On Sunday, December 17, 2017, family, friends, and loved ones gathered at the Prestoncrest Church of Christ in Dallas, TX to celebrate the faithfulness of our Savior in the life of my cousin, Brett Wade Winters. Though Brett only lived thirty-five short years, he made the most of his time. God saved him and used him to make an impact on the world around him. I was honored to have been given the opportunity to share some family memories of Brett and I wish to share them here, now.
Our church family and our biological family create the most important relationships we’ll form in this life. It’s a double blessing when our biological family is also a part of our church family. Brett Winters was blessed by a strong faithful family, and Brett was a blessing to his family.
Cynthia Winters, Brett’s mom is one of six siblings, children of Rip and Gussie Turnbough - Papa and Gigi as they are more affectionately known to us. The six Turnbough kids went on to have a total of eighteen children, meaning that in addition to his three siblings, Brett had fourteen first cousins – and that’s just on his mom’s side of the family. I’m not sure how many cousins Brett had on his dad’s, Will Ed’s, side of the family. I am blessed to be one of Brett’s cousins and my life has been greatly impacted for good by him. Growing up, our cousins, aunts and uncles, along with Papa and Gigi, were regularly gifted to spend time together in various locations from Texas to Colorado and beyond. Most of these holidays and get-togethers took place at the base of the Davis Mountains, out in the tiny West Texas town of Balmorhea. A typical Turnbough family get-together included board games, cards, dominoes, and group games like Charades. When we were all younger, at night-time, we would turn Gigi’s and Papa’s huge front yard into a big playground for hide and go seek. And not just any ol’ game of tag, but an extreme version of hide and go seek in the dark. As we got older, we would utilize the front yard for games of touch football and kickball. And when we got tired of that, we would commandeer a set of keys to the local high school gym and play some basketball. These various sporting endeavors continued, even as we aged – and we didn’t all grow old gracefully. There were quite a few minor and not-so-minor injuries, but we pressed on with the games in Balmorhea and other places.
Brett’s aunt, and my mom, Karen Smith, tells of a time that our extended family was celebrating Christmas in Estes Park, Colorado. Brett would have been about 11 years old, and our family had gone down to the local roller skating rink for a spin. After a while, the family noticed that Brett was in his own little world as he made lap after lap around the rink. He would make silly faces, gyrate his body, and even kick his leg up on the wall. The entire time, he stayed in his own world, oblivious to the laughter of his family. Everyone got a kick out of it and talked about it for some time. But Brett didn’t do it to get attention or to make anyone laugh. He was just being his light-hearted, joyful self. And Brett’s sister, Kayla used to work hard at trying to get Brett to laugh. She didn’t always succeed, but when she did it brought her great joy. Brett consistently brought others great joy. He was comfortable in his own skin. He wasn’t worried about what others might think, so he was free to be who he was – free to live a life of joy – free to be who God created him to be, and who Jesus re-created him to be.
As Brett grew older, his influence on others grew wider. Sixteen years ago, I happened to be the camp counselor at Camp Blue Haven & I had Brett’s younger brother, Jared in my cabin. One morning, I asked my campers to share someone who had been a strong spiritual influence in their lives. Without hesitation, Jared spoke up and said that Brett had been the biggest spiritual influence in his life. And just a couple of months ago, while on a trip with his family to watch his beloved Texas Tech Red Raiders, Brett and his older brother, Cade, took time out of their busy weekend to share a meal with their two college-aged first cousins once removed, Landon & Nathan. Landon remarked that Brett was fully invested in their conversation, despite all that he was dealing with. This aligns perfectly with what Courtney expressed in an online post on Thursday. In it she said, “This entire year’s journey for Brett was NEVER about him or cancer. It has been about God and loving others. He has pointed people to Jesus in the midst of his pain.” Brett’s life mimicked Jesus, as he lived to serve and to bless others, rather than himself. Brett’s cousin, Misty Boyles, states that Brett reminds her of their grandfather, PaPa – a kind-hearted, gentle, humble, and hard-working servant.
