Go rest high on that mountain

Three years ago today was such a black day for me. I was on my way to work in the evening when my cell phone rang and someone was crying on the other end saying "Pastor's dead! Pastor's dead!" In that moment I couldn't breathe, I couldn't see, I couldn't speak. My heart felt like a piece of lead that was going to fall right through me. I had never in my life felt such immediate and overwhelming grief. I had lost relatives in my life, but never a person as important to me as this.

I grew up going to Tower Baptist Church in Lorain and Chris Hughes was the pastor there. I always had a very distant, strained relationship with my real dad...and my step-dad. I never had any men around me that I was close to or that were good role-models to me...except for my preacher. He kind of took me under his wing. I'm sure he did this with most of the youth at our church...and for that much, most of the members period. That's just the way he was. But he made me feel special and he became the one man in my life who I could look up to. Always a man of God. Always striving to do "right for right's sake." Always encouraging me to do make godly decisions...even when I failed at that he was still there to say, "Well, God is a God of mercy and you can do better next time."

When I got married (all-too-young), his voice cracked and tears filled his eyes when he said, "by the power vested in me by the state of Ohio...and by one who loves you very much...I now pronounce you....". He sat next to me and prayed for me when my husband committed adultery. He dedicated all of my children to the Lord. He was the first ones my oldest three kids called when they got saved. He was the one who baptized them all...with a shout and that signature giggle he had when he felt moved. With alot of prayer and some hesitation he married me a second time...and then was there for me when he knew he was right and should've trusted his gut and not married us. I could always see the look of sorrow in his eyes when we were having major problems in our marriage (those close to me know what I'm talking about). I think he felt he was somehow to blame by marrying us...although it wasn't his fault. It was no one's fault but the evil one's. He was my one-sure-thing. As faithful as Jesus himself, at least as close as any human could be. I could call on him day or night and he would be there for guidance, help and prayer.

December 18th, 2002 was the day that will always be stuck in my heart as the clearest picture of my pastor's unselfishness and grace. I called him at about 11:00 at night sobbing into the phone that the evil one had "raped my baby!!!" By the time I hung up the phone and walked down the stairs he had sped the two miles to my house in sweatpants and t-shirt (he was usually dressed in a suit). He got there before the police did. Even before Randy did. He said he knew that over-all I'd be alright, but that Randy was going to need help that night...and he did. (See, Randy grew up in that church too and was also close to him.) My house was filled with every relative Randy's family could find that night and they were plotting to string the evil one up from the tree in my front yard. My family. The police. My kids. It was a madhouse of emotion and frenzy. As we had to listen to Courtney tell the detectives all-too nasty details of what had happened to her my beloved preacher got on his knees before us, laid his hands on us and just started intervening. It was the most touching image I have in my memory....aside from the picture of him tackling and bearhugging Randy in my front yard and holding him while Randy sobbed tears of mourning for his baby girl. A former football player...he was a big guy... setting aside pride to comfort and protect a surrogate son during the most difficult time of his life. To me, that was a picture of Christ that night. Christ in my living room. Christ in my front yard. Christ kneeling before me making intercession for us.

In the days and months that followed he helped in more ways than I can express. He made sure our bills were paid, supported us in the church and never missed a court hearing. If that horrible situation had never happened though, I doubt I would've ever taken the opportunity to tell him how very much he meant to my life and how loved he was.

He died suddenly on the afternoon of June 14, 2003. He complained of having bad heartburn and refused to go to the doctors (in his typical stubborn way). He wanted to take a nap in his recliner and if it wasn't better when he got up then he would go to the hospital. He never woke up. His wife found him a few hours later after he had a massive heart attack in his sleep (which by the way, was how he always said he wanted to go). I got the call within an hour or so on my way to work and immediately changed courses for his house. He was already gone. I just stood in the yard hugging and crying with family.

His funeral was probably the biggest and most crowded I've ever seen. I would say there was easily over a thousand people there. cars filled two parking lots and were backed all the way down Tower Blvd. onto Rt. 58. It was a very moving service and I broke down bad when they started playing him singing over the loud speakers. "I've had a wonderful life....the Lord's been so good to me...." I have trouble listening to it to this day. I have never before, or since grieved over someone like I did him...not even for my own father who died last year.

About a week after he died I had a dream about him. I was in the church parking lot in the back seat of a car. He walked up to the car and asked someone if I was in there then he got in and kneeled looking over the seat at me. He was smiling a gentle smile and had so much joy and yet compassion in his eyes. He said "why are you so upset?" I replied "because I'm so sad that you are gone." And he just smiled even bigger and said, "Oh you know better than that! You know that I'm right where I want to be. I'm fine and you're going to be too. Don't cry." And after that the pain wasn't quite so bad. I believe God allowed him to visit me in that dream to set my heart at ease and remind me of everything that I really already knew. I think that Pastor Hughes was my set of training wheels for so much of my life, and now it was time to ride solo. After all, he wasn't really my one-true-thing....Jesus flowing through him was...and I have him with me always.

He always ended his services by looking everyone in the eye and saying "I love you today."

So to you, Pastor Chris....

I love you today...

1951 - 2003


Allison said…
He certainly was a great man. Reading this blog again floods my mind with memories....