the salty tears I was crying. I remember seeing and hearing groups of people talking animatedly.
My friends, Carol Kelley and Sheryl Churchill, and all the WMU staff, were so thoughtful and helped care for me that night. I went up my room and called the ER waiting room to speak with my family. Paul had sustained serious injuries, yet at that time his heartbeat was still very strong. When the phone rang several hours later, I did not want to answer, because I knew it was my daddy calling to tell me that my big brother had also taken his last breath here on earth.
I remember sitting on the edge of the bed crying, trying make sense of it all. I remember talking to God and various Scripture passages running through my mind, mingling with the thoughts of disbelief, prayers, and yes, even anger.
Me: “God, I can’t do this.”
God: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities (weaknesses), that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 2 Corinthians 12:9 (NKJV)
Me: “God the weight of this burden is unbearable!”
God: Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28 (NIV)
Needless to say it was a very long and restless night. I got a very early start the next morning, and went to my apartment to pack. As I chose a dress to wear for the visitation and funeral, I remember thinking that each time I wore the dress in the future, I would remember that I wore them for Paul and ‘Lil Tim’s funeral. I remember looking at the pictures on display throughout my apartment, studying the features of Paul and ‘Lil Tim’s faces as fond and bittersweet memories flooded my mind. I remember the coolness of the kitchen tile as I sat in the floor sobbing. I could hear Paul playing the guitar and singing. I could hear ‘Lil Tim’s infectious laugh.
I finally gathered everything I needed and began the trip from Nashville to Gadsden, which, although it was very familiar to me, this time it was a much-dreaded trip.
I dreaded the drive that morning because I did not want to face the reality of my brother and nephew’s deaths, and I did not want to be alone with my thoughts and emotions.
But guess what? I WAS NOT ALONE!
I sang hymns, and prayed, and poured my heart out to my Heavenly Father!
That day, I experienced in full the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding that will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6-7 NKJV).
I miss my big brother Paul. He had a beautiful singing voice, played the guitar and numerous other musical instruments, wrote songs and poetry, could fix anything, had a wonderful sense of humor, lived life to the fullest, and loved his baby sister—OK, he loved his big sister and his little brother, too! Paul would be so proud of Chas, and would absolutely love being Mira’s granddaddy!
I miss ‘Lil Tim. He had a wonderful smile, he was always excited to see you and would run to you with open arms ready to be picked up and hugged, he loved to play ball with his big brother Chas and Grinnie (my mom), and run. I loved watching ‘Lil Tim and Chas play. I had them convinced that I could make the traffic lights turn red or green on command. I would say, “Light … turn … (pause)” and both the boys would start yelling “Now!” Finally I would say, “Now!” and the light would change. I wonder what he would be like today had he lived, and think about how he would dote on his niece, Mira, just like his Uncle “Big” Tim doted on him (and Chas).
There have been numerous events in my life—before and after Paul and ‘Lil Tim’s deaths—that I can still see, hear, smell and taste all the things happening around me as the event unfolded.
The constant in each of these events? The indwelling presence of the Holy Spirt!
In John 14:25-28, Jesus says, “These things I have spoken to you while being present with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you. Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. You have heard Me say to you, ‘I am going away and coming back to you.’ If you loved Me, you would rejoice because I said, ‘I am going to the Father,’ for My Father is greater than I.”
What do you do when your world is turned upside down? Someone has said, “When your world is badly shaken, begin with what you know to be true and build from there.”
What did (and do) I know to be true? Something my friend, Dr. Bryan Chapell, said comes to mind. He said that the first theology lesson we all probably learned is: “Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so.”
In the midst of these “world turned upside down” moments, did I—and do I now—know that to be true? Absolutely!
What did I remember next?
We love Him because He first loved us (I John 4:19 NKJV). And then, God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8 ESV). And, “The Lord is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped; (Psalm 28:7 ESV).
How do we have the strength to carry on when things seem unbearable and totally out of our control?
First of all, we must come to a saving knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, as we read in Romans 10:8-13:
But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith which we preach): that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. For “whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (NKJV)
Once we have become Christ followers what do we do?
Psalm 1:1-3 gives us an idea:
Blessed is the man Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly,
Nor stands in the path of sinners, Nor sits in the seat of the scornful;
But his delight is in the law of the Lord, And in His law he meditates day and night.
He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither;
And whatever he does shall prosper. (NKJV)
Christ-followers are to be totally immersed in the Word of God, which, as the basis and preoccupation of our life bears fruit that is the result of living out (obeying) the Word of God. Some of the resultant blessings manifest as stick-to-it-iveness, steadiness, resiliency, and the ability to withstand whatever comes our way!
The job of the Comforter (Holy Spirit) is to “enlighten” darkened minds as He illuminates the Word of God in the hearts and mind of non-believers to bring them into relationship with Christ, and, in the hearts of believers in order for them to understand the Word of God, and to be strengthened and comforted by His presence within them.
In 2 Corinthians 4:1-6 we read: For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
When I was a GA (Girls in Action), I memorized Isaiah 46:4 which has stuck with me throughout the decades as a reminder of God’s love and protection, and, it has continually helped rekindled my Hope in the midst of difficult situations:
And even to your old age I am he; and even to hoar hairs will I carry you: I have made, and I will bear; even I will carry, and will deliver you. (NKJV)
I am so grateful that the Lord has been with me BEFORE, DURING, and SINCE March 1986.
God is our refuge and strength,
A very present help in trouble. Psalm 46:1
Scripture references are from: New International Version (NIV) of the Holy Bible; New King James Version (NKJV