Friday, March 21, 2014

Dan McLaughlin

On Saturday, March 15, my husband suddenly and unexpectedly passed from life to life. On a beautiful day, on an enjoyable outing, in the middle of a normal, pleasant conversation, he left the limitations of earth and entered the joy of heaven. My grief is deep. I loved him. I relied on him. I’ll miss him more than I can possibly say.

I realize that I’m not an objective observer, but I can say in all honesty that Dan was a remarkable man. He was brilliant, funny, talented and faithful. Since his death, the words “most” and “best” have been spoken and written over and over by those who knew him. People have called him “the best husband and father I’ve ever seen,” “the most godly person I’ve ever met,” and “the best man I’ve ever known.”

Dan lived life wide open. Once he met you, you were his friend. Once you were his friend, he would serve you and share all of himself with you. He used to simply say, “I like to be useful.”  He was a servant, through and through.

I don’t claim to understand the mystery of the relationship between God’s sovereignty, man’s free will, and natural law. Certainly God knows the time of each person’s death. Does that mean that he sets a specific day and hour for each of us?  I’m not going to even try to tackle that question. Here’s what I do know about the timing of Dan’s death:

  • Dan had recently spent quality time with most of his family. In February, he flew to Virginia to visit his father. Not long after that, he and I took the campervan south for a wonderful, relaxing trip to Florida, stopping to visit our oldest son in Nashville on the way down and back. We aren’t left with many “I wish we had spent more time together” regrets.

  • I have a part-time job writing articles for an addiction treatment network. One of my topic assignments for the week before Dan died was on coping with the death of a loved one.

  • One of Dan’s favorite things to do was to sing with and occasionally direct a group of fellow music ministers. Two days before his death, he sang with them and directed the songs “When the Roll is Called up Yonder” and “I’m Bound for the Promised Land.”

  • On the morning of the day Dan died, he used his laptop to pull up a clip about heaven and near-death experiences he had been sent. Then he, our youngest son, and I had a nice conversation about heaven just a few hours before he got to see it for himself.

  • Dan’s heart attack took place while he was driving us around a state park. We had been on the highway for quite a while before we reached the park grounds. The circumstances of his death would have surely been much worse had we still been on the highway.

  • When I saw Dan was in trouble, I flagged down people in the area and someone who knew CPR appeared immediately and kept working until the ambulance arrived. It wasn’t possible to revive him, but I’m not left wondering whether it would have been.

  • A Christian family was among those in the area who came to help. When I said I wanted to pray, they prayed with me. I never felt alone.

  • Dan died on a Saturday. Sunday’s sermon topic, which had been prepared in advance, was “I am a Citizen of Heaven.”

  • The weather has been cooperative. My chemical sensitivities make it extremely difficult to be inside most public places. Amazingly we were able to find a funeral home with a patio, so during the visitation, I was able to be outside, where people could join me as they wished. We held the funeral service at the graveside. If the weather hadn’t been warm enough, it’s hard to imagine how I could have been part of the final goodbyes.

  • After his graduation from college, my youngest son traveled to Africa for a while. He returned to the states in December and has been living with us while he looks for a job. The fact that he’s here now is huge.

I’m glad I didn’t know when I married Dan that he would die in his 50s, but if I had known, I would have married him anyway. We had 30 precious years together. As do all couples, we had our disagreements and times of tension, but I never doubted we would work them out and I never wondered about his commitment to me. He took his wedding vows seriously and he cherished me in sickness and in health. I’ve thought several times since his death that there’s more than one way to lose a spouse. Many people with chronic illness are abandoned and deserted by their husbands or wives. Mine was faithful until death and I’m deeply and truly grateful.

My wise sister talks about living in the “tension of the and,” meaning that two apparently contradictory things can both be true. The day after Dan died I opened the curtains to see a robin sitting in a dusting of snow and it seemed like an appropriate allegory. It was winter and it was spring. I know the future holds both pain and peace, fear and faith, loneliness and love.

