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FIRST-PERSON: The most difficult journey

EASLEY, S.C. (BP) — When the phone rings at 4:30 a.m., it’s rarely good news. I picked up the phone and heard a familiar voice — my brother Larry.
“Keith, this is Larry. I’m calling to tell you goodbye. The doctors say I’m not going to make it.”
My wife and I were at a pastors’ conference in Jacksonville, Fla. We got up, packed our things and headed to Duke University Medical Center, not knowing if we would get there in time.
Throughout the day as we traveled, I kept getting calls from Larry’s daughters and wife. “Are you guys getting close? Well, hurry.” Then an hour or two later, “Are you guys getting close? Get here as fast as you can.” Each time they sounded a little more anxious than the last.
When I finally walked into Larry’s room that evening, I was grateful that we had a chance to talk for a few minutes and say our goodbyes. Within an hour or so, he was in the presence of Jesus.
Anniversaries are usually happy occasions — unless it is the anniversary of someone’s death. Jan. 26 of this year will mark the one-year anniversary of Larry’s passing. It’s still hard to believe that this special man is gone.
If you have lost someone you loved and are facing the anniversary of their death in 2019, my heart goes out to you. Your loss is real and your life is different than it used to be.
This year those days that used to be special, like holidays and birthdays, can be emotional landmines. I call it “the year of firsts.” That first Thanksgiving, first Christmas, first birthday without your loved one can be especially difficult to get through. Prepare yourself ahead of time for the grief that will come gushing out on those days. Read your Bible and draw strength from it. Try to end the day by thanking God for the time that you did have with that special person.
If your loved one was a Christian, may I remind you of an obvious but important truth that may help you: They are no longer with you but the God they served still is. The psalmist David wrote this special promise in Psalm 34:18: “The LORD is near the brokenhearted; he saves those crushed in spirit.”
If you are a parent, you probably have run to the side of a child who has fallen and is crying. You don’t turn away from them in those painful times, you are drawn to them. You want to help them because they are hurting. So does God. Your loving heavenly Father is drawn to the brokenhearted.
Nothing hurts like losing someone you love. Losing a spouse, a child or a parent, or grandparent can leave an ache inside you that can feel as if a piece of you is missing.
In those days when your house seems empty and your heart is hurting, remember that God is near. Death separates us from those we love, but it never separates us from the One who loves us most.
Grief is likely the most difficult journey you will ever take. Thankfully, when you know Jesus, you never walk that road alone.
Recently in church, we were singing one of my favorite songs. I began to think of my brother Larry as we sang. Tears trickled down my cheeks when we got to the chorus:
Because He lives, I can face tomorrow,
Because He lives, all fear is gone;
Because I know He holds the future,
And life is worth the living,
Just because He lives!

    About the Author

  • Keith Shorter

    Keith Shorter is pastor of Mt. Airy Baptist Church in Easley, S.C., and president of the South Carolina Baptist Convention. This column first appeared in the Baptist Courier (www.baptistcourier.com), the convention’s newsjournal.

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