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.