It's Been Six Years
Today is the 6th anniversary of the death of our one and only grandchild - Our granddaughter Anastasia Elizabeth Wilson. I've gone back through what I've written down through the years at this time of year, beginning with what I sent the night after I had come home from the tragedy, when I was preparing to go back to Macon. I've collected them all here, so I can remember, and in hopes what I wrote would help someone else.
One of the greatest honors in this life for me was being asked by my son Adam to help lead us through the valley of shadows at the funeral. It was also the hardest thing I have ever done. Reading these this morning has been hard as well. But it has also reminded me of just how precious the love of Jesus is to Bunny and me.
We would never have been able to cope with such devastation without Him - without Jesus. If you do read this, my hope for you is that you see past the grief to the grief-bearer.
The day after Ana passed away I wrote...
I'm writing this from my study here at New Hope about midnight on Friday.
Our family is mourning the loss of our Anastasia Elizabeth Wilson, the daughter of my son Adam and our daughter-in-love Shonda. Ana was due to arrive April 29th, but was found Wednesday night to have passed away and was delivered Thursday. I can report to you all that Shonda and Adam are coping as well as they can. Shonda was released from the hospital today.
The funeral will be held Sunday in Macon, GA at Glen Haven cemetery graveside at 2 PM. Visitation is Saturday from 7 to 9 pm at Snow's Memorial Chapel on Pio Nono Ave in Macon. I'll be helping the family through the service Sunday. Please pray for us in this time of deep sorrow.
There is so much I want to tell you about the courage of my daughter-in-love. She was incredibly brave and is a treasure. I'm so glad God placed her in our family. My son Adam was all a husband and Daddy should be - warm, loving, strong, and tender. Shonda's Mom and Dad have been wonderful as well as we share this fellowship of sorrow. And my wife Bunny was able to help deliver her first grandchild, serving her beloved Shonda and Adam through her tears. So many people have been so loving to us, from New Hope to Macon and beyond. May God bless you.
Before I leave to get some sleep prior to returning to Macon, can I share something with you?
Ana was our first grandchild. We were excited and getting more so as the big day approached. In the last few months our tastes at yard sales changed from books to baby clothes. We even traded cars so nothing would hinder our heading back and forth to Macon to see our precious little one. She carried the promise of ice cream sticky kisses, tight hugs, and a million "do it again Granddaddy's".
She was a dream, not a promise. Every baby comes forth out of struggle. Nine months or a little less of growing, of waiting, and then a final violent fight to be born. In our country most make it to birth. Other places fewer do. But we assume they will, because we want them so much. But we don't have a promise that they will. We have a dream.
We say "promises are meant to be broken", because in our humanity, we make some we never intend to honor, others we intend to and can't. The truth of a promise then depends on our character and our ability. We all have sinned and fallen short - so there's our character. And we cannot make everything better - so much for our ability, and our promises.
But there is One Who has both the ability and the character to make promises that count for something. His ability is limitless, and He is absolutely holy. What He says He'll do, He always does. Tonight as I write this through tears I'm trusting in those promises not just for me, but for Adam, Shonda, Bunny, Sean and the rest of our families - and for Ana.
He said, "There are many rooms in my Father's home, and I am going to prepare a place for you. If this were not so, I would tell you plainly. When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am." John 14:2-3 (NLT)
And He said, "I will never fail you. I will never forsake you." Heb. 13:5b
And this- "For the Lamb who stands in front of the throne will be their Shepherd. He will lead them to the springs of life-giving water. And God will wipe away all their tears." Rev 7:17 (NLT)
No more tears. No more death. No more sorrow.
I know my heavenly Father is caring for our beloved Ana, even better than we could do. And I know that though our hearts are aching, He hasn't left us alone and He never will.
I know that, because I know Him. I'm praying you do too.
May God grant you His peace. Please remember us in your prayers this weekend and in the weeks to come.
One week later I wrote this...
At the beginning of our military's involvement in Afghanistan, the nation awoke to the fact that we really didn't know much about it. Thousands searched the net, and browsed books and periodicals to learn more about the land and its people.
