Tuesday, August 28, 2007

We Fly Away

Psalm 90:10 The length of our days is seventy years— or eighty, if we have the strength; yet their span is but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away.

One week ago my life changed. In one swift moment the unthinkable became reality.

The afternoon of Thursday, August 16, 2007, I was in another office at the church meeting with a friend from out of town. Tammy and Kayla were traveling after school to Hattiesburg, Mississippi for Kayla to audition with a cello professor. An hour, or so, after they left me at the office, I heard my cell phone ringing on my assistant’s desk. I let it ring thinking Judy would pick it up. Then my private phone began ringing, followed by my cell phone again. Suddenly, I remembered Judy had left the office early for an out of town trip. Immediately, I left the meeting to answer my cell phone. My precious daughter’s voice was on the other end. "Daddy! Oh, Daddy!" "Kayla, what's wrong?" I asked, as my heart rose to meet my throat. "Mommy is asleep and a man just pulled me out of the car." I knew what that meant: tragedy had intruded into our everyday existence. Instantly, I knew I needed to be with my daughter. The man who pulled Kayla from the wreckage then got on the phone. "Is my wife okay?" I asked urgently. "Sir, you need to get here as soon as possible."

I don't know how, but in approximately thirty minutes Dr. Mike Cook, my longtime friend and colleague, drove me to the halfway point between Mobile and Hattiesburg—the scene of the accident. Traffic was backed up almost a mile. We drove on the shoulder of the road until a policeman directed us to take the opposite lane. An ambulance was parked at the top of a slight hill; Kayla was lying on a stretcher inside. An eighteen wheeler sat facing west, in the right lane a few hundred yards from where our truck stopped. As Mike navigated to the ambulance, I saw a group of men standing around.

As a pastor, I’ve been present at the site of many gut-wrenching tragedies. I cannot tell you how many times I have been at the scene of horrible traffic accidents, suicides, and other such tragedies. In every case, the severity of the tragedy that has just occurred can be readily judged by the manner in which people stand around awkwardly shuffling their feet with their heads down, avoiding eye contact. As we came upon the scene and I observed those present, I said "Mike, Tammy is gone!" Though he sought to reassure me that may be a premature estimation, I knew otherwise.

I stepped into the ambulance to comfort my terrified daughter. At that time, we thought Kayla’s arm may have been broken. Medical personal would not tell Kayla or me anything about Tammy. Once assured that Kayla was in good hands, I stepped out into the humid sunshine to go and see about my precious wife. I was stopped by a medic. I pulled away and continued on my way to her. A patrolman motioned for me to step back, because I was standing where the helicopter was about to land. I went back into the ambulance. At this point, Kayla was crying for me not to make her fly in the helicopter. I assured her that it was safe and that I would be with her.

Mike and a highway patrolman motioned for my attention. "Mr. Litton, you need to sit down." "No,” I said, “shoot straight with me." My dear and courageous friend Mike said, "Pastor, Tammy did not make it. I am so sorry!" I do not know how to express what I felt; it was shock and I knew it was shock. I was numb, yet fully aware that what I had just been told was true. The helicopter landed and a tall medic, in a blue flight suit, said to me. "Mr. Litton, come this way." He escorted me to the passenger side of the helicopter. The seat-belt was trapped and snapped in place. I shook hands with the pilot and thanked him for his help. I heard noise in the back and felt the cabin pressurize, as the back door was closed. "Stand by." The pilot announced to the crew. "Ready!" was their response. As the helicopter lifted upward, I took note of my emotions. No tears yet, no panic, but I wouldn't call it peace. It was peaceful, but it was simply a still moment. The kind of moment God has used in my life many times when He was about to punctuate a truth in me. As we lifted, I could see those men--those sweet helpless helpers who had come to my wife and daughter’s rescue. They stood awkwardly around Tammy's body, now covered with a blanket. Two men attempted to shield my view of her with a blue tarp. I remember thinking, "Don't do that. It's okay."

As the helicopter lifted swiftly up, I could not take my eyes off of her petite frame lying beneath that blanket. Then suddenly, clearly the Spirit of God spoke to my shocked and wounded heart. He said, "This is the path Tammy just took just a few minutes ago." Peace flooded my soul and for the next fifteen minutes, as we made our way to the trauma center in Mobile. I knew God had sent His holy angels and they had lifted her up on wings like eagles and she rose, as if raptured, into His holy presence.

You may call me a mystic. Perhaps I am that, but I believe God graces us with moments of insight. I believe He occasionally allows us to stand so close to the edge that we see His glory and hear the fluttering of angel’s wings. I cling not to my experience that day; I cling to the Word of God, by which I judge my experience and I find nothing inconsistent with God's Word in my experience. I believe and long for the coming of the Lord, either in my life or in the Second Coming of Christ.

Psalm 90:10 tells us, The length of our days is seventy years— or eighty, if we have the strength; yet their span is but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away. My sweet wife did not get seventy or eighty years in this life. From my earthbound and sorrowful perspective, my bride of twenty-five years of marriage and over twenty-eight years of friendship, suffered a sudden and tragic death. At the same time, I am confident that because of the grace of God through the shed blood of Jesus Christ, in whom she trusted, Tammy did fly away.

Regrets are usually created by the things we delay, or put off, until such a moment that we become aware that we cannot now do what was needed. Psalm 90:12 teaches us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. There is a joy that comes from knowing you have numbered your days and prepared in advance by trusting Christ as Savior and Lord. Be ready. For in an hour when you may least expect it, the Lord may say, "Quickly, come home." Then you too will fly away.

