Two Grandsons: A Story of Death, Life, and Family

On October 10, we welcomed Joshua William Rainer into the world. He is my seventh grandchild. I am blessed beyond measure. I already love him so much.

I know you have come to expect my articles to deal primarily with issues in the local church. So forgive me for taking a different and personal path this time. I think you will soon understand why.

A Grandson in Heaven

I told the story of the life and death of William Thomas Rainer in a post some time ago. You heard about the courage and testimony of his parents, Jess and Rachel Rainer.

While all of my grandchildren have a special place in my heart, Will is the grandchild who carries both my name (Thomas) and his dad’s name (Jess William Rainer).  When Will died, I was amazed to see the depth of grief apparent in both of his uncles, Sam Rainer and Art Rainer. You see, my three sons love their families intensely, and they love each other as well.

A Grandson with Us

My oldest son, Sam, and his wife Erin welcomed their daughter, Bren, into the world a year ago. Had Bren not been a girl, the boy would have been named Jess, in honor of Sam’s youngest brother.

Now we have a fourth grandson, Joshua William Rainer. Note the middle name. Joshua’s parents made the decision to name their son after our grandson who died, Will, as well as Will’s dad.

I know these names are confusing, so let me simplify them. Jess lost a son. Both of his brothers chose to name their sons after Jess or his deceased son. Their love for their brother is so great that they wanted his family name to be a part of their families.

The Joy of Family

As I sat in the hospital room holding Joshua, I marveled at this gift of life. I dreamed and wondered how God would use him. I began to pray for him at that very moment. I prayed for his salvation. I prayed for his health. And I prayed that, if God so willed it, he would one day have a godly wife.

And then I heard Joshua’s dad, Art, speaking. I heard him tell how Joshua William Rainer was named for Art’s brother and for his nephew who is in heaven. I marveled again at how much my three sons love each other.

You see, like you, I’m a pretty busy person. And you who are pastors especially feel the constant demands upon your time.  But at that moment I got it. There will always be tasks to accomplish and others to see. But family is what really matters. Family is where our true legacies are formed. Family is where our joy is found.

There will be a day so very soon when no one will remember the tasks we had to accomplish at that very moment to the neglect of our families. But your son will never forget your playing ball with him. Your daughter will never forget those daddy-daughter dates that shaped her for a lifetime.

Please slow down and give your families the time they deserve. See them as the gift they are. See them as the joy they are.

And may I be so presumptuous to ask you to pray for my new grandson, Joshua William Rainer? Would you pray for his life, both temporal and eternal?

I love him so much.

I love my family so much.


  1. F. Michael Montgomery says

    Dr. Rainer –

    I have had the opportunity to meet each of your sons, though I have not met you. I must say that my high opinion of you comes from what I saw in Art, Jess, and Sam. They are three of the finest men I have ever met. I understand now why you talk and write about them as much as you do. You are blessed. Congratulations to you and your family on the birth of Joshua William Rainer. I hope to let Art know in person.

    • Thom Rainer says

      Michael –

      I am humbled by your words. You are right though. The sons have surpassed the father in every good way.

  2. Jared Hozey says

    What a beautiful story about the legacy be built in your family. I couldn’t agree more that our family is where our biggest legacy is built. Yet, I can’t help but “thank you” for your transparency. For your transparency can leave a huge legacy for our lives in the temporal and eternal for the glory of our Lord. Once again I thank you and pray for Joshua William Rainer.

  3. John Belder says

    Thanks for sharing this personal post. I have been blessed with 3 grandchildren in the last month, 2 of whom are adopted. The love we have for them is overwhelming as I’m sure is the same for you. Congratulations on your growing family and my prayers are with all.

  4. says

    Dr. Rainer,

    Thank you for sharing this post and making me tear up on a Saturday morning. Having been honored to spend time with you @ Southern and knowing Sam, Art, and Jess as young boys, it is a great testimony to observe what fine wonderful men of God they have become. Many lives have and will be continued to be touched by Will, Jess and Rachel. Please know that your entire family are always in my prayers.

    • Thom Rainer says

      Todd –

      I am totally humbled by your words. Thanks for putting up with me at Southern and, above all, thank you for your prayers.

  5. Jonathon Grant says

    Dr. Thom,

    Thanks for the heart warming glimpse into your family. You and your entire family are always in my prayers.

    May God continue to bless the work of your hands and to use your entire family to point to Jesus for generations to come.

