The small chapel in a Charlotte, North Carolina, funeral home was overflowing just two days before Christmas. Unable to get a seat, I stood in the back with my family as scores of people spilled out into the lobby behind us. Our friend Nancy, fifty-seven, had just lost her battle with pancreatic cancer two nights earlier.
Everyone loved Nancy. She always had a smile — actually a laugh — and never seemed annoyed by anything or anyone.
Her husband, whom everyone called “Coach,” had just lost his lifelong soul mate. He and Nancy were married as teenagers. We all expected him to be too devastated to speak. That is, until we saw him approach the podium.
Oh no, Coach is getting up. I can’t believe he’s going to say something. How’s he going to get through this?
Several people had already eulogized his beloved wife, who lay before him.
“I wasn’t planning on saying anything,” Coach announced confidently, as if he were about to give a pep talk to the high school football team he led for over thirty years. “But I just want to thank all of you for coming and supporting my family.”
Coach’s family was dwindling. He was about to bury Nancy with the ashes of son, Rick, who had died from leukemia some twenty years before. Only his son Jeff remained.
“Let me just tell you what happened that last night at the hospital,” he projected in a steady and strong voice.
“The doctors helped control her pain. As I was holding her hand, I said, ‘Nancy, honey, squeeze my hand if you’re in pain. Go ahead, squeeze my hand.'”
“She didn’t squeeze it, but I noticed that her breathing was like this.”
Coach inhaled and then exhaled with a groan.
“I was a little concerned at this painful groaning sound she was making,” he said. “So when the remaining two visitors left, Jeff said he was going to stay to help his mom and me get through the night. I pulled up my chair, and Jeff pulled up his, and that’s when I noticed that her breathing had changed.”
Coach looked up, inhaled, and then exhaled while humming the tune of a hymn.
“I realized that when she exhaled, she was singing a hymn to us! She was waiting for the visitors to leave, so she could sing her boys to sleep! That’s who Nancy was. She was more concerned about us than herself.
“She kept singing with every breath. I held her hand and soon dozed off. Then suddenly, at 1:20 in the morning, I snapped awake because I didn’t hear her anymore. She wasn’t breathing. When I realized she was gone, my heart broke in two. It broke in two! I cried, ‘Jesus, help me! Jesus, help me!’
“Just then an incredible peace came over me. Words can’t even describe it to you. In fact, I feel it now.”
Coach paused and scanned the room. “The reason I’m telling you all of this is because a lot of people think that God is a myth. They think we’re making all of this up,” his voice rising for emphasis. “Let me tell you something. God is not a myth. God is real! He’s with me right now, and he was with me when Nancy slipped into His arms.”
Coach shook his head side to side. “I’ve been blessed. I’ve been so blessed. I met Nancy when I was fifteen. I knew she was an angel then, and I married her when I was only nineteen. God gave me nine months to tell my angel how much I love her and to comfort her with the gospel. God has been good to me. I’ve been so blessed.
“I beg you… I beg you, if you don’t know Jesus Christ and the sacrifice He made for you, please come to know Him today.”
Coach stepped away from the podium. The pastor, who was supposed to preach a sermon, wisely announced, “The sermon has already been preached,” and closed the service with a prayer.
As the procession carried the casket down the aisle, Coach trailed behind, greeting and hugging guests who were amazed at his composure. When he got to me, he grabbed my hand and simply said, “Thank you.” My spontaneous response was, “Wonderful.”
Wonderful? Is “wonderful” an appropriate response to a man about to bury his wife with the ashes of his son?
Only if his beliefs are true.
Frank Turek examines the evidence for God this Thursday on LIFE TODAY. This is an excerpt from Stealing From God by Frank Turek. Copyright © 2014 by Frank Turek. Published by NavPress in alliance with Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. Used by permission.