A Tribute to Daryl Summey: An Extraordinary Friend

When Daryl Summey died last week, the world became a little bit darker. Though Daryl is now ‘the late Daryl Summey” in the most profound sense of that sad phrase, his legacy of love, compassion, and faithfulness lives on in the grand mosaic of our memories. He was a friend to the friendless, a leader to the lost, and a father to the fatherless. Below is my small contribution to the grand story of Daryl Summey, a narrative that extends across five decades, multiple continents, and thousands of hearts.

Reflections Daryl Summey

Daryl Summey possessed a special knack for making the ordinary the extraordinary. He turned the collection of a few Operation Christmas Child shoe boxes into a multi-thousand box enterprise that trafficked in massive loads of t-shirts, crayons, toothbrushes, toy trucks, balloons, and balls. He took normal disciple now weekends and transformed them into Encounter Weekends that were full of shaving cream, massive decorations, and passionate sermons that resonated with thousands. He appropriated ordinary mission trips and led students to the edges of the persecuted church, exposing many souls to the glories and the cost of missions. And perhaps most remarkably of all, he and Leigh Anne took their ordinary home and made it into extraordinary place of love, laughter, and faith where family, teenagers, college students, missionaries, and the weary could find rest.

Daryl’s extraordinariness flowed from his commitment to his Savior. When the downtrodden showed up at First Baptist Church Eastman, Daryl shelved his already crazy schedule to care for the stranger within our gates. Many a morning, I saw Daryl walking broken souls over to the Station in hopes of forming a new relationship that would end in friendship and salvation. If widows needed decks built, Daryl called his guys, ordered supplies, and got the deck built. When the uncool kids slunk into the Station on Wednesday nights for Youth Group, Daryl immediately walked over to those on the fringe of the building, introduced himself, and began making them feel as if they were a part of his family. And when three orphans needed a home, Daryl sacrificed his schedule, his budget, and some of his sanity to send Leigh Anne to rescue their three youngest children from abandonment.  Like the great physician, Daryl Summey was a friend to the friendless.

He also cared deeply for the body of Christ. Daryl’s ministry extended well beyond the bounds of the Station. His prayers encouraged many a weary soul worn down by family tragedy or sorry hospital beds. Though the sign on the door said “Youth,” Daryl’s office also served as FBCE’s counseling center. Inside Daryl’s cluttered mess of books and papers, countless souls heard how the glories of Jesus could transform everything from addiction to broken marriages. Even when he took the roll on Sunday nights, he would stop to talk to the souls manning the Children’s Ministry Center Desk. If students or pastors who knew far less about ministry and life attempted to instruct Daryl about theology, philosophy, or ministry, he took their comments in stride, transforming his antagonists into his friends. To know Daryl Summey was to experience the love of Jesus.

It was also this love that made him an amazing Dad who hid easters eggs that no one could find. It was this love that enabled him to push most every youth trip to the limits with calm assurances that the trail really would come to an end around the next bend…ok well the next one, well actually…and…you get it. It was this love that could make a room explode with quiet laughter as he guided professional conversations to craziest of conclusions through his calm suggestions. It was this love that somehow made all those odd pictures of Clay Layfield as a bodybuilder plastered across the church ok. And it is this love that April and I and thousands of others will miss.

Daryl Summery was a good husband, father, son, brothers, and pastor. He was a good man.  

Postscript

When Daryl first learned he had cancer, we talked of hope of healing and of the need never to surrender to the gloom that can sometimes ooze out of the oncology world. April and I then watched with aching hearts as that determination met setback after setback. When Daryl and I last talked a few weeks back, we spoke of future visits. Though I knew his end was near, we exchanged no final goodbyes that day. And we needed not do so then or ever for one day soon, we will each other again in the land of eternity a place where there, “no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping and the cry of distress.” Until then….my friend. Until then…

Memo: In Memory of My Church Mom: The Loving Jean Miller

Jean Miller

Words faded into tears as the news of Jean Miller’s death sunk into our souls. Though we were separated by age, time, and space, April and I were knit into Jean’s heart.

