Sunday, March 14, 2021

The Long Journey Home

I grew up in the Pentecostal tradition. It is a rich and wonderful expression of Christianity with powerful experiences of the Divine. I remember being awed at the power of prayer exhibited by those around me in worship. Many say there is no “liturgy” to their gatherings; however, I know the worship in a Pentecostal church is very “liturgical.” It follows a specific pattern and flow with the absolute expectation that God will show up in powerful ways. It is from this tradition that I gained the understanding that the transition from this life to the next was not just the cessation of life but a “home going.” I can’t remember how many funerals I attended where the preacher spoke forcefully about how the departed was now in their heavenly home. How Christ had prepared a place for them, a mansion in glory, and how now they could bask in the presence of the Lord.


As I face the final part of my journey, I want to embrace this metaphor from my youth once again. I want to lean into John 14, where Christ encourages His disciples not to be troubled but to rest in the fact that He is preparing a place for them (us). With my diagnosis of neuroendocrine tumors over seven years ago, I became acutely aware of taking the journey to “the home”, or as most versions put it “the room,” that Christ has made ready. There are three things that seem certain for most of us as we journey homeward. The journey will be long. There will be suffering. The timing is beyond our control. 

What’s the cliché? Every journey begins with the first step… We love journey narratives. From Lord of the Rings, to the Star Wars movies, to A Christmas Carol by Dickens, we love to travel along with an unlikely soul moving through difficult circumstances to come out on the other side completely transformed. The journey, however, is always long and treacherous. There are mountains, obstacles, villains, and “ghosts from Christmas past” to face. Doubt is an ever-present danger and the temptation to give up and give in is almost always the greatest struggle. 

The journey also involves suffering. Twenty first century Christianity has somehow embraced the heretical notion that suffering isn’t part of the faith journey. If that is so then nearly every saint in the Scripture is somehow tainted by their pain. From Abraham to Jeremiah to Paul, the heroes of the faith all were embattled and scarred by their journey. Even Jesus, the best of humanity (and divinity) suffered dreadfully, and by His stripes is our eternal healing made manifest. What on earth has led us to believe that we should be exempt from suffering when the world is so broken? We have somehow bought into a Santa Claus theology that if we say the right combination of words, utter the right phrases, or quote the right Scriptures (usually vastly out of context lacking all theological or exegetical integrity) we can open a treasure trove of riches, real and spiritual, and escape all suffering. Transformative journeys always involve suffering; the journey home will be no different.

Lastly, and maybe the most frustrating for me, is that the timing of the end of the journey is beyond our control. Repeatedly the Scripture reminds us that we don’t know the “day or hour.” I am a planner. I like to make a plan, prepare the plan, and execute the plan. Just the other day a former staff member from Lake Junaluska reminded me of how I always told them that “excellence is 80% preparation, 10% perspiration, and 10% execution.” You don’t get the end product without working the process.

If being on the journey has taught me anything it is that I am never sure what happens next. When I was diagnosed 7 ½ years ago I thought I had maybe six months to live. Then I thought I’d maybe have a couple of years. About six months ago, the doctor said six to twelve months. I’ve passed that six-month mark. What’s next? Essentially what I know is that I don’t know. Ambiguity is the tent that I am camped out in. 

One of the hardest things about being diagnosed with a terminal condition is not only what it does to you, but what it does to those around you. You see the concern, weariness, and pain upon their faces. You feel their concern with every hug. You want to release them from the pain however you know that is impossible. I don’t know when the journey will end. All I can do is take the next step, and the one after that and rely on those traveling with me to hold my hand and my heart as we travel together. 

So, I lean into John 14, believing that at the right time, after the long journey, after the suffering, and when the time is right, I will trust Jesus when He promises, “You know the way to the place I’m going.” Then I’ll finish the long journey home. 

25 comments:

Paul Dunham said...

Once again, speaking faith into the hard road, and we are blessed to ask the hard questions of ourselves. Lead on Marty. God goes before you.

Julie Green said...

