A very dear friend from our church was promoted to heaven this week. She was a mother, a grandmother, a great-grandmother. She was a friend, a teacher, a nurturer. She was a window into the heart of God for all who knew her. She loved people well; and, more specifically, she loved my babies well. If you are a momma, you know that's a forever kind of bond.
I have four children. I love each and every one of them, but that doesn't mean that I can express my love for them in the same ways or that it's always easy to love them. So when this sweet lady came to me years ago and told me that she had a special love for one of my children that is often especially hard to love, I became undone. In a big way. Mommas with challenging children, you get this. You have that child who always gets the so-so or awful report after he spends time with any caregiver. That child that people seem to tolerate but never really connect with. It's hard. And it hurts. And then someone tells you that this child is their favorite. That moment seems like a very appropriate time for the ugly cry. And that person immediately becomes one of your favorites.
I'm feeling the void left by this lady's presence in our church and our home and cannot fathom the grief of her immediate family right now. I just can't. They have my prayers and my deepest sympathy, but we are all mourning as a people with hope. Not a flighty anticipation kind of hope, but a deep-flowing confidence that their mom and grandmother is living whole and happy in the presence of her Savior. After struggling for the last few months for her daily strength, she is basking in the light of the all-powerful God. We feel a void, but she feels a wholeness that is unknown to us.
We've struggled to explain this to our children. This is the first time they have had to say goodbye to someone they loved and who was a part of their daily lives. After sharing the news of her passing, my oldest was broken, understanding that she would no longer be a part of his life; but my younger two surprised me even more. After saying they would miss her, they were not sad. Not a bit. In fact, they could not understand why the rest of us were struggling to be cheery. "But, Mom, isn't she in heaven? Isn't she with Jesus? That's a good thing."
My children's response to this loss reminds me of an account from Jesus' life...when Jesus gathers the children around him and rebukes His disciples for trying to shoo them away. Jesus had time for children. They were His priority, and their hearts were incredibly dear to Him. These children's faith in the unseen and seen parts of His truth were equal. Heaven was just as real to them as His hug. And Jesus told every grown-up, with-it person that was within hearing of Him that day that the Kingdom of God was made of these faith-full ones.
I'd like to pretend that I'm a with-it parent who can explain eternity to my kids in a way that really connects with them, but in fact it's my children who normally teach me what it means to have faith that every word of His Word is reality. That the world to come is just as real as my stubbed toe and the food on my plate. And we have hope, knowing the promises of His Word. But in case all this talk of hope makes you think that we've moved on and are done mourning, you're wrong. Grief still hits each of us like a wave we didn't see coming.
And when it hits, we remind ourselves that the loss is ours, but the gain is hers (and all our other loved ones who have died in Christ). And we are miraculously given strength and comfort to pick up where our loved ones left off, and to continue the journey to eternity. This world is not our home, but our lives were so much better for knowing this beloved lady. And we will continue to mourn with hope, awaiting the day that we will embrace again and tell her that she was one of our favorites too.
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