Saturday, June 27, 2015

When I See You Again

Today, amid the chaos and controversies taking place in the world, Rich and I attended the funeral for two high school sweethearts tragically killed last week in a car accident.  Nick and Janeal were sweethearts in every sense of the word .... not just dating.... but sweet hearts to the friends and family who loved them, as evidenced by the crowd in attendance.  They were eulogized as having beautiful smiles, warm personalities, and friendly to all who met them.  I knew Janeal when she was in the awkward middle school stage, however, she still had that winning personality and I knew then she was on the high road to success.  Nick was a football player getting ready to rev up for his senior year and loved to have a great time.  He died on his birthday.

The funeral was slated for noon at a large church in our area and as we arrived to join the crowd already gathered, you could sense the shock and disbelief on the faces.  As the ceremony began, we stood to honor the families as they proceeded into the sanctuary.  And the outward signs of grief coming from a father, a mother, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, and friends filled the worship center with only the groanings that one can understand who has lost someone so near and dear to them.   The tears and sobs in the room matched the rain hitting the roof as if heaven itself wept along with us.

There were prayers, songs, eulogies, the usual.  And you could read the silent hearts of the teen-agers:  "Why?"  "She just graduated."  "I loved them both."  "Don't tell me there is a reason, I want to know the reason."  And just as if the pastor could read their minds, he said, "Each of us has an assignment.  If you play on the football team, you have an assignment.  If you work at Walmart, McDonalds, or anywhere, you have an assignment.  Nick and Janeal each had an assignment and when they completed it, God called them to Him.  So, realize today your assignment and carry it out well."

And about 1,000 of us sat there listening, praying, crying, and hugging.  And among those 1,000 people, some were black, some were white, some were mixed, some were Hispanic, and some were Asian.  And among those 1,000 people there were old people, middle aged people, and young people.   And among those 1,000 people there were fat people, skinny peoples, tall people, short people and they were wearing different clothing.  And among those 1,000 people, I am guessing there were heterosexuals, bisexuals, homosexuals, and transgenders.  And among those 1,000 people there were Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists, Lutherans, Catholics, Muslims, as well as skeptics.  But for two hours on a steamy, rainy late June afternoon, 1,000 people forgot their differences and honored the lives of two young sweet hearts.  For two hours, we loved each other and didn't know anything about each other. 

I've been looking for an answer to address those things on social media that shake me to the very core of my beliefs.  Yes, the answer lies in Scripture, but it also is in the moments surrounding us. 

Perhaps that was the assignment for Nick and Janeal.  Perhaps in their deaths, it gives us new meaning for loving each other and for how to live a life of compassion.  If so, well done children.  Now go get your reward  and soar everyday in heaven, praising the Father who gave you new life in Him.  I can't wait to tell you all about it when I see you again.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

A Father's Day Story Worth Repeating

The interesting thing about spending 10 days and nights with your 85-year-old mother is that a lot of repeating goes on. I say something. She says "what?" I repeat. And then she asks me questions. A lot of questions. They just happen to be the same questions over and over and over. It takes patience but I figure if she was patient with me for the 20 years I lived under her roof, then I could most certainly return the favor.
Today (day 8 ~ but who's counting?) I decided I would play "name that great-grandchild" and test her knowledge of her umpteen great-grandchildren.  We went through the whole gamut of April has four, Joel has three, etc., etc., and she was able to name everyone with the exception of one. I will not name that one for fear of offending one of her grandchildren, but I thought that 14 out of 15 isn't bad for a woman who can't remember how many times she has asked me if I have a new car today.
But then the game took an interesting twist when I began to ask about generations. She easily remembered the names of my father's six siblings. And she and I both got a little tangled on her mother's family members, but that family was a little tangled to begin with. Then we managed to name the nine children my great-grandmother (her paternal grandmother) birthed. All nine.
And that is where the story took a slight turn when we started talking about one of those nine: her father, Sid.
Now, my sisters and I knew our grandfather very well. And we knew most of the stories. And most of the stories were not the kind you would sit around and fondly remember on a winter night by the fire. One of my stories in particular included spending the night with my grandmother and right when I laid my head on the pillow she reminded me her pistol was underneath and it might be a good idea to remove it. She had to have some protection just in case he came around after he had been drinking. My mother lived with her grandmother most of her young life because her father moved around a lot to find work. Her mother would track him down and live with him while my mother stayed on the farm. I'm not sure if my grandmother loved him so much that she tracked him down or if she felt the need to keep him on track when she finally tracked him down. Nevertheless, he gave everyone plenty of reason to worry with his, shall we say, colorful lifestyle.
Finally the day came when his womanizing and his drinking caught up with him and he found himself in the state penitentiary.  I think it was a culmination of too many DUIs or perhaps it was driving his riding mower on the downtown sidewalk and running over a man. Nevertheless, he was going to have to stay put for awhile.
And so, the story goes, that my mother would visit him in prison. And while she was there she noticed a man with a Bible that also visited quite often. And as it turns out, the man was visiting my grandfather and speaking the Gospel into his life.  As my mother continued to visit, she noticed the change in Sid's life. He began to confess and repent and ask forgiveness. He even wrote her a letter asking for her forgiveness. My grandmother had passed away and he was greatly saddened by the fact that he could not speak with her. My mother told me that if God could forgive him, then she certainly could as well. When he returned home from prison, mother told me he was a changed man and she knew it was only because of the saving grace of God.
She told me this story THREE times in a row within a 45-minute period. But to me, any story of grace is definitely a story worth repeating.