Eulogy, Part One

Silence fills the space between us.

We are paralyzed, stunned. Grief has shoveled every bit of life from within and we are empty, hollowed. We have nothing.

Our lives were newly defined by his words. Our every-day was only what he spoke, what he did, where he went.

Everything from before him, it was left behind. Everything after him – he was the middle of it all, the reason for it all.

And now he is gone.

Right before our eyes – the hands that gently blessed children, the hands that broke bread for us, the hands that tenderly washed the dirt from our feet – those hands were torn by their nails. We couldn’t stop them. Our words meant nothing to them. He meant nothing to them.

We couldn’t help him. We, who have been rescued by his words, could not save him.

And maybe it is worse that he didn’t save himself.

We watched these men – these power-grubbing, self-righteous men– accuse him of blasphemy, of treason – and he didn’t do anything to prove them wrong. After what we saw – after the sea and the winds yielding to his voice, after Lazarus walking out of his grave – how could he let those weaker men, men he had outsmarted and outshone so many times before – slap him, insult him, lay a whip across his back?

We thought we would see him deliver this city into our hands. We thought the priests and the people, the soldiers and the kings – we thought they would all bow to his wisdom. We thought we would see him reign.

But we watched him die.

It was not supposed to be like this.

And this is what we are all thinking, this is the question stifling us in silence – what if everything we believed was wrong?

It is suffocating, this thought of him lying dead. It is the end of us.

But we sit here, we sit here together, because who else can understand what we feel? Who else knows the sound of his voice, the mysterious and marvelous wonder of all he was?

One other is missing from this group, one we called brother. It is too much to think about, how he kissed that cheek in the moonlight and ripped us to pieces. Despair and anger, they are weights on our shoulders. Where did it go so wrong?

What will we do now?

It is too late to go backwards, isn’t it, into the lives we used to lead?

We have hands full of these memories, of these visions – we are changed – but how do we go on without him? What does any of it mean without him?

Our teacher, our friend – no one ever listened like he listened. He heard every word that came from our mouths – but at the same time, he heard the language of our souls, all those words underneath what we spoke. He knew what we wanted to hide and those secret hopes of what we might become. He knew what would bring a smile to our faces – and, oh, he loved a from-the-heart smile. Even more, he loved laughter that bubbled up from good and true joys.

He knew our lives, he knew this place – the fishing boats, the seeds and the harvest, the weddings, the temple, the feasts. He knew the sick. It didn’t matter if they were sick in body, heart, or mind – he knew them and he never drew away from their needs. No, he reached out and pulled them close. He healed them, somehow and some way. He changed them.

That was the thing about him – he didn’t shy away from the hard things. When we would want to avoid the hungry, get away from the pleading for one more touch, one more word, one more please – he would have such compassion – and he would give, and give again. He left nothing the way he found it.

We didn’t always understand him. We didn’t always trust him, not enough. But then the demons would flee, the storms would cease, the bread would multiply until we had enough – more than enough.

And he didn’t give up on us, even then. He forgave, again and again, our sin that we could suddenly see so clearly. He forgave, over and over again, the dark places in people who came to him. Never did he reject or shame, never did he turn away those who sought him out in faith. He was patient and passionate, stronger than anyone we have ever known.

In his name, we found power. In his call, we heard a vision for a kingdom entirely different than the one we live in: a kingdom of peace, of the last becoming first, of loving each other more than we love ourselves. This was not a kingdom of our traditions, not a kingdom of those who thought they could make themselves holy – it was a kingdom of the Law fulfilled, the prophets’ voices ringing true, the Most High God dwelling with His people again.

He said he came to show us the God of our fathers. He said he was the Son of our God, the Son who had come to set us free. He said we would reach the Father through him. He said he would prepare a place for us, he said he would never leave us alone.

And yet – he is bound in grave-clothes, imprisoned in a tomb.

While we are here, still, and this darkness makes it hard to see anything but our pain.

*********

You weep, yes, you weep – because what you loved has been lost. You weep because you cannot see, you cannot yet see, that this ending is not The End.

