Well, I thought I would start blogging again, and even said so on March 24, 2023. My plan was to try and write a couple of blogs a month. But something tragic happened. My beautiful son, Zach, was killed in a car wreck on Saturday, April 15, 2023. His death has devastated Misty and me. This is a parent’s worst nightmare. It is also a nightmare for my daughter-in-law, Margie. She and Zach were only married for seventeen months. There are are no words to explain the pain.
There is, however, hope. In the middle of our grief and pain I am choosing to press into the Jesus. It’s not easy, and sometimes my prayer is “Lord, I believe. Help me in my unbelief.” But God’s grace is sustaining us.
We had a Memorial Service for Zach on Sunday, May 7th. I believe the service honored Zach and gave glory to God. Below is what I read at the Memorial Service.
GIANT STRIDE ENTRY (For Zachary, May 7, 2023)
Zach started scuba diving when he was thirteen years old. The summer after he graduated from high school, he and I spent a week on a boat sailing through the Bahamas scuba diving. One night we were caught in a severe storm. Early that morning I was thrown out of my bunk by one of the violent waves. Zach wasn’t in his bunk so I went up top and saw him at the back of the boat, hanging on to something, soaking wet, but with a big smile on his face. I joined him and grabbed something to hang on to. With every crashing wave drenching us, Zach said, “Isn’t this great! This is an adventure we will never forget. I’m glad mom doesn’t know what’s going on right now.”
On the Saturday after that trip we flew from Nassau, Bahamas to Charlotte, NC. From Charlotte we were to fly home to Nashville, but because of the weather, our flight was cancelled. I went to the ticket counter to try and get another flight home, but they said we would have to wait until Sunday morning. I said, while trying to remain calm, “You don’t understand. I have to get home tonight. I am a pastor and I have to be at church in the morning.” The lady behind the counter said she was sorry, but there was nothing she could do. In a more intense voice, I said, “That’s unacceptable!” Once again, she apologized.
In an even more intense voice, I said, “Well, you need to at least give us a hotel voucher so we don’t have to stay in the airport all night.” She said she couldn’t do that because it wasn’t the airlines fault the plane was delayed. It was weather related.
Zach could sense I was about to say something I would regret. He calmly placed his hand on my shoulder and said, “Dad. It will be ok. You can call someone and have them preach for you tomorrow. They can have church without you. We can sleep on the floor in the airport. It will be fun. We survived a terrible storm. We can survive this.” Then he said something I will never forget. He said, looking at the lady behind the counter. “Besides, it’s not her fault.”
She tried not to smile, but she did not succeed. I said to her. “He’s right. I am sorry. I know it’s not your fault.” She said it was ok, handed me our tickets for the next day, and then handed me a hotel voucher, winked at Zach, and said, “Have a good evening.”
I tell you those two stories because they summarize my son. He saw all of life as an adventure, he always remained calm, and he treated everyone with love, kindness, gentleness, and respect. He was a wonderful son, and incredible husband, and a great brother, uncle, and friend to all who knew him. Because of those characteristics, those of us who loved Zach have asked ourselves, “How are we going to live without him?”
In 2 Samuel 12, after the prophet Nathan confronts King David about his sin against Bathsheba and her family, David and Bathsheba have a son. The son becomes ill and David begs God to heal him. The Bible says, “David pleaded with God for the child. He fasted and spent the night lying in sackcloth on the ground…and he would not eat any food” (2 Samuel 12:16-17). This lasted for seven days, and then the son dies.
Because of the way David had been carrying on, no one wanted to deliver the news to him that his son was dead. They said, “He may do something desperate” (2 Samuel 12:18).
Instead of doing something desperate, the Bible says when David found out his son was dead, he “got up from the ground. After he had washed, put on lotions and changed his clothes, he went into the house of the Lord and worshiped. Then he went to his own house, and at his request they served him food, and he ate. His attendants asked him, ‘Why are you acting this way? While the child was alive, you fasted and wept, but now that the child is dead, you get up and eat!’ He answered, ‘While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, ‘Who knows? The Lord may be gracious to me and let the child live.’ But now that he is dead, why should I go on fasting? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me’” (2 Samuel 12:20-23).
I believe, it is in that story we find the clue to living after our loved one has died.
My faith tells me I will see Zach again someday. But can I be honest, that doesn’t really help me today. In my pain I scream, “I don’t want to see him someday! I want to see him today!” As the days, weeks, months, and years go by, I believe I will find comfort in knowing I will see Zach again. But until that comfort comes, how do I live each day?
The clue, I believe, is from the part of the story that says David “got up…washed, put on lotions and changed his clothes.” The way we continue to live is to get up, take a shower, and get dressed. And then do it again the next day and the next and the next. It’s a choice you have to make every morning. And sometimes just getting up is a victory in and of itself. Sometimes, just getting up is enough for that day.
Here’s another clue. The choice to get up each day leads to other choices. The way to honor my son’s memory is to choose to get up every morning, and then choose hope over despair. Choose love over bitterness. Choose to see life as an adventure. Choose to remain calm in the middle of storms. Choose to treat everyone with love, kindness, gentleness, and respect. In other words, honor Zach’s life by getting up each and every day, determined to make the world a better place.
Zach, in a good-natured way, made fun of my sermon illustrations. I took it as a compliment. So, in his honor, I’m going to leave you with one last sermon illustration.
In scuba diving you enter the water, especially from a boat, by taking a giant stride off the boat into the water. You don’t jump. You pump a little bit of air in your vest, place your right hand over your regulator and mask, place your left hand over your waist, keeping your gauges secure against your body, and take a giant stride into the water. Once in the water, you surface, turn to the divemaster standing on the boat, and give the universal “ok” sign by tapping the top of your head with your right fist. This means everything is good and you are ready to go diving.
Friends, family, and loved ones. On Saturday morning, April 15, 2023, at 6:59 a.m., Zachary Kevin Riggs took a giant stride off the boat of this life into the Jordan River, turned to his DiveMaster, Jesus Christ, gave the ok signal, and swam safely to the other side. We will see him again; of that I am confident. But until then, honor Zach’s memory by getting up each day and treating one another with love, kindness, gentleness, and respect; making this world a better place.
The Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14, “And regarding the question, friends, that has come up about what happens to those already dead and buried, we don’t want you in the dark any longer. First off, you must not carry on over them like people who have nothing to look forward to, as if the grave were the last word. Since Jesus died and broke loose from the grave, God will most certainly bring back to life those who died in Jesus.”
Kevin – Jan and I were so sad for you and Misty when we heard of the tragedy of Zach and his passing. We prayed for you and your entire family. You may get to heaven before you know what God is doing through all of this. You may have missed your flight in Charlotte but Zach caught his flight! His way is perfect, and I know you trust Him. Grieving is right and everyone grieves differently which is ok.
Just know you are loved and prayed for.
Joe R. Haas, Ed.D. sent from my personal email ________________________________
Thank you Dr. Haas. You have always been my favorite principal.