It was one of ‘those calls’. During lunch last week, I could sense the urgency in the voice on the other end of the phone. Some dear friends of ours were in a car accident. They had loaded up the SUV for vacation, decided to head to one of our favorite deli spots on their way out of town, and were hit by a truck and trailer less than 4 miles from their home. Everything happened so fast…in a handful of seconds, their lives were forever changed.
Just last Sunday, we spent the day at the lake with Larry and DeNetta and their two amazing kids. They are a faithful family of youthworkers, teachers, servants, and Jesus-lovers. We cooked hot dogs, swam, and dragged each other around the lake on tubes that day. Heather and DeNetta sat in the shade by the shore and talked about being moms, about how hot it was, and about how they were ready for school to start. And just past noon on Wednesday, their car was hit and DeNetta stepped into the presence of Jesus. In the following hours, our church was amazing. We flooded the hospital with friends, parents, teens, and family members. We flooded it with prayers and tears. We prayed with hospital staff and strangers alike. (It doesn’t hurt to have some connections with the hospital director… ) In fact, one sweet Spanish-speaking elderly lady prayed with me in a waiting room. I prayed in English; she prayed in Spanish. She talked so fast I could only pick out a few things here and there. "…Thank you, Lord for your love….bless the family…we love you….make us strong….in the name of the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit…."
"Gracias, hermana." I said through my tears.
"Por supuesto, papi." she replied, kissing my cheek. We hugged. There is no language barrier in the Kingdom.
We prayed. We cried. We thanked God for protecting Larry, Ashley, and Weston. Our hearts broke in grief that DeNetta was gone.
On Saturday, our pastor conducted the most beautiful funeral service in history. In a standing-room-only crowd, we grieved…but not like those with no hope. God reminded us that our life is such a vapor, such a whisper, that it will only be a blink in history before we are together again. I get the feeling that our lives are like a 2-second bit part in the midst of watching the unedited, extended edition of the Lord of the Rings boxed set. We are here, strutting and fretting our hour upon the stage, and then are heard no more. For in one more blink, we’ll be joining her.
Sunday in our ministry was tough. We are still crying. Still grieving…but not without hope. In John 14, Jesus said He was going to prepare a place for us, and, when things are ready, He’ll be back to get us. I trust Him. And I’m beginning to rejoice–for DeNetta’s gain.
St. Augustine put it this way: "God has made us for himself, and our hearts are restless until we find our rest in Him."
The way I understand the Biblical narrative is this: Genesis 1 &2 and Revelation 21 & 22 seem to serve as ‘bookends’ of the story. Our history started with the union of God and man and ends with the union of God and man. Everything else is commentary. God provides a way. Man fails. God redeems man. They live happily ever after. Our original purpose is union with God, who has gone to great, painstaking lengths to provide restoration/reconciliation to that end. If the original purpose of our lives is union with God, DeNetta is more fully alive, more perfected (lit. "complete") than at any other time in her existence.
Yea, for her!
But we still grieve. Our hearts still feel the pain of unexpectedly tearing away part of the Body. But God will heal. And the Body will be stronger. (Suffering is a beautiful hermeneutic.) So, I’m still crying today, but knowing that Hope has come.
"Do not let your hearts be troubled. You trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it weren’t so, I would have told you. I’m going there to prepare a place for you, and I will come back and take you to be with me so we can be together. You know the Way to where I am going….
I Am the Way."