Shortly after the death of our first-born son, Peter Alexander, Jean gave April and me the biggest hugs and adopted us into her family, promising our families that She and Junior would look after us. From the moment forward, I was her “church son.” And she was April’s and my “church mother.”

IMG_5525She loved us well She put her arm around our shoulders as we grieved the loss of 2nd Peter. She struck that glorious balance between allowing us to grieve and keeping us from despair. Every tear-filled conversation ended with glorious reminders of Jesus’s love and goodness.

When the sun of God’s grace shinned upon our lives, Jean celebrated with us, cherishing both Luke and Lily. She greeted our kids with smiles and found ways to playful extract them from their caves of shyness. Despite’s Lily’s obstinate character, Jean never gave up trying to get our little ice queen to smile. IMG_6055Jean would stick her fingers into ears and would scrunch up her face into the funniest contortions. Somehow, Junior still got Lily to smile first, a feat Jean could never understand.Her lap was always available to them; Luke and Lily used it often. When cancer descended upon April, she and Junior were some of the first friends to call us and to pray for us. Her love for us never ended.

When her insecure “church son” launched a leadership team to minister to the families of FBCE, she and Junior took a chance and linked arms with April and me. Jean walked with April and I through insane VBS weeks, exciting nerf-guns battles, and vintage Reformation Festivals. I can still see Jean dressed in her bonnet covering and uncovering a host of fake relics as she and Junior explained the importance of salvation by grace alone.

IMG-5419I can also see Jean shaking with laughter as she and Junior explained the meaning of the rat emoji that she accidentally texted to the whole team. Though she loved to laugh, she also kept her family and all of us in line. Anytime Junior, Ian Wynn, or someone else took something too far like the expression, “The Face of Discipline” Jean would give ‘the look’ followed by a “Hey now” and return things to order. She brought laughter a joy into every life she touched.

But, the thing I remember most about Jean was her smile. Come the fun of church picnics, the craziness of Wednesday nights, or anniversary of her daughter’s death, Jean always smiled. The joy that adorned her face transcended reality and yet was grounded in the truest reality of all: the saving mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ. Though her heart IMG-5421had been nicked and scared by many a hardship, she knew the saving power of Jesus Christ. She seen Jesus transform both her life and Junior’s life. Nothing could take that joy from her. Even when she was worn and tired, the peace of Jesus shone in her face and resounded in her laughter. Her smile shone brightly when she bounded up from our table and washed the our dishes. It was that smile that graciously welcomed April and our kids into her home and kept our kids from wanting to ever leave Jean’s living room. And it was that smile, that lit up the church as Jean taught Sunday School, helped in the nursery, and swung by the welcome desk to ask how

April and I were doing. Indeed, Christ was in Jean. To see her smile was to catch a glimpse of heaven.

Yesterday, that glimpse of heaven ascended into heaven. Jean smile is the now the smile of perfect peace and happiness. Indeed heaven is her greatest gain. “Those the son sets free are free indeed (John 8:36).”  I cannot wish her back into the bondage of this miserable world.

But I also cannot help but miss my “church mom’s” infectious smile.

With much Love,

Peter and April Witkowski

A Pastor’s Response To Suicide

suicide blogThe death of a loved one is always hard to process. And death via suicide compounds the heart ache a hundredfold. As Christian Counselor David Powlison says, “Suicide brings suffering and difficulty into the lives of everyone who is touched by it.”

I can still remember the first time I encountered the suicide of a family friend. I handed my mom the phone and then sat down next to her. Over the next hour or so, my mom’s friend recounted how she had come home and found her dead child. The reality that someone I knew had taken their own life filled my heart tension, sadness, and hopelessness. As the news began to settle, a whole host of questions started to pop up in my mind such as: “Is suicide the unforgivable sin; who’s at fault; and what do we do?”

While the Scriptures do not directly answer why our loved one died, they do teach us how to handle the tragedy of suicide. The following are five biblical truths that should inform our view of suicide:

1. It is Good To Grieve

When Jesus learned that Lazarus was dead, he wept. Jesus cried for his friend (Luke 11:35). When our friends, classmates, and children take their own lives, we should grieve for them. We should grieve for the life that has been lost. All death is grievous; all death is the result of the fall. All death screams that the world is broken and deformed. All death especially of that which takes a life prematurely should be mourned (Rom. 12:15). Those who love the Lord will mourn with those who mourn.

