It has been a year and a half since my son’s funeral. I have decided to share some of his wisdom along with some of my own reflections about our life together in a book which was just published. The title of the book is called 30 Years. Sometimes 30 years does not seem long but sometimes it is a lifetime. The following is an excerpt from one of the chapters.
As a preacher, I have had opportunity to preach many funerals. I am certain as long as the Lord allows me to have days, I will have many more opportunities. It does not much matter the age of the person who had passed on, the grieving family always feels that the passing of their loved one is too soon. That is because we can never really prepare ourselves for this kind of loss. Not even if we can see it coming due to extended illness or something of the kind. I often find myself telling families that this pain that we feel is simply the cost of loving people. It is definitely worth it.
At the beginning of this chapter, I included scripture from James 4:13-14 (NIV). “Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” I believe that every word of the bible is absolute truth. I also believe that if we would consider the wisdom to be found in it, such as this particular portion, we would not only suffer less but see God more throughout the course of our journey.
Remember in the beginning of this book I shared the dreams that I had for my son even before he was born? Not only did those dreams get destroyed but I also learned that God’s plan for these past 30-years was much greater than anything that I could ever have dreamed! After all, since none of us really know how much time we will be given in this world, how could we possibly come up with any plan that would actually be good? I have learned many things over those 30 years, one of which is that God’s way is the best way, and that life is short.
It turns out that my son was a wise man. He lived life in high gear most every chance he could. He made the most of every opportunity and every relationship he had. He lived well and he even died well. He was a strong man. A great man. He was God’s man! He made the most of the 30 years that God gave him in this world.
The purpose behind writing this book is simply to share a small part of the past 30 Years and prayerfully hope that it might be of some help to others along the way. I pray that anyone who would read this book would be blessed.
If you know me personally, then you already know that my wife and I have been dealing with the loss of our son, Dustin L. Gilmer. He was killed when his van struck a concrete barrier dividing the interstate on which he was driving. This happened just days before his thirtieth birthday. We received a call at around 4:30 am on Friday August 7th, informing us about what had happened just a few hours earlier that morning.
I am unable to explain the shock and overwhelming pain that came over us during that moment. Never in my almost 49 years of life have I ever experienced such a total loss of control of myself. Physically, mentally, and emotionally. I could not even try to stop what was happening and felt completely helpless and destroyed.
It has been about six weeks now since this happened. During that six weeks my family and I had to do what everyone does who loses one they love. We had to identify my son’s body. Then we had to plan a funeral. Then we had to deal with his estate. In the middle of all that, we tried to process and cope with the reality that he was gone and that this in fact was happening in our family.
I feel that I can say that things were and are, even in his death, a bit different for us in that Dustin was born with a disability that caused him to live his life in a wheelchair. He was born with a disability which caused him to break bones really easily. In fact, when he was born the doctor informed me and his mother that he was not expected to live more than five years.
Pam, my wife, and I always felt that there was a good possibility that we would outlive Dustin due to his disability. Even though he was able to fight through the challenges of his disability and earn a great deal of independence, we believed that over time it would catch up to him and begin to take a toll. I prayed about that a lot. I guess for the past thirty years we lived with and dealt with his disability in a way that it simply became a part of who we are, and I guess became normal for us.
I was not a Christian when Dustin was born. However, I did talk to God every now and then. You know, the usual cry out to God when things are really bad. From the day he was born until he, my wife and I all gave our lives to Christ.
Since Dustin was born, my thoughts and payers were everything from why this disability happened to him, my son to “Lord if I could only trade places with him”. I went through just about every emotion I could go through during the first ten or twelve years of his life. Trying to figure out how to cope with my son and his suffering with this disability. During those years and really his entire life, we all learned how to function and be a family who not only suffered together because of the disability, but also to be able to move away from needing answers to our “why us” questions.
Over the years of Dustin’s life, we all learned many valuable lessons about how God works and how he does not work. We were able to grow as Christians and I believe that because of that, we were able to accept that God had allowed this disability and to be able to stand in the fact that God does not make mistakes. Therefore, we began to live in a place that helped us fall in line with what God was doing with Dustin’s life.
