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It has been six months since my father died. His name was James Gary Winter, and he died on December 12, 2015, 40 days after he was diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer.
His career was exceptional. Retiring as a Lieutenant Colonel from the U.S. Air Force, he had flown combat missions over Vietnam, led the proof of concept team for stealth, seen the inside of Area 51, been the Air Force liaison to the black projects, and had offices at the National Security Agency and the Pentagon.
My mother, Linda Luan Whiteley Winter, preceded him in death. She passed away from melanoma skin cancer when I was 12, on December 5, 1990.
I have learned a lot about life, death, cancer and the nature of God through these experiences. I learned there is no Stage 5. I learned I needed to be able to explain the basics of how cancer works because my children will ask me why Grandpa died, and a simple "He had cancer" will not do as an explanation. I learned the stages of grief include a stage for anger, and that we have a decision to make about how long that stage lasts. I have also learned what really matters in life.
My father was holy man. He spent his time leading his latest Life Group and mentoring other men. He spent time in the Word, and he talked about it with others. He encouraged me to put its words into practice. He praised my wife and me in our efforts to raise godly children. He was just as likely to spend his time walking another man through hardship, or encouraging him to grow in his faith, as he was anything else.
At his funeral, we gathered friends and family to mourn his death. We spent some time talking about his exceptional career. But in the end, we spent most of that day remembering examples of when my father encouraged us in Christ. Two men he mentored stood and read Scripture. His sons eulogized him, and talked of his faith and his desire that Jesus would be glorified that day. Afterward, we all shared a meal together.
As a follower of Christ, your friends and family will gather and do likewise when you pass away. You will be celebrated and remembered on that day, and those who gather will speak of when you pointed them to Christ. They will share stories of your faith, and they will look to God for solace and peace in their grief. And life will go on.
Friend, please understand that God has appointed it for man to die once (Hebrews 9:27). But people will remember when you showed Jesus to them. They will remember your faithfulness, and they will talk about who God was in your life.
When you are gone, that will be all that matters.