The moment Tracey and Phil met

Here is Tracey Clarke's "Chosen" hanging in the owner's house.

Here is Tracey Clarke’s “Chosen” hanging in the owner’s house.

It was almost three weeks to the day from when Philip Clarke passed into eternity.  I was attending a large Christian conference for college students.  Ironically, Phil had been in charge of recruiting for this conference at Georgia Tech in the fall, at least until his death on December 7th.

The conference was highly emotional for me and the rest of Phil’s friends which were in attendance, but we held it together.  We learned.  We worshiped.  We leaned upon each other.

The final night of the conference, I was standing against the back wall of the conference room.

There were over 1,000 students in the room.  As the conference leadership knew and loved Phil, they talked about him from up front, challenged the conference towards excellence in our faith and life, and played some music.  As the voices of 1,000+ students bellowed out through the conference room in beautiful, heartfelt worship music, they put Phil Clarke’s picture on the front screen.  On top of Phil’s picture was inscribed his birth/death dates and the Bible verse Daniel 12:3.

And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.

It is one of those moments frozen in time.  I sat back against the wall in a room packed with people, yet very much alone with my thoughts.  Three weeks earlier, we were set to room with each other at this conference, yet I sat back looking at a memorial to him in the form of a still picture and some lettering.  I wept.

I wept because I missed my friend. 

More so, though, I wept because it was as if this verse had been written specially about Philip Clarke.  Phil, though young in age, had lived a life full of wisdom and packed with turning “many to righteousness.”

Phil’s heart to follow Christ with his entire life had been pure.  He had truly run a wonderful race.  He was complete and with his Savior, Christ Jesus.  I wept over the joy of knowing that Phil was done with struggle, imperfection, and sin.  I wept in seeing the Lord’s faithfulness in honoring Phil’s prayers, even in his brief life.

I missed my friend in words inexpressible, yet I was overjoyed with the reality that he was (and is) truly home for the first time.  It was a confluence of pain and joy unspeakable.  It was the beauty of the Gospel of Christ Jesus.

Last week, we buried my dear friend Tracey Clarke On Saturday we were eulogizing Tracey; on Monday I was with Craig as he picked out Tracey’s gravestone.  On the stone, there will be Tracey’s name, birth/death dates, and icons of a Bible and the cross.  Inscribed on the gravestone will be this statement;

“A woman in Christ”

I love the gravestone Craig designed for his loving wife.  It is straightforward.  It is beautiful.  It is centered upon Christ Jesus.  In short, it is an impeccable statement of Tracey’s life.

As I sat back observing Craig Clarke make these decisions in the immediate wake of the passing of the love of his life, my mind went back to being in the back of that conference room.  Just like then, my heart broke.  I still can’t imagine Craig’s life without Tracey.  Their marriage truly was one of the great ones.  They had a love and friendship which defied logic.  Theirs was truly a marriage which you could point to and say, “that is what marriage should look like.”

In early August 2013, I had three days on my way back to Asia to spend with Tracey and Craig.  Tracey had taken a strong turn for the worse 2-3 weeks prior to my arrival.  It was clear that barring a miracle of the Lord, she would soon be passing into eternity.  Thankfully, though, Tracey was still lucent enough to carry on in her characteristically deep conversations.

At one point, Tracey asked me several specific questions about Philip Clarke Seeing that Phil was so important to her husband (Phil was Craig’s brother) and that she met Craig after Phil’s passing into eternity, she was really curious about what he was like.  At the end of her questions, I mentioned that she might be meeting Phil soon.  She got this reality and was honestly excited.

On December 29th, when Craig called to let me know Tracey had “gone to heaven,” my head was spinning.  After a few hours, I found myself in the apartment of my close friends, Scott and Cat Littlepage.  As I told them of Tracey, I broke down crying.  It was painful, but good to be in the presence of close, trusted friends (and brother and sister in Christ).

I left their apartment and returned to my own.  There I sat back and just thought and prayed and thought.  Then it hit me. . . Tracey and Phil have FINALLY met.

With red, puffy eyes and a slight headache, I smiled.  Though faint it was, I definitely smiled.

I thought of their initial meeting.  Phil’s laugh and Tracey’s intensity had to be present.  I thought of the stories they must have shared of Craig and their lives in general.  It must have been awesome.

