When life’s talkin’ lines up so closely with the walkin’, light sheds on how joy can trump sadness at a funeral. That’s my nutshell description of Dr. Mike Toby’s memorial service, one he largely planned himself.
At 80 minutes, it didn’t seem protracted, though he might have disagreed. After all, he had included no allowances for senior staff ad-libbing, or for reflective pauses shared by an overflow crowd of almost 2,000 people at First Woodway Baptist Church, where he had been senior pastor for 35 years.
His life was a testimony, his stature obvious and his leadership consistent. Mike “stood tall” in the faith, and, at 6-5, towered over most congregants, his disarming smile projecting an “all is well” countenance. “Be a lighthouse” was the credo of this beloved pastor….
He was the kind of man who “seized the day” at an early hour, ready to face the opportunities, challenges and demands that would surface later.
Mike dealt with numbness during a sermon back in October. He went to the doctor, sharing symptoms he simply didn’t understand.
Doctors understood and medical tests confirmed that brain cancer was entrenched….
Jackie, his wife of 45 years, sons Joshua and Scott and their families knew the course their loved one would take. He had options of invasive surgery that might have extended his life for a year or so, or he could finish his earthly pilgrimage at home, with the probability of living two or three months.
He made a short video for a church service, explaining that he “wouldn’t bargain with the Lord for 15 seconds beyond his allotted time.”
Mike spent November and December at home, medication keeping him comfortable. There, he said what he needed to say and did what he needed to do….
Mike had “are we there yet, daddy,” kinds of questions, as enthusiastic as a 12-year-old on the road for summer vacation. He looked forward to the next step. “If it were up to me, I’d be in the front seat of the next flight out,” he mused. (His staff often kidded about his penchant for punctuality. “To be on time,” one said, “was to be a few minutes late!)….
His ever-present sense of humor lightened the moment when the senior staff gathered at the Toby home to “nail down” memorial service details.
“I don’t want a preacher doing my funeral,” he insisted, turning to Rev. Terry Graham, Associate Pastor for the past 18 years, “I want you to do it.” Chuckles erupted….
This “God’s man/family’s man/man’s man”—his spiritual calling never questioned but prankster tendencies sometimes were—was a tender leader, tough only when situations demanded.
In reality, his life work began almost a half-century ago while a student at Pasadena, TX, High School. Each morning, he offered prayer and devotionals on the intercom system.
Relentless in athletic competition and an outdoorsman, his experiences became life lessons for sermons….
Mike spent much time in reflection during his eight weeks at home preceding his death on Dec. 29. Included were thoughts of his support of mission points in the Waco area and around the world.
Probably every person at the service had favorite “Mike Toby stories.”
I do, most of them centering on his gracious spirit, unbounded enthusiasm and infectious “yes we can” attitude….
In his final hours, he told Jackie that he wanted to “take a puppy along.” Puzzled, she recited all the dog names she could remember. He interrupted, “You know, the one we had when we moved to Waco.”
To conclude the service, the Toby’s grandchildren walked with Rev. Graham in front of the casket. A trumpeter belted out “When We All Get to Heaven.” Behind the family were 50 or so children, “whosoever will” participants. All of them carried glow sticks. Congregational singing closed it out with lively singing of “I’ll Fly Away.”
Putting the glow sticks away, the children—some of them as young as five—hastened to an adjacent room, where their parents were waiting. Though the church has grown large—from a membership of 1,000 to 4,600 during Toby’s ministry—they knew “the way.” Dr. Toby spent the bulk of his life telling them about it….
Dr. Newbury is a speaker in the Metroplex. Speaking inquiries/comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Phone: 817-447-3872. Twitter: @donnewbury. Web site: www.speakerdoc.com.