Ed Litton

Wednesday, August 22, 2007


Tammy and I have so much we wish to teach our children but in this hour I find myself learning from them. Kayla and I hugged and wept together the other day and she opened her heart to me. Amazingly, every thing she said, I was feeling. Even how she said it was how I would have chosen to say it. Today she shared a poem with me that she wrote less than two weeks ago. We were on our way to visit Josh in Orlando. The amazing part of this poem it how fitting it is for where we are two weeks later.

by Kayla Litton

What do you do
When hope seems so far away
That you think you won't last another day
When you are afraid of your own thoughts
Afraid that they will make you remember what you lost
Every minute you keep yourself occupied
Trying to avoid the times where you could not stop and cry
The times themselves were not all bad
But all you can dwell on is what you used to have
But as hard as you try
Gone is the only word that occupies your time
Try as you may, but the memories won't go away
What is the one thing that can gets you through
Hope is what makes you carry on
Hope is what will make you strong
Strong so that someday, you can realize you were wrong
Hopes that you will see her again
Hopes to be forgiven for your sin
But hope is the thing that makes you pick yourself up
And not to eventually forget the times that were hard
But hopes that those times will not scar
As hopes of focusing on the good times
Memories that make you smile when they come to mind
Memories of the good times
Times when you saw her smile
When you sat and laughed for a while
When she stroked your head ,and said I love you
The thought that you will see her someday new

I am proud of a thirteen year old girl with wisdom, wit and insight to
the human soul. I know Tammy is proud.

I am also proud of my dear wife's choice to stay home and invest in the lives of our three children. Schooling at home is not for the faint of heart. Tammy had many misgivings but conquored them all like the champion she was. She was the greatest teacher they will ever know. Tyler told me while we were selecting books for his new college courses that many of the required readings he already read. In his freshman year of high school Tammy had him read over 70 books. The typical way I left for work on most school days was to find them all sitting in the living room reading out loud some classic.

I am proud of Joshua for his leadership at this hour. I know from history that great leaders are often born in the midst of great crisis. He bears the marks of both parents but his servant heart is clearly learned and modeled by his mother.

I was not expecting God's grace to come to me in this manner. It is coming from so many places but the most rewarding is from the hearts, hands and lips of my beloved chlldren.

It is well with our souls!
Ed Litton

Saturday, August 18, 2007

She Tuned the Orchestra of Our Lives

I cry tears of joy for the one who tuned the orchestra of my life…

Before the gift of Kayla came to us, I remember that Tammy had a "gig" as she called it. She had been asked to play principle oboe for a classical concert in Tucson. By some strange arrangement of our lives, it happened to fall on "Take Your Daughter to Work Day." That was the Feminist movement's way of glorifying a woman's role far away from home.

That night at the concert, I held a squirmy little Josh on one knee (well, you can imagine how difficult that would have been) and Tyler on the other. As the oboe began to tune the orchestra, I whispered, "Boys, listen."

They both stopped squirming. Simultaneously they looked up at me. It was the sound they'd heard in our house so many times as Tammy made reeds and practiced.

"Mom!" They knew who was playing the oboe. It was their mother.

As the symphony tuned to Tammy, I pulled the boys closer to me. "Your mother could tune the greatest orchestras in the world,” I whispered into their little ears, “but she chose to stay at home and raise two boys for the glory of God."

I don't know if that memory or my ambitious words have a place in their minds today. But I will never forget how she tuned our lives. How she played in perfect pitch the melody that made life worth living.


Thursday, August 02, 2007

Love Your Neighbor

There are 6.5 billion people who inhabit planet earth. More than two billion of them, or one out of every three persons, claim to be Christians. According to the latest research from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, most non-Christians have never met a real Christian. It is estimated that as many as 86 percent of Buddhists, Hindus, and Muslims have never known a Christian. Globally, more than 80 percent of all non-Christians do not personally know a Christian.

This reveals a serious crisis for Christians. It appears that we have assigned ourselves to a gospel ghetto, in which we move only among those who share like faith and values. Our lives have been robbed of daily contact with non-Christians. Like His first disciples, we modern day followers of Jesus Christ have allowed our personal needs, likes, and dislikes to become superior to His command to love unsaved people. Isn’t it just like Jesus to disturb our comfort zone and lead us into some “Samaritan” city we would rather avoid, in order for people to come in contact with Christ? It is critical that we do not confuse our occasional journey out of our ghettos on a "mission" trip to be sufficient. We encounter people daily who have not yet met a "real" Christian. We need to pray expectantly: "Lord, open my eyes to see those you would have me love in your name."

Many of us confuse our emotions with our love; but, love is not primarily an emotion. It is a command. Love often requires that we put aside our personal likes, dislikes, and prejudices and see people the way Jesus does. We don't have to understand their ways, or like what entertains them, in order to reach out to them. Ultimately, we will all have to give an account to the Lord for exactly why we withheld love from people He called us to love. When Christ commanded us to love our enemies, He commanded action--not emotion.

During World War II, C.S. Lewis was asked to do a special radio series for the British people, describing the doctrines of Christianity. It originally aired on the BBC. These lectures were later compiled into a book called Mere Christianity. In discussing the Christian command to love your neighbor, Lewis declared that sometimes this comes easy and at other times it does not. “But though natural likings should normally be encouraged, it would be quite wrong to think that the way to become charitable is to sit trying to manufacture affectionate feelings. Some people are 'cold' by temperament; that may be a misfortune for them, but it is no more a sin than having a bad digestion is a sin; and it does not cut them out from the chance, or excuse them from the duty, of learning charity. The rule for all of us is perfectly simple: do not waste time bothering whether you 'love' your neighbor; act as if you did.”

Ed Litton