In the end, this is one of the 7,093,192 reasons why I love my Savior and the Christian faith.  Even in the face of our worst possible scenario, the earthly death of loved ones, there is wonderful, bone-chilling, incredible hope.  Even “death” is our final conduit of ultimate perfection, joy, and LIFE. 

As 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 states, we DO grieve, but not as those without hope. 

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.   For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.

(To read about Philip Clarke, please CLICK HERE.  To read more about Tracey Clarke, please CLICK HERE.)



  1. Jane Lipsey says

    Love this blog! Thanks for sharing your heart felt feelings about your Dear Friends, Tracey and Phillip. I was moved beyond tears, the love that you shared with these two, I am so blessed to have such a wonderful friend named John Gunter. Keep up the good work that you do daily and Take Care!! Lots o Hugs!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. Lisa Cline says

    John, I have never met you but I have certainly read many of your thoughts. As I sit here and wipe my tears away, I am amazed how well you have summed up how good heaven is and how you helped Tracey transition into heaven. The Clarke family is very fortunate to have you in their lives. I truly believe heaven is where we are healed and are reunited with our loved ones. I am sure Tracey has caught Philip up on everything and how you helped Craig.

    • says

      Lisa, thanks for your kind words. I really do feel exceedingly grateful to be part of both Philip and Tracey’s story. They have both been a big part of my personal development in life and faith. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  3. says

    Difficult to read and I’m certain even more difficult for you to write. Thanks, John, and I’m so happy that you are here. Hope to see you soon.

  4. Ashley says

    I have missed your blog for the last couple of weeks. Your worlds here are so honorable and respected. What a great friend and brother in Christ you are.

    • says

      Thanks Ashley. . . good to be getting a post out here. This month is going to be tight, but hopefully I can write another one or two in January.

      Great hearing from you, as always!

  5. Honey Wayton says

    When I read that Tracey had passed I thought about Philip meeting her in heaven, but I didn’t know that they had not met in life. I was thinking of him kinda greeting her to show her around….that’s the kind of thing that Philip would do. My mom went home to heaven this September and I thought about her reunion with her parents and friends and family that had gone on before. My mom’s birthday is December 21st close to Christmas so this year was difficult for our family. I just remember thinking on her birthday that she is celebrating her first birthday in Heaven! Best.Present. Ever: Meeting God and Jesus face to face. We do grieve that is sure, but we grieve knowing that we will see our loved ones again and that also brings us so much comfort. Thank you for sharing your experiences and for always being so honest. Love you Gunter.

    I too remember that Christmas conference and how weird it was to have lost someone so recently and still be there praising and worshipping. I think I spent more time with you guys from Tech than I did with my Auburn group, but they understood and were supportive. Great conference, great time with some great friends.


    • says

      Honey, fun to think about their meeting each other, isn’t it?

      I am sorry to hear of your Mom’s passing. Really sorry. I’m sure it has been tough moving on, BUT hopeful at the same time. Thanks for sharing about your loss here.

      Yeah, that conference is one I will never forget. Great hearing from you!

  6. says

    Beautiful and Real as always. Yes All of us who are In Christ are nearer to Heaven as we go onward…When we all get to Heaven, What a Day of rejoicing that will be, when we all see JESUS we will sing the Victory. So thankful You are in our Family and what a Blessing You are …esp. to Craig now. Love You lots!

    • says

      Thanks Mrs. Clarke. Love you and am grateful the Lord has allowed all of us to walk together through all of this these past 18 years.

      Great seeing both you and Mr. Clarke at the funeral. Look forward to seeing you again.

      Love you both!

  7. Alexis says

    Your words are beautiful! Thank you for continuing to encourage and speak hope and life through your deep pain. God’s grace is being shown strong! Ongoing prayers for you, Craig, the Clarkes and your families. Grace and peace…

    • says

      Thanks Alexis. Yeah, it has been a blessing to be here with Craig this past week+. Just kind of leaning into Jesus and figuring out a “new normal” for him.

      Thanks for your prayers!

  8. Tatuu says

    After following Tracey’s story for the past one year, I was saddened by her departure to Heaven but then the reminder of where she is and that she in now completely healed and freed from all the pains takes all that sadness away. It’s an amazing feeling to know that she will no longer have to go through chemotherapy! I cannot start to imagine how much y’all who had a relationship with her miss her but I know the thought of seeing her again is comforting.

    Thank you for being such a good friend to Craig!


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