Elizabeth Walton was a young woman who had been part of our church for the last several years. 19 months ago she became a quadriplegic due to a fuzed vertebrae of which she was unaware. After many complications Liz passed away last week and is now with her Savior. Below is the manuscript from my message yesterday at her funeral. I pray it encourages all who knew her and that we, like her, would take comfort in our Savior.
Elizabeth Walton Memorial Service
Bible Fellowship Church
February 20, 2017
In all honesty, there is no easy way to begin this message. We aren’t here today to reflect on a long life of a tender old woman surrounded by a few friends and family members. We don’t come today for a quasi-family reunion as an excuse to gather with people we rarely see. We won’t go home today and simply say “well that was a nice service.” No, from our perspective, today we are here to mourn unmet expectations. Today we are here to grieve hopes and dreams unfulfilled. Instead of standing up one after another to share nice memories, our inner thoughts are wondering “why.” “Why this?” “Why Liz?” We join the Psalmist who wrote “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day?” (Psalm 13:1-2b). Our hearts feel the piercing sharp edge of an arrow and our pillows are soaked with tears.
From September 22, 1990 to July 6, 2015 the Liz we knew was active, independent, and determined. She was known as a runner, I had the joy of pack backing across portions of Spain and Portugal with her on a ministry trip. Many knew her as a caregiver, the very nature of being a social worker is caring for people, especially for those who aren’t attractive to the rest of society, but that didn’t matter to Liz. Many more here knew her as a constant and faithful friend, simply reading Facebook tributes from many of you reveal the kind of genuine friendships she had with so many. Then, suddenly, in just a split second, everything changed. A simple innocent leap from a swing, all in an effort, to make a little boy laugh changed everything. The young woman known for running half marathons would now need people to be her feet. The person we knew who always had a tender touch and gentle spirit would now need the loving counsel of others. The faithful friend who had come alongside us so many times would now need her friends to uphold her and be her hands.
It was during these early days that we began to ask these “why” questions. Even Liz did. But she recognized that she may not receive the answers. She wrote in her first blog post, “I may never understand everything that happened, but I’m reminded of God’s words to his people: ‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.’” (Isaiah 55:8 – 9). Liz was honest about her struggles, but she always knew that she was in the tender loving care of the Sovereign God of the universe.
This is why Romans 8 became so important to her and she worked to memorize it in the last six months. We’ve heard read what she was pondering in her heart: Romans 8:1-4 “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”
As I mentioned earlier these tragic moments make us question the sensibility of all this. We may even want to ask, “how could a good God allow such a thing?” That’s an honest question and it’s perfectly right to ask it. Humanly speaking it doesn’t make sense. Humanly speaking we are left to say it’s all up to chance and completely meaningless. But the answer to the question is completely different if the God who is in control is also the God who suffered. Jesus Christ experienced the sinfulness of this world and its suffering. He was without sin, but he took ours upon himself. He knew suffering. He was beaten, smitten, and afflicted. He was crushed for our transgressions and knew the helpless feeling of not being able to move his arms and legs as he hung nailed to a cross. Liz didn’t just trust in a Sovereign God who stands arm’s length from his people, but she trusted in a Suffering Savior who experienced all the suffering she endured. The physical pain, the emotional turmoil, the spiritual angst, these are the sufferings of Jesus.
While she didn’t understand it, Liz knew that her suffering was not meaningless. While she was honest about her struggles she embraced all that the Lord was teaching her. The girl started a series called “Thankfulness Thursday” on her blog. She learned the joy of being thankful in all circumstances. She was thankful for her friends who pursued her and cared for her and she wrote of “living vicariously through them” as they enjoyed her hobbies. Liz even worked hard to be joyful for others as they celebrated milestones she couldn’t. She was even thankful for small blessings like transportation services, watching the Olympics, and getting her hair done. She taught us thankfulness in all circumstances and joy amidst sorrow.
Her suffering prepared her for her future glory. Going further in Romans 8 in verse 18 “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” The sufferings of this world cause us to groan. Paul says this in verse 23 “And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in his hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes in what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” Liz’s suffering lifted her gaze to a greater glory and a true hope fulfilled, but it required patience of which she admitted was lacking in her life. She wrote on August 8th, “If there’s one thing I am not it is patient!” I don’t think we blame her a bit for this admission. Liz continued to set goals for herself. She still wanted to travel, to finish her masters, and even monthly things like readying a couple books a month. One of her great struggles was having to forgo studying in India this year, but still she wanted to travel to all 7 continents.
This would have been glorious and the things she would have seen and the experiences she would have told us about would have been amazing. But in all her groaning and disappointment, she was being prepared for a glory that couldn’t compare. As she worked though Romans 8 she eventually came to verses 29-30: “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”
As her struggling and groaning lingered she found hope in this glory. After being in and out of the hospital more times than she could count and maybe even recall, she was honest about her longing for her heavenly home. On December 20th, she wrote her final blog post titled “Eternal Weight of Glory” this is worth readying the whole thing:
Eternal Weight of Glory
“The Savior loves you too dearly to lay upon you one stroke more than is needful for your soul’s best interests.” (Mary Winslow, 1774-1854)
There are days when I get super frustrated being labeled “inspirational”, and times I’m tired of being the wheelchair kid. Last winter was rough, and part of my current struggle is a pneumonia diagnosis. There were times last winter where my health got so bad that I just cried out “Jesus, I’m ready to meet you now. Please just take me.” But that’s the easy way out. As a Christian, the pain associated with the dying process will be unpleasant, but death itself is not scary. My faith is secure in Christ, and I know that because of my belief in his death and resurrection, I’m meeting him on the other side. However, I have a purpose on this earth. With all of my sicknesses last winter, as well as the difficulty I’ve had getting back to school, sometimes it’s hard to see what my purpose is. I know for certain that I do not want to author a book, nor to be any type of motivational speaker. People often suggest these careers to me, but I really don’t want to make my injury any sort of permanent gig.