But My children, My children – have you not learned by now?

Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.

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Wearing Wildflowers

This is a day…(maybe you’ve had a day like this before?)…when I wake up feeling sad. No particular reason, no specific thing wrong…in fact, everything is normal. Everything is fine. But my heart is heavy and my eyes quick to fill with tears at the slightest little thing gone wrong. Emotions are at flood-level, apparently, and any rain causes overflow on a day like today.

In the early-morning gloom of the living room, I bend to knees and fumble through words to God. Finally, I admit – I feel at a loss right now. I feel empty.

Why should I be discouraged? I have only blessings in my hands. I have only gratitude to give.

Please help, I pray. Because this day is Yours that You have given. I don’t want to spend it feeling like this.

Words surface. “He has sent Me to bestow…a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.” 

And I read  “Is anyone crying for help? God is listening, ready to rescue you. If your heart is broken, you’ll find God right there. If you’re kicked in the gut, He’ll help you catch your breath. Disciples so often get into trouble; still, God is there every time.” 

Every time.

Then a plea in David’s words: “But let me run loose and free, celebrating God’s great work, every bone in my body laughing, singing – ‘God, there’s no one like you! You put the down-and-out on their feet!'” 

I do not feel like there are laughing bones, veins of joy, heart-beats of celebration within me…and I cannot run free with my round-and-round worry-thoughts, my shoulders draped in dark clouds.

But my eyes take notice – David says, “I bless God every chance I get; my lungs expand with His praise.”

Every chance, every breath – he lives thankful. Pursued, tormented, adored, empowered, alone, mocked, envied, prosperous, mourning, rejoicing…in all things, he lives to praise.

Worship, he says, opens door to all His goodness.

Deep breath, mind made up to lift this shadowed mind up to Him in the middle of the sadness, in the middle of the heaviness.

Because even when I feel like I am in the center of despair, He is still God. 

His Word is still solid to the core; everything He makes is sound inside and out.

So I say thank you, to the Lord who sits enthroned over the flood; the Lord enthroned as King forever. For He gives strength to His people; the Lord blesses His people with peace.

I say thank you to the giver of mercy, the light of the world, the One who says – ‘Let it be’ and it is.

Can thank you be enough for the Savior?  For He already carried this kind of day for me, this spirit of despair, for He “took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows…the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him and by His wounds we are healed”. He bore it so that He can lift me up, take this burden from me when it falls into my hands. 

I remember this and the way He loves, how He says “I’ll never forget you. I’ve wiped the slate of all your wrongdoings. There’s nothing left of your sins. Come back to me, come back. I’ve redeemed you.”

I feel Isaiah’s joy as he says, “High heavens, sing! God has done it! Deep earth, shout! And you mountains, sing! A forest choir of oaks and pines and cedars! God has redeemed Jacob. God’s glory is on display in Israel!”

And don’t I have the same praise? God has redeemed me! God’s glory is on display in this very room…in my front yard…in the sky stretching out its cloudy arms of praise…everywhere I look, His grace and beauty are on display.

Lifting my eyes, I know where my help comes from — this God, who made heaven and earth.  His strength begins to hold my heart and it is lighter within me. I choose to open up this day to Him, knowing His goodness unchanged, and He begins to shine His light into the dusty corners. The emptiness begins to fill with peace that I couldn’t find for myself.

He is greater than these feelings that change with the day, with the circumstance, with the tide of emotion. He is sure and steady, constant in all His ways.

When I wake on days like today, I cannot trust in my own frail emotions. I will not put trust in the power of darkness to lead me. Instead, I will say of Him – He is my rock and my fortress, in whom I trust. I will say that the Lord is good and His mercy endures forever…yet (even while this is hard, even while fear fills me, even while night goes on) yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior!

Trusting in His unfailing love, I will not be shaken.

