Bookends of Loss and Letting Go: My 2013 Perspective

The New Year represents new beginnings, new possibilities, and second chances. For the first ten days of 2013, this was the case for me. On January 11, all of that changed with the news that my dear friend of 30 years, Rick Stilwell, passed away very suddenly. Out of the ashes of this terrible loss arose a #LiveLikeRick movement, encouraging people to love their families, work hard, work your passion, and "Crush It." The loss of my friend was devastating, but it has inspired me to live better, love deeper, laugh harder, learn diligently, and leave the world better than I found it.

Some other major highlights of 2013 included the graduation of my twin daughters from high school, and their matriculation to out of town Universities. My return to full time ministry and teaching were also high points. Reconciliation and reconnecting with precious friends, a move, and growing deeper in love with my wife every day were also some great moments of 2013.

As the holiday season approached, there were some incredible reunions with lifelong pals and the ability to take Laura to see The Nutcracker as well as our annual Christmas Party at Midlands Tech. Our church had a beautiful candlelight service and "Thankful Christmas Dinner." We also added an amazing Youth Minister to our staff and ministry is both exciting and challenging as always.

As I was frantically creating spreadsheets, grading papers, and entering final grades on December 17, I received word that Pastor Don Davis, my pastor since 1983, had entered into the glorious presence of the Lord. Amid the busyness of the week, I barely had time to process this great personal loss. Today, I have some quiet time, and I would like to pay proper tribute to my pastor and friend.

I am pretty well on record as to how much of an influence Rick Stilwell had in my coming to know Jesus on April 11, 1983. Two weeks later, I was baptized by Pastor Davis. I was a little nervous about going under the water, and Pastor Don was reassuring and comforting as always. During my actual baptism, my feet came up from under me and I got scared. Immediately I felt Pastor Don's arm grab and hold me tight as he brought me up out of the water. That was the moment I knew he was and forever would be my pastor. I knew that anytime my feet slipped from underneath me, he would be there to catch me. He lived up to that ideal for thirty years for me. I had never had a pastor before Don, and I count myself as truly blessed to have had him.

Over the years, Pastor Don was there for me more times than I can count. It would take a lot of words to recount each time. Suffice it to say that for the eleven years that he was my pastor, he was a part of every significant moment of my life, the good ones and the not-so-good ones.

At the age of sixteen, I went on a visit with Pastor Don. He offered me a ride home, but asked me if I could go on this visit with him first. It was there, that night, in the home of Rick and Janelle Green, that the Lord issued the clarion call to ministry on my life. I shared that with Pastor Don and he rejoiced and from then on, sort of took me under his wing and mentored me. I didn't always heed his advice, and I would later apologize to him for this.

Years later, I had the privilege of serving with Pastor Don on the Executive Ministry Team of the Lexington Baptist Association. Being a pastor made me realize how much of an influence Pastor Don had on everything I do. He told me on more than one occasion that he was very proud of me. To hear those words from such a man as he was no small honor.

In 2004, I went through the most difficult time in my life. Many people turned their backs on me. Pastor Don did not. He counseled me. He prayed with me. The last counseling session we had was the most precious memory I have of him. He prayed for me, not as a pastor, but as a father would pray for a son. He wept as he prayed. He loved me so much. He loved everyone so much. We stayed in touch off and on over the years and I always had a special security just knowing he was always there if I needed him.

The last time I saw Pastor Don was at Rick Stilwell's memorial service. I had the chance to talk with him and share how grateful I was for all he had done for me. We also marveled at the number of us who God called into the ministry under his leadership. He told me again how proud he was of all of us and how blessed we were to be together during the formative years of our faith. I saw him tear up again, for only the second time in my life. I gave him a big hug and said goodnight. He looked fantastic as always. That is how I choose to remember him, the way he looked that night, before his health declined.

There are not enough words to pay adequate tribute to this great man of God. He never sought to be great. He never displayed career ambition. He was simply a servant of God who loved the Lord and loved others...deeply. He was one of the last of what I call the "Greatest Generation" of pastors. So many pastors today are career-minded and competitive. They are more interested in greatness than in magnifying Jesus. Pastor Don made much of Jesus. Whether he was in the pulpit, at home, at the gym, at a restaurant, or at a pastors meeting, he embodied the meekness of Christ.

I have no doubt that Pastor Donald Paul Davis is in heaven right now, surrounding the throne of God with all the others who are there because of his ministry.

Today, I live with the reality that Pastor Don is no longer here for me to lean on. I must be the pastor now. I must take what he taught me to my small neck of the woods and wherever the Lord leads me. I must carry on his legacy of loving people into the Kingdom of God by example, and if necessary, by words. Pastor Don gave me many pieces of advice though the years. One that I will cling to is that, "People don't care about how much you know until they know how much you care."

He cared. He cared so very much. So long, for now, my pastor, my mentor, and my friend. I will see you later!

Life Beyond

© Sue Walkinshaw
I feel the warmth upon my face as I enter the land of God's good grace,
Friends and loved ones gone before, waiting here beyond the door.
With open arms they welcome me, amazement in my eyes they see.
They look so well and at their best, beauty beholds them now they rest.

I walk across the grass so green, the greenest grass I've ever seen,
I jump and skip and bounce on air, it's almost like there's nothing there.
A sky of blue, not a cloud in sight, perpetual day no darkest night.
Every flower is in full bloom, undefined colours of every hue.

The streams and rivers crystal clear, no rubbish or decay found here.
The sea is calm and turquoise blue, I long to test it, wouldn't you?
The softest sand beneath my feet, at the waters edge where they both meet.
The warmest waters gently flow, bathing me from head to toe.

A city built of alabaster walls, where translucent light eliminates the halls.
Theatres of music and concerts too, magnificent galleries for all to view.
Amazing sights for me to see, I just wander in, there's no entrance fee.
Libraries stacked with books galore, history, science and many more.

The celestial sun does forever shine, it's a perfect temperature all the time.
Orchards here overflow with fruit, a taste in itself that is quite exquisite.
I'm told it will help my soul to restore, pick what I like, there is plenty more.
This ethereal plain is a pure delight, it's my new home, my God given right.

There is nothing here to cause me fear, the lord protects within his sphere.
An infinity of perfect peace, from the toils of earth I am now released.
I have landed on a higher realm, in perfect harmony to forever dwell.
So believe when I tell you my dear friends, you cannot die, life never ends.

Source: Life Beyond, Spiritual Poem about Death 
Family Friend Poems 


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