Nothing Can Separate Us from the Love of God
N.B. On January 30, 2017, Nayda B. Wallace moved from this dirty, painful, exciting, happy, tiresome, beautiful, depressing, ugly realm to her eternal home. On February 25, at North Creek Presbyterian Church, Mill Creek, WA, the family had a small service for her at which I was privileged to speak. Below is my eulogy.
Daniel B. Wallace
For every memorial service I’ve ever attended, I never felt that we showed adequate respect for the deceased. Especially for a person who has lived a long life—and who has touched so many lives in a truly remarkable way, the memorial service seems like a bit of a downer. I’m not talking about our collective grief, which is severe enough. What I mean is that it’s simply impossible to sum up the rich tapestry and beauty of such a person’s life in just a few moments. It almost seems like we’ve cheated that person out of the respect they deserve.
And here we are, remembering a woman, my mother, whose influence has been vast. I posted on Facebook the passing of Mom the day after she died. Three days later, there were nearly a thousand expressions of condolence, shared grief, and comments on how Mom affected them—either directly or indirectly. The fact that you all are here is testimony to your respect for her, and her impact on your life.
In a service like this, we can only give snippets, brief vignettes, glimpses-in-time of a life well lived. And that’s why it feels like we are cheating the deceased. But we can remember. And I am reminded that there is an … ‘UNTIL’ …; there is more to life than what we experience in our short time on this old sphere. There is a day coming when we will see Nayda Baird Wallace once again, when we will join the great cloud of witnesses who have left this temporary abode for their eternal home. And we will exchange stories and memories, and we will freely speak the words of encouragement that we might not have been able to in this life.
Each one of us is a unique creation, a person crafted in the image of God. And God created Mom with an extra measure of compassion, creativity, wisdom, and desire to learn. She was also blessed with an overabundance of personality, making everyone feel welcome and special in her presence.
I’ve already shared a couple memories of my mother. Here, I want to add a couple more.
Mom and Dad always had the gift of hospitality. They are the most hospitable people I have ever known. I don’t mean they had lots of social events, big to-dos, or any cocktail parties! No, they were hospitable in a different way. I can hardly remember a time growing up when I didn’t share my bedroom with someone else. My brother, sister, and I each had our own bedrooms, but rarely were they absent guests. We had cousins, youth pastors, friends, missionaries, and foster children living with us at various times—often for several months or even years. Many of these people are here today to honor Nayda Wallace.
Combining her aptitude in common sense, skill in teaching, and love for the Lord, Mom instructed us in the rudiments of theology well. There was a time when I had doubts about my faith because of some fairly trivial matters. Mom reminded me that at the core of my beliefs must be Christ himself. On the periphery should be less important matters—and that a wise man knew how to tell the difference between essential matters and peripheral ones.
She would say, “Nail one foot to the floor inside the circle, where Christ is; let your other foot tap dance all it wants, recognizing that you can never get too far away from that inner circle.” Since that time, I’ve gotten a few years of theological instruction under my belt, but Mom was my first and my best teacher. And that simple yet vivid imagery—Christ at the center!—has been the bedrock of my theological thinking for half a century.
Nayda was the biggest believer in her children, always fascinated by what we did, always encouraging us to shoot for our dreams, whatever they may be. But Nayda Wallace was not perfect. None of us is—except the King himself. Her compassion was displayed in constant worry. Mom was, in fact, a major-league worrier—and she passed this gene on to me. She especially worried about her own children. She worried about our physical health, she worried about our mental health, and she worried especially about our spiritual health.
After awhile, she came to realize that her worry was the flip-side of a blessing from the Lord; the other side was compassion and trust in God. And after many years, she morphed from being a pining worrier into a prayer warrior. Yet, even early on, Mom constantly prayed that each of her children would come to know the Lord—and not just know him but truly embrace Jesus Christ as the most important person in our lives.
He is, after all, the sovereign Lord of the universe. There is nothing that happens to us that takes God by surprise. Not only that, but he is always good to his children.
Romans 8.18, 35–39
You might wonder if I’m being calloused, if I’m suppressing my own mother’s suffering toward the end of her life. Now, I would like to say that Mom did not suffer. I would like to say that. But it’s not true. The whole family prayed that she would not suffer—with tears and anxious pleading before the Lord. But our sovereign God did not answer our prayers the way we wanted.
Mom had good days and bad days. She especially had great difficulty breathing. Last May she was put in hospice care. My brother and sister and their families live in the Seattle area; they have done an amazing job caring for both Mom and Dad these past several months. Wally and Keri, I want to publicly express my profound gratitude to you, and your families, for all you have done for our parents.
Because you live here, you could see, every week, how Mom was progressively getting worse…
I couldn’t. And I simply wasn’t prepared in my last visit. She had been moved to a nursing home a couple of days earlier. Her breathing was labored. She didn’t even have the strength to sip water from a straw. She was barely conscious. The day after I returned home, Wally called me to tell me that Mom had passed. The first thing I did after the phone call was to thank God that Mom was no longer suffering. And then, I broke down and wept.
Many of you have been through the shock of seeing your loved ones die. I don’t think we can ever prepare for it, even though we know it is inevitable—for all of us.
But Mom’s suffering is over now. One passage of Scripture keeps coming to mind as I think about my mother’s passing: Romans chapter 8, verse 18:
For I consider that our present sufferings cannot even be compared to the glory that will be revealed to us.
