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Dying Man Wants Celebration at His Funeral

On the afternoon of May 2, 1990, I heard holy things. I was visiting Larry Hildreth, a father and husband from our church in Pennsylvania. He was in his thirties, but he was near death from cancer. I was at his home to serve him Communion, because he was too weak to come to church.

Larry was a deeply thoughtful man, and as he spoke that day, slow and deliberately, I realized I was hearing extraordinary things. I started scribbling them down on the margins of a bulletin in my Bible.

"Even if I have a short time to live," Larry said, "God has given me a great hope. Sometimes life throws us some tremendous curves, but death has lost its sting."

In his struggle with cancer, it was clear that Larry had learned a lot about weakness. "At the point in my life when I'm the weakest," he said, "I'm the strongest I've ever been."

We started talking about his funeral, which as it turned out, would be exactly one month later. He told me he wanted lots of singing. (I remember how in church Larry would put his head back and sing with such unabashed gusto.) He said, "The only thing I want people to think on that day is joy." As he said this, he raised his hands to offer a slow, triumphant clap. "When I pass into his kingdom, I envision this spectacular light—this spectacular feeling of being able to let go," he said. "I've felt a lot of grief for my children, my wife, my family, myself. But I've had to get over that. And once you get past that, you know that God is there, [and there's] that spirit of joyfulness. It's going to be a happy day for me. No grief for me."

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