I want to say something encouraging and uplifting to you my friend, but the truth is that you have encouraged me. As I type my screen is blurry with tears ...selfish tears because I miss you and would love to give you and Danelle a hug. You are a true picture of grace and peace in the midst of suffering. I know you are relying on His Grace that is sufficient for you and me. May your words impact many as you soon feast at the Master’s table. Love to you and Danelle, Julie Green

Dennis Sheppard said...

Marty, these are such powerful thoughts and you have blessed me. I have prayed for you and your family and I will continue to pray. Thank you for the ways you have blessed me.

Dennis Sheppard said...

Marty, these are such powerful thoughts and you have blessed me. I have prayed for you and your family and I will continue to pray. Thank you for the ways you have blessed me.

Toby Wall said...

Marty we had little time to get to know each other but the time was well used as for me I needed this today but I do understand every beautiful word you just wrote you don't know but 3 years ago I was diagnosed with ALS which is terminal I lean hard on God and his love it has been a long time since St Paul in Rocky mount but I did want you to know your words were music to me today
Prayers to you and your family again thanks for the words of hope and wisdom Anthony (Toby) Wall

Annette said...

I read this three times to be exact. You know it is hard for me to hide my feelings. It's also hard to accept the conclusion of your journey. Your words through the years have given me strength, understanding, and hope. I've expanded my thinking thanks to your amazing teaching and preaching. I think of happy thoughts remembering the lessons I've learned from you. I smirk at the times when I got myself into situations and you helped me out of them. I have the papers and napkins where you scribbled on them while you enlightened me with explanations to my crazy questions. I watched you go through hard events in your life. You would take it like a pro. Even now as you've written this blog and I have cried like a baby you show your vulnerability with strength. I know many can probably write the same things that I have just written. I'd selfishly like to think that I received the most benefit from your life but I know that you have made an impact on many, many people. I will continue to pray. I will continue to live. I will continue to serve. I will continue to use your name as I spread love, grace, and peace. I love you, Danelle, and your family so much! I needed you to know this. From my heart to yours. Annie

Christy Smith said...

Marty, I love you. I love your steadfastness in faith, the love you have for your wife and kids, and the way you love others. You are such an inspiration and are making such huge impacts on the lives of everyone you meet! I am so glad to have you in my life and blessed to glean from your wisdom, strength, and leadership. Thank you for sharing this testimony. You bring such Glory to God with your life and your words!

Claire Clyburn said...

Marty, you're so true to Christ, and to yourself, and you're still teaching us. I know I will see you again. I will leave the timing to God. Thank you, brother, for your life and witness, for your faith, hope, and love. -Claire

Unknown said...

I'm thankful for knowing you and witnessing your life for Christ. I wish you were near!

Unknown said...

Michelle Batchelor

Adrienne Silvey said...

Marty, my friend, thank you for this, and the grace, generosity, courage and humor with which you've ministered throughout your journey. I love you and am so grateful we connected again. You are a blessing.

Adrienne

Unknown said...

You continue to inspire and lead us toward Christ even on a day when you are tired. I know you wrote this in preparation of this time. Please know God will use you far beyond your earthly life with us. As Annette said, your name will be spoken, your phrases will echo and alliteration and adventure inspired by you will go on. Your life has made a positive impact on so many of us who want to be one tenth the Preacher of the Word that you are. I really want to be the one who Lives life as Passionately as you are. Don't worry about those around you who love you and are holding your hands. They would not trade a moment of this pain for even one evening of board games, one of your loving meals or a Marty bear hug. Walking you home is an honor for all of us. I know I will have so many times that I will selfishly want to ask you for advice, and I will have to cull my memory to get it from the memories of your well-lived (but far from perfect) life. Thank you for being my mentor, my Pastor, my encourager, my Best Friend's true love, my beach partner, and the BEST BIG BROTHER ever. I know you are frustrated and tired, but God is still using you in mighty ways. I pray that when I meet Jesus, he will say to me (as he will already have said to you) "Well done, good and faithful servant." Of course, you will be standing behind him with a smile ready to give me the real critique.
I'll take care of the redhead. LOVE YOU the Mostest!

