Sam Shin and I met each other the summer before our 8th grade year. We have been like brothers since 10th grade. We have literally traveled the world together, were roommates in college, and have shared 2,394,173 laughs together.
In the process, my family became his and his family mine.
His parents, Mr. & Mrs. Shin, were first generation immigrants to the US. They moved to Atlanta in the early 1970s, fairly soon after Mr. Shin had experienced a life altering conversion to Christianity. As best as I can tell, Mr. & Mrs. Shin were among the patriarchs of the Korean-Christian community in Atlanta, which is now a sizable, influential, and wonderful group of people.
Mr. Shin runs an upholstery shop and Mrs. Shin worked in the back some, but mainly raised Sam and his five older sisters. All six of the children have graduated from top-tier universities and have Godly, strong households of their own.
In February 2006, I was in Atlanta working and starting a grad degree. Sam and his wife, Young Mee, were living in Denver. Sam called to let me know he was coming to town. I knew his Mom was sick, but it had taken a bad turn. Two days later, Sam called me from a hospice in Atlanta. Mrs. Shin was not doing well.
I arrived to the hospice about 30 minutes later. One of Sam’s sisters, Jae I believe, met me in the parking lot. “Mom wants to see you before she goes. ” This was the first time I internalized the gravity of Mrs. Shin’s condition.
We immediately passed through a lobby packed of representatives of the local Korean community. They were quiet, yet peaceful. We arrived to the room where I found Sam and the rest of the family, as well as their pastor. Mrs. Shin looked content, happy, but very sick.
They asked me to pray for her, which I did while holding Mrs. Shin’s right hand. Sam, on the other side of the bed, held her left.
The feel of the room was indescribable, yet I will try. Mrs. Shin was dying. I soon found out that it would be within a few hours. However, there was a look of peace and joy on her face of which I had never seen in anyone before, nor have I since. We were all profoundly sad, yet she was glowing.
Her family was all there. Her pride in and love for them was clear and tangible. Yet, that was not it. Had that been it, there would have been a sense of grief that she would be soon departing from them.
The pastor suggested we have a service right there in the room. I was honored to be invited to stay. The pastor spoke briefly. Not sure what he said, as it was in Korean. We sang, also in Korean.
Mrs. Shin beamed with joy. She radiated. It was as if she literally had one foot in heaven and one foot in that room with us. I will never forget that look.
I left the room, as the family stayed in with their mother, wife, and grandmother. In the lobby, there were around 100 people who had come to support Mrs. Shin and the family. Again, the pastor led us in an impromptu service. Again in Korean. Again it was beautiful beyond description.
Mrs. Shin passed a few hours later, but never with a sense of panic or grief. Her spirit had been made for heaven and she was heading home. Plain and simple.
I was honored when the family asked me to be a pall-bearer at Mrs. Shin’s funeral. Two more services, both in Korean. Both packed with well-wishers, several hundred in all.
The funeral and the burial services were truly a celebration of a woman who loved her family and her God well, ran a great race, and was now home with her heavenly Father. This was palpable to all, even to me who didn’t understand a word.
Mrs. Shin has been on my mind this past week. It is Easter week. Easter is about the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.
Because of Easter and the resurrection of Christ, death does not have to be a scary prospect to those of us who are followers of Him. Death has truly been swallowed up and conquered. Unabated and unencumbered eternal life awaits us. This life on earth is but a precursor to the REAL LIFE that is just ahead of us.
Mrs. Shin knew that. In her last hours on earth, she taught me and the others present this reality with greater clairvoyance and power than 100 books and 1,000 sermons ever could.
Christ came to earth, lived a perfect life, died a sacrificial death for those of us who will place our identity in Him, and rose again for final defeat of death and sin. It is finished.
Praise God, for in Christ, even death is a celebration. “Death” is merely a departing of the good (and sometimes horrible) of this world and entering into the eternal joy and perfection of the next!
(This is my final of three posts around Easter. The other two are “A prayer from college. . . and beyond (Psalm 19:14)” and “Three great Easter memories“.)