So when that day came when I received that phone call at 4:30 am informing me that Dustin was killed in a car wreck, in the middle of that devastating moment, I did not feel the need to ask, “why me?” or “why my son?”.
In the days and weeks after his death, my wife and I got in our truck and drove. I mean we drove for about four days. During that time, I could not stop thinking about all the godly men in the bible that had experienced tragedy. I thought about people like Abraham who was willing to kill his own son trusting that it was God’s plan. I also thought a lot about David who lost his son due to consequences of his own sinful behavior. Yet when God said “no” to his prayer that his son would live, David simply ended his fasting and prayer and continued serving God.
I mostly thought about Job. I continued to think about how much loss he had endured and remained faithful to God. He lost all of his children. Even though he was blessed with more children, I have no doubt that the loss of the first children made a lasting mark. There were plenty more people in the scriptures that I thought about who had suffered loss or tragedy. Yet they continued to be godly people.
I am simply sharing all of this because I think it was important for me to be reminded of the lesson that God had been teaching me for the past thirty years. It was as if God was reminding me by saying, “why not you?”. This is the lesson that was constant throughout the thirty years of my son’s life.
If we think about all the people throughout the history of mankind who were godly people and suffered. We will find many that were used greatly by God for His glory and for His will to be done on Earth as it is in Heaven! After all, Hebrews chapter 11 lists many of the “hall of famers” of the Bible. I think it is safe to say that none who were listed there lived without suffering.
Dustin, my son, would be the first to tell anyone that life is not fair. He would be the first one to tell anyone that bad things happen to good people and bad people. And he would also be the first one to tell anyone that in the middle of it all, God is doing something.
You know, 2020 has turned out to be a pretty crappy year for everyone. Like everyone else, I began the year paying a little bit of attention to the impeachment proceedings and wishing that it would be over, and we could move on to talking about something else.
Well, be careful what you wish for. I soon found myself after about three months of adjusting to COVID 19 precautions wishing we could go back and talk about the impeachment hearings! It was not long that I found myself, like everyone else, being overly stressed about the current events going on in the world.
I remember thinking about how I just started a new preaching position at our church and was excited about getting the church to grow and be successful about making disciples for Christ. It all seemed to come to an immediate stand still and I began to have the attitude of how it was not fair or right that our church was being affected like this. Not to mention the affects that it has had on me personally, just as it has on everyone else in the world.
Looking back now, I cannot help but continue to hear the words in my mind, “why not me?”. I think about all the generations over the ages who had to struggle and deal with world changing events. Wars, sicknesses, disasters, political and social issues, loss, and the like. I keep hearing, “why not me?”.
There were many generations since Adam and Eve that experienced a sudden and drastic change in the world which affected their lifestyles and comfort levels. So, the question continues, “why not me?”. Why would I be exempt from any kind of suffering or challenge? I live in the same world as they did. The same world that is contaminated by wickedness and sin since Adam and Eve! Who am I?
So, I must continue to ask myself, “why not me?”. Why shouldn’t I expect to take my turn at suffering and pain? This is the way life has been since the fall of man in the garden! This is the world we live in. God does not make mistakes and He allows suffering at times. So, “why not me?”.
God has brought many great things out of pain and suffering. And all of those things end in God being glorified and many have turned to Him for His saving grace because of the suffering that happens in the lives of His disciples. For the past thirty years, our family bible verse has been Romans 8:18.
“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”
So, I sit and think about the possibilities that God will use my suffering for His glory and for the sake of someone else’s soul! So, “why NOT me?”!
A final thought. I would not want this blog post to be taken as some kind of sad situation entirely. Certainly, it has its share of sadness, maybe m
ore than its share. However, if you knew my son at all, you would know that even though he lived in his wheelchair, he looked at the opportunities for success in his life and always asked the question, “why NOT me?”.
He lived his life well and also died well. I will forever be proud of my son and will forever give God the glory for the blessing that Dustin was for the last thirty years and will continue to always be.To God be the Glory for ever and ever! Amen!