Searching for Easter in the Midst of Christmas

(Many of you have reached out to our family in the midst of death of my nephew, my sister’s son, Gale Stauffer, who died December 23. He was tragically killed in the line of duty, serving the City of Tupelo on the Tupelo Police Force. Below is the message I shared at Gale’s Service of Death and Resurrection. We are deeply grateful for your many, many prayers, cards, letters , text messages and calls as we have walked the valley of the shadow of death. We are grateful we do not walk alone.)

Kevin Gale Stauffer, Jr.

June 22, 1975-December 23, 2013

Lord our God, the death of Gale who has been son, brother, husband, father, grandson and friend, recalls the human condition and the brevity of our lives on earth. But, for those who believe in Your love, death is not the end. Nor, does it destroy the bonds that You forge in our lives. We share the faith of Your Son’s disciples and the hope of the children of God. Bring the light of Christ’s resurrection to this time of testing and pain as we pray for Gale and for one another who loved him deeply, through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Psalm 27
John 15: 9-14

Greater love hath no man than this that he lay down his life for his friends.

By all accounts, this is not where any of us planned to be on the last Friday of 2013.

When the light of day broke through the darkness, Monday, December 23, none of us could have imagined that this week, a week filled with expectation, joy and celebration would be interrupted with tragedy, pain and loss. We could not have imagined that the gathering in this beloved sanctuary with our family and friends would be to celebrate the life, love, servanthood and faithfulness of Kevin Gale Stauffer, Jr.

Clay and Gale, best friends on the Tupelo Police Force, exchanged gifts Monday morning. Gale began reading Oliver North’s book, American Heroes, Clay’s gift to Gale.

The last page Gale read before going on patrol on Monday, December 23, were characteristics of a hero: they place themselves at risk for the benefit of others.

Little did Gale, Clay or Beth know that by the end of the day, we would be remembering the heroic ways in which Gale gave his life for the benefit of others, for this community and for doing the thing he was born to do.

As Clay wrote:

“Gale had the heart of a warrior, the strength of a lion and was fiercely loyal and protective of his family and friends. Gale studied, trained and practiced to always be the best at everything he did. He was a soldier. He was a police officer. He was a vigilant protector of those that he loved. In every way, Gale was the embodiment of an American hero and patriot who was never shy about expressing his love of country and always enjoyed a hearty political debate . “(especially with his Uncle Steve.)

His goal was to protect others with the best of himself, in the ways he had been trained and gifted to do. Little did we know…that in this corner of the world where life is safe, that Gale would stand in the gap for the rest of us, seeking to make our community safe.

Little did we know…that Kevin Gale Stauffer would be the one who embodied the teaching of Jesus that greater love has no one that he laid down his life for his friends.

Gale–all of him…was 150% man. He came into our family 38 years ago…born Kevin Gale Stauffer, Jr. For us, his mom and dad, grandparents, aunts and uncles, he was a joyous gift. He played hard, loved hard and worked hard.

When he was a little boy, he believed his Aunt “Winn” was his personal playmate. There were hours upon hours of football in the living room and front yard. God blessed him with a wide body. In high school he anchored the

offensive line. In his early years, he was all about – Ole Miss Rebels. However, when he moved to Baton Rouge as a teenager, he went through an amazing conversion experience over which he never recovered. His loyalty shifted to the LSU Tigers. There are some things even God cannot change about a man. Fiercely competitive—highly opinionated—to which those who followed him on Facebook could attest…Gale was extremely loyal.

When his country called, he responded. He spent 14 months in Bagdad and was proud to defend our country. Upon his return, he turned to protecting our city, our friends, our families.

Standing with his brothers and sisters in the Tupelo Police Force, his leadership could be termed shepherd and servant by the way he lived. His compassion was always with the victim. He sought to be a protector of those he loved most – Beth, Dixie, Skip and his extended family…as well as the community of Tupelo, Mississippi.

Gale gave his life doing that which he loved and that which he deeply believed in. Not one of us expected that in Tupelo, Mississippi, the pale of darkness could or would fall as it has in these last days.

So little did we know that on this day of days, we would find ourselves moving so quickly from the expectation of the joy of the Birth of the Christ’s Child at Christmas to the suffering, abandonment and pain of the Cross.