Unknown said...

I don't know why I was unknown, but that last comment was from me. Missy
Melissa Ricketts Malcolm

Linda B. said...

All those years ago, I am eternally grateful that you heard my encouraging message and followed through to answer God's call on your heart when it seemed too frustrating and difficult. You have enriched and blessed our lives; you have pushed us to think more deeply, care more deeply, love more deeply and showed us the most amazing example of how to live in Christ! You will leave an incredible legacy of faithfulness and joy in all things. These 7-1/2 years have given you the chance to share your most innermost and truly sincere feelings so that we grew because of that transparency .. however raw sometimes. As you journey on, know that you are loved, appreciated and present a shining example who fills us with encouragement to just live each day, each hour, each moment with gratitude and with the knowledge that when our journey on earth is complete, our new home awaits with our loving Lord. Thank you, Brother!

Marti said...

While we know we must each take this journey alone, please know that you know that you know, there are so many who will love and support all those you hold dear. We will always be poor substitutes for Marty love, but we will do our best to remember and re-member and love them all fiercely. Love you Marty with a y!

Marilyn said...

For over seven years, you have been on our intercessory prayer list at Star United Methodist Church. Please know that our thoughts remain with you in love as we all continue this walk toward home.

SoBlessed5 said...

So, I became your FB friend when I mistook you for an old family friend. Some would say that was an accident, but I believe in a very sovereign God, and I don't believe in accidents. Your life, and journey, has been such a blessing and encouragement, and I just want to say thank you! You are such a blessing! You, and your family, are in my prayers.

Unknown said...

Marty, thank you for your words and for the ways you share your story. You continue to be an inspiration. You continue to point people to Christ. Thank you for your witness and know you are in our prayers.

Unknown said...

Wonderful, faithful, wise Marty. We love you from North Carolina and pray continually for you and your family as you feel God's arms around you in these sunset days. As always, you bless us in the transparency of your journey, griefs, joys and hopes. God prepared a place for you among us and you continue to live in that place in amazing ways. God also prepares a place for us yet to come and with you we trust with all our hearts toward eternity. We envision you in the arms of God moment by moment, hour by hour, day by day. Thank you for teaching us that this Lenten life of humanity is a glimmer of the glory that awaits in Easter life forevermore. Prayers abound for you, Danelle, Lydia and all those nearby in presence and in spirit. We love you.

Unknown said...

Post above is from Hope Morgan Ward and your NC Conference family!

Kimla Brandt said...

More than anyone I know, you have embraced the days given to you, always pointing others to the path of Christ. I am better for knowing you. Thank you, Marty, for a life well lived.

Dr K said...

Thank you for sharing Marty - I pray that you keep beating the predictions the doctors give you. Miss our chats my friend. Dr K

Beth Lewis said...

Thanks. Marty, for sharing truth so eloquently.
You and Danelle have been on my mind all week and reading this today made you seem close again. We miss you and appreciate you so much.

Kudakwashe Kagura said...

Hello Marty,
I wanted to thank you for all you have done in my life and especially in youth ministry. I first met you at youth events and at first I will be honest did not pay much attention to you as a youth. Moving further along you are one of the best people I know your joy and enthusiasm for others is out of this world. I want to thank you for the love you have shown me every time I was around you. You made me feel as though I belonged and was worthy to be around the cool people. Your love for God has boosted my faith and encouraged my call and I want to thank you for that too. You bring great joy to all who are around you and I hope that I could do half of what you could. Marty I can honestly say that I was blessed to have been part of your life and I thank God for that. Thank you for your faithful witness, your love, and your grace. May the Lord bless you and keep you may the Lord make his face shine upon you, may the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace, ILOVEYOU Marty!!!!

sharon81065 said...

Thank you, Marty, for this beautifully written expression of your strong faith in the One true God, the suffering and struggles, and your surrender to His will. He does have a plan, and I agree-I’ll meet you at home one day, also. Much love and prayers from the Henrys for you and your family.
Sharon H.