Many of you have heard the Bible verse that says we sorrow not as those who have no hope. I would assume that almost every occasion (if not all) was in reference to someone who has passed from this life. Sure, it is a comfort to know that we can have hope in the midst of our grief when we lose someone we love, but these past few weeks or so have once again made me look at a common verse a little differently. I recently lost my dear uncle Dewayne Hoppert, and it has affected me in the most profound ways. Of course the verse I mentioned keeps coming to mind, but not in just the sense of hope I have of seeing my uncle again, but more in how my uncle lived HIS life.
My Uncle Dewayne (or Uncle Wayne as I called him) was the most amazing man of faith and incredible teacher of God’s word. He gave up a very successful and lucrative career in construction to answer the call to full-time ministry. He earned a double Bachelor’s Degree in Theology and Bible Languages, as well as Master of Bible Languages and Doctor of Bible Languages. He was not only masterful in his study of God’s word and everything associated with it, but also in relating it to others in the most easy to understand ways. He was an incredible Pastor and Uncle, but he was an even more amazing example of what it means to live by faith. Uncle Wayne lived with the effects of Multiple Sclerosis for many years. He had continual health issues, eventually ended up in a wheelchair and often needed assistance physically. By all rights, he should have been sad, depressed, and maybe even angry at God for allowing him to suffer physically after he had dedicated his entire life to His service. Many people would have thought, “If this is what serving God and living by faith means, then I don’t want any part of it.” But not Dewayne. Nope, my Uncle Wayne always had a smile on his face and encouragement for everyone else. You could always hear him laughing from the depths of his soul or whistling as he wheeled around the church. At his Celebration of Life service, it was one of the most talked about aspects of his life aside from his faith, and yet it was his faith that allowed him to be so joyful and hopeful. How in the world was he able to keep that attitude no matter what stresses came into his life (physical or otherwise)? Well, for lack of a better statement, “He sorrowed not as those who have no hope.”
Grief and loss is such a terrible sensation. Whether we lose a loved one, our jobs, a relationship or any other thing we value, it saddens us. It grieves us. It breaks our hearts. I have lost a lot of people in my life who were dear to me, and I usually go back to this verse (along with others) to comfort me that I will see them again. Some losses have been profound, but this is the first time I have been so confounded by one. Maybe it’s because Dewayne was my “second dad.” Maybe it was because, for 20 years as Music Director, I had the privilege of working so closely with him as the Pastor. Maybe it was that he was so consistently there for me as my Uncle. Maybe it was that he was a giant of faith in my eyes. Or maybe, just maybe it was simply because he lived every word he ever taught or preached. Every time he said, “God is in control,” or “God’s got this,” he spoke out of the experience of living it. He may have doubted now and then, but he never caved to that doubt. Instead he talked about how we can live victoriously over our circumstances through our faith, hope and trust in God. And just like him, we can do the same thing by letting our love and gratitude for God drive our mindset.
Hope is not easy to come by in a hopeless world. Recently our Pastor brought a message on hope, and it reminded me of what Dewayne always taught: The word “hope” used in the verse “…sorrow not as those who have no hope,” isn’t the kind of hope this world has conditioned us to consider. This is not just wishing for something. We talk about hoping we get that promotion or raise. We talk about hoping something goes well. We hope our team wins the game. We hope the weather is good. We hope, we hope and we hope, but what we are really saying is we “wish.” This verse, however, uses a word that does not infer wishing, but of the certainty of a positive outcome. I’m not going to go into all the certainties of the resurrection or the certainty of our salvation as believers. Instead, I want to talk about this idea of being certain in the positive outcome of a situation. Romans 8:28 tells us that all things work together for our ultimate good and His glory, but when you are trudging through difficulties it’s hard to feel that way.
Having faith isn’t very hard in the good times, but when the rubber meets the road, we are so quick to complain and murmur. We complain about our jobs, families, churches, traffic, health, and everything else that doesn’t go the way we want. We all have difficulties and challenges, but we don’t all go through them the same way. The Bible is filled with verses telling us that God can be trusted and that we need to trust Him. It tells us He operates differently and has ways that aren’t like ours because He sees the big picture. He knows all the paths in my life and sees it as a beautiful tapestry, where all I see is the mess of threads on the other side. He isn’t doing things to harm me, but I can only see the threads, and sometimes it feels like He must be mad at me based on my circumstances. But in Jeremiah 29:11 He declares, “For I know the plans I have for you: plans to proper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Verse after verse tells us to seek God first and He has promised He’ll take care of us in every way. Dewayne used to say our problem with being totally committed to trusting God is that we KNOW He will take care of us, but we are afraid He won’t do it like we want Him to. That’s so very true. We want Him to lead us, but not if it takes us down a path that has difficulties. We’ve twisted our perspective of God and who He is so much that it’s no wonder we struggle with our faith when things go wrong.
