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

23 comments:

Patricia said...

What would we do without the love of our Heavenly Father and the hope that comes from trusting in Him? May God continue to bestow peace and grace upon you and the children.

In Christ's Love,
Patricia O'Donnell

Pam Hooper said...

It is hard to imagine your loss and yet I know it. I remember the last time I was with you at seminary and you took me to the airport...do you remember the funny ending? My prayers are with you and all of your family: kids, Betty and Sue and Harry. Keep your armor on! Love, Pam Hooper

Myra Crossley said...

Genesis 48:7 says, "As I was returning from Paddan, to my sorrow Rachel died in the land of Canaan while we were still on the way, a little distance from Ephrath. So I buried her there beside the road to Ephrath" (that is, Bethlehem)." Pastor Ed, I'm sure I speak for all of the FBNM family when I say that it's an honor to be your Canaan.

Darrell said...

As I sit here and listen to the Come Home song, my heart goes out to you and your children. What a blessing Tammy was to sooo many. While we are seperated by miles, it does not change the love our family has for all of you. Last night Jacob prayed the sweetest prayer for you and your family. He asked God to help you thru this and to let you know that this was not an accident and that God was still in control. Tammy's going home service was the most inspiring and uplifting service I have ever been a part of. God bless you Ed and family. In Him, Darrell Whitehead

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry that I have no eloquent words to give you but we love you & pray for you & your family daily! Bryan, Jennifer, & Izzie Sanders

Cat said...

Your extended family in Las Vegas in praying for you daily. May you and your family continue in the Peace and Grace of our Lord Jesus.
God's Peace,
Cat

Buggy-Buggy said...

I smiled as I read your post. It reminded of Karen's going home and the incredible peace God afforded me at that moment.

Thanks,

Mike

Anonymous said...

PASTOR YOU ARE IN OUR PRAYERS..

2 Corinthians 1:3-5
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. 5For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.

Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.
Romans 12:15

WITH LOTS OF LOVE,

Pat Edmonds said...

Your words touched my heart and soul. God has given you much wisdom & strength during this time. I am borrowing some words from Dr. Foley: "Hold on Tight."
God Bless you. Pat Edmonds

Godizgr8 said...

Pastor Ed,
I just wanted to let you know that I am and have been praying for your family. Though I am praying for you all...my heart has been particularly burdened for Kayla. The Lord places her on my mind almost daily. Tara and I both have been lifting you all up in our prayers!

Soli Deo Gloria
Abbey V. Sisson

John & Donna Skipper - West Mobile Baptist said...

"We Fly Away" .... what comforting thoughts. Thank you for sharing your heart with many you know and others like us, whom you may not know. It's obvious that your precious wife's death is touching many lives. We are praying that daily strength and peace from the Father will be provided for your family - new every morning.

Anonymous said...

Dear Pastor Ed & family,
Thank you for sharing.

Heaven... a place thought about during good times and bad.

During good times Christians think about how great their time with their Heavenly Father will be in heaven one day.
In bad times of sickness or death believers look to heaven as a place of peace and serenity where God will deliver them from periods of pain and suffering.
No matter the situation, heaven will one day be a place that Christians can call home.

I think about my mother when I hear this song… she passed away unexpectedly last year on Sunday while I was at church she was only 50 years old.

If You Could See Me Now
If you could see me now, I'm walking streets of gold.
If you could see me now, I'm standing strong and whole.
If you could see me now, you'd know I've seen His face.
If you could see me now, you'd know the pain is erased.

I am so excited about the day
"We All Fly Away"
Your friend in Christ

Renee said...

Pastor Ed,
Ryan and I are so thankful to be at such a wonderful church and that we could come along side you and your family to comfort and love you in this time of loss like you have every Sunday for us. You are in our thoughts and prayers. Thank you for sharing your heart and allowing us to see inside. You and your family are so loved
by us and this church. We are here if you need anything. Tammy will be greatly missed by all!!

In Him,
Ryan and Renee King

Amy said...

Pastor Ed,
I remember the Wednesday night before the accident. Tammy and I were in the work room making copies and stuff, and I was trying to talk her into some michevious act.. all of which she just laughed and said "you're crazy, girl!". We sat there and laughed for a good 3 minutes. She informed me that because I like to talk a lot, it sometimes distractes her from playing.. and I thought she was serious. All I could do was say.. "Im sorry!" but then, the 6 words she said after that statement will ALWAYS be in my heart... she said "That's what I love about you!". She will be truly missed... know that you are in our thoughts and prayers.... Thank you for being such a great pastor - I truly could not have asked for a better one.
I love you..
In Christ ALONE,
Amy Goff

Anonymous said...

Pastor,

In the midst of your hurt, you continue to be such a witness of our LORD and the reality of His resurrection. I have watched you deal with Tammy's victory over Death and I've been encouraged by you. It is an honor to call you my Pastor and my friend. My prayers are with you and your dear family.

Growing and learning,
Adam King
Mobile, AL

Cathy (and Kyle) Taylor said...