More than once in my life, I’ve taken a step back and re-examined my theology of suffering. I’ve done the “what ifs.”  I believe it was author Sheldon Vanauken who said that he tried to give up his faith and found that he couldn’t – that it was like moving a stone that was too heavy for him. I’ve personally thought of unbelief as a garment. I tried it on and found that it didn’t fit. I wrestle and I question and I rage against the circumstances of life, but I always come back to faith that God is still in control and still working things out for the ultimate good of his children.

I don’t know what the future holds. There are many unanswered questions and I have to fight the temptation to panic. One thing I don’t worry about, however, is whether or not my husband’s spirit lives or whether he is with the Lord. He knew and loved Jesus Christ. He was ready to meet him. If you’re not sure that you’re ready, I urge to you read this page at the website

It’s interesting to me that death feels so unnatural, despite the fact that everyone on earth experiences it. We weren’t created for time and death. We were created for eternity. My husband’s earthly body is now uninhabited, but he lives and I’ll see him again. In the meantime, life is going to be even more challenging than it already was. Please pray for me and my sons.


Rachel said...

Thanks so much for sharing. I have been thinking of you often since your first Facebook message about Dan being in the ambulance. I'm so sorry to hear about your loss. I'm glad with you, though, that you have been able to be part of the community during this important "saying good-bye" time. I hope that you can continue to share how God provides in the future. I know that many of us with chronic illnesses can relate to your fears for the future and are hoping and praying that your needs will be met.

Sharon W. Ownsbey said...

Thank you for sharing this Martha - I will continue to remember you and the boys in prayer. And although we have never actually met face to face - we are family in both this world and the next -- much love and hugs.

Pam Shearer said...


I have wept more than once as I remember precious moments with you and your family over the years: babysitting Caleb in Costa Rica (well, listening to him sleep over the baby monitor), singing with you and Dan, pregnancy and childbirth in a foreign country, mission meetings, listening to you recite that wonderful life in the desert monologue by Max Lucado (I think), hearing you sing "When You Can't Trace His Hand, Trust His Heart" after Lynne's death. And most of all, your presence after our granddaughter died.

Your lives have intersected and moved ours in meaningful ways so many times. I thank God that He provided family for us when our biological family was so far away.

Thanks for writing this piece and sharing some of Dan's last days. We were all shocked at Dan's death, but God was not. Your family and friends are supposed to comfort you, but your words have comforted me.

I will continue to pray for you, Caleb, and Lucas in the days to come.


Anonymous said...

Thank you
Martha indudablemente sus ultimos dias sobre la tierra fueron grabados en el corazon de cada uno de los visito. Con seguridad le dio gozo y tranquilidad ver a sus seres queridos y la oportunidad a ellos de verlo fisicamente por ultima vez hasta la proxima.
Iglesia Bautista Ebenezer.

Anonymous said...

Rocio Galarza New Jersey
Thank you
Martha indudablemente sus ultimos dias sobre la tierra fueron grabados en el corazon de cada uno de los visito. Con seguridad le dio gozo y tranquilidad ver a sus seres queridos y la oportunidad a ellos de verlo fisicamente por ultima vez hasta la proxima.
Iglesia Bautista Ebenezer.

gwenda haywood said...

Your words are so eloquent. I see why Dan loved you so much. You were two peas in a pod. Here you are suffering great loss, and you are encouraging others who loved Dan. Your family is a part of all our families. Please know that we are here for you and are willing to help you if you would call. Thank you for being so gracious and sharing Dan with us. Love you and your boys.

amy behrend smith said...

wow what you have said about dan is so true he loved everyone and everything. He loved you and the boys very much. It is hard to believe that he is now in gods arms watching over us each and every day. God has a plan for you and the boys and everyone he touched. Just know that I am hear to talk to you and if you need me to go to the store for you or anything else I will do it for you. Thank you for letting Dan be the good Christian man that he was and thank you for sharing with us his life. love you

Joe Voga said...


Thank you for this. You have blessed me today in sharing this. Praying still for you and your family,

Joe Voga

Bob Williford said...

Well said, Martha.

Upon reading the cries from Lucas, Caleb and then you for prayer concerning Dan, I like everyone else was completely dumbfounded. There were no words that I could find to explain the pain in my heart for you all...and my own grief.