How could we have seen that on the last Friday in 2013, we would be hunkered down and huddled up like the disciples in the Upper Room after Jesus was crucified? Like the disciples, we are afraid. But the darkness we have experienced has stirred in us other emotions. What do you bring today?

Maybe you come with:

Deep sadness.







Over the last few days, I have felt every one of these emotions. I wonder if this is true for you as well. What do you bring today? Whatever you bring, let this be your offering to God today. Place these things in God’s good hands. Whatever you bring, bring to the foot of the cross, the crucified Christ. Do not hold on to that which you bring, but rather, give it to the Christ. For us today, the light of Christmas has been extinguished.

The light of Easter has yet to dawn. We sit in the darkness of the cross. We hunker down in the midst of darkness. We do so knowing that the darkness is great. And yet we know that we stand in a tradition that is bold to proclaim that the light cannot be overcome by the darkness. We gather to claim the promise that the light came into the world on that first Christmas. That light shines here even in the midst of the darkness around us. Indeed, what we do know is that the light and love of Christ has come into the world. We gather to claim the promise that the light and love of Christ overcomes the darkness. The light of Christ overcomes even death. No matter how dark this day is, the darkness has not overcome the light, nor us, nor this world.

What we do know is that the order of creation has been disrupted.

I heard my mother say, “you don’t expect to outlive your children—but you certainly do not expect to outlive your grandchildren.” Indeed, when an elder dies, they take with them the past, all that has been. When a young man at age 38 with two small children and a wife who adores him dies, the future has been taken away. This is what makes this mountain of grief so incredibly difficult, so dark, so senseless and so seemingly unending.

What we do know is this:

Because the light of Christ has come into the world, Gale’s tragic death is not God’s will. It is not God’s will that a 38 year old husband and father of two beautiful children should have his life snuffed out like a candle on a dark night two days before Christmas to teach us some lesson we have not learned.

We do know that God’s heart breaks every time evil oversteps a boundary of good and right and truth. We do know that this day, the God we love with an everlasting love, the God who teaches us the way of love and life, is weeping and wanting to wipe from our eyes every tear we cry.

What we do know is that our tendency this day is to believe that hate begets hate and our real temptation today is to allow the hate we feel for the perpetrator to get the best of us. If those of us who loved Gale the most are not careful, we will allow that anger to rage within us in such a way that it clouds our ability to see clearly the light of Christ and see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.

So, how do we respond to this? Where do we go from here? Hunkered as we are, how do we release ourselves from this mountain of grief into the hands of God? If we are not full of care for ourselves, for each other, for the community, we will lose sight of one of the last commandments Christ gave us: TO LOVE. If we are not full of care, if we do not carefully attend to our grief in the days to come, we will not bear fruit that will last.

What we are to do is simply this: Hold on to one another. Hold on to the gift that Gale is and has been to us. Hold on to the good memories that are ours of Gale. Hold on to the grace that, in God’s good time, will hold us because we cannot hold ourselves. Hold on to each other. Hold on to the eternal light of Christ.

The light that has come is the promise of Easter; even though this very Friday, we cannot yet see our way to the dawn of Easter light. As baptized Christians, we trust that the light of Easter will come.

So we pray, come Lord Jesus, come. Come heal us, Come and soften our hearts. Break our hearts of stone that we may again rise from this place with love that reigns in us. Come save us; save us from ourselves and our sinning.

Last night as friends came and gathered around our family and gave us the strength we did not have in and of ourselves, I saw so many who have walked this way before. Those who have stood where we now stand and who have grieved the unbearable grief of the loss of a child or a spouse. In this, the longest week of our lives, I am reminded of something William Slone Coffin, the former esteemed pastor of Riverside Church in New York City, said a few days after his 24 year old son was killed tragically in an automobile accident:

“among the healing flood of letters that followed his death was one carrying this wonderful quote from the end of Hemingway’s “A Farewell to Arms,”

“The world breaks everyone, then some become strong at the broken places.”

Our deepest prayer this day is that our own hearts will mend. That they will mend to the degree that we remember that love begets love, in the begetting, it transmits strength. (Coffin)

What strengthens us—Beth, Dixie, Skip, Caroline, Debbie, Kevin, all of us: is You; Your unwavering friendship and love. As we walk this lonesome valley, the real temptation is for us to walk bravely alone; we simply cannot. As headstrong and strong-willed as this family can be, we are not strong enough to do this new way of walking alone.