I love the way you lead us by example. Even in the midst of heartache and devestation, you teach us through your thoughts and words in this blog. You and your family have been such an inspiration to us.

I do not find it surprising that Tammy has continued to bless our community even through her death. Her dream of a music school is now surpassing our expectations. The donations to her music school will help the school grow beyone her imagaination. It's as though she sacrificed herself to benefit others!

Thank you for being our leader. Thank you for your examples and your sacrifices. Your loss is not in vain. God is blessing multitudes through this tragedy.

Love,
Cathy Taylor
(from the family of Kyle, Cathy, Holly, and Russ Taylor)

Anonymous said...

Pastor Ed: I always knew Jesus used someone's pain for someone elses' gain. It just still amazes me. It amazes me also how at your time of grief, you still minister. My child is 13 and in the process of losing his dad to cancer. I have read this blog to him and it is ministering to his spirit. I am thankful God uses you as he does. I have been at a loss for words. So God has sent yours. Thank you.

Katelyn Ewing said...

Pastor Ed,

I know that things have been hard since your wife flew away. Losing someone like that is anything but easy. I pray daily that God will comfort you and your family in your time of need.

Even though Mrs. Litton is no longer alive in body, her spirit lives on in the hearts of those she touched and through her school of music. Though we no longer have the pleasure of enjoying the company of this wonderful woman, we will always have memories of the times we spent with her. And one wonderful day, we too can make the same journey as our beloved sister in Christ, and then we will see her lovely face again and listen to her beautiful voice sing praises to God.

God Be With You

Katelyn Ewing said...

Pastor Ed,

I know that things have been hard since your beloved wife flew up with the angels. Losing someone like that is anything but easy. I pray daily that you and your family receive the comfort needed in your time of trial.

Even though Mrs. Litton no longer lives among us in body, her spirit lives on in the hearts of the people she has touched and through her school of music. Though we no longer have the pleasure of enjoying the company of such a wonderful woman, we still remember the wonderful times we spent with her. And one blessed day, we will make the same journey to be with her. We too, can join in song with the choir I know she is in. And again, we can see the lovely face of the one who finished the race with honors and who won her fight.

Anonymous said...

Pastor Ed,

When its dark, the kids are in bed, and silence decends, when you reluctantly go to a empty bedroom, when you see your soulmates things, when you feel the tug of your heartstrings and quietly break out in the flood of grief that shouts to be let out, know that a fat old man, of no consequence, a nobody, someone that has met you only twice, and his beloved wife who is his all except for Christ, know that my prayers are going up for you and your family. You can count on THAT!

God bless all you yall!!!

Jan Owen said...

Although I do not know you I have been extremely touched to read your blogs. I wanted to thank you for sharing your heart of hearts with us - the world. In reading your thoughts God has taught me some truths about grieving in Him. I will pray for you, your family and your church in the days ahead. May you feel His presence every step of the way...

MandyFono said...

Ed, I'm not sure if you remember Neil and Sheila Sullivan from Tucson, AZ. I am their daughter Mandy, we heard the news and had no idea how to get in contact with you, there are no words to express how sorry we are for you and the kids loss. Tammy was such a beautiful spirit. She was such a beacon of Christ's love to all she met. We will always be blessed by the short time we were able to spend with her. We would love to get in touch with you further if possible, my email is mandyfono@hotmail.com, my dad's is cornelius06@hotmail.com.
With Love and many many prayers on your family's behalf.

Anonymous said...

I came back to this particular post tonight, Pastor Ed, to draw strength from your words and to find comfort in your journey. Two weeks ago on Valentines Day , my baby girl, Abby, who would have been two in May, died in a car accident involving a head on collision with another vehicle. I can't describe but I know you understand the smothering pain that has seemed to envelope me in the aftermath. I am thankful that my wonderful wife, who was injured badly but has survived, is here for me to care for and to share my grief with me. I remember so vividly when the news came of your wife's passing how it rocked us and hurt us and we really only knew her from the little stories that you shared and just seeing her at church, but we knew, at least in part, what she meant to you. Tears fell as we prayed and wept yet we had no clue that just a few short months later that our gift of joy and the little girl that we loved so dearly would be taken away in an instant. She was such a sweet and loving little girl. I can still feel her hugs as she would wrap her arms around my neck and say, "kiss". I can't explain it, but reading back on your thoughts, written just days after Tammy's death, holds such a different meaning for me at the loss of my dear Abby and is ministering to me in such a great way. The pain seems unbearable and so dark but there is a ray of light that refuses to be extinguished and it is the love of Christ penetrating the clouds of grief. Our hearts are hurting unlike anything we've ever known but we have that blessed assurance that she is in a place of unimaginable warmth and happiness, under the loving gaze of Jesus Christ. Our reunion can't come soon enough. I long for that happy day when hugs and kisses and shouts of joy ring eternal. Come quickly Lord Jesus. Thank you so much for sharing with us bits of your journey down this road. We love you and continue to pray for you.

Love,
Kevin & Kristal Mayfield