I’m CSPC Director of Worship Landon Paul. Here’s more of how God is helping me live deeply.
ALS took Mom at age 60 on Black Friday morning, 2021. The night before, I was in a rocking chair feeding our daughter a bottle in my childhood room, crying to the Lord to be gracious to Mom. I had no idea Friday morning would be that ultimate grace. Wow, did He answer that prayer! She passed in her sleep, without experiencing the hardest parts of the disease she deeply feared. The first several months since her passing, I experienced a sense of disequilibrium: Something that’s always been there… isn’t anymore. We are eternal beings and death isn’t natural, and that’s why it’s so hard when you experience it. We’re not fully equipped to deal with this enemy that, praise God, will be defeated. For the first time, I was really met with the issue of mortality. I would wake up in the morning thinking about it and it was also often the last thing I thought about at night. As I worked through it, the thought kept coming back to me: ‘One day, God will be just as gracious to you when your day comes.’ What comfort! ‘Oh Lord, when that day comes, please draw near’ was the new, regular cry of my heart. If Mom could tell us what it was like, I have no doubt she’d say death was like a snake without fangs. You have to go through the bite, but there’s no sting. One of the biggest takeaways for me from all this is that God’s grace is so much bigger, deeper, and all-encapsulating than we could ever imagine. His grace goes before us in ways we don’t even know is happening. Even in the dying process, I just have to believe God will be so much better than I can fathom there… because He’s like that everywhere else, right? So all the fear you have about what it’ll look like, you have to filter what you don’t know through what you do know. And you do know what God is like and how He acts. So if you apply that consistently, you would have to just say, whether you’re facing death or another fear, ‘I don’t know what this is going to look like, but I trust you. Whatever that grace needs to be, I just know it’ll be better, because that’s who You are.’
Mom always had a vibrant faith. She was a wonderful mom in every way, caring deeply for people and creation. Mom was quietly self-sacrificing, joyful, loving, and tenderhearted, caring especially well for her family. She loved the Lord and served Him well all her days in ways we’re still gathering- stories keep coming in from everyone she touched. Mom went through hard things before- like the death of my older brother (who lived to be only a few days old) and the death of her parents from Alzheimer’s disease. Still, she would have told you before her own diagnosis that it was enough for her to just be told the right thing to believe. It wasn’t until after her diagnosis that she really started to mine the depths of the Scriptures. She started to seek the Lord in a totally new way. As her time neared an end, she and Dad would basically just spend their days reading the Bible and listening to sermons and talking about it all. She was so near to God in her walk and dependency, that was almost all she wanted to do- spend more time in His word and in the word preached to her. Her faith was deepened and emboldened as the dying process went on. Her faith went to a completely different universe from where it was before her diagnosis. One ripple you could see was that God was not content with just the easy parts of her heart and head, He wanted the best parts of them. She never would’ve gotten there otherwise. If God is the highest good and eternity with Him is the best thing you could ever experience, then that’s a loving God who says, ‘I want to draw you even nearer now and take you to be with Me.’ He wanted the best part of Mom, and I think this was one way He was able to accomplish that.
Not long after Mom’s diagnosis, I was sitting on the porch at my parents’ house with my dad. He said, ‘Whenever all this ends, I’m just going to need you to be there to help me work through it.’ What that looked like for me right after she died was just checking in on him every day over the phone. My younger brothers, who live much closer to him in Middle Tennessee, were heroes; over at his place all the time. But I had also sketched out a plan to take him to the Saint Meinrad Archabbey in Indiana, where we could just sit with the monks in this sacred setting and unpack together. So after I’d given him some space the first few months, that’s what we ended up doing. We sat out there for a couple days. The first day I heard his heart, listened, and pointed him toward Jesus. The second day we read most of the psalms together and just talked about things God had put there to be a mirror to our own hearts. So we talked about the things God was using to speak to us; giving voice to emotions. We just ate together, stayed up late, slept in late, and chanted with the monks. As we were about to leave, he said, ‘Okay, buddy, what now?’ in sort of a ‘What do I do with my life?’ tone. I told him, ‘I don’t know, but just find the next right thing and do that’, as James had just recently preached to us. That has really stuck with him, just as it had stuck with me. It was fresh in my heart. You put together the next right thing over and over, and then we’ll look back -in six months, two years, five years- and see what God has done. Dad’s a pastor, staying busy and finding that the ‘next right thing’ mentality keeps him moving. And he senses God’s nearness, even as he battles the bouts of triggers and sadness that still come. And that’s our story. God has met us in it and we’re actively pleading for him to continue to meet us in it. By faith, we’re learning what it means to trust in a depth of grace that you can’t always see or understand. By faith, He’ll bring us to Himself on our day, just as he did with Mom. The biggest takeaway? I’m learning how to trust him – to ‘doubt my doubts’ – that’s how God is causing me to live deeply.