In memory and celebration of the life of a dear saint now in glory, Uncle Ashby, upon news of his passing through the pearly gates early this morning of Friday, March 7, 2014 in Columbia, South Carolina.
For all the saints who from their labors rest
Who, Thee, by faith before the world confessed
Thy name, O Jesus, be forever blessed,
Thou wast their Rock, their Fortress, and their Might
Thou, Lord, their Captain in the well-fought fight,
Thou in the darkness drear their One True Light,
O, may Thy soldiers, faithful, true and bold
Fight as the saints who know they fought of old
And win with them the victor’s crown of gold
The golden morning brightens in the west
Soon, soon to faithful warriors comes their rest
Sweet is the calm of paradise the blessed
But, Lo, there breaks a yet more glorious day
The saints triumphant rise in bright array
The King of glory passes on his way
There is no better hymn to sing through tears and smiles as I pause in Panera this Friday morning to remember the great and gentle saint known as “Uncle Ashby,” my great-uncle, the brother of my paternal grandmother, Emma Davis (who preceded him into glory over 32 years ago). What I first knew of him was his kind thoughtfulness and generosity to support me on various short-term missions endeavors throughout high school and college. He and his beloved Aunt Dot were eager to support my ministry not only financially but through prayers and encouraging phone calls. Throughout the years, they would always call to hear the report of how I saw God at work through these experiences. He was a gospel cheerleader, as it were. And he lived it out. Always eager to listen when he himself had the greater stories of God’s faithfulness to share, stories he would talk of only when prompted and asked about.
He was delighted to hear that I was engaged to marry a man in training for full-time ministry as a pastor, and he and Dotty sent their support through a card and beautiful bouquet of flowers. They eagerly received us as visitors when their health failed and their care was transferred to a nursing facility, he asking after Seth’s seminary study and ministry positions and then delightedly meeting our twin daughters when we brought them for a few visits.
As he talked and as Dad filled in the details he was too humble to discuss in the first person, I gained the picture of a saint who labored for his captain in a “well-fought fight.” After injured in combat during World War II, the trauma of that experience sent him into a mental breakdown. In this painful time, God found him. And when God healed him, he devoted the remainder of his life to full-time ministry, preaching throughout the low country of South Carolina and as an Army chaplain. Dad described this gentle man as “on fire” when he stood behind a pulpit to preach about the good news of Jesus Christ in the Scriptures.
Uncle Ashby was the picture of a devoted husband to his beloved Dotty through her share of difficulties and suffering to the very end of her life. His face lit up to speak of her, and it is only natural that he would follow her into glory but a short three years after her passing. And he loved his family. He loved us, his great-nephews and great-nieces (and our children) as if we were his own grandchildren. In many ways, he was the paternal grandfather we never knew while we were the grandchildren he never had. He was thoughtful and kind, sending cards on special occasions and calling to commemorate big life events for each of us (marriages, births, graduations).
We will miss this kind soul, while rejoicing that he is in glory. At daybreak today, glory broke open for this man to see face-to-face the realities he had lived out by faith to the very end. The King of Glory whose gentleness and kindness this man reflected so well is even now embracing a fully restored and glorified Uncle Ashby. I imagine there was quite a party this morning in heaven as they welcomed him home! We grieve; they rejoice. And one day we too will rejoice to be welcomed home by this one who has gone before.
Earth has lost a man who brought joy until his dying days (evidenced by the weeping of the nursing staff who loved him so much), and this is a void that will not be filled. I am reminded of the travesty that death is for all of us left behind; how very unnatural it is that life should end. And yet in the tears there is hope, glorious hope, that death is never the end for those who trust in Jesus Christ as their own Savior and Redeemer. Grief now; glory later. And so we press on in hope as Uncle Ashby would have us to do, continuing to labor until we, too, like him will end the well-fought fight and rest in the welcome of our Savior.