One man who had come to his local public library was dismayed to find that every single book was either in use within the library that day or checked out. The librarian tried to calm the man, asking him what it was that drove him to want to know all he could about Afghanistan.
The man said, "This morning, my son's unit landed on the ground near Kabul. I've got a loved one, a part of my heart there."
With the passing of our beloved baby girl, Anastasia Elizabeth Wilson last week, once again I was reminded how much I want to know about heaven, where she is right now. I've spent some time this morning reading about it both in the Bible and in books by Billy Graham and others. All their insight helped me understand more about how special a place it truly is. But it is so much more special to me now.
Our precious baby was blessed with a loving mother who constantly made sure she was loved and cared for. She knew nothing but love. She left for a place of constant love. In our pain that is so hard to imagine. Many of us have known heartbreak. Some have known the pains of persecution, or prejudice, the anguish of loneliness. Ana will forever only know love. Of all I've read today, this helped me the most.
"No eye has seen, no ear has heard,and no mind has imagined what God has prepared
for those who love him." 2 Cor. 2:9
I've imagined what heaven is like for years. The pictures in my mind are incredibly beautiful. A place of peace, of comfort, of joy! I've tried to think of what will be there, of how it is laid out, or who I'll see and how we will know each other. But in this short bit of scripture, God has told me this - "David, take every dream you ever had about heaven and throw it away. Your heart cannot hold what I've done for you."
God is love. And in that love He has been preparing a place for those who love Him that is beyond anything we can grasp. It's a place you would want everyone you love to go to when they die. I'm so thankful we have a God like that.
I pray everyone who reads this has the key to heaven's door - a relationship with Jesus Christ. If you don't, and would like to know how you can, write me. I want you to have a place prepared beyond all you can imagine too
After One year Had Passed...
How Do You Handle A Heartache?
There's a commercial playing now on the radio station I listen to that's very clever. A woman answers the telephone, and a "headache" asks if it would be a good time for him to come over. "No, it's not a good time for me," she answers. "What about after five? I could do a migraine for you at five. Will that work?" "No, that won't work either, goodbye," and she hangs up.
They are selling a headache remedy that's designed to work all day, and prevent any from occurring. Good work if it can do what it says. I've got another question today though. How do you handle a heartache?
You see it is one of those days that accumulate on the calendar as you grow older, just as the gray accumulates in your hair. Some anniversaries come around every year and are pleasant. Birthdays, wedding anniversaries, things like that. Others are added along the path of life and are most unwelcome.
Today is one of those days.
A year ago our family was together, united by sorrow, by bonds deeper than any legal writ. We mourned the passing of a dream. For our son and his wife, their first child. For Bunny and me, our first grandchild. A baby girl, so tiny, with a big name. Anastasia. Ana.
I wrote then that she had passed from the embrace of her mother's womb directly into the arms of God. No pain, no worries, no woe would ever befall her. Truth. Nothing has changed. She's safe, she is whole, and we will see her one day. Yet the loss remains, and the memory lingers. Some days are easier than others. But it is always there.
We've consoled each other. Sharing our individual reactions, bearing one another's burdens. Friends have been wonderful. We've come a long way, gone through several other trials since then. But it has been a long, long year, and the heartache remains. And on anniversaries like this one, it dials our number.
I got up early today and spent some time listening for God's whisper. That's nothing "metaphysical", it just means I got out of His way. Shut down my busy mind. Put my plans on hold and waited. Bits and pieces came, and so I began to write, and I opened my Bible. I read of David's reaction to his child's passing. Then I read of others as they dealt with their grief. I read and I read, and finally I came to this passage.
I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, "Look, the home of God is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be His people. God himself will be with them.4 He will remove all of their sorrows, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. For the old world and its evils are gone forever."
5 And the one sitting on the throne said, "Look, I am making all things new!" And then He said to me, "Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true." Rev 21:4-5 (NLT)
I know just how John the revelator felt. Write this down - it is trustworthy and true. God wants us to know just how much He cares for us, and He doesn't want anyone to miss it. Thank God!
