Publication: Pastoral Letter, April 2008
Dear Friend in Christ:
I am writing to ask you to allow me the privilege of telling you about Carolyn, my wife, who passed away February 13, 2008. I realize that my family is not by any means alone in facing disease, difficulty, and death. Each evening Carolyn and I prayed for all of those who were enduring pain and sorrow. But my desire now is to celebrate who she was, what she meant to me and others, and to draw on some biblical truths. Perhaps my sharing about her will help both me and others who face serious trials. That is certainly my prayer.
Fifty years ago, I was pastoring a small Baptist church and looking for someone to play the piano during revival services. Our regular pianist was expecting a baby. A friend recommended Carolyn, not only as a pianist, but as a person. And so began a fifty-year relationship. Carolyn met the need for playing the piano, but who she was met a far greater need.
I had a godly mother, so I had a good idea as to what kind of woman that I would marry. Carolyn was that woman. Not only was she outwardly attractive, but her inward beauty surpassed her appearance. I was often reminded of Proverbs 31 and 1 Peter 3:4, “a meek and quiet spirit is very precious in the sight of God.” She had that and it was precious. We married July 18, 1960.
Carolyn grew up in a godly family where service was a primary value and she brought that into our home. Though being my wife was often a challenge, she never allowed “daylight” between us. She was quiet, modest, unselfish, and loyal.I never knew anyone who had higher moral standards or a better attitude, even in suffering. Our granddaughter, Gracie, said, “She was springtime and sunshine.”
We travelled together often, but more often she stayed at home, especially as our three children grew up. She not only was a good mother and wife, but she prayed with our children to receive Christ as their Savior. Their current service to Him is a testimony to her consistent life and faith. Whenever I returned from a ministry trip, I returned to peace. Often when we had guests, they would remark that they felt peace in our home.
Whenever Carolyn sat and listened to me as I preached or taught, she listened as though she had never heard me before, and laughed at my stories though she knew them well and probably could tell them as well as I could. People often watched her to see how she responded. They told me that they were impressed.
Carolyn’s cancer diagnosis was a shock. She looked much younger than she was. Her paternal grandmother had lived to nearly 102 years old. Her mother is still keeping house at 93. I always expected her to live much longer than me. I joked with her, “I’m saving up money for your next husband.” But she did not laugh.
What the doctor originally said was that she had a virus that built up fluid in her lungs. But tests showed that cancer had produced fluid in her body and was in fact crushing her lungs. She had cancer! And it was stage 4! She said that it was like waking up to a nightmare. It was indeed.
We prayed, fasted, went to the best hospitals and doctors. She endured two major surgeries, four rounds of chemotherapy, radiation, did nutritional therapy, and went to South Korea twice for adult stem cell treatment. She never complained; never lost her dignity. She only said, “I hate to leave you.”
The last few months were the most difficult. Her condition consumed our energy and attention. As tough as it was, it was my privilege to serve her. Finally we returned to the hospital to make one last effort to drain fluids and make her as comfortable as possible. She was too weak to return home. We knew the time had come to release her from suffering and her family gathered. Among her last words were spoken to our granddaughter, Gracie, “I’m in the hands of Jesus.” Soon after, she went to be with Him.
Walking away from her was the most difficult thing that I had to do. Wakes and memorials were also difficult. While there is great comfort in family and friends, the presence of the Holy Spirit, and great memories; it still is a deep valley, the deepest of my life. We had recited the 23rd Psalm at her bedside but her journey took her away from us. Our greatest comfort became the “Blessed Hope.”
The Lord spoke to me from Proverbs 31:28, “Her children will rise up and call her blessed.” My pastor, Ken Sumrall, our sons Stephen and Jonathan, and daughter Charlyn, spoke at her memorial service. They did magnificently. Pastors John Duke and Billy Duke spoke and prayed at her graveside. The attendance was large and the worship was like a wave that lifted us up from the depths of grief. She was quiet in life, but in death her voice was strong and powerful-a great testimony.