We have been moved these last several days, and especially last night and today, with the powerful witness of our sisters and brothers within the ranks of our law enforcement family. We are grateful for your love and support.

Against that backdrop, we now march as the “latest recruits in the world’s army of the bereaved.”(Coffin) More than once these last days, we have felt the absence of the presence of God. But, in that overwhelming feeling that turns us upside down and breaks us into, we find ourselves with Jesus on the cross, out of control and crying – “My God, My God why has thou forsaken us” quoting Psalm 22.

Our tendency is to overlook the fact that the Psalm doesn’t end there. The Psalmist expresses the deep feelings, pain and agony of abandonment…but the last turn of the Psalm is a turn to the future…trusting that the Goodness of God will be enough.

The grief we feel today, the grief we have felt since Monday, seems unbearable. In time, it will turn to a bearable sorrow.

Not soon. Not today. But one day. One day, we will wake up and we will discover that the sorrow we feel is more bearable. Somehow, we will find ways to bear the sorrow that has come, uninvited, into our midst. Then, what we will know is that “the goodness of the Lord dwells in the land of the living…”

And we will rise up from this unbearable sorrow and proclaim:

“The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it!”

Amen and Amen

62 Comments on “Searching for Easter in the Midst of Christmas”

  1. […] Searching for Easter in the Midst of Christmas | Greater Things Are … Many of you have reached out to our family in the midst of death of my nephew, my sister's son, Gale Stauffer, who died December 23. He was tragically killed in the line of duty, serving the City of Tupelo on the Tupelo Police  […]

  2. Don says:

    Bill, I was touched by your message to Gale’s family and friends. The power of God’s love to find peace in such a difficult time was clearly expressed in your words. At times like this it is so easy to blame God for the evil in this world. I agree with you that God does not take us home but recieves us to His home when we pass through this world. I could never understand why words like “must be God’s time or God’s plan” are used when loved ones past away. God’s love is greater than these. May God continue to use you and bless your ministry. We miss you here in Mississippi.
    Love from a close friend,

  3. Warren R. Coile says:

    I did not know that this brave officer was your nephew. What a wonderful message and presentation of the Gospel in your remarks that day.
    Warren Coile

  4. Kay & Jerry Wages says:

    Bill, It was several days after this tragic event before we realized that this officer was your and Steve’s nephew. Your message was a beautiful and moving tribute. I know it must have been very difficult for you to do this. We will continue to keep you and all of your family in our thoughts and prayers in the difficult days to come. Remembering you and your family with love and fondness and how you ministered to me and my family years ago during the death and funeral of my dad.
    In Christian Love,
    Jerry & Kay

  5. Heather says:

    This line especially rang true to me: “the real temptation is for us to walk bravely alone.” That’s a truth that applied to so many of us in so many areas of our lives.

    Here is my own blog entry from the day after Gale’s death, if you are interested in reading it.

  6. Jimmy Day says:

    Bill, your words of love, comfort and strength are as meaningful now as those that you provided to me and our Church Family at Biloxi First back in September 2010. The outpouring of expression from so many on your blog gives testament to all our heart-felt sympathies to you and your family. You well know from your Pastoral leadership how real and needed is the love and support of the Church Family. As intellectual humans in this world, we always tend to search for the reason why. Your December 31st “Message” has again shown us the way; at a time when it is really us, who wish to extend that arm of support to you. We feel the pain of your loss and we share with you the trust and faith in the true order of our eternal life with Christ. Through the reinforcement provided by that Light and with the support of like minded friends and Family, we will hold on together, with the promise of Easter. From Biloxi First, our prayers are with you and your Family. Jimmy Day

    Thanks, Jimmy, for your kind words.



  8. Agnes Butler says:

    My husband, Ben Butler, was a local UMC pastor in Paducah District; he went to his heavenly home January 23, 2009. We lost a son at age 42 and my mother on Dec.25,1989;your message was a delayed comfort. My heartfelt condolences and love to you and the entire family. Your message was certainly spirit guided and honest and leaves all with hope. Ben’s words, “We are Easter people!” Healing does come;t the scars may remain, but death and scars do not take away the precious memories and the hope we have in our Lord. May God continue to bless you and your family in the days ahead.