God with us. That's what I need, what we need to handle our heartaches. An ever present friend who loves us as we are, but so much more than that. Someone who can make us better - who can make all things new. And someone who won't just help us get over our sorrows, but will remove them. That's exactly what we need.
For now, we have this "old world and its evils." Jesus, in His final few words to His disciples said, "You have sorrow now, but I will see you again; then you will rejoice, and no one can rob you of that joy." John 16:22 (NLT)
That's looking forward. And so is this.
"I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world." John 16:33 (NLT)
Friends, grief, sorrow, the pain of loss is part of this world.
Heartaches are a part of life.
But for me, being able to collapse into the arms of Jesus, telling Him of my sorrow, knowing He knows my pain, and is actively helping me through it - well, that is how heartache is handled here. Who did He leave for us? The Comforter. Could anyone have chosen a better name for what we need? So when heartache calls, that is who I turn to. And He's never let me down.
Oh but one day, one day, my Lord will say to all those heartaches - Begone! And no one, no one, will ever rob us of our joy again. I can take heart in that on the most bitter anniversaries. And I will today.
If you would, please remember my son Adam Wilson, his wife Shonda, her parents and family, my wife Bunny, and our family in your prayers today. We've deeply appreciated your prayers. They have truly helped us this past year.
After two years had passed...
Absence and the Heart
Psalm 34:18 (Msg)
If your heart is broken, you'll find God right there;
if you're kicked in the gut, He'll help you catch your breath.
It's been two years today.
And right now my mind is flooded with might have beens. So many things are obvious blessings in my life - my wife, my boys, what God has called me to do, that I can get busy, and some of the hurt goes away. But today it's two years, and all I can think of is what we've missed - of what is absent that we had hoped would be here.
She would have had her father's eyes.
There were times when he was a little boy that we'd go off alone - to the store, to the Krystal, to Grandmother's, that I could look over in the seat next to me and see him looking at me. He'd ask questions, I'd try to answer, and the openness - the trust - the love in those eyes just melted me.
Yep. She would have had her father's eyes.
Her smile would have lit up a room, just like her mother's does. There are a lot of ways to measure people. My own personal preference is to look at their impact on others. Some people enter a room and suck all the joy out of it. When they smile it just doesn't look right, like cow horns on a Mercedes. They put it on to try to give the right response, but it isn't who they are.
Her mother is tiny. But when she smiles - she's huge.
I can see tiny feet beating the earth, little white tennis shoes slapping it as they come, bearing a smile so brilliant it warms this cold earth. She grins from ear to ear, and all you feel is joy.
She'd have her mother's smile.
By now, we'd have covered all the important things. Who loves you best, why Granddaddy's hair is gray, the funniest cartoons, how to eat Krystals and Nuways, and how come Grandmother hugs so hard. We'd have begun noticing new words, and she'd almost be reading. She'd have impacted my wallet and stolen my heart. Again.
Heart. She'd have had her grandmother's.
I have known literally thousands of people over 50 years. Some were self-contained, others - self-absorbed. A few seemed to enjoy this life, and others endured it. Many were bright, even brilliant. Others caught the eye, or in some other way made it through the clutter of a life's experiences to my heart.
But none have loved me like Bunny has. For no one I've ever known loves that deeply.
Two years ago, as we rolled up calendars toward April 29th, the expected day of joy, our home was filled with baby clothing, baby toys, baby... stuff. People around us shared in that and we added our own items. I remember visiting Target with Bunny and hearing her say a dozen times, "won't that look so pretty on Ana?" The only girl in a string of boys, the only girl in her own home full of men - young and older - the possibility to hold, to love, to care, to dress!!! a baby girl was excitement personified.
And when the days stopped for Ana, her Grandmother didn't stop loving. She found a way to love beyond the pain in helping her daughter-in-love deliver her baby. As I watched Bunny hold that small and delicate baby in her arms, weeping and talking to her as if she could hear... it was the greatest expression of love I've ever seen - through the deepest heartache.
She'd have had her Grandmother's heart.