Thank you for sharing so eloquently with words that I could not find.

Martha, Lucas and Caleb....I will certainly be praying for you to find God's strength that He has already provided. For just as Paul has written, you three will find that you will be able to weather the storm to come because of Christ in you. Philippians 4:13.

May God richly bless and keep you three.....Jesus is Lord.
Bob Williford

Janmes Beryl Boswell said...

Great introspection, analysis, and writing Martha. I am going to file this in my life impact file.

Many memories came back to me about Dan after his death. The tines we played softball with and on opposite teams, when he took my area in Coms for me when we furloughed(I think I still have a couple of letters from him, the times we worked together as missionaries, his reflections on the work and the time of the "Shock" in the Peru Economy back in the 80s, the time when he came to my house to help me with my computer, and when you guys arrived in Peru. His dad was my NT Professor at Bluefield College, and was used by the Lord to confirm my road to missions. I think of Dan as one of the "good" ones. Before I was saved we said" "God always takes the good ones first.' I don't exactly think that way now. I almost died during the Christmas holidays and even gone into write my funeral service when I got a call from a Christian Doctor who referred me to a specialist whom God used to save my life along with the prayers of so many brothers and sisters in Christ. I ma still here and I will always think of Dan as one of the "good" ones meaning he was a faithful obedient servant of the most high God. Ma God bless you and yours with many spiritual blessings and may Jesus quickly heal your broken heart.

Beryl and Linda Boswell
Hebrews 10:22

joyfoy said...

*wobbly, loving smile*
I'm terribly melancholy most of the time. I both laugh and cry when I think of Dan, and I so deeply admire you and send my love your way. What you've written moves my heart in many, many ways. You had a wonder-full love ... an amazing gift to you both. I HAVE to think he's thinking of you too. Mm hmm.

Holly Findley said...

I was in Kay's class on Wednesday nights. We've never met before but I feel I know you a little. I knew Dan through church and he was a such a joy to watch with the kids...especially during Vacation Bible School. How he will be missed! I know he is in heaven with Jesus and is singing his heart out! I am praying for you and the boys every night in my prayers. It is hard to understand why and when God takes some people and leaves others, but it isn't for us to understand until the day Jesus returns. God be with you, Lucas and Caleb. God Bless you all.

E Marshall said...

Martha, thank you for sharing this tribute and testimony. It is beautifully written. I really know you only through Luanne, but only a woman of incredible strength and faith could have penned so eloquently your story of loss, pain, memories and hope. You have been heavy in my thoughts and prayers this past week. I pray God's abundant grace and blessings on you and your sons.

bridger said...

Thank you, Martha for such a great post. I spent time in different circumstance getting to know Dan, but knew you only through loving comments and stories Dan shared. I can see by the thoughtfulness and expressiveness of this post why you two were a great match. I will be praying for you and the boys as you begin these challenges ahead, but I know you will be led by hand of God. I greatly enjoyed reading this. Kyle Bridgman

songsinger47 said...

You don't know me...and I have never met you. However, I feel I know you..and I knew Dan when he was a very young man. He was a bass in my choir at his high school alma mater...Broad Run High School in Ashburn, VA. I was so, so young and a newly-minted teacher. Dan was a vital and remarkably mature young man who--though I am fairly sure he wasn't aware of it at the time--was a messenger of God..even then. I knew his family and cherish the memory of my time with him. I am without words to express my sadness at his sudden passing from this mortal life. But I know...and believe...that he is sharing his goodness and his gifts with the spirits of heaven. May God give you comfort in knowing that Dan left his footprints in many, many places. Blessings to you and all of your family.

Verne Kelley said...

I've prayed for you for many months now. Prayer has a way of connecting me to people as if I actually knew them. Your sharing touched me deeply. I could tell with every line that you and Luanne are most definitely sisters. I've never known a more godly woman in my life than Luanne; and now I know two.

We may never meet till eternity but please know that I will pray for you and your boys as long as the Lord allows me to have breath in my body. May His inexplicable peace come to you and yours at all the right times.

Thank you for sharing your "self" with so are courageous even if you don't feel that way at the moment.

