Tragedy struck our family this Christmas, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t still reeling from it. I keep finding myself in a strange fog that tries to suffocate, despite the promises of God that are constantly swimming around in my head. I can only imagine how my sister and her children must be feeling.
It was just days before Christmas . . .
“I’m so sorry to hear about your brother-in-law this morning. I’m praying for your sister and your family.”
I stared at the text in disbelief and gulped in air as panic rose in my throat. I rubbed my tired eyes and read the text again. Yes, it said what I thought it said. I then scrambled to find out what she was talking about, even though I was pretty sure I knew. Little did I know that my family had been trying to get ahold of me and, for some reason, the calls weren’t coming through.
My oldest sister’s husband had suddenly passed away.
My fear became reality. I kept sucking in air to fight back the dam of tears that was on the brink of exploding.
My sister had texted the night before, saying that she and her husband were at the ER because he was experiencing excruciating pain. We had stopped everything to pray for him. But honestly, I think everyone in my family had a bad feeling in the pits of our stomachs. Something just didn’t feel right.
“Becca, I just want you to know that we’re still praying. I’m so sorry your family is having to go through this.”
I had no idea that my last text would be sent a mere hour before his passing.
“Babe! Babe! Harley . . . he . . . Harley passed away last night.” I shook my husband awake, panic filling my voice and heart.
Evan jolted upwards, “No! No!”
I couldn’t hold it back anymore. The dam exploded and sobs racked my chest. “Those poor kids. My poor sister. Oh, my sister! Those kids! Why? Why, God, why?” Evan wrapped me up as I heaved.
It’s amazing the confusion that tragedy suddenly brings. The pain of this world is always confusing, and the “why” bounces around like a ping-pong ball. The “why” is what causes many to not believe in God. It’s what causes many to fall away from Him. I’ll admit that I struggle with the “why.” I don’t know why, and I don’t know if I’ll ever understand. Why would God allow my sister’s family to lose their husband and father at such a young age? My nieces and nephew are now without a father. My sister is suddenly without a husband.
This Christmas ended up being filled with a lot of grief, yet there was an abundance of love.
I got to witness that love through my sister and the people in her life. You never realize the impact you’ve had on people until there is a loss. I’m pretty sure my sister was unaware of the multitude of lives she and her husband laid imprints on until this past Christmas. People from all over the world started showering her and her children with overwhelming love and support. I watched a church community rise up and meet their needs in the most tangible ways. It was both breathtaking and humbling. It caused me to stop and think . . . Have I made such an impact?
To know anything about my brother-in-law, Harley, you’d have to step inside his tall, 6’8” frame and see the world from above. He had a way of making people look beyond him to Christ. When you tilted back your head to look up at him, you couldn’t help but keep looking upward. Perhaps that’s why God made him so tall. God used him as a physical example of a life pointed towards heaven.
Before Harley’s funeral, my sister had asked me to write a eulogy to be read at his memorial service. As I thought back over the twelve years that he and my sister were married, I kept coming back to one thing – his fervent trust in God’s plan . . .
“By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.” This verse in Hebrews adequately describes Harley, as (many might not know) he was like a modern day Abraham. A couple times over the past 12 years with his wife and family, he felt God leading him to “go” even though he did not know where he was going or how the details would work out. But, like Abraham, he obeyed and trusted that God would take care of him and his family. It wasn’t easy. Going to a new place and not knowing the details is never easy. Yet, Harley continued to trust God and His plan, knowing it would all work out for glory of his Heavenly Father.
This is how he always approached life . . . with quiet, fervent faith. Some men take on life with a fiery vigor, leaving a path wherever they go. But, this was not how Harley approached it. He was special. This “gentle giant” had a way of quietly and gently leading every life he touched. His silent footprints were everywhere and it usually was only several moments after the fact that you knew he had been there and were overwhelmed by the awesome impact he had. He loved the Lord so much and expressed it in his devotion to his children, deep love for his wife, and care for his students. Oftentimes, during his breaks between classes, he would read his Bible and pray for his students. He truly loved them and wanted to see them accelerate, while glorifying God in the process. He cared more for their souls than their abilities, and this is how he coached as well. He pushed his team members to do their best and be their best because God expects our best.
He brought this mentality into his family by being a faithful and loving support to his wife, Rebecca, in everything she did. He was the quiet anchor who taught Becca how to relax when life was going crazy. He often asked her to just sit down and watch football (particularly Alabama football) or silly sitcoms with him, all the while insisting she sit right next to him. Harley and Rebecca did their best to make sure everything was done together as a family, even exercise. They made sure to take time to go to the park and go running and walking together. This was one of their opportunities where they could unwind and enjoy each other’s company.
But, Harley was more than just a great husband, he was an exceptional father, making sure he spent time with each of his children. He was a coach and teacher to A and D, leading them to Christ in everything they did.
He loved to lie on the floor and let Baby Girl wrestle with him while watching Wheel of Fortune with her. He enjoyed getting her to growl at he and D. He was just an all-around wonderful father who greatly loved his children.
Harley is already greatly missed by so many. He touched lives everywhere he went, and anyone who knew him could count on him being an honest and devoted friend. He may have been quiet, but he was the kind of person you wanted on your side, loving you and encouraging you every step of the way. Now he is in the presence of his life’s devotion, his Heavenly Father. We know that if he could see the tears being shed today, he would tell us to stop crying and go watch some football.
I shared this with you so that you could get a good idea of the kind of man Harley was. Through the fog of the pain of losing him, I’m reminded of the hope we have in Christ. Though my heart is weak right now, I know there is hope because God promises it. He promises that someday my sister will be reunited with her husband and her children with their father. That hope is what carries us through. It’s what carries me through the loss of Andrew and our other babies. It’s what carries my grandmother through the loss of two husbands. It’s what carries me through the dark clouds of depression. There is hope. Hope that this pain-stricken world will pass away and God will make all things new. It was how He intended it to be. This pain was not His plan. But, He always brings purpose through the pain and one day He will wipe away all of our tears to have them never return again.
Do you have that hope? If not, do you want that hope? Please let me share it with you. Let me tell you about the love of Jesus that abounds beyond measure. Please let me meet you in your pain. I promise you are not alone. Email me. Message me. Let me tell you about God’s hope!
*Professional family photos by Art & Soul Photography by Meggan Taylor*