faith, Jesus, love

Mercy

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I went to a funeral this morning. I didn’t know the man who died, I don’t know his family or friends.

I first laid eyes on him in church two weeks ago. He was standing in the middle of the aisle being anointed, prayed for and embraced.

 “You’re not going back,” the pastor, his cousin, said.

The man had been in and out of prison – mostly in – for thirty of his fifty years.

And then, two months ago, God, in His mercy, arranged his release. So he could reconnect with his family and friends. So his family and friends could reconnect with him.

Saturday morning the man got up, got dressed, went out for a bit and then returned to his apartment and very suddenly died.

And I love God. I love the gift He gave the man and the gift He gave the man’s family and friends. I love His omniscient and omnipresent care for each of us.

“He had a good heart,” the pastor said, “and he did a great job of caring for my father these past two months.”

And that’s why I went to his funeral.

I went to hear more about his good heart. I went to know a little something more about the One whose image he bore. I went because he is God’s handiwork, one of His masterpieces, and every one of God’s masterpieces ought to be seen and appreciated.

It’s not often that a secular rock ’n roll song is used for the postlude to a funeral, but today it was perfect.

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faith, Jesus, life

Great Expectations

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C called early in the morning on Saturday, August 22.  She asked whether I was planning to visit Laura that day.  I was just getting ready to head over there.  Friday had been a very rough day, Laura had been very angry and C was concerned that Laura was losing her faith.  C had been staying at Laura’s house overnight all week to help care for her.  She was taking the weekend off and she wanted me to talk to Laura.

Laura and C shared spirituality.  Many of their visits over the course of Laura’s illness included discussions of authors who write spiritual things – borrowing concepts and even direct quotes from the Bible, but usually not giving the Bible credit.  When they spoke, they spoke of the universe giving good things.

Laura and I shared faith in God.  When it was just the two of us, we talked about peace, prayer and healing.  We spoke of God giving good things.

When C and I visited together, which was often the case, the conversation was a hybrid of faith specifically in God and general spirituality.  I didn’t split hairs because it is the Holy Spirit’s job to guide each of us into all Truth, not mine.  I just conversed according to what I believe.

When I got to Laura’s that morning, there was no sign of physical, emotional or spiritual distress.    She raised her head slightly, waved at me and smiled when I entered.

Her husband told me that he had read to her the night before from one of Gary Zukav’s books.  He told her she was going to be a spirit guide for others.  Her husband likes American Indian spirituality.  It seemed to have brought her peace.

A little while later I asked her whether she had been talking to God.  She nodded yes.  I asked whether God had been talking to her.  She nodded yes and then whispered, “Somewhat.”

Then she lifted her head, and with more strength to her voice, asked, “Do you know?”

“Do I know what?,” I asked smiling.

She waived her hand as if to say, “Never mind.”

“No, Laura, I want to understand and I am in no hurry, so take your time and tell me.”

“It can wait,” she smiled.

She was weak and she slept a lot that day, but she appeared at peace.

I stayed home Sunday.  I knew she would have a lot of visitors.  Too many visitors, I guess, and a lot of back and hip pain.

Monday she slept all day.

Tuesday my mom and I rubbed her legs.  I whispered good-bye at the end of the day, whispered, “I love you so much, you are so wonderful.”  She whispered, “I love you, too.”

Those were her last words to me.

Wednesday morning I received a text from C.  She asked me not to come for awhile because the hospice nurse was coming at 11 to put in a port for a morphine drip.  Laura was in distress. Her husband had gotten little sleep.  He had been administering pain meds every four hours.  Hospice came at 3 am to help.

C woke up at 6 that morning to the sound of moaning and tearless crying – a very disturbing sound.  The hospice nurse returned and said she didn’t think Laura was in pain, since the increased morphine didn’t seem to be making a difference.  She gave her Ativan, which calmed her down.

She was unresponsive when I arrived just after noon.  She died just after 2:30.

I thanked the hospice nurse as we both walked to our cars.  She said Laura was a real fighter.

The hub had to leave the visitation early to feed the friends so C gave my daughter and me a ride home.  It was our first chance to really talk since Laura’s passing. I asked her about Wednesday morning.  I shared that sometimes a side effect of morphine is nightmares.  Did she think Laura was having a nightmare?

“No, she just seemed pissed.”

