Dying well…

Yesterday, I completed two books that confirmed and added to some things upon which I’ve been meditating for a couple of years. I finished “Bonhoeffer – Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy” by Eric Metaxas and I finished Eusebius’ “The Church History” by Paul Maier. The Church History gave a generous sampling of the martyrdoms and persecutions throughout the first 4 centuries of church history. Bonhoeffer was executed by the Nazi regime only a couple of weeks before Hitler’s suicide and the fall of Germany near the end of WWII. Bonhoeffer individually, and the martyrdoms corporately, displayed an amazing approach to death that I believe has eluded the majority of western Christians living in the relative ease of the 21st Century. Bonhoeffer’s evaluation of his death was this, as he was being retrieved by the Gestapo for the last time, he bid farewell to an acquaintance and said, “this is the end, for me the beginning of life.”

My own view of death was radically changed during the early months of 2021. My brother, Nathan’s wife, Jenny, discovered that she had breast cancer in December of 2019 and that cancer ended her earthly race in March of 2021, she was only 42. In the providence of God, our family moved from Illinois to North Carolina in August of 2020 and so we were near Jenny and her family for the last 8 months of her life on earth. As Jenny’s body wasted away, her spirit grew in life in a way which none of us had observed before. The approach of her eternal reward and the tangible grace which accompanied her final months made it hard to feel sorry for her (other than the sympathy for her physical suffering); she was living in anticipation of the voice of Jesus. Of course, we experienced the pain of our loss. Our hearts ached for Nathan, her children, the rest of our family, and the church family which loved her so dearly. But her disengagement from the things of earth, her determination to prepare her family for eternity, and her devotion to the love of her Saviour who she would soon meet, were inspiring – and that is an understatement.

I had known Jenny since we were in college together. Before she and Nathan started dating, she and I were actually “study buddies” in the college library. Her manner of thinking was critical, systematic, and logical – like my own, and so we had many good conversations. I was thankful for her friendship and especially pleased that the Lord allowed her to marry my brother. Nathan is one of my best friends and so their union brought me great joy.

It is not my intent to describe everything about Jenny’s last few years and months here. One of the greatest honors of my life was when Nathan asked me to write and deliver Jenny’s eulogy at her funeral. I spent hours in prayer, tears, and joyful reflection of memories of her as I prepared these words to share with those who attended the memorial service for her. I will simply share her eulogy here, and then challenge you to consider, are you ready to die well?

Jenny Deatrick – Eulogy

3/26/2021

“The word eulogy, quite literally means, “good word.” I intend to speak good words about Jenny, but you must understand from the very beginning that good words are spoken about Jenny because of her Great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ. So, everything that I say about Jenny is most certainly a reflection of Jesus Christ.

Jenny’s obituary is available to you online and in other places, so I won’t take the time to read it to you this afternoon.

I’ve known Jenny for the exact amount of time that I’ve known my own wife. 25 years ago this August, they, as two young ladies from Illinois, rode in the same car with Jenny’s parents to Ambassador Baptist College – and in the providence of God ended up marrying brothers.

I’ve watched her over the years in various roles:

First and foremost, she was a child of God and a disciple of Jesus Christ. That permeated her life from her teen years until last Sunday afternoon. Everything else that I will say about Jenny must be filtered through that fact.

She was a daughter with unqualified respect and honor for her father and mother. The same was true as a daughter-in-law.

As a sibling, she was loyal to her brothers and sisters. I didn’t know any of them well, but she always spoke with sincere love, appreciation, and liking for each of them.

As an aunt, she was serious, but genuine. From the youngest to the eldest, she spoke meaningful words to them. She treated them like she understood them and that they were worth her time.

