Thirteen years ago tonight I was sitting in a hospital waiting room in Wichita Falls, Texas, with my mind whirling, spinning like a wounded plane in a nosedive. My good friend, Keith Layne, was lying comatose in the next room fighting for his life.
And I was fighting for answers.
And his wife and kids were fighting for a different reality.
And eternity and time were fighting over Keith.
Keith’s body was 20 feet from where I sat, but his spirit had started down the one-way road to eternity. His 49-year-old aorta had ruptured and the doctor had done his best to stitch it back, but the stitches were leaking.
As the stitch leaked, so did our hopes.
The waiting room was filled.
Filled with church folks who dearly loved their pastor.
Filled with preacher friends from Texas and beyond.
Filled with Keith’s sisters and their family.
Filled with his wife and kids, Ginger, Carmen, Shara and Ryan and their friends.
Filled with doubt and hope.
Filled with pain and laughter.
Filled with clarity and blindness about the future.
We all hurt deeply, questioned profoundly and hoped faintly, and there was nothing I could do.
What we saw and what Keith saw are different perspectives on the same incident.
• As we counted DOWN while watching Keith’s life numbers tick to nothing on earth, Keith counted UP while finishing the last steps on the stairway to heaven.
• As we saw the heartbeat slow DOWN on the hospital monitor, the heartbeat of heaven began picking UP the beat as Keith approached.
• As we felt the inky darkness pulled DOWN sharply over our hearts like rough, coarse bedding, Keith kicked off the soft blankets of humanity to walk UP to the brightest light.
• As we pushed a nurse to the side to lean DOWN to hug Keith with our goodbye, Keith pushed an angel to the side to reach UP to hug Jesus with his hello.
• We walked DOWN the steps and pushed open the door to leave the hospital, and Keith walked UP the steps and pushed open the gate of heaven to streets of gold.
• As we said, “Good night,” Keith said, “Good morning.”
He is now in a place eternal where days cannot be measured, so it’s doubtful he knows how long he’s been gone from us or how much we miss him. I have thought of him many of the 4745 days he’s been gone.
He pops in my mind at the oddest places:
• While eating in a dive.
• He would have loved the show Diners, Drive-In’s and Dives
• While weeping and singing driving down the road
• While laughing with friends
• While listening to good vocal harmony
• While hugging my beautiful granddaughter
• While crying when telling my kids an “Uncle Keith” story
• While patting caskets goodbye as they roll out of the church
• While worshiping Jesus
I am quite sure I miss my friend more than he misses me. The Lord has given him an agenda that I can’t even understand, so he is involved in the Master’s work on a level I’ve not comprehended. But I miss him. I am richer for being Keith’s friend. I honor Joel Keith Layne today.