C went on to say that she had been having a hard time with it.  She expected Laura to go peacefully but perhaps her expectations were faulty and that what transpired was just life.

I said I expected her to go peacefully, too.

And as we drove along I silently thought about those expectations.  I thought about the stories I heard over the years from friends as they sat with dying parents.  Stories of hymn singing and final moments of suddenly brightened faces and words of greetings to loved ones who had gone before.

And that’s what I imagined.  I imagined Laura’s face suddenly lighting up and her mouth uttering a joyful, “Hi dad!”

But there were no words.  Only a silent, sleeping face, labored breathing and then no breathing at all.

I sat in the passenger seat wondering whether Laura’s hybrid faith had been enough.  There was plenty of evidence that it was – all the conversations we had had, her firm assurance that she was going to heaven, that everything was going to be okay.  She said she had accepted it, that she was ready.

So why was she so angry on the morning of her death?  C thought it was because she wasn’t really ready when it came right down to it.  I thought maybe she was angry that her very well-meaning husband was giving her pain meds every four hours that she didn’t want, didn’t need.  That would be so Laura.

The obituary said she died peacefully, surrounded by her family.  Is it really dying peacefully if it is a drug-induced peace?  I thought about all the times I’ve read those words in the obituaries of others.  Were they all lying?

But I didn’t say anything.  I just wondered whether a completely peaceful passing is only had by those who are surrounded by hymn singing.  Spirituality doesn’t seem to get the job done.

In those last days I had suggested putting on some soft music.  Laura’s husband gave me a stack of her favorite CDs, none of which contained spiritual songs.  I wish I had been bold enough to bring over some of mine, bold enough to risk offending everyone but her.  In one of our last conversations Laura asked me about my church and she said she missed the singing.  She had a beautiful voice.  Looking back now, I wish I had taken that statement as a request, but I didn’t make a connection.  Now I’m regretting my cluelessness.  If I weren’t so vocally challenged, I would have certainly sung her some hymns.

When Laura was still alive, I felt her.  I felt her spirit when I was sitting with her in her living room and I felt her spirit when I was at home.  I carried her with me every minute.

But after she died it seemed her spirit had been obliterated.

I didn’t feel her at the visitation.

I didn’t feel her at the funeral or at the luncheon at her house after the funeral.

And I wondered whether a hybrid of faith and spirituality is enough.

Her daughter asked if any of us Aunties would be willing to read at the funeral. I said I would.  I assumed she would have me read a portion of Scripture.  But when I was handed my script at visitation, I saw that I was to commend her spirit to the “Spirit of Life”, while having the attendees repeat some meaningless words.  I couldn’t do it so I bowed out.

His name is Jesus.

I don’t know the Spirit of Life to which the script was referring, I only know Jesus.  There is no other Name by which we are saved.

So I left the funeral kinda’ mad at my family.  Mad that Laura’s funeral was performed entirely by people who don’t know God.  Mad that the only mention of Him at all was in the showing of Carrie Underwood and Vince Gill’s video performance of  “How Great Thou Art” – shown only by Laura’s request.  Mad that the eulogy included no mention of her faith.  I felt like her faith had been ripped from her; like she had been ripped off.  And I was mad that she was nowhere to be found.

It wasn’t an ordinary, on-the-surface mad, it was an unusual, vague, deep-within-my-spirit kind of mad.

During my conversations with Laura, I rested in the thought that faith + anything else is still faith.  Driving home from the funeral I wondered if that was a faulty equation.

Disturbed and disheartened I wrote His Name is Jesus and then I asked God to tell me something, show me something about Laura.

Late that night, just after I had gotten into bed, I felt her beside me.  Suddenly, there was a slight shimmer in the room and I could feel her spirit; my heart could see her broad, beautiful smile.  Her smile filled the room.  And I knew without a doubt that she is okay.  I can feel her again.

Jesus died on a Friday and no one saw any sign of Him until Sunday.  Laura died on a Wednesday and I didn’t see any sign of her until Saturday night.  Maybe we’re really busy for a few days when we arrive in heaven.

Perhaps we have to sign our golf card before we can celebrate.

Laura was in my dream the other night.  It was so good to see her.  In the dream, she was looking through a book – perhaps a photo album.  She looked up at me, smiling, and said, “I really like that woman.”   And all was well with the world.

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “No Cliffhangers.”

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