For me, I don't know what I could have given her. It certainly wouldn't be material things, and her mom and dad would certainly taught her the A, B, C's and enlightened her on them 'Dawgs and Georgia politics.
So I guess she'd have had my prayers each day from infancy to adulthood, my lap to sit in, my knees to ride, and later my shoulder to cry on and my ears to hear.
It's been two years today. Two long years. Her absence hurts our hearts. But one day...
We will see her.
And that thrills my heart.
Grace, mercy, and peace,
Three years went by and I wrote...
To Love - To Life
To love at all is to be vulnerable.
Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness.
But in that casket--safe, dark, motionless, airless--it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable...
The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers...of love is Hell. C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves
Anastasia Elizabeth Wilson entered heaven three years ago this week. She never drew a breath outside her mother's womb.
She was our first grandchild.
It hurt. Dreams were crushed. Hearts shattered. Tears flowed.
To this very day, there's a heartache. If Bunny and I discuss those days, it's in tears. As we talked about it last night, we agreed the events were a sad story, with no joy anywhere within.
But we live on. We love on.
We could do so timidly, like a child venturing out over a frozen lake who knows he shouldn't be doing it at all.
We could do so blindly, like someone who doesn't want to hear the truth and so sticks his fingers into his ears and screams la la la la la at the top of his lungs.
Or we could live each day in love with life, just as it is, with all its hopes and dreams, joys and sorrows.
Why? Or maybe more importantly, how?
Paul writes in Corinithians:
"Go after a life of love as if your life depended on it--because it does. " Cor 14:1 The Message
Life includes the highest of joys and the deepest of heartaches. That's just life. Nothing I've ever experienced was as heartbreaking as the events around Ana's death. But God has shown us His love directly again and again and through many, many people. We are surrounded at New Hope by children, some of who need love so badly they'll beg to be held, or work to catch your attention, or will just sit next to Bunny when she's on the floor teaching, and lay their head on her shoulder.
Friends, to make it through the valley of the shadow of death, you need to know that God is with you, and that there is life on the other side of the valley. Our lives depend on receiving God's love through His Son Jesus and the Spirit's presence with us AND on giving love to others as God has given to us.
Hurts never become happy.
But we can find joy when we live to love.
Then it had been four years. I was grateful for what God had done in my heart, but it was still there on my internal calendar...
32And they came to an olive grove called Gethsemane, and Jesus said, "Sit here while I go and pray." 33He took Peter, James, and John with him, and he began to be filled with horror and deep distress. 34He told them, "My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and watch with me."
35He went on a little farther and fell face down on the ground. He prayed that, if it were possible, the awful hour awaiting him might pass him by. 36"Abba,[ g] Father," he said, "everything is possible for you. Please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will, not mine."
37Then he returned and found the disciples asleep. "Simon!" he said to Peter. "Are you asleep? Couldn't you stay awake and watch with me even one hour? 38Keep alert and pray. Otherwise temptation will overpower you. For though the spirit is willing enough, the body is weak."
39Then Jesus left them again and prayed, repeating his pleadings. 40Again he returned to them and found them sleeping, for they just couldn't keep their eyes open. And they didn't know what to say.
This week I've been reading and rereading this passage. I've studied it in every context, in the original language, through the hearts of many commentators and preachers. What they've taught me, I understand.
I don't know what to say... either.
How do we come to grips with the fact that the only person who ever lived on this planet without offending God, was the only one who could pay the penalty for the rest of us? How do we - or can we - understand what taking on the sin of the world meant to Jesus - how He instinctively must have been sick in His spirit? What was Jesus feeling as He suffered with the knowledge of what He must go through?
There are times in this life that people you love go through hardship. You'd love to be able to make it right - to come in and fix everything. But you can't. You slide into the grips of depression, feeling powerless and weak. The tendency then for some is just to give up and do nothing, despite their love for the one in need.
Jesus knows that about us. And it doesn't change His love for us one bit. Note what he says to the disciples. "For though the spirit is willing enough, the body is weak." So what are we to do?
