By Lisa Jenkins-Moore
At 17, Gabriel Hatton was one of the youngest pilots to receive a license and had accumulated over 150 hours of flight time on his way to becoming a commercial pilot. His love for flying began early, as he hoped to follow in the footsteps of his Uncle Dan. As the years progressed and he began to seriously pursue flying, his parents, Clint and Amárillys, made a conscious decision to reject the fear that often accompanies risk, and instead embraced his dream and supported his ambition. They’ve remained steadfast in that decision, even after receiving the news of Gabriel’s tragic crash in September that took his own life.
“If you let fear in one part of your life, it will bleed into other parts as well.”
Clint shares a similar sentiment. “If we regret that one choice, it invalidates everything else about Gabriel’s life. We choose to reject regret and instead thank God for the time we had with Gabriel, knowing we will see him again in heaven.”
As I’ve watched my friends navigate through an immeasurable loss, I’ve seen nothing but faith. We cannot know the depth of our faith until it is tested, and this family has endured the ultimate test—they’ve been tried in the fire and have come out gold. Rather than bury themselves in remorse and self-pity, crying out to heaven with questions and accusation, they have held their shoulders back, stood tall, and faced loss with grace, dignity, and a strength that only comes from above.
Clint recounts the many times people have called them “strong” and couldn’t accept that word as accurate. “No,” he says, “We aren’t strong. We are greatly loved. Jesus has shown up so powerfully for our family. His love for Gabriel and for us has been tangible, measurable, and definite.” The support he received from his family, friends, and community was overwhelming and they have been so grateful. As people continue to think of Gabriel, the Hattons are insistent that he not be mourned, but celebrated.
At Gabriel Hatton’s memorial, he was indeed celebrated. Planes flown by pilots from all over North Texas, including a few of his best friends from his local aviation club, Tango 31, passed overhead in tribute just before the ceremony began. Hundreds gathered into the sanctuary and though it seated several hundred, it was standing room only as dozens lined the back and walls. The event began with music—worship music—not somber, mournful tunes, but deeply profound words of praise and adoration to God. As I watched Clint and Amárillys raise their hands in worship, I couldn’t help but weep. Watching them honor Jesus in spite of their loss was a testimony of faith I will forever remember.
Family and friends took turns reminiscing about Gabriel—his charisma, his boldness, his brilliance—he impacted so many in such a short time. A beautiful slide show pictured him as a wee one in diapers, then taking his first step through the day he took his first solo flight. His infectious smile beamed from the presentation and I knew he was watching from above.
In honor of Gabriel, the Hattons have adopted the following statement: “Live Big, Bold, and Brave.” They have no doubt that Gabriel’s legacy will live on, not only through those words, but that remembering his life will be a catalyst in bringing forth an incredible harvest for the Kingdom of God. Clint says, “I challenge you today, turn your heart to Christ, give Him just a crack of an open door to share the love He has for you. You will never regret it, and his perfect love will lead you into true life.”
They have already witnessed God’s hand in so many situations since Gabriel’s death; many continue to hear and respond to the gospel and many more will follow. While the loss of his life has caused unimaginable pain, the joy in bringing others to Christ and the peace He has offered has been no small consolation. “We still shed tears and will continue to, we have tough moments, but love carries us and helps us appear strong. His grace empowers us to bring hope and encouragement to others, even at times when they intended to bring it to us first.”
Suffering is part of the human experience. Yet those who follow Christ produce fruit from the suffering. The dreams and visions that have already been given will soon come to fruition and Gabriel’s life will continue to impact others for decades. While his death was tragic, his life now in eternity is triumphant. And one day those who believe in Christ will join him in celebration.
The Hattons are members of the Bethel Leaders Network and in the early stages of launching Gates Church, GatesChurch.org