This last week my family said goodbye to my grandfather. He was 81 years old and perfectly ready to go. He'd been ready for a long time.
Twenty-six years ago, almost exactly one year after the death of his wife, my Mammaw, Papa suffered a massive heart attack and required a triple bypass surgery. I was eight, and he was my favorite person. He lived through the surgery, but I was still traumatized and cried all the time for weeks. Every time I had to leave him I cried.
One day he sat me down at the dining room table. I told him I was afraid he was going to die. And in true Martin form, without a hint of gentleness, he said, "I am." He said, "Jennifer, one day I'm going to die. It might be today. It might be tomorrow. It might be forty years from now. But whenever I die, I'll be ready to go." He pointed to the hall outside his bedroom door and said, "Darlin', my bags are packed."
And even though there weren't any bags in the hall, I saw them there.
People sometimes tell me they envy my courage. They say I don't seem afraid of much. I think that's mostly true. I learned that from my grandfather. He taught me never to fear death, only to be prepared for it. And if you're not afraid of death, what is there to fear, really?
This past week, my family gathered around his fading flesh, but not to say goodbye. We'd done that already. He'd been dying for a long time, and we'd all had beautiful moments by his side. One night a few months ago I got a call from Huntsville Hospital. The doctors thought he would die any minute. My mom told me this would probably be my last chance to talk to Papa. He picked up the phone. I said, "Hi, Papa." He said, "Jennifer, I'm afraid you've spoiled me." And I said, "I hope so."
On Saturday night, I spoke my actual last words to him, these beautiful words from Romans chapter 8. I couldn't help but read the whole chapter:
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death... If Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you...
For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory...
What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? ... Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? ...No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Tonight I pray that I would always live with packed bags, that I would bravely face the unknown, trusting the One who knows, and that I would never let death push me around.
I pray for all of us that we wouldn't fear death. We can hate it. And fight it. And mourn it. But I pray we wouldn't fear it. For there is no fear in Christ.