  9. Dwight D. Mitchell says:

    Bishop, we do extend our deepest condolences to your entire family. friends,co-workers,military,ect Thank you for your message of hope in reinforcing that darkness cannot overshaddow light.

    Lighthouse UMC. Memphis Conference.

  10. prechaphil14 says:

    I thank you for sharing with the rest of us an honest, non-sugar coated message of faith. You preached the gospel while at the same time you personalized your words and expressed for the family the emotions you were all undoubtedly feeling. During the month of December, we have had nine deaths in the Waverly congregation of members or family members of members. One of these was my mother, and another was a dear friend and colleague. One more of our faithful members died yesterday. Each person is created uniquely by God and each circumstance of death is different. But always, we have our faith to sustain us and hope to offer in the name of Jesus. In the midst of darkness and brokenness there is always light and comfort to offer. As family members or clergy it is a sacred privilege to share this journey with those we love.

    • wtmcalilly says:

      Blessings to you and your congregation in the midst of this valley of the shadow of death.

  11. Lisa Jean Hoefner says:

    Thank you for sharing this message. It does once again remind us that what is most personal is also somehow most universal. My tears this morning join others to wash out our eyes once again and see light entering through cracks in this world. Bless each of your family members with love.
    From Oregon-Idaho Conf

  12. William & janice says:

    I know that you do not know me, but I receive the Greater Things post. My heart goes out to you and your family. Three years ago, our 47 year old son died of cancer. I know the terrible grief that comes with losing a son. I am so glad I had Jesus Christ in my heart to help me take on the pain. Now, after 3 years the pain has gotten better and like you said in your message, you do wake up one day and say to yourself, the grief is now easier to bear. Thank you for this message of hope. Sincerely, Janice Cook Fairfield Glade Methodist Church

  13. Cathy says:

    Amen and Amen. Love, always, love.

  14. Vona Wilson says:

    Thank you so much for sharing such beautiful words. Our prayers surround all of you.

  15. leslie. rather says:

    U said. It very well my heart breaks ffor ur family as the Rather s have always loved u all Ur family was with us when my daddy died and he gots us through u will all be n my heart for ever I am proud of u and ur blessing

    • wtmcalilly says:

      Thanks so much for your response. I remember well when your father died and we were kids trying to make sense out of such a loss.
      My fond memories of Fulton remain with me. Thanks for reaching out here to remind me of the shared life with our families.

  16. Jacquie Sojourner '82 says:

    God bless you as you bless and are so present to others. Jacquie Sojourner

  17. Bill and Betty Milliken says:

    Our thoughts and prayers are with you and your family. May you be strengthened during this “unbearable” time.

  18. Laura Butkovic says:

    A beautiful reminder that we are God’s children and no matter what we encounter in this world He is with us always. Prayers for your family at this time.

  19. Kaye Harvey says:

    As I read your words, I am always reminded of my own pain and have allowed you to minister to me, too. Thank you, Bishop, for these words of grace and hope in the midst of your own deep pain. Thank you for leading us, leading me, out of the valley of darkness. “In the cold and snow of winter there’s a spring that waits to be, unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.” May God’s peace surround you and your family this day and in the days to come. You have my deepest prayers.

  20. Would that I could hug all of you and let you know that I love you. I pray God’s Blessing on you and your family in 2014.

  21. Jolinne Downey says:

    Such a beautiful testimony of pain and hope. Praying for you all

  22. James Ellington says:

    I am so sorry for your very tragic loss especially right now as we celebrate the birth of Jesus. If your nephew is anything like you, and I am sure he is, it may be a little comforting to know he is with our Holy Father. You and your family are in our prayers at Lester’s Chapel during these tough times and beyond. May the peace of God’s presence sustain you and your family during he days of grief and sorrow. James and Teresa Ellington

  23. Terry Shumann says:

    True heartfelt words of hope in such a dark time. These words are an inspiration and a needed reminder to renew my faith and trust the goodness of the Lord. Thank you for sharing.