  6. Kassi J. says

    Dr. Rainer,
    Thank you for sharing this personal story. It really touched my heart. Will was born a year after our son, James. Every year when we celebrate his birthday, I think of Will (and Rachel and Jess) and I am reminded to focus on what truly matters and to live life well. We now have two little boys, and I pray that they have the special bond and love for each other that your sons have for one another. Congratulations to your whole family, and we will continue to pray for all of you.

    • Thom Rainer says

      Kassi –

      Your prayers mean more to me than I can say. I thank God that He has blessed you with two healthy boys. I just took time to pray for you and your family.

  7. says

    Add my rejoicing over Joshua William to the heap of rejoicing being expressed here. As concerns William Thomas, let me share another thought with you:

    Suppose it were that God had a special task .. or special tasks .. in heaven, for souls that were completely unstained by exposure to the world. Similar, I suppose, to David’s inability to build the temple because of blood on his hands and in his history. Tasks that are so glorious and wonderful that they’re reserved for those who’ve never experienced the dark side of mankind.

    I think that’s the case, and I believe when we get to heaven, we’ll find Will Rainer leading just such a task.

    Now I don’t really believe that, at least not in a sense of something God has revealed. But wouldn’t it be just like God to turn such tragedies as that, and abortion, into something wonderful in eternity. Where we could see it and be reminded, forever?

  8. says

    Dr. Rainer,
    Thanks for sharing a most important reminder about priorities in life. Thanks for your transparency. Thanks for imparting the value of family in the lives of your sons. When I was young in the ministry, I too often chose to work harder and longer, thinking I was honoring God and being loyal to my church and pastor. I was neglecting the ones that deserved me most, my wife and children. Thankfully, my dad knocked some sense in me and reminded me that, while desiring to do a good job was a good quality, I could never reclaim that time missed with family. Balance was the key. My work would always be there, my family may not be. You touched my heart this morning with your post. God bless you as you are an example of Christ’s love.

  9. says

    God offers the sweetest gifts in the most unique ways at times. I remember your boys as, well, boys. Rough and tumble and oh so sweet. You told fun vacation stories about traveling with three boys in your tiny car from the pulpit. You shared how closeness created community, and that some day those crazy trips would bring laughter and smiles over temporary frustrations. I am witnessing through your words the application of a sermon delivered some 20 years ago. The gift of a legacy lived through pain and triumph. For me the sweetest gift of this post- one I was afraid to open because I knew it would stir my heart to stories beyond our time at Greenvalley- comes in the reminder that legacies and stories of precious children gone too soon matter. Their short lives mark us for good. John and I lost twins 18 years ago. Joshua and William. Yes, Joshua and William. Good names to be sure. I am writing my story. God continually reminds me the telling is one more way he is redeeming their story, just as your boys are redeeming their brother’s and your granson’s story. Do we not have a loving Father who holds us in his arms as you hold Joshua William? Congratulations! Amy

  10. Kimberly says

    You are blessed…. how fortunate that you HAVE FAMILY!

    HOW can you say that FAMILY is all there is when so many
    1. HAVE NO FAMILY (not even a church family)
    2. HAVE SUFFERED FROM THEIR FAMILY (Incest; abuse; abandonment)
    That is like telling a person with cancer that they SHOULD die when another will live!
    I know it is NOT what you mean but seriously, RECKLESS WORDS PIERCE LIKE A SWORD.
    I would love to have you intervene on behalf of my “family”.
    I prayed for my sons, I prayed for my granddaughters… but my son chose to have their homosexual grandfather (he married, fathered, WAS A MINISTER and THEN decided he was gay) involved in his children’s life but exclude me. AND THE CHURCH SUPPORTS THIS
    My son is leading youth ministry but perpetuating abuse against me.
    I can be raped by one of your ministers and the church supports HIM!
    I’ve heard the Southern Baptist are the WORST at supporting the abuser and re-victimizing the “victims”!

    Glad your boys love each other… which sin is worse… dishonoring your Christian mother or murder?
    My Bible says that if you say, “Rafka”(I wish you were dead) that you have committed murder. SO my son is guilty of “?murder, dishonor, false testimony” and I am “punished”!
    And your preachers get off scot free!

  11. Leon says

    Dr. Rainer,

    I have prayed as you requested. And I am praying also for you, your wife, all your children and grandchildren.

    And, I hope that many of us on this blog will lift/keep Kimberly in our prayers. I know that I am and plan to do so.

    We can celebrate family and yet recognize that others do not have family. Because we live in a fallen world, we see tragedy and unrigheousness seemly abounding. But we do have the assurance that at Jesus’ return he will indeed set all things right.

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