It's been 4 years since our granddaughter Ana died, and I still don't have the words to make it right. It still hurts for all of us.
Shonda and Adam were going through such pain, and despite everything Bunny and I could do, there was no way we could do enough. The pain, the shock - was there. So we cried. We prayed. We held them and let them know we loved them.
And we hurt. And still are hurting.
But one day, the One who can make it right - will. And his name is Jesus. Knowing that He went through more suffering that we ever could comprehend means for me that I know He understands.
Knowing that He went through it voluntarily means I know He cares.
What do you say to that deep a love?
Thank you Jesus.
It is the first emotion I remember.
As a boy, standing beside the road as my father carried my beloved collie away, killed by a truck.
It is the only one I cannot put away.
Even now, just typing the phrase "my father" brings tears. And thinking about our granddaughter... hurts. The loss of someone who we had hoped would fill our lives with joy again and again shook us to the core of who we are and tested the roots of what we believe.
And yet it made me love Jesus more intensely - to cling to Him for life. To make me want to know Him more - to spend more time in His presence.
Because He knew... grief.
It was my first sermon. I had prayed, oh how I had prayed. Day after day I had opened my Bible and read, asking God to give me a "word" for the people at a little mill village town in Forsyth, GA. It was outside that mill that my grandfather had been struck by the car of a rich man's daughter. He died a few days later. I wanted to go there and speak a word of hope, of encouragement.
But God led me to a snippet of Scripture.
No great and lofty text. No commonly known passage. No safe, preacher's portion. I didn't do it justice that day. Perhaps no one ever could. For what it says about the Son of God is too wonderful for words.
11 Not long after that, Jesus went to the village Nain. His disciples were with him, along with quite a large crowd. 12 As they approached the village gate, they met a funeral procession— a woman's only son was being carried out for burial. And the mother was a widow. 13 When Jesus saw her, his heart broke. He said to her, "Don't cry." 14 Then he went over and touched the coffin. The pallbearers stopped. He said, "Young man, I tell you: Get up." 15 The dead son sat up and began talking. Jesus presented him to his mother.
16 They all realized they were in a place of holy mystery, that God was at work among them. They were quietly worshipful— and then noisily grateful, calling out among themselves, "God is back, looking to the needs of his people!"
Luke 7:11-16 (MSG)
That day, I said all I knew to say about that passage in about 6 minutes.
I was young. No one in my family had passed away. I had no clue as to what the loss of someone you loved might be like. I had history - other people's life experiences passed down.
Since then I've had too many occasions to remember how Jesus reacted to the widow of Nain.
You know, when I pray for those at the point of death, I pray for God's will to be done. That doesn't mean I haven't fought the fierce inner struggles we all do when we want our loved ones restored as Jesus did that day outside Nain. No one wants those they love to leave them. But I know that God's will is always best for His children. Even though it is so hard.
Because He's a God whose heart can be broken over their grief.
I don't know if I could follow a God Who looked down on people and tried to imagine what they were feeling. Maybe, but there'd be so much missing from his understanding. He'd never really know... grief.
Some of you know exactly what I mean. The days, weeks, and months after someone dies do help with the pain, but it never really leaves entirely. And at certain times, or on certain days, it leaps back into your mind. That's when I turn to Jesus. That's when He looks at me and I know He shares my pain.
Even in grief, our God is there, looking to the needs of His people.
And He's exactly what we need.
"God is back, looking to the needs of his people!"
Yes He is. Even today.
May God give you peace,
Today it's been six years.
Bunny's been looking at the calendar for weeks now, knowing it was coming. We've talked about Ana and her passing several times in the last few days. One thing is for certain. Bunny and I are closer to seeing Ana today than we have ever been before. Age has its rewards.
Someday we'll see a beautiful little girl come running toward us with her arms wide open. Someday we'll kneel and receive the blessing of her hugs and kisses. Someday there will be no more anniversaries, no days like this.
But not today.
Today we'll mourn, and look ahead. To heaven. To the One Who has promised to wipe away every tear - personally.
Grandmother and Granddaddy