Wednesday, July 6, 2011

In Memory - Billy Talley

I am sitting in the Toronto airport, waiting for a flight to Vancouver and then on to Sydney, Australia. We are going to visit Alison's mum and other family. Like last year, I plan to chronicle our journey in this space.

We almost didn't make this trip. My father, Billy Talley, passed from death to life - into the presence of Jesus - last Saturday, July 2. We buried him yesterday. This post is dedicated to his memory with the words that I shared during my portion of leading the service.

Funeral Service for Billy Talley

July 5, 2011

FUN! I suppose that is the word I would first associate with my father. I imagine most of you who knew my dad beyond just the most surface level would add an n-y to that word and think of my dad as FUNNY! When I grew up with my dad, life was just plain old fun.

They say that we tend to relate to God in the same ways we have come to know our fathers. If your father was stern and demanding, then you have to work hard to see God as loving and gentle. If your father was permissive and/or absent, you may struggle to grasp God’s holiness and transcendence. You may not be surprised to know that I see the Father holy and transcendent, yet with a sense of humor who sees the irony in life and the corners of His mouth turn slightly upward.

Understanding God in relation to our fathers is natural. We are, after all, made in the image of God. Since God is Spirit, we know that being made in His image does not refer to the physical, even though God appeared in the flesh in Jesus. So, what does being made in God’s image mean? Most would say that it is our ability to reason that separates us from animals, so to be able to think and reason is the primary way we exhibit the image of God. One theologian has said that it is man’s imagination that is indicated, for when we are creating, we are most like God. That explanation resonates with me.

My dad had quite an imagination. He was quick-witted and almost always had a funny comment about the circumstance of the moment. I would like to think that I received a measure of my dad’s wit, but what made him exceptionally funny is that he didn’t care whether you thought he was funny or not. When I think of something clever, I want you to hear it! When he thought of something funny, he often spoke it softly, not really caring if anyone else heard or not – or, at least he seemed not to care – and that is funny. Nan and Sabra and I have laughed more than we have deserved to laugh, I suppose, because of his influence in our lives.

My dad was incredibly blessed with the two wives that the Lord graciously gave to him. Like father, like son. I love you, Alison. I will say more about Patricia, whom most of you know as Pat, in a few moments, but let me say how much joy and laughter he brought to their lives! When I was called to care for my dear, dying wife over four years ago, I had the perfect role model. No one could have cared better for my mom than my dad did in her last many years of life, suffering with emphysema. He rolled her, I imagine, over every square inch of Raleigh in her wheel chair. Sometimes he put her life in danger because of the ways he would make her laugh when she was desperately short of breath. I laugh when Patricia tells me about the way that he courted her, showing up every morning to greet her on her way to school, calling her on the phone, disguising his voice with various accents from around the world, and singing to her as the crooner that he was. Billy Talley was a funny – and, a fun – man.

But, not all of you would respond the same way if I asked you to describe my dad. When you have spoken to me over these last five years, no doubt, most of you have said that he always made you smile – always! But, there have been just as many comments about my father’s love for Jesus, his love for children and his love for teaching them, his heart-felt prayers, and his godly character. It is, in fact, his relationship with Jesus as his Savior that has sustained him, and us, over these past five years.

In many ways, my father died five years ago when he began to slide rapidly and inexorably into the living hell of Lewey Body Dementia. For all the fun that my dad had in the first 75 or so years of his life, these last five years have been anything but fun. Many of you have had similar experiences with your loved ones. I don’t know what he would have done without Patricia’s tender loving care that went so far beyond what would have been expected, even of a devoted spouse. Our family knew that God had blessed us with a beautiful addition even before Dad and Patricia said “I do.” We are so grateful God brought you into our lives, Patricia – we love you!

Just think of how difficult these years have been for Patricia. Dementia was, for Billy, a horrible disease that caused him to act in ways that were horrifyingly embarrassing to him in the few lucid moments early in his disease. If you had seen him this past Friday, repeatedly gasping for breath with terror in his eyes, you would understand why it is such a relief for us that he is with Jesus, today. That doesn’t mean we are not sad, though. Quite a few tears have flowed along with the laughter. But, as Scripture says, we do not grieve in the same way as those who have no hope. We recognize that our parting is only temporary. Consider these words from John 14:1-6, spoken by Jesus just before He was to part, temporarily, from His disciples:

1 "Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.
2 In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?
3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.
4 And you know the way to where I am going."
5 Thomas said to him, "Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?"
6 Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

The night before He was crucified, Jesus told His disciples that He was going away. They were shocked, because they had thought that He was going to establish the kingdom of God on earth, but now He told them, in essence, that He was going to heaven and that they were to be at peace about it! And, He told them, He would be busy preparing a room for each of them in His Father’s house. He concluded by saying, “You know the way to where I am going.”