As a sister-in-law, to my wife and the other ladies – I could not even begin to touch on the richness of spirit that her camaraderie brought to each of their lives. Her conversation always pointed to the certain truths of God’s Word. As my sister-in-law, two things are prevalent in my mind: First) Lemuel’s first description of the virtuous woman in Proverbs 31 was that her price is far above rubies. The very next thing that he said of her in that long list is that “the heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, so that he shall have no need of spoil. She was God’s gracious gift to my brother and no man has been happier with who God gave him. Second) Also, as my sister-in-law, she has deepened my perspective on life and eternity. As we sat together as a family last Friday evening, she spoke some astounding words to me and all of us. Her focus on heaven and Christ was like a laser! In 17 years of ministry and 44 years of life, I’ve never been with someone that close to heaven, so coherently and intentionally meditating on Jesus and eternity. It was an indescribable privilege to watch Jenny approach the arms of Jesus – because that, not only in her perspective, but in reality, is what her journey has been.

As a mother, Jenny could not have taken her responsibility more seriously. She majored in education in college, not for a vocation, but for her anticipated children. Though some may look at Emalyn, Audrey, Judson, and Elaina and think that their mother was taken too early, the reality is that she did for them, all that God asked of her in her 20 years as a mother. As her children “continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety” it will be proof to all of us what kind of mother she was. Though her body and physical presence are gone, her legacy – the reality of her life, lessons, and love will live in them and their future generations.

As a wife, Jenny brought great satisfaction to Nathan. I remember the day that Nathan told me “I’m going to invite Jenny Shreeves to the Valentine Banquet” (I don’t know why he used her last name, I knew who she was – she and I were already good friends). I remember their wedding day and the unfettered joy that exuded from them both. I remember him telling me of kissing her on an old bridge on a dirt road outside of Wayland, Missouri. In almost 23 years of marriage – it only got better. When I watched Nathan kiss Jenny on her bed the other night, the fire of their love had not diminished. Cancer can’t quench real love. As I listened to Jenny talking to my wife and I last Thursday and Friday, I was struck by how often she referred to Nathan as “my husband.” It dawned on me that she was doing it intentionally. She had chosen, in life, to honor not just the man that God had given to her, but the relationship that God had designed. And as we know of Jenny, she was not just a product of a Christian culture or sub-culture, her thinking was calibrated by the absolute authority of the Word of God.

As a pastor’s wife, Jenny was just Jenny. The Scriptures have very little to say about what a pastor’s wife should be. Millions of people and churches have developed paradigms for what they think is an ideal pastor’s wife, Jenny would have chuckled at most of that. She walked with God, she supported her husband, she discipled her children, she lived with holy behavior, she guarded her tongue, and she taught and exemplified good things – especially to the younger women.

As a sister-in-Christ… one of Jenny’s very few regrets, was not getting to spend more time with many of you in the last couple of weeks and days of her life. However, her times were in God’s hands and for some reason He didn’t permit that for many of you who would have liked to have seen her. So, I feel the responsibility to share with you of some of those last days

These were some of her last words that I heard with my own ears (in no specific order):

“I told my husband, if God is giving me grace to go through this, then he will also give you the grace to go through this.”

“I’m not surviving, I’m thriving!”

I’ll be so glad to get to heaven and no longer have the earthly inhibitions of praise.” She chuckled and said, “I want to dance before the LORD, like David did!”

“When I get to heaven, I won’t wonder who Jesus is, I’ll know His voice!”

“Since there is no time in heaven, it won’t seem like long before you all are there too!”

“He is worthy!”

“Jesus is better!”

Finally, when she and Nathan had received the final diagnosis of her cancer, she said, “I laid myself on the altar and said, this is God’s will for me to go …. and I embrace it, actually, I love it!”

I told you at the beginning that this eulogy, the “good words” regarding Jenny, would be a reflection of Jesus Christ. So, I finish this by saying, that our sister-in-Christ, lived as a Christian should live, and she died as a Christian should die! God graced all of us with an earthly reflection of Jesus.” (End of Jenny’s eulogy)

So, I ask you, how will you die? I want to live well and die well. Believers have been exemplary in death for thousands of years and I want to be reckoned among those. As the author of the book of Hebrews so distinctly wrote, “these all died in faith…”

Postscript:

Nathan and his family are doing well. Within a year, God brought him a new wife, Grace. We have embraced her and love her as the family that she is. They are expecting a child together next summer. As far I as I can see, Jenny’s children are doing well, though I exhort you to continue much in prayer for them – losing your mother as a teenager is difficult, but they will depend on God’s grace to sustain them.