  24. pastorgary1 says:

    Thank-you for sharing the light of hope and the meaning of faith in the midst of such a terrible personal loss. I am reminded of these words: “I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” (Psalm 27:13-14 NASB). May the peace of God’s presence sustain you and your family during the days of grief and sorrow. – Gary and Donna Morse

  25. CarolAnn Richardson says:

    I thank Our Father for any comfort and strength that you felt while you put your deepest feelings to paper and then spoke those precious words aloud. I thank Our Father for the comfort and strength that your family felt when hearing those precious words.
    All of you have been in my prayers, and in Martin Chapels prayers.
    I also pray that you feel my hug and share it. Any strength I have I send to you.

  26. pastorgary1 says:

    Thank-you for sharing the light of hope and the meaning of faith in the wake of such a tremendous loss for you and your family. I am reminded of these verses: “I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living” (Psalm 27: 13-14 NASB). May the peace of God’s presence sustain you and your family through this time of grief. – Gary and Donna Morse

  27. Everette Bowie says:

    Bill, thank you for this powerful exposition of our faith in Gale’s memory. I did not know of the connection until now. Please copy all these messages into a Word document, so you will have the comfort they afford your family. Loosing a spouse is a terrible thing, and i have such great sympathy for all of you. Having lost my soulmate on April 24, 2012, I well know the pain that goes with it, even months after. I told my pastor that I was a nobody when we met, but she made a somdbody out of me. True. I tolk my kids she spoiled me. To which they replied: “Dad, don’t you think you spoiled her too?” Lord, I hope so. We had talked about one of us going Home, and we both said if we were the remaining spouse, each of us wanted to be holding the hand of the other, as we passed into eternity. She died in our assisted living apartment, and I was not allowed in the room until she was already gone. I will regret that to my dying breath. This is why I have such deep sympathy for Gale’s entire family. Your eulogy was eloquent. May the Good :Lord bless and keep you, and may He visit upon each of you an abundance of grace, love, comfort,understanding, and above all, peace!

    Please send me your email address at and I will send you my funeral plans, and some photo’s a friend of my daughter took. My service is planned in ever detail.

  28. karen geddie says:

    thank you.

  29. Sue Humphrey Geier says:

    My heart bleeds for all of you. I have been praying for your family. God will give each of you the strength to cope as you need it. May he bless you and hold you close today and ways. Sue Humphrey Geier

  30. John Williams says:

    Your message brought tears to my eyes and to my heart. What an incredible loss to your family and to the Tupelo community. Thank you for sharing your deep grief and abiding hope. Some things only God can fully deal with, but in time we will become stronger as we journey with God. The ministers of the Tennessee Conference offer our love and support.

  31. Gay Huff says:

    Dear Bill, Every once in a while human language is able to capture the voice of God and pour down His healing upon His broken people like the flooded rivers of spring. Your eulogy of your nephew, Kevin Gale Stauffer, Jr., has done just that. Being the mediator of such a powerful message was no doubt a labor of unstinting love. We thank you for your steadfast courage in delivering the message: “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it!” We hear it loud and clear. Gay and Perry Huff, St. Matthew’s United Methodist Church, Madison, Mississippi

  32. Paul Sabin says:

    Beautifully written. God bless you all.

    Sent from my iPhone


  33. Don Williams says:

    May the God of love lift your family up during the sad days to come. May you know you are remembered in our prayers!

  34. Brad Gabriel says:

    Thank you for your gift of this message and the sharing of your grief. Please know that our family holds yours in prayer.
    Brad and Linda Gabriel

  35. David Brevard says:

    Bill, We are in Cincinnati with Shawn’s family. We have just read your eulogy for Gale. Thank you for sharing it with us via your blog. We need this message of love. My mother – in -law would like to share your eulogy with a local hospice counseling service. Would this be acceptable? She understands and respects the personal nature of this eulogy, she wants to be sensitive to your situation. Please give me a signal. We hold you in our thoughts and prayers. Love , David

    Sent from my iPhone


    • wtmcalilly says:

      Certainly. I put it out there for that very reason.

      Thanks for all your support.,

      Love, Bill

      Bishop William T. McAlilly Nashville Area


  36. John Bonson says:

    Thank you for your faithfulness during this season mixed with joy and sorrow. I cannot imagine your grief, but I can see your faith in this message. God bless your journey into the unknown. You are not alone.

