I held it together pretty well until I saw her lean over and speak tender last words. Tears spilled from her cheeks and she groaned from the agony ripping her soul. Heartbreak like this was something she’d never experienced, it hurt to breathe. How was she ever going to say goodbye?
After all, you only get one momma.
Thankfully my carpool companion had the foresight to bring a pack of Kleenex, I signaled I needed one ASAP and quickly tried to wipe the tears. My heart was so heavy. I cried not just for my own personal loss of a friend but because I understood the loss this dear family was facing. And, I cried because I miss my mom.
Funerals are so hard.
I don’t remember a lot about my own mom’s funeral, I do remember a lot of folks came and told me they would be praying, I’m sure that’s why I’ve made it this far. Today I showed my respects for another set of daughters who lost their mom so young. It was a holy experience for me, a chance to see how it felt to mourn my own mom without the ripping pain in my chest.
The feeling is more of a constant deep ache these days.
The choir stood to sing as the family walked in to say their final words to her mortal body, each making promises to see her again. At first my heart objected to the upbeat music escorting the train of family past the coffin. These occasions are supposed to be somber, sad and thought provoking, not the hand clapping, head bobbing, praise and worship service the group up front was leading. I sat for a moment in silent opposition, but then I began to listen to the words.
“God will not let you fall.”
Refrain after refrain always followed by, “God will not let you fall.” He will take care of you, He will not let you fall, He will comfort you, He will not let you fall, He is beside you, He will not let you fall, He loves you, He will not let you fall and on it went. Slowly, like the dawning of the sun, the truth of what they were singing began to warm my soul. I began to tap my foot as my eyes filled with knowing tears. Oh the truth in those words. As the usher moved forward to close the casket, loud singing echoed through the small church building, the volume peaking at the perfect time as the lid closed forever…He will not let you fall.
I am most certain the angels in heaven were joining in the refrain.
I wanted to run to this precious family and reinforce what they already knew, He really won’t let you fall. Oh, you may feel like you won’t be able to get up and face another day, but you will. You may think the sorrow is going to overtake you and surely death might be easier, but, you will wake up and you will face another day and you will eventually find a way to smile and really mean it.
He will not let you fall!
This was my first experience at this type of funeral. I’ve sat through some where there was hand raising during a worshipful song and maybe small amounts of laughter at a funny memory, but, this was unlike anything I’d ever been a part of. Person after person got up and read scripture or shared a story about our dearly beloved friend, some sang songs but the resonating theme throughout the hour and a half long ceremony was joy. Joy in life, joy in loss, joy in memories, and joy in the morning. There were plenty of tears, but they poured down cheeks of people standing and lifting their hands up to heaven in praise.
Even as we mourned death, our celebration was for life.
And then it was time for the pastor to speak, he was young and full of enthusiasm. He began to talk of the bitter waters from Exodus 15:23. The Israelites had narrowly escaped slavery in Egypt only to be led into the unbearable desert, they were tired, hot and thirsty. I am sure they were sunburned, had blisters on their feet, their children were probably crying and the dust had to be caked on their robes and scratching their eyes.
They must’ve been miserable.
If I’m being completely transparent, I’m sure I would’ve joined the group as they began to complain and wonder why God had brought them to this place only to give them water they could not drink. Did He not care about the well-being of His people? The disgruntled newly freed slaves took their complaints to Moses and Moses took those complaints to God. The young pastor reminded us it is in these deeply painful times, when we are so weak and it seems impossible to pray, those who love us can pray on our behalf, they can take our requests before the Lord.
When we can’t, those who love us can.
He went on to explain the water the Israelites camped beside was not really bitter as we think of the word, but salty, not drinkable. Then he described how God instructed Moses to throw a piece of wood into the water and it became sweet, not sugary sweet like the sweet tea we enjoy here in the south, but drinkable. Our lives are like the bitter waters when it is filled with sorrow and pain and we long for relief, then finally, when we are parched from crying and in desperate need of relief, God comes and only through the miracle of His love and healing makes the sorrow bearable.
And our water becomes sweet, drinkable.
In other words, we survive, we may not thrive, but we make it through.
The whole time the pastor was speaking folks all around me were crying out to encourage his discourse. “Amen!” “Hallelujah!” “Yes, Lord!” I sat quietly, soaking it all up like a sponge. It was beautiful. It was sad. It was joy and it was sorrow and I’ll never forget it.
As the minister prayed the final prayer, I bowed my head and fixed my thoughts on Jesus. This service had been a gift to me. These precious people had opened up their hearts and shared their sorrow and in the midst of all that had gone on around me I realized I had come full circle. I had been given the chance to rejoice in the life of my own mom as theirs was laid to rest. It was as though the Lord gave me a second chance to remember all the wonderful things she’d done in her life and in my mind I lifted my hands and said “Amen!”
And I knew I could say to anyone who needed to hear it, “You’re going to make it, you may not feel like it right now, but you will.”
I left that place lifted. Oh, I didn’t feel like jumping for joy or anything, but I felt a sense of closure, like God had put another piece of my shattered heart back in place.
I was reading in my devotion a few days later about sorrow. It was profound how Oswald Chambers explained the results of having been through it. He said,
“Sorrow removes a great deal of a person’s shallowness, but it does not make the person better. Suffering either gives me to myself or it destroys me. You cannot find or receive yourself through success, because you lose your head over pride. And you cannot find or receive yourself through the monotony of your daily life, because you give into complaining. The only way to find yourself is through the fires of sorrow. Why it should be this way is immaterial…If you will receive yourself in the fires of sorrow, God will make you nourishment for other people. “
And that is exactly why I am here penning these words to you today, because God has taken my sorrow and turned it into nourishment. He has taught me more than I will ever be able to communicate, loved me more than I could ever return and brought me to a bearable place. I still miss my mom every single day, and I will miss my sweet friend too, but I will get up tomorrow and I will stand in the strength of God alone because He will not let me fall.
He has made my bitter waters sweet.
“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” Psalm 73:26
“When they came to Marah, they could not drink its water because it was bitter. (That is why the place is called Marah.) So the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What are we to drink?” Then Moses cried out to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a piece of wood. He threw it into the water, and the water became fit to drink.” Exodus 15:23-25