March 1987 is a month which Lois, my wife, and I will never forget!
A few months earlier, in the autumn of 1986 we as a family, Lois, Timothy (our son) and I, moved from a pastoral ministry in Ayrshire to take up a new role based in Loughborough, Leics. Those first few months of finding our feet in a totally new situation were challenging, to say the least; however, life was made so much easier because Timothy settled quickly into a new school, making many new friends in the process. Life was never dull with a young teen in the house. Great! We loved it!
Our days were full with one thing and another and we felt fulfilled in the will of God; my preaching ministry around churches in the UK, with Prophetic Witness Movement International (PWMI), was being blessed of the Lord - we were both hugely encouraged - in fact, as an aside, Timothy, keen to make a few extra pounds in pocket money got a job delivering newspapers to folks in our neighbourhood. He enjoyed it. We were thrilled to see him developing into a well-rounded young man.
It was also a joy for us to see a spiritual spark ignited in his life when he positively responded to the claims of Jesus Christ. There was something about him and his demeanour that clearly indicated he was living for God in a world where few of his peers showed any interest in eternity and biblical truth. Our prayers, as parents, were being answered in God's way and time. Lois and I pay tribute to God's outrageous grace in his young life.
For me, brought up in a Christian home in Bangor, Co Down, Northern Ireland, the road to faith in the Lord Jesus took many twists and turns. Sure, I knew the gospel inside out but my personal encounter with God only happened in my mid-teens when the light shone through the darkness. It was Jim Byers, then my pastor, who led me to the Lord in February 1968 - I remember it well all these years later, such was the colossal change in my sinful, rebellious heart. Thankfully, Jim faithfully discipled me over a period of time, and today, I gladly acknowledge my indebtedness to him for his investment in my life.
Lois and I were married in June 1971 and around 15 months later Timothy, our first and only child, was born - an unforgettable day, in the best sense of that word! Back then we had no idea how things would pan out in his life ... we committed him to the Lord as a very young child and trusted God to watch over him. Our attitude then, and now, is that Father knows best.
After theological seminary, I spent a number of years in pastoral ministry before joining PWMI. Over the second weekend in March 1987 I was booked to preach at the anniversary services of Bathgate Baptist Church, just off the M8 going west from Edinburgh to Glasgow. I never did get into the pulpit there as I was urgently called back home - the message was relayed to me that Timothy had been rushed to the Leicester Royal Infirmary after a potentially fatal traffic accident.
That was an exhaustingly long journey, an emotional roller coaster, not quite knowing what to expect when I got there. Nothing could prepare me for what I saw in that intensive care ward. To all intents and purposes, Timothy was being kept alive on a life support machine. Lois and I simply clung to each other, our hearts breaking. A couple of days later we gave the consultant the go-ahead to switch off the machine. For us, it was the toughest thing to do, but it was also the right thing to do.
Timothy, a few months short of his 15th birthday, was at home with his Lord and Saviour. He was laid to rest on St Patricks Day.
How did we cope? The reality is, we struggled to come to terms with all that happened. It took many months for us to accept that this was all in God's best plan for us as a couple and for him as our son. That said, down the years since Timothy's homecall, we have known a very real sense of divine peace in our hearts and, in other ways, the Lord has wonderfully given to us many tokens of his kindness. Sure, we still have our moments when we shed tears and the heartache is difficult to handle. We miss him and we often wonder what he would be doing in terms of career and family, etc. That's normal for every mother and father.
To be honest, our story as a couple is summed up in the words engraved on Timothy's headstone, and culled from the writings of Jeremiah: "Though He brings grief, He will show compassion, so great is His unfailing love" (Lamentations 3:32).
Over twenty-five years later since that life changing moment in our lives, both of us are constantly amazed at the people who have crossed our path - many have helped us and others, I trust, we have been an inspiration and encouragement to them. My ministry now takes me all over the world and, as a kind of bonus, there is barely a week goes by when I don't have a unique opportunity to share with someone who is passing through something similar to Lois and I. Yes, in God's providence, nothing happens by chance!
If our story does nothing else, I believe it puts the 'amazing' back into God's grace. And, for both of us, our investment in Heaven certainly gives us a different perspective on life - actually, truth be told, we look forward with anticipation to the day when we meet again and, together as a family, we will worship the Lamb upon the throne.