    John Bonson

  37. Camille Bradley says:

    Thank you for sharing these words and some of Gale’s life with us. My prayers will continue for all of the family.

    Camille Bradley, PD
    Trinity UMC, Memhis

  38. Deen Thompson says:

    Thank you Bishop McAlilly for these words of comfort, love, and strength. In time grief and sorrow will turn into a tender spot within all who grieve. This tender spot is a gift from God which we hold for eternity. God’s Shalom to all who share this grief.

  39. John Collett says:

    Very special reflections, Bishop. I wish I could have known Gale. My prayers abide with all of you, especially Gale’s wife, children, mother and father. John

    John H. Collett, Jr. Nashville District Superintendent

    Sent from my iPhone


  40. Thomas Dowdy says:

    Thank you Bishop for these words of truth and faith.They will be of help should we face what you are facing or when we are trying to help others who are facing such hurt.

    May God’s Grace, Mercy and Strength flood over you and all of your family.

    God Bless
    Tom Dowdy
    Tennessee Conference

  41. Daphne Moses says:

    Your family continues to be in my prayers and in my heart. God gave you a powerful message to share at the funeral. Thank you for sharing it with all of us.
    Daphne Moses

  42. Kenneth S Uselton says:

    Bill, you have spoken a powerful word. I have no doubt that it brought comfort and hope for those who gathered for your nephew’s service. The power of your word continues I am sure to support all who have heard or read them, especially those who have walked in a similar darkness to that of your family. May God’s grace and peace encircle you and yours during these days and always.

  43. Lori Holliman says:

    Dear Bishop McAlilly, I am so sorry for your family’s deep loss. I pray that our Great Comforter will bring you the Peace that only the Holy Spirit can. Thank you for sharing your words of grief and comfort. Shalom, Revs. Brad and Lori Holliman

    Rev. Lori Holliman Sent from my iPhone


  44. Steven L Douglas says:

    Our family continues to pray for peace and healing during this time of loss. May God grant you comfort and strength.
    In Christ Love
    Steven L Douglas
    Pastor-Memphis Annual Conference

  45. Rev. Jackie Clevenger says:

    Dear Bishop ~ thank you so much for sharing these words with us. We continue to hold your family in our hearts. We continue to pray for you. In your sorrow, may the memory of Gale be a blessing.

  46. Elaine Butts says:

    Please excuse the misspelling of your name. The iPhone seems to re-spell what it thinks is incorrect. Elaine Butts and Rick Fox , Rehoboth Methodist

    Sent from my iPhone


  47. Elaine Butts says:

    Please accept our sympathy, Bishop McAnillie and Family! This is a beautiful message . God Bless each of you!

    Sent from my iPhone


  48. Grace Phelps says:

    I cannot imagine the pain your family is feeling. Beautiful, raw, honest words in your sermon that express the pain and grief – yet words of hope that God can always redeem. Prayers lifted for comfort and peace.

  49. iamsamiam58 says:

    What a wonderful tribute to your nephew and our Lord, Jesus Christ. Praying for you and your family!

  50. Chris Haynes says:

    Thank you for sharing your pained, grace-filled, hopeful words. Your family continues to remain in the prayers of the Huntland and Walnut Grove churches in the Murfreesboro District.

  51. Know that you are loved.

  52. revrundjohn says:

    Bill, my sister Connie died December 1972. We buried her Christnas Eve day. I don’t pretend to tell a bishop any great spiritual truth. Yet I will tell Bill that the words you wrote are true. Please remember we all proclaim the mystery of faith with your family. Christ has died. Christ is Risen. Christ Will Come Again! John

  53. Rick Kirchoff says:

    Thanks you for this powerful, heartfelt, hope-filled message! The peace of God be with you and yours.

  54. Dale and I wish to add our deepest sympathy to the multitude already extended to you and yours. Your loss is truly unbearable. Reading your message was healing anew to us. It has only been four years since losing our nephew, Matthew England, 21, in Iraq and know your pain. We will share your words with Matt’s parents in hopes they, too, will join us in saying, “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it!” Thank you, Bishop. Sincere prayers and hope for you and yours.