Death leaves a lot to sort out. Some would try to understand the “why” of it all. Looking for answers was not our quest. Our trust was never in “answers”, it was in the Lord. Our “sorting out” was sorting out things. We will all leave things. Carolyn left behind some material things that we must now sort out. And that is tough too.
I was reminded of our Lord’s words in Luke 12:15. “One’s life does not consist in the abundance of things that they possess.” And, of course, like everyone else, we had things: house, cars, clothes, and memorabilia. In 1955, the Lord promised me that if I served Him, He would provide (see Philippians 4:19). He kept that promise. We were never wealthy, but we never lacked.
It was interesting to me that the Lord warned us not confuse “things” with life. So many people do. The things that Carolyn left behind meant little without her life; their only value was that they reminded us of her. She never traded who she was for things. Her soul was rich and intact. She was never possessed by her possessions. She never mistook the temporal for the eternal. She had it sorted out.
LIFE IS MORE
Life is more than what we accumulate. It is more than length of years. Her passing has left us to ponder life and what we will do with it. My mother-in-law, at 93 said, “Life is short.” Perhaps that is why Ecclesiastes 12:1 says, “Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth.” Life is in the Creator of life not in the consumption of life.
Jesus’ words in Luke 12:15 were in response to a man who asked Jesus to make his brother share his inheritance. Jesus refused and said, “Life is not in things.” Jesus went on to say that life is not in appearance or food and drink. He told us to trust Him for those things and not be anxious. He made it clear that life was in Him and His Kingdom (see Luke 12:31). He also tells us that our ability to give things and money comes from understanding that life is in Him, not in possessions.
Life is breath and energy; the word means “fresh, quick, and strong.” Jesus said that only in our willingness to give up life, would we find it (see Matthew 16:25). Carolyn demonstrated that in giving up life for His purpose, she found life and gave life to us. Jesus said it and she got it. She not only understood the secret of this life, she received eternal life, we weep not for her, but ourselves who must go on without her.
Perhaps our recent experience will qualify me to offer advice to those of you who still have your loved ones with you. Be grateful. The tragedy is that we do not fully realize our blessings until they are gone. We get caught up in what is not perfect and fail to be grateful for those who give us life. It occurred to me that if we could treat one another in life the way we do in death, our lives would be so much better.
During one of Carolyn’s last days, she said, “I need a hug.” I gave her a big, prolonged hug. But I felt remorse that she had to ask. I wish I had given her more hugs that I did. Yes, we were affectionate, but there are times when we all need to feel the love and others fail to notice. Be alert to love. Give the eulogy while they can hear it. I’ve heard it said that “dead noses don’t smell roses.”
One of Carolyn’s greatest desires was to see an orphanage in Costa Rica completed; she loved children. Charlyn and her husband, Enrique, have the land and funds for the first house. For many years Carolyn handled the finances for that project. Now our son Jonathan does. I wish that she could have lived to see it in action. But she will see it from a better vantage point.
During these days I am also pondering my future and how I can best serve the Lord’s purpose and raise up new leaders. I desire to see CSM continue to publish the Word of God and sound theology. We have published since 1969. I need your continued prayers and support. Ministry will be my best therapy and the best way to honor her memory.
I am grateful to you for allowing me to share Carolyn’s life with you. And I am deeply grateful for the privilege to have been her husband. She made me a much better man than I would have been without her. I am grateful to you for the multitude of prayers on our behalf, the love and support that has allowed our family to serve the Lord and you.
The Resurrection will be our ultimate healing and victory, and that knowledge sustains our hope to be reunited with her. Those things that we have taught and been assured of, we commend to you once again to sustain you as we are being sustained.
I could go on with many words, but words are but tiny “buckets” that fail to contain the oceans of both truth and love that we find in Jesus Christ.
Charles V. Simpson
P.S. I’d love to see you in Gatlinburg, TN, April 23-25, for the annual CSM Conference. This years theme is “My Glorious Brothers.”
Scripture Reference: Proverbs, Psalms, Luke, Philippians, Ecclesiastes, Matthew