Every promise here, every redeeming hope – it is mine and it is yours. I don’t know if you ever feel despair on your heels, your heart growing heavy – but, if you do, choose praise. Choose trust. Maybe change won’t feel instantaneous, but trust anyway. Because He promised to take the spirit of despair and replace it with a garment of praise. He promised that His joy will be our strength. Sometimes we have to stop clinging to the familiar garments of darkness, letting go and lifting our hands to Him, letting Him take the sorrow and wrapping us instead in His light. Sometimes He lets us walk in the heaviness, knowing how our faith is strengthened when we can understand that He is sovereign in the good and the bad. But the night will not last forever. He always brings morning, in His time, and with it – joy.

Let me say again, this time with David…

I bless God every chance I get! My lungs expand with His praise! 

I live and breathe God; if things aren’t going well, hear this and be happy: Join me in spreading the news; together let’s get the word out. God met me more than halfway, he freed me from my anxious fears…when I was desperate, I called out, and God got me out of a tight spot. God’s angel sets up a circle of protection around us while we pray.

Open your mouth and taste, open your eyes and see – how good God is. 

For every one of us who trust in Him,  this is how He writes our hearts – hope and a future of running free, heart and bones and breath singing to Him —

You did it: You changed wild lament into whirling dance; You ripped off my black mourning band and decked me with wildflowers. I’m about to burst with song; I can’t keep quiet about You. God, my God, I can’t thank You enough!

Will you lift your heart to Him, no matter the day you’re in? Will you stop what you’re doing and offer Him praise?

How great is our God, sing with me-
how great is our God, and all will see
how great, how great is our God!

 

*Scripture references are from Psalms, Isaiah, and Habakkuk*

Blessing Between the Check-Out Line & Parking Lot

He was sitting in a wheelchair, people-watching from the front corner of the grocery store’s entry way. I was thinking only of the tasks ahead of me in the afternoon…getting Kailey and the groceries into the car, remembering when to pick up the boys from their after-school activities, getting dinner ready…little to-do items raced their relay-races around my brain. I smiled at him as we neared the door, reaching for sunglasses from the depths of my bag.

He waved at me. “Can you come here?” he asked.

I nodded, pulling the cart out of the way of other people. “Yes, sir?” I asked, wondering what he needed…wondering if he was here with anyone…wondering if Kailey would or would not make a huge mess with the lollipop I’d bought her if I let her have it in the car.

“Can you tell me if today is the twenty-fifth?”

I had to think about it. “Yes, it is,” I answered. “Tuesday, the twenty-fifth.”

He pulled his glasses off. “I’m having surgery on the twenty-seventh. Getting my eye-lids fixed.” He pointed at his eye. “This one has the lashes growing inward now. Real painful on my eye.” His wrinkled hands shook as he put the glasses on again.

“Sounds like it,” I said. Kailey suddenly spotted the lollipop in a bag and managed an acrobatic twist in her seat to reach it, pouting when I grabbed it from her hands. “I hope the surgery goes well and they get you all fixed up.” I wanted him to know that I meant the well-wishing, so I added – “My kids and I will say a prayer for you tonight.”

“Thank you,” he said. “I should see better after it.” He went on. “You know, my wife died last year, two days before Christmas.” His voice quavered. “Nobody could do anything to make me feel any better. No way I could enjoy anything about that Christmas. I loved that woman with all my heart.”

Grief was visible on his face. Letting go of my pre-planned minutes, I pulled the cart a little closer to his corner. I unwrapped Kailey’s candy and handed it to her. “I am so sorry,” I said, feeling – as usual – the total inadequacy of language in a moment like that.

“We were married for fifty-five years. Met her when I was twenty-four. Only went together for three weeks before I proposed. I knew I wanted that woman for my wife. When I told her so, she said I was crazy. Said her daddy would never agree. But she said if he did, she’d be my wife. So I told her I’d take care of him and I did. Called him right up and told him I wanted to marry Beulah.”

I smiled, thinking of that scene.

“What did he say?” I asked.

“Oh, I said he had two options. He could agree and sign the papers, ‘cause she was still seventeen, or I’d have to run off with her. ‘Cause I wanted to marry her. So he said he’d do the signing.”

