Now, the day of visitation is over. The funeral service has been completed. A body has been laid to rest in a quiet cemetery in farmlands of Northwest Ohio, about a mile away from home and garden. The funeral dinner team accommodated us with much hospitality, and flowers arrangements have been divided up, and distributed. A little anxiety, some left over hard feelings, and plenty of sorrow still remain, but time has a way of taking care of most of these things. Now that we are back in Wilmore (other members of the family will be with Bryant until next week.... and then we'll start getting back home as much as we can to help ease the loneliness), and I am in the safe space that is my small study carrel (which, for some strange reason, I couldn't wait to get back to.... I'm just comfortable in my corner nook) I have been reflecting on the last few days, and seeing so many places where God showed up, raining grace upon us. Here are a few examples...
- A mother and father bear the weight of a lost child for sixteen years. As the grandmother passes, the weight of their loss from long ago becomes real for me. Grace in the form of pain in my soul, beckoning me to pray for a nephew I never got to hold, parents who miss him, and new thinking about a children's garden in the Kingdom of Heaven.
- A cousin and his wife take on watching six grandchildren, including Hurricane Eli, who usually melts down away from his mother on a regular basis. The brave couple wear the boy out doing what he likes best, swimming, and then watch as he falls asleep. Grace in the form of a worn-out child and parents who can focus on offering comfort at the funeral home. CJ and Jill, If children are not in your future, then ample babysitting is (I never said grace couldn't end up being a two-edged sword). And if children are in your future, they will be blessed indeed. No pressure, one way or the other. Whatever you want... you know. Not trying to be "one of those people". We're in your corner, and all of that... OK, I'll shut up now.
- Countless stories at the viewing: A woman sent by her husband (training for a new job in Georgia) who had worked for Carol but left to take another job out of town because she encouraged him to keep striving to do better for himself. The couple who had taken Carol's beloved cockatoo, Sophie, stopping by to let us know that the bird was fine. Endless people from Shawnee UMC, including the entire staff, who had never met Carol who came to support us. Guys from the shop hugging Bryant. Master Gardeners with heavy hearts paying their respects. Tenants coming by to offer prayers. More stories than can be recounted in this space.
- We've never quite gotten over leaving Goshen, Indiana. The friends we made there were our family for five years. We found out how deep the bond goes when three of those families showed up to surprise us at the viewing, and one of the three stayed for the funeral the next day. I don't think I can write this without weeping.
- A brother comes to the viewing one day, and again with his wife to the funeral. He, in between about four law school classes, and she, taking one of her few days off of work. I love having a brother.
- A whole staff from Willow Lake Apartments just sitting at the funeral home, stunned that their boss is gone, and willing to do just about anything to help.
- After the most difficult funeral service I've ever done, a niece comes to give me a hug, and a brother-in-law makes sure to let me know that the words spoken were appropriate, putting to rest a re-occurring nightmare I've been having where my eulogy divides the family. Never have a hug and a few words brought so much peace so quickly.
- A good friend calls the evening after a funeral is over, and just offers words of encouragement.
- There are a bunch of other stories from home. Too many to mention, really. I hope those of you who were used by God in this way in our lives don't feel put out by me not mentioning you by name. Every handshake, hug, donation to the children's garden, flower arrangement sent, and time you spent being present mattered. You were just one more bit of grace we needed to get through each day. There's no way we can thank you.
- Today, we drove back to Wilmore. I have loads of work to do, and the kids need to get back into school. When we left today, Aimee and I were both grateful to be able to go somewhere to find a little normalcy, but upset that we had to leave her father who is still deep in grief. We drove the four-hour journey back to Asbury, pulled up to the townhouses, and realized once inside that our fellow BP families had stocked our fridge and cabinets, and that with Aimee's beloved organic food from "Wild Oats Grocery". I mean, do you know how thoughtful that was for her? To do something so nice that affirms her basic values (more weeping... I'm such a big baby) is just so, loving. This is the best DMin program in the world.
- Picked up the mail that had accumulated over the last week to find two nice surprises. First, a fellow blogger, The Thief (Rev. Brian Vinson of New Knoxville UMC), went snail mail on me, sending a lovely card out of the blogosphere and into the real world. Then, inside another package was the latest CD by The Peak Band, which is the worship band for the 11am service at The Life Center (West Campus of Goshen First UMC). "The Peak" was a service Steve Clouse, music director at First UMC, and I started to try to reach unchurched 20-somethings. In many ways the service was a colossal success, and in other ways (all the numerical ones) it was a failure. But the one lasting legacy of the service has been The Peak Band, which is note for note, one of the finest praise bands in the country. The CD is made up entirely of songs written by the band, and Steve enclosed a short synopsis of the story behind each song for me. I like the whole album, but one of the tracks, "I Lift My Eyes To The Hills", which is based on Psalm 121, which is my favorite Psalm, just soars. I know the CD was sent to lift our spirits, and I can safely say, "Mission Accomplished".
- Finally, I decided after we had unpacked, to head down to my carrel to get acclimated to what was coming up in the next week. The walk is not more than a half-mile, but I kept bumping into my fellow classmates who each stopped to offer a handshake, a hug, a word of encouragement, and a listening ear. It's the first time a half-mile took me 40 minutes to complete. Absolutely overwhelming.
And this friends is, I think, the way we make it through the dark days of life. As we walk in the shadows cast down in the valley of death, we find God in a million places, many of them strange and unexpected, encouraging us to take another step toward the next mountaintop. We will take all these moments, all these little sacrifices made for us as friends, gather them up, and treasure them in our hearts. They mean more than this mediocre blogger can say.
Oh man... more tears, shed out in the rain of the Lord.