I’m going to be a raw here for a moment. I miss my Uncle Wayne more than I could possibly put into words. At times it is an isolating sensation, even though I know others miss him too. The sorrow over the loss of his physical presence is even more difficult than I imagined it would be. I miss everything about having him here to see and talk with, whether it was laughing about old times, sharing music, discussing God’s word, or even just saying nothing while enjoying his company. My heart breaks every time I realize I won’t have one more hug, smile, laugh or conversation with him. It is a loss so profoundly difficult to process, but then in those moments it’s almost as if I hear his whistling drifting down from Heaven. I am reminded of what he endured in this life and how he kept his faith no matter what he had to face. I remember things he taught, but more importantly I remember what it looked like watching him actually live those very things through faith. He wasn’t perfect, but I’ve never known anyone who was a more perfect parable of what it is like to be a sinner saved by the grace of God, living victoriously through trust and faith in Him. I said recently that we have the perfect, sinless example of Jesus Christ on how we should live our day-to-day lives, but I was blessed beyond measure to have the most perfect example of what it looks like for an imperfect child of God to dedicate himself to learning God’s word, loving God’s word and living God’s word – even when he messed up. I saw someone who asked for forgiveness when he sinned and understood that he didn’t have to beat himself up over it because God forgives AND forgets. I saw “perfect imperfection” and it was incredible to witness.
My last visit with Dewayne was something I intended to keep private but now feel compelled to share with you. I did not intend to see him in the hospital because my previous visit at church with him had been so “normal.” I was content with it, but less than two days before he passed from this life, God tugged at my heart, and I wanted to go see him. I couldn’t explain why, but my husband and I headed to the hospital. He was resting and not very alert, though he would nod and react to what we were saying. There were even a few moments of laughter and responsiveness. Before we left, I took his hand, and told him I loved him. He kind of mumbled that he loved me too and then said, “Hey Mike” to my husband. On the way down to the lobby of the hospital, my husband and I were talking about being glad we came, even though it was tough. Suddenly I realized I had left my purse up in the room. DANG! We had to go back. I wasn’t thrilled, but it ended up that my forgetfulness was a total gift from God. When I walked back in the room, he was actually quite alert. I got my purse, but then he started talking with me. We spoke for several minutes, mostly about God being in control. Here he was, still proclaiming God’s goodness even in his most difficult time. He told me three different times how proud he was of me, which felt like warm oil soothing my heart. As we talked, he said, “God’s got this. There may be some challenges here and there, but He’s working it out and everything is going to be ok.” He repeated those sentiments several times throughout our conversation. Then he said, “Study,” and I told him the great thing was that he had actually taught all of us HOW to study through the rules of interpretation. I told him he had equipped us, and that I would absolutely study. I said, “That’s a great gift because you can listen to someone all day long but until you study things out for yourself, you don’t own it.” He pointed at me and said, “That’s right, you’ve got to OWN it.” He and I had clasped hands, and he pointed at me with the hand I was holding and said, “Now you’re responsible.” Although my cousin and I laughed and joked a little bit, in my heart (and based on his expression), I will always believe he meant we are the next generation and we need to carry on in faith. Before I left, we told each other “I love you.” This time there was no mumbling, but the clear beautiful words that are etched into your soul in those moments. As I left his room I turned around and pointed at him, and he pointed right back. Then I gave him a thumbs up, and he laughed and gave one back to me. That was the last image I had of him. He was laughing with me and giving me the thumbs up.
I started this post saying I have never had a loss that affected me so profoundly. It is because the way he actually LIVED affected me so profoundly. It is a multi-faceted kaleidoscope of memories and lessons that is too massive for me to be able to wrap my head around. My last visit with him was filled with more than what I could have ever imagined. His ability to keep his faith, trust and joy was so strong that it filled the room in which he was staying. It really was no different than how it filled every other room he had been in over the course of his life. He was different. He had HOPE! He knew it didn’t matter what he faced, even when he had every right to be angry or bitter, because in the end he knew he was going to overcome. He never sorrowed in this life as those who have no hope. He had hope even when MS began to make it difficult to do certain things. He had hope when he became confined to a wheelchair. He had hope when his health faltered or when he had to deal with other challenges associated with life or ministry. He didn’t just have hope, he LIVED hope! And so can we!
Matthew 5: 14-16 is something Dewayne spoke about quite often. “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden, nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. So let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in Heaven.” He always said those verses don’t say we might be light, but that we ARE light; the question is whether or not we are going to shine or hide. We have a reason to hope (the certainty of a positive outcome), and it is our turn to shine. We don’t have to reserve hope simply for knowing we will see our loved ones again. We can be certain every day and in every circumstance (no matter how difficult) of exactly what my Uncle Wayne last said to me:
“God’s got this. There may be challenges along the way, but He’s working it out and it’s going to be ok.”