My first appointment out of seminary was at Humphreys Memorial United Methodist Church located on the Coal River in a small West Virginia town. Being the third in a succession of new, young seminary graduates to become the pastor of the congregation, the people of the church knew how to make a young family welcome. My wife, Kim, our four-month-old son, Evan, and I were immediately taken in as family members.
One family, Don and Betty Long, were especially welcoming. They became grandparents to Evan and later Emily and parents to both Kim and me. They included us in most of their family activities, including Don’s birthday celebration of a hot air balloon ride and Betty’s birthday celebration of a visit to the historic Cass Railroad.
Over the years there was skinny soup, lemon trees, newspaper balloons, fresh vegetables, political discussions, surprise visits, unconditional acceptance, a welcoming embrace, Marshall football, walks on the hill, Cinnamon, Puffer, and more love than anyone can imagine. Certainly more love than anyone deserves.
Twenty years ago our hearts were broken when we visited Betty for the last time. The ache was almost more than we could bear. She was such a special person in our lives. The ache returned with a fury this week. Kim and I received news of the death of our life-enriching friend, Don. At age 83 he lost his battle with Alzheimer’s disease.
Even though we feel the pain, “The Lord’s unfailing love and mercy still continue, fresh as the morning, sure as the sunrise. The Lord is all we have. In the Lord we can place our hope.”¹ It is with that hope that we live in the legacy Don has left for us. I believe his life and legacy are understood best by Paul’s words to the Philippians,
Finally beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.²
Because of Don’s life in relationship to Jesus Christ, to his family and friends, Don continues to shape our lives. We can face the future with a new hope.
When John Quincy Adams turned 80, he was walking down a street in the heart of Boston. He was asked by a young man who recognized him, “How is John Quincy Adams this morning?”
The old man turned slowly and said,
“Fine son, fine. The old house that John Quincy has been living in is not so good. The underpinning is about to go. The thatch is gone on the roof. The windows are so dim John Quincy can hardly out see anymore. It wouldn’t surprise me if before the winter is over, he had to move out. But for John Quincy Adams, he never was better, never was better.
The real John Quincy Adams was not just a body. He was more. He was all that he had constructed and crafted his life to be. He was a spirit, a personality, a soul. For him, death was “moving day.”
Sunday was moving day for Don. He moved to the arms of almighty God his creator, redeemer, and sustainer. He moved to a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. When Don arrived, his wife, Betty, his mother, father, many good friends, and other family members had painted a sign and had hung it over the gate. The sign said, “Welcome Home, Don! Welcome Home!”
“Servant of God well done
Thy glorious warfare’s past
The battle’s fought and the victory’s won
And thy art crowned at last.”³
“…no more a stranger, nor a guest, but like at child at home.”4
Thanks be to God for the life of Donald Clinton Long and for all God has done to make us who we are in and through him.
- Lamentations 3:22-24
- Philippians 4:8-9
- Charles Wesley, Servant of God Well Done
- Adapted from Psalm 23 by Isaac Watts