As I struggle with finding purpose, I’m reminded of Paul’s words to the Corinthians:
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
2 Corinthians 2 4:16-18
On days when I don’t feel like getting up and taking another whack at life, I can be assured that God is sanctifying me – the fancy pants church word for making me more and more like himself– and that my current struggles are nothing compared to the light of eternity.
I’ve recently been struggling with the “why” question more so than I have in the past. Then I think about the fact that my difficulties are nothing compared to those that have gone before me. If not for Stephen being martyred, Paul would not have had his ministry (Acts 7:54-60). Trust me when I say I’m not on some sort of spiritual high horse very often!
So these are my recent thoughts…
When Karen called to share the news of Liz’s passing, she said that the tears we cry are not for Liz, but for us. The reason this is true is because Liz understood that the eternal weight of glory is far greater than the weight of the sufferings we bear here in this life. I once said that I would take five Liz Walton’s instead of 100 others to conquer the world. Some might say that Liz’s life went unfulfilled, that her race was cut short, and there was so much more for her to do. I even mentioned that we grieve because of these things. From our perspective, all this is true. But we’d be mistaken. Liz finished her course. She didn’t experience God’s curse, but God’s blessing. The blessing of her life was not status, material wealth, a husband or kids. She did not say that God is only good because all her hopes and dreams were fulfilled. She saw the eternal weight of glory as greater than all of that. She experienced that true trust in Jesus is revealed when nothing is left and all of life seems lost and with her entire body pinned to a chair that Jesus was all satisfying and that he would get her through and bring her into his glory. Liz, like all of us in Christ, was slowly but surely being transformed into the image and glory of Christ day by day. Until in a moment, in the amount of time it takes to jump off a swing, she was transformed and now the incomparable weight of the glory of Jesus is more real to her than the weight of paralysis and a heavy wheelchair.
Liz knew that her life mattered. It mattered for us. We all learned something as we watched her life these 26 years and we were probably just more attentive in the last 18 months. Liz might be embarrassed by all the things I’ve said and what’s been written about her. Her dad Mike told me that Liz would want her service to be far more about Jesus than about her. And all that we have celebrated in Liz’s life is simply because of Jesus.
In her care, we saw the tenderness of Christ. In her determination, we witnessed the love of Jesus that was willing to die for us. In her life, we found the new life that was granted by Jesus. In her suffering, we heard the testimony of the all satisfying life of knowing Christ. Liz recognized that her suffering was meant to be used to give testimony to richness of Jesus in her life. She knew that meaning in life was not something you create and make for yourself. Meaning in life is in knowing and savoring Jesus Christ and she experienced this in her normal active life and in her suffering.
We look at her life and wonder what could give her such perspective and meaning through her sufferings. It was because in her suffering, as her life wasted away she could testify to the one who suffered on her account and gave her new life. 2 Corinthians 4:11-12 says “For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.”
Liz wanted nothing more than for those in her life to be transformed by Jesus as she had. Even in her hallucinations in the hospital she would boldly ask “do you know Jesus?” On her behalf, this morning, I ask you, “Do you know Jesus?” Most people don’t like to think about the end of life, but no matter how hard we try to not think about it, we can’t pacify our existence with doing the best we can or simply hoping we were good enough. That’s not how Liz lived. That’s not knowing Jesus. This day came much quicker for Liz than she expected, but she knew that meaning in life is found in having a great job, getting married, having kids, grandkids, and dying in your 90s. Meaning in life is being reconciled to God through Christ and living in light of the eternal glory of Christ. That’s why we can gather here today and grieve, but we don’t grieve that Liz missed out. We don’t think for a second that her life was wasted. No. Liz knew in whom she believed and she knew that on the other side of death was the glory that would far surpass all that could be experienced in this life.
Liz wasn’t as independent as we might think. She recognized that God is holy, righteous, and good. That he created her in his image to be with him and know him, but like all mankind she too was a sinner. She was a rebel and deserved judgment and eternal death because of sin, but she trusted in the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross and his resurrection from the dead. She repented of her sin and he transformed her to live a life that was motivated by eternal things. This gave her meaning even when life seemed like such a tragedy.
Friend, you can have this meaning. You can have this glory that death can’t touch.
Mike and Karen, Matthew and Andrew, you have been the hands and feet of Christ to Liz in these last 18 months. You would have gladly traded places with her. You would have preferred her care for you. You now understand the care, love, and compassion of Jesus at a deeper level. The pain you experience now will never go away, but like Liz your groaning’s point you to a day when the glory will never compare.
To all of Liz’s friends, may the memories you have of her never fade. Remember her with joy and be transformed by the power of Jesus as she was.
To her coworkers at the Buckeye Ranch, she loved you. She prayed for you and she wanted nothing more than for you to know the power that transformed her life to care for others was the power of Christ who cared for her.
I said earlier we gather with our hearts pierced and our pillows wet. We gather to cry not to laugh. All of this is true. But this isn’t the final word. Death has no victory here. We recognize that Jesus the Christ drank the cup of God’s wrath and justice so that his resurrection might be ours. We mourn and today it may seem as if total blackness covers our soul, but there’s a glimmer of sunshine breaking through this chamber. The power of the love of Christ made known in his death and resurrection is the security and foundation that Liz hoped in and Oh, that we might find that hope on this day.
31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be[a] against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.[b] 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Liz didn’t like how song leaders would often just sing the first and last verses of a hymn. She knew that the hymn writer had something they wanted to communicate in all the verses. We will close today by singing all the verses to Amazing Grace.