2. There Is Hope For Sinners

Although suicide should be grieved, it should not be excused or honored. Suicide is a sin. The taking a life, even the taking of one’s own life is sinful. It is wrong because all men and women are created in God’s image (Gen. 9:6). Men and women are designed to glorify God. If a person commits suicide, he fights against God design for his life. He “essentially blames God for difficult circumstances while simultaneously failing to trust him for deliverance” (p. 115). The Scriptures always present suicide as sinful and shameful (I Sam 31:4-5; Matt 27:5). The taking of one’s own life is an attack against God.

For this reason, we should always take suicide seriously. Those who struggle with suicide are wrestling against God.  We must warn them that their lives and very souls are in jeopardy. We must call them to examine their faith for their very thoughts may be evidence that they are unredeemed.

But suicide is not unforgivable. Suicide does not equal being lost. Nor does it preclude salvation. It is not the unpardonable sin (Matt 12:30-32). The hymn writer, William Cooper who penned “There is a Fountain Filled with Blood” attempted suicide. Moreover, King David and Moses both committed murder and were forgiven by God. There is no biblical reason to assume that all those who commit suicide and/or murder automatically go to hell. God offers eternal life to all who repent and believe. Not even suicide can separate a believer from the powerful love of God (Rom. 8:38-39).

So is our loved one in heaven? If they had faith in Christ, then yes. However, only God can see into people’s hearts. He makes the final decision according to his love, mercy, and justice. We must place our hope and trust in him.

3. God Judges People For Their Sins

Often when a suicide occurs, the family and friends left behind begin to assume responsibility for the person’s death. We accuse ourselves by asking, “Why didn’t we see the warning signs; why we didn’t we keep this from happening; how did we miss this?” And while it’s possible that we did things that hurt our friend, child or spouse, we did not cause the suicide. Numerous people have had inattentive friends, mean parents, and argumentative spouses. Most people don’t kill themselves.

Ultimately, the person who commits suicide chose to take their life. Their decision even if impaired by drugs, alcohol, or medication was their decision. We are not responsible for their sin. God never hold us accountable for the actions of another. In Romans 2:6, we read that God will “render to each person according to his deeds.” And Ezekiel 18:20 makes this point crystal clear:

The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.

We are not judged for our loved one’s sin.

4. We Are Finite

We like answers. We like to be able to explain everything we see and encounter.  When we are hit with the news of a suicide, we often set off in desperate quest to explain why. We want to know why our brother, son, or spouse thought suicide was the best option. But we can’t know these things with certainty. We can’t perfectly retrace our beloved’s last steps and see into their mind. We can’t make sense of suicide. As David Powlison writes,

You will never have an answer that ties up all the loose ends.

We read in Deuteronomy 29:29 that, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” Friends, we will never know the secret things. We will never ultimately know why. And that’s ok. Our hope is not tied to the knowledge of everything. Our hope is tied to the all-powerful, loving, good God who cares for us. He knows everything. We must trust him for he alone has the words of eternal life (John 6:68-69).

5. Jesus Saves

The ultimate hope for all touched by the suffering and difficulties of suicide is Jesus. Though we do not know why our loved one committed suicide, we know that God is all loving, merciful, and compassionate. Regardless of how we feel, his mercies will be new every morning (Lam 3:22-23). He will hear us when we call (Psalm 86:7). And, he will never leave us (Heb. 13:5). As we deepen our trust in God, we will find hope and blessing.

Admittedly, the tears and heart ache will never fully go away in this life. But they will not last forever. Christ will return one day soon and wipe away every tear and sorrow. And even if our loved one is not in heaven on that day, we will be with Jesus. We will be with God. He will more than make up for all of our suffering. As Paul writes, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” Friends, we are going to glory! Trust in God.

 

If your are looking for more resources on suicide, I encourage you to listen to Jim Newheiser talk on the subject,  COUNSELING AFTER A SUICIDE or to grab a copy of David Powlison’s little book, Grieving A Suicide: Help for the Aftershock