Blessings, beautiful soul...

Arlene Sollars said...

I knew Caleb and Lucas when they attended Truman M.S.I taught Speech/Drama then. Lucas was one of the early members of our Christian Fellowship club and we survived two "30 Hour Famine" lock-ins together. Dan was a resource for our group and he came to help us several times. I also knew him as the director for the McCarthy Baptist Christmas programs which became a family tradition for my son and me. I also worked with Caleb at Sears during the holidays. Your words fill in the outline of the wonderful mother and wife I never got to meet due to your illness. Blessings and peace to you and your family.

Debbie Jacobus said...

Thank you so much for sharing this memory of Dan. Was so sad to hear of his passing. Debbie J. , a classmate from BRHS

Ms.Teree said...

Martha this was so very beautifully written. Your love, understanding and deep faith are such a testament to our precious Savior. I pray that those who do not know Him (yet) may come to through your witness.

I also continue to pray for you, Caleb and Lucas.

Love you dear friend


Julie said...

This is beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing it. I've thought of you and prayed for you often since your original note about Dan. You are wise beyond your years, my friend.

Michael Cooper said...

Thanks so much for sharing such a beautiful testimony of your life together. Our family is praying for you and boys during this time. It was such an honor to serve even for a brief time with Dan at McCarthy.

Because of Him

Rick,Deb Payne said...

True Love is for ever;just as our Heavenly Fathers love for his children. Peace and Love McLaughlin family.

Carol Chatman said...

Martha, we are praying for you,Lucas, and Caleb. Truman and I didn't get to be with you a lot in Peru, but we always thought so much of you and Dan. May God continue to overshadow you with His presence, peace,guidance,and love during this very difficult time. May He supply your every need.

Jackie Harmon said...

Dear Martha,
It is with great sadness I write to you. Although you were with us a short time our music ministry was blest to have had Dan as our director. We cannot understand God's timing but we know He is in control. You will be in our prayers in the coming days. Jackie Harmon FBC Warrensburg

Christa Upton said...

Absolutely beautiful post. Such an example of true, lovely faith in God. Many hugs.

Lin said...

This is only my second or third visit to your blog. I just wanted to say how sorry I am for your loss. Thank you for sharing about it. As a chemically sensitive person who relies heavily on her husband, I can imagine your concerns about the future. I will keep you and your children in my prayers. It sounds like you have a wonderful support network, and I'm glad of that for you.

DebraSY said...

Martha, I am treasure our friendship. I pray frequently for you, Caleb and Lucas.

I am late in visiting this blog post. I generally visit sporadically anyway and do a lot of "catch up" when I'm here. It only just occurred to me (while in prayer) that you might have posted something here about Dan. I'm glad I am so late, because i get to see the vast network of people who are enfolding you and the boys in God's love. I am also awed at your own words and observations about Dan. Your writing on this came from a divinely inspired place.

I have been wrestling with my theology of suffering a lot recently. Some of my struggle has been prompted by you and Dan (and some other unstablizing events near my life). Some because of Lent/Easter. It occurs to me that we often elevate Christ's suffering to the point that we forget the context. Yes, the suffering/dying Christ is important: he "gets" our suffering as humans because he has lived our pain magnified. That is comforting, but inadequate. On either side of the suffering, dying Christ are the living Jesus Christ and the Resurrected Christ. The living Jesus calls us to confront and challenge the worldly, evil situations that create suffering (like the Chemical companies that are making it hard for you to craft a sustainable life, especially now that Dan is with God). And the Resurrected Christ tells us that even if we challenge the world's evil to the point of our own death, we are not defeated: we will receive the most important favor of all, God's favor. So much more important than this world's favor.

I am praying for you now with my heart and inadequate words, but I am also willing to pray with my feet. With your help, I will challenge (in the name of the living Jesus) the Pharisees and Empire barons who profit from dryer sheets and other "harmless" worldly poisons, and at your call I will do my best to hand-deliver God's comfort -- a hug and a bottle of nontoxic sanitizer -- in the name of the risen Christ.

You know where to reach me when you need me.