He went on to tell me how one week later, his mother took Beulah shopping for a wedding dress.  She was so pretty, he explained, his parents were happy for him to marry her.  The preacher, too, was just fine with doing a quick ceremony.  So, after only four weeks of courtship, they were married. “And I’ve loved her ever since,” he said. “I tell you, I loved that woman as much as a man can love a woman. I tell you, I loved her.”

The passion in his words made my heart ache. It was clear that this woman had meant the world to him.  “She was blessed to be loved like that,” I said. “I’m sure you made her so happy.”

“She made me happy, too. We loved each other. Fifty-five years, we loved each other. We loved our children. Had a good home together.” He paused, looked around. “I miss her so much. You can’t understand how deep it hurts. I loved her for fifty-five years. I still love her. You can’t just turn it off.”

The raw emotion in his voice brought tears to my eyes. I looked over at Kailey, happily eating her candy, and back at him. I tried to think of a way to offer him comfort.

Then he spoke again and his voice was strong this time. “But I do know where she is,” he said. “And I plan on meeting her there one day.”

Oh, for we do not grieve as those who have no hope…my heart filled with gratitude to have such a promise…that I didn’t have to come up with some encouragement that would only feel empty, because he already had true comfort in a Savior who does not end our stories in despair.

“And when you meet her there,” I said, “you’ll never have to leave her again.”

His face crumpled – probably, so did mine – his voice was shaking but full of joy when he spoke again. “You’re right,” he said. “That’s right. And I’m going to love her there just like I loved her here.”

And I felt astounded, standing there in the presence of this faithful husband, this man who so loved his wife on this earth that eternity, to him, meant more time to cherish her.

Kailey was content (by content, I mean thrilled) with her sugar-treat, so we kept talking. He asked about my family. He told Kailey how pretty she was. He was pleased to hear that I had two sons and ten years of marriage behind me. “You can make it,” he told me. “The important thing is to keep loving.”

“People don’t love each other like they used to,” he said. He was adamant about this, sitting forward in his chair and raising his voice a few notches. “People just don’t love each other like they should.”

He sat back and told me another story about Beulah and the way she spoke up when another young woman tried to pull a loose string from his shirt-sleeve at a prayer meeting. He chuckled. “She did not want that girl to touch me. She made sure to pull that string herself.” He grinned and I could see his delight in a wife who protected him, who wanted him only for herself. “Oh, I loved that woman. I mean I loved her.”

He talked about the daughters and the son he cherishes. I heard about his granddaughters and their husbands. I heard about a good friend and a church-home. I heard about the times he would go out and visit rest homes as a young man, singing while his nephew shared the gospel. Again and again, he declared his unrivaled love for Beulah.

Beneath the words, I heard the meaning and the blessing of his life — his relationships.

At first, I admit that I felt a little pleased with myself for stopping, for taking time out of the day to listen to his story. But by the end of the conversation, I only felt honored. I felt blessed to have been beckoned over…because he sat there, this gentleman with such a story to share, and I could have missed it. I could have missed hearing from someone who has gone before me, shaking down life until what remains is all that matters.

Love.

Love and trust in the Giver of those good and perfect gifts..faith in the Author who is with us through our stories from beginning through the forever that we can’t yet see…

These words of Thessalonians — But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus — yes, these are words that I have heard so many times…but I could see these words clearly in his face. The missing and the mourning. The hope and anticipation. The yearning for a better place, a better day. One without end…the day of no more goodbyes.

I felt the power of a love that does not have an ending, a love that crosses the boundary of time. I felt the power of such paradox – a heart that can at once hold joy over what has been while mourning separation…and over the depths of both, the unspeakable wonder of the Some-Day that will bring reunion…the Some-Day that will bring wholeness to every broken place.

I shook his hand, his grip strong, and thanked him for talking to me. I told him I’d look for him the next time I was there.

And as I left to pick up my boys from school, marveling at the faithfulness and love that can carry hearts in unity through fifty-five years of all that life brings, I was awe-struck at this thought:

If a man’s love can hold such passion for his wife and he is only a flawed human, a work-in-progress like all of us, learning how to love from the Father…how much more does our Savior love His bride? How much more does He long for us?

