Last week was bracketed in by strange parentheses. Seven days, which started with a wedding, included the announcement of a pregnancy, and ended with a funeral. Three couples…one beginning their lives together, one beginning the journey of parenthood, and one saying goodbye. God’s hand, evident through each one.
Our friends, Terry and Jim, would have celebrated their 48th wedding anniversary this Friday. Jim had been sick for a long, long time. A believer, he lived his life in Christ, suffered his illness with His help, and died in the peace of knowing he was going into God’s arms. Terry took care of him at home until the very last day, although she has been blind since before they met. She leaned on God and not on her own understanding, she trusted, she relied on His grace and mercy to get her though. God sent her many hands and eyes through friends, neighbors and the most fiery and passionate Christian home health care nurse I have ever encountered….a tiny woman from India, whose presence was both a balm and a blessing.
The funeral was simple, a gathering of friends beneath the gold September sun. Although there was sadness, we were all thankful that Jim is not suffering any more. Knowing he is in heaven leaves only the pain of missing him, the feeling that settled over the graveside group was one simply of peace, rest, a gathering in. A pastor sang and played the guitar, the words of Amazing Grace rose above us and into the warm air. At the last refrain, a woman’s voice rose up spontaneously in harmony, the sun warmed our lifted faces from an azure sky.
Ceremony finished, we lingered together in the quiet peace of a century-old cemetery. Our three children shook hands, gave hugs, answered the usual questions. The sun shone on the girls’ black velvet dresses, son’s almost-outgrown suit coat. Middle child clung to my side, introspective and shy. Eldest stood reflecting with hands deep in pockets by the crumbling grave of a child, so many years gone from this earth. Youngest strayed many yards away, at the outer edges, picking up beautiful leaves and laying them on gravestones too old to have keepers of their own. “I felt like being separate,” she said later. “To think about God’s face”.
As Eldest pointed out, the funeral of a believer is a goodbye party. A moment to reflect, remember, memorialize, say goodbye until we meet again. What will stay with me is how evident God’s love was here, His grace, his mercy. As much as in the joy on the faces of the wedding party, as much as the miracle of the beginning of a new life, God’s love abounded in the last days of this brother in Christ. God is good, in all things…though the road is not always easy and we may not always understand.
Lord I thank you for Jim’s life, for the grace you showered upon them through the years and for the love you showed them even in the last, most difficult days. In the days to come, help us all remember that you are good in all things, let your love shine though in pain as much as in joy.