The apostle Paul did not write these words to downplay our suffering as though it didn’t matter. If anyone knew what suffering was, Paul did.
In his second letter to the Corinthians, written less than two years before he penned these words to the Romans, he documented the kind of suffering he had already endured—and he had ten more years of suffering to undergo before he would die as a martyr under Nero’s reign. Here he spoke of the many times he was put in prison, his countless beatings, and that he was more than once near death:
“Five times,” Paul says, “I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers…; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.” [2 Cor 11.23–27 (ESV)]
And yet, Paul could speak of all this as his “momentary light affliction”—an affliction that, as he declares, is “preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” [2 Cor 4.17]. The man who was no stranger to almost unbearable suffering could call it ‘momentary light affliction’ in light of the resurrected life that he was to enjoy.
How would Paul know about such future glory? … For onething, he believed the good news about Jesus Christ—his encounter with the ascended Lord on the Road to Damascus changed him forever. For another, as he tells us earlier in Romans 8, the Holy Spirit bears witness to our spirits that we are God’s children. The Spirit works in our hearts to constantly reassure us that we belong to Jesus Christ. And third, Paul also had a near death experience.
In 2 Cor 12, he told the Corinthian believers that, as he put it, “he heard things too sacred to be put into words” [2 Cor 12.4]. He spoke of ascending to heaven, although he did not know if it was in the flesh or in the spirit.
He was reluctant to even mention the event, using the third person to describe his own near-death experience that had taken place fourteen years earlier. He begins by saying, “I know a man in Christ…” and never indicates that he was that man. Yet there is a consensus among those who have studied the life of Paul in his Greco-Roman setting that he was speaking of himself. And although he was not sure whether this was in the spirit or in the body, he was sure of this heavenly encounter.
Now, near-death experiences have been studied for a long time. More than one medical doctor has written about them, and one MD even wrote about his own near-death episode. Well over 100,000 of these events have been documented.
They are of two types: in one, the individual goes to a dark place, a place of void, even a place of terror and torment.
In the other, the person travels to a quite different locale. And there is a stunning similarity to their reports. There are six features that are almost invariable—regardless of when and where they occur.
- The experience is too wonderful to put into words.
- An overwhelming sense of peace and joy occurs.
- The memory is vivid and remains razor sharp even years later.
- There is a great reluctance to speak about it.
- The person senses an out-of-body experience.
- There is certainty of its reality.
It’s remarkable that Paul’s own episode—nearly two thousand years before near-death experiences began to be studied—has all of these same characteristics.
And so he can tell the Christ-followers in Rome—with the triple assurance of his faith in Jesus Christ, the ministry of the Holy Spirit within him, and his own near-death event—that “the present sufferings are not even worthy to be compared to the glory that will be revealed to us.”
And frankly, if Paul had never had that experience, his assurance of eternal life would be every bit as great. What his near-death incident added was a revelation to him of the things “too sacred to be put into words.”
Paul’s exclamation—that our present suffering doesn’t hold a candle to the bright light of our future glory—should be our constant mantra, our daily battle cry—to press on, to strive, to live for our God far beyond what we ever dreamt we could do.
Mom understood this. Eight years ago she wrote an email to me in which she relayed that she was getting weaker and weaker. She felt as though she could no longer contribute meaningfully to anyone’s life. She felt useless. She was deeply discouraged.
Toward the end of the letter, she said that there was one thing she still could do: pray. And that gave her strength to face each day, to trust the Lord, and to press on. She prayed for her children, she prayed for their spouses, she prayed for her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, she prayed for her friends, she prayed for the country, and she prayed for the world. Mom’s own suffering brought her closer to the Lord whom she longed to see face-to-face.
It has been said that the change in a person’s life when they put their faith in Christ is far greater than the change that takes place when they die. And that is certainly true. Paul tells us that before we trusted Christ as our Savior, all of us were dead in our sins. The change that happens when we repent of our sins and embrace Jesus Christ is nothing less than the transformation of a spiritual corpse into a living soul.
And Jesus told Martha, the sister of Lazarus, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live even if he dies, and the one who lives and believes in me will never die. Martha, do you believe this?” [John 11.25–26]
Nayda Wallace certainly did! She had the firm conviction that God would keep his word to her, that her salvation was more secure than Fort Knox, that the most important relationship in her life would last forever. Mom wholeheartedly agreed with Paul when he concluded the eighth chapter of his magnificent letter to the Romans with a hymn of assurance:
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us! For I am convinced that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” [Rom 8.35–39]
Several months before Mom died, she wrote her own obituary. This is the obituary that was published in the newspapers. I only added the details of her passing. She wanted to make sure that everyone of her descendants—both by blood and by marriage—would be listed. And her concluding paragraph was this:
The most important thing in Nayda and Beecher’s life has been the one, permanent, eternal relationship that anyone can have. They know their Savior, Jesus Christ, who died and rose from the dead that he might free us from our bonds of sin and redeem us for himself. Nayda’s greatest joy would be to see all of her family and friends come to faith in Christ.
Jesus asked Martha, “Do you believe?” Her answer was YES. Jesus asked Nayda Baird Wallace, “Do you believe?” Her answer was YES. Jesus asks you, today, “Do you believe?” What will your answer be?