His Bride, this family of God here on earth, we have been given the blessing of His presence through His gift of the Holy Spirit…and yet…we are still separated from His full glory. We are still in a place of faith instead of sight, and the consequences of sin require this waiting period, this unfolding of all things, before He can bring us completely into perfect communion with Him… into unhindered Love, sacred and glorious.

The lovely gentleman sits day by day, yearning for the day he’ll see his Beulah again…and his love is beautiful to behold. But it cannot come close to the love that Paul says “surpasses knowledge”.  We cannot “grasp how wide and long and high and deepis the love of Christ”! If a man can so long to cherish a woman forever, how much more does He, in such fathomless and faithful love, anticipate the day when we will dwell as one with Him?

But, for now, we wait — as He waits — for our Some-Day with Him. “We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as He knows us!”

“But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.”(1 Cor. 13:12-13)

Know this: you are cherished by a Savior who gave everything to invite you into forever-love with Him…and He will return for His bride. A day will dawn with no more goodbyes, no more pain, no more grief, no more separation, no more of sin’s consequences holding us back from His presence.

And almost as if the Lord wanted to make sure I couldn’t miss this extravagant message of hope I’d been sent through this stranger in a grocery store, I looked up the familiar name of his wife, his Beulah – to find that, in the Hebrew, it means bride. In Isaiah 62:4, God’s people are promised this:

You’ll get a brand-new name
    straight from the mouth of God.
You’ll be a stunning crown in the palm of God’s hand,
    a jeweled gold cup held high in the hand of your God.
No more will anyone call you Rejected,
    and your country will no more be called Ruined.
You’ll be called Hephzibah (My Delight),
    and your land Beulah (Married),
Because God delights in you
    and your land will be like a wedding celebration.
For as a young man marries his virgin bride,
    so your builder marries you,
And as a bridegroom is happy in his bride,
    so your God is happy with you.

How can anything in this world compare to Him? What grace, that God Himself delights in us…and what unimaginable promise, to be re-named by the mouth of God, a crown in His hand! The more I rest in His love and His hope, the more my soul wakes into longing for this day…

We will reunite with the ones we have been given to love here on this earth and we will reunite in holy communion with the Father. It is the day He has been preparing for since Adam and Eve hid from Him in the cool of the evening…this Morning in which we will stand with Him, made whole, rejoicing in what remains after all: love.

For He is love, and we will dwell in Him.

Jerusalem will be told:
“Don’t be afraid.
Dear Zion,
don’t despair.
Your God is present among you,
a strong Warrior there to save you.
Happy to have you back, he’ll calm you with his love
and delight you with his songs.

“The accumulated sorrows of your exile
will dissipate.
I, your God, will get rid of them for you.
You’ve carried those burdens long enough.
At the same time, I’ll get rid of all those
who’ve made your life miserable.
I’ll heal the maimed;
I’ll bring home the homeless.
In the very countries where they were hated
they will be venerated.
On Judgment Day
I’ll bring you back home—a great family gathering!
You’ll be famous and honored
all over the world.
You’ll see it with your own eyes—
all those painful partings turned into reunions!”
God’s Promise.
~Zephaniah 3:16-20

“And then this: We can tell you with complete confidence—we have the Master’s word on it—that when the Master comes again to get us, those of us who are still alive will not get a jump on the dead and leave them behind. In actual fact, they’ll be ahead of us. The Master himself will give the command. Archangel thunder! God’s trumpet blast! He’ll come down from heaven and the dead in Christ will rise—they’ll go first. Then the rest of us who are still alive at the time will be caught up with them into the clouds to meet the Master. Oh, we’ll be walking on air! And then there will be one huge family reunion with the Master…

For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.”  (from 1st Thess. 4)

Even so – come, Lord Jesus! 

{This post is dedicated to my parents and their parents – my Nanny and Papa, my Mamaw and Papaw – in gratitude…for they are my life-long examples of lasting love-stories and the First Love that never fails…and to the kind stranger, who shared his heart. I sure do hope I get to see him dancing with his Beulah on that great Some-Day.}