And Brett had many opportunities to work alongside his grandfather, PaPa, out on the farm in Balmorhea. Back in the summer of 2001, Brett, me, and our cousin, Brent, were unloading oats for our grandfather out in the middle of the desert – in the middle of nowhere. The owner of the place was kind enough to give us some half-melted popsicles. We all thirstily drank down these half-liquid concoctions. But Brett had taken his shirt off and much of his popsicle had dripped onto his chest. So, his “chest-lettuce” sported a sticky residue which soon became the home to dozens of flies. But Brett wasn’t bothered, he just continued to work hard, shoveling oats amongst all the floating chaff and swarming insects.
And it was around this time in Brett’s life that he met his beautiful wife, Courtney. From the very beginning, their relationship was unique. At their wedding, back in 2006, Brett’s first cousin once removed, Kaelen Boyles served as their flower girl. As Kaelen reached the end of the aisle, she discovered that she still had quite a few flowers left in her basket, so, she just dumped the flowers into a pile on the ground. Despite her unorthodox flower peddling, she recalls that Brett gave her a tender smile that made her feel like a princess. And at their wedding, Brett and Courtney gave away a mixed cd as a party favor. The cd contained songs that musically reflected different aspects of their lives and relationship. Shelly Turnbough, the wife of Brett’s cousin, Colby, remembers listening to this cd and thinking about this incredible couple. This party gift was fitting, as Brett and Courtney didn’t want to just live their lives – they wanted to share their lives with others. And the desire to share life was rooted in their shared relationship with Jesus Christ. Indeed, Christ-centered is certainly the best way to describe Brett’s and Courtney’s marriage. Christ-like is without a doubt, the best way to describe Brett’s life.
In fact, from early on, Brett’s life was eerily similar to Jesus. Like Jesus, before becoming a teenager, Brett was left in a crowd by his parents. It happened in the summer of 1991, when the Winters were on a family vacation with my family, and Gigi and Papa. We traveled from Texas all the way to Alberta, Canada. While at Glacier National Park in Montana, our party accidentally left Brett at a tourist lodge and drove off to head back to our campsite. As we traveled along, Cindy kept urging my dad to slow down on the curvy road. But once we discovered that Brett was missing, Cindy kept shouting at my dad to drive faster to get back to the lodge and find Brett! Thankfully it only took a few minutes instead of the few days it took Joseph & Mary to get back to Jerusalem. When we arrived back at the lodge, the 9-year-old Brett was safe and sound, sitting quietly on a bench. And that shouldn’t surprise us, Brett was always cool as a cucumber. He always exuded such a peaceful spirit. Right up until the time of his passing, Brett displayed a peace which passes all understanding. A peace provided by the Holy Spirit which dwelt within him. His peaceful presence allowed others to experience that same peace, even through this difficult ordeal.
But though Brett was a man of peace, he was also a warrior – a fighter. He fought hard for his family, he fought hard for his friends, and he fought hard for his Savior. Like the apostle Paul 20 centuries ago, Brett fought the good fight, he finished the race, and he kept the faith. And on that great day of resurrection, the Lord, the righteous judge will give him and all those who have longed for Jesus’ appearing, the gift of the crown of righteousness. Courtney related Thursday in her blog post that Brett considered this life to be merely a blip on the radar of eternity. He so eloquently described it as just a small fabric in the tapestry woven by our creator. Brett knew that though his body was wasting away, like Jesus, his future was resurrection. And so, like the apostle, Brett made it his aim to do all that he did in service to Christ.
Notice the apostle Paul’s words to the Philippians. Read carefully, and you’ll be reminded of the kind of life that Brett lived. “I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord…I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead…I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own…forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Paul goes on to say a few verses later, “Brothers and sisters, imitate me…”
Brett’s dad, Will Ed, said last week that Brett made his life count. And because he so faithfully imitated Jesus, his Lord and savior, we would all do well to imitate Brett. Not to be him – there is only one Brett Winters – but to be like him and to become the people that God has created us to be – and to especially become the people that God, through his Spirit, and through the resurrection of Jesus, has recreated us to be. Brett was a blessing to us all and his legacy will continue to be a blessing to so many. Like Brett, may we make our lives count. From 1 Corinthians 15, “…thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord, your labor is not in vain.” - Shay