Thomas said, “Uh, uh – we don’t have any idea where You are going, so how can we possibly know the way there?” Jesus responded with some of the most important words any of us will ever, ever hear: “I am the way – and the truth – and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”

Wow! Jesus was either incredibly arrogant – or, He was God. I don’t know about you, but I am going with the latter. Jesus was God! He had to be in order to accomplish our salvation because our sin had separated us from God. My dad suffered as he did because of sin. Not any particular sin of his, but because of Adam’s sin, which we have all inherited – every one of us. When Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the garden, they sinned, and thus were separated from God, and there was NOTHING they could do about that separation. There was no way back to God. But, God covered their nakedness, which represented their desperate condition, and He did so with animal skin. Blood was required in order for their sin to be covered.

But, as the book of Hebrews tells us, it was impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sin, no matter how many sacrifices were made in the Jewish Tabernacle and Temple in OT days. Jesus, though, being the perfect, spotless Lamb of God, went to the cross to absorb the wrath of God against sinners. Since we are all sinners, God’s righteous, judicial wrath is aimed squarely at us and unless someone stands in the way and absorbs God’s wrath, we will experience it one day. But, God's love made a way!

This may be hard for you to accept, but all the terrible things in this world, including these last five years of my dad’s life, are just a little taste of God’s wrath being revealed against sin, as are tsunamis and wars, and they may have NOTHING to do with the people who are experiencing tragedy. Until Jesus returns to rule on a new earth, which will really be heaven, every one of us will suffer because of sin. But, as Jesus promised His disciples, if we are related to God the Father through Jesus, we will experience perfect peace and joy throughout eternity!

My dad’s days are now full of joy because so many years ago he repented of his sin and trusted Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross as payment for his sin. My father’s hope of heaven was Jesus, not twenty years of teaching Sunday School, or baptism, or church membership, or comforting the grieving, or quiet acts of service and giving about which most never knew. He is OK today because of Jesus! Patricia pictured him clicking his heels when he got to heaven. What a beautiful picture – Billy Talley made whole and perfect because of Jesus! I don’t doubt that the beautiful parts of our personality are retained in heaven. Clicking his heels, indeed!

As I close, let me share how my dad passed from death to life, into the presence of Jesus. The staff at Senter’s Assisted Living Center was wonderful to my dad. This past Saturday afternoon, Patricia asked Gwen Morrison to sing for Billy. She was delayed because she had to make her rounds, but she arrived just before 3:30. In a beautiful, soulful voice, Gwen sang the first verse of Amazing Grace. As she sang the last note and turned to go, my dad breathed his last, clicked his heels, and fell into the arms of Jesus! Oh, I do hope that you will put your faith in what Jesus did for you so that you may have the same hope when your time comes, as everyone of us knows our time surely will come.

I cannot prove this in Scripture, but I have all ideas that there were a host of people waiting for Billy, including my late wife, Linda, and my mother. Sabra had a picture of how she thought it was in heaven on Saturday. In the last year of my mother’s life, Nan, Sabra, and I all lived away from Fuquay. When we would come for a few days, my mother could hardly stand the wait. She eagerly anticipated our arrival, so much so that when our car would roll down the driveway, she would tap her feet and say, “They’re here they’re here!” In Sabra’s mind – and, how can we argue – she was tapping her feet on Saturday and saying, “He’s here, he’s here!” To God be the glory!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Although I did not know your father except for hearing him sing at Grace a copule of times, and yet reading your blog I felt like I do know him, as in alot of ways you are a reflection of him. It must have been a blast growing up in your house with your father's sense of humor! I remember the story you shared with our home group about your Dad playing a trick on your Mom, back in the day of party line phone lines! Sweet memories, and now he is whole in the presence of Jesus, clicking his heels! What a beautiful picture..thank you for sharing.