|Photo by Tim Evanson 2013|
Saturday, February 22, 2014
The memorial service for Lorraine, my mother-in-law, was truly a blessing. Even though we had agreed it should be a celebration of her life, and a time of rejoicing over her homegoing to Heaven, I think it is only natural to experience some dread over this type of service. It adds finality to our loved one’s passing; it makes us sad that we will miss them; and it evokes regret about missed opportunities. For those who are unsaved, it raises doubts and questions about their eternal destiny, and all of us may wonder about the legacy we will leave for all those whose lives we touched.
But the Holy Spirit moved so gracefully through this service, just as He did to reassure us when she entered the hospital for the last time, and even in the events surrounding her passing. A sudden worsening in her condition was the needed alarm to gather all her family, and she appeared to be able to recognize and understand us even though she could not speak. When she finally slipped peacefully into her last hours of sleep, we all returned to our homes, which was a blessing in that our last memory of her would not be of her dying breath.
It was 2AM and I lay awake, yet I was calmed by remembering the passage “absent from the body, present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:6-8). Suddenly a visible jolt went through my sleeping husband’s body, and within moments the phone rang, which I knew immediately was the hospital calling to let us know she had passed. I shouted Richard’s name for him to answer it, and as he bolted from the bed and ran to the phone, he tripped on the scatter rug, slammed into the closet doorway with his shoulder, cut up and bruised his arm and hand, ripped the curtains from the closet, and wrenched his back and neck!
Not funny at the time, but he has recovered fully, praise God! Earlier that afternoon, he and his sister Kathy had been reminiscing and chuckling over a fall he had when they were children. Apparently they were watching a violinist on the Lawrence Welk show, and Richard ran upstairs to get a junky violin he had rescued from the trash. In his excitement to accompany the maestro, he skidded and fell – right on top of the violin, smashing it to bits!
So it looked like Lorraine, with her “quirky sense of humor,” as Kathy’s son described it at the service, had the last laugh as she played one last prank on Richard!
The call was in fact what I had feared, and as we consoled one another with hugs, Richard quoted out loud the same Scripture that had been silently on my heart: “absent from the body, present with the Lord.”
The next day we learned that after Richard called Kathy to tell her know the news, she and her husband went into their living room to sit for a while. Earlier that night, she had brought an IPod and headphones to the hospital so that Lorraine could listen to her favorite John Denver music, including “Home Again.” When they left, Kathy shut off the IPod and brought it home in her purse.
As Kathy and her husband sat talking about Lorraine’s passing, suddenly they heard faint, tinny music and realized that the IPod in Kathy’s purse had mysteriously begun playing “No Regrets,” even though they had not even touched the purse!
Preparations for the service could have been a real ordeal, especially since nothing had been planned in advance. But the funeral director, who was literally around the corner from our home and church, turned out to be a real Godsend, treating us like his own family. Planning her life celebration became a peaceful time of reflecting on what a blessing she was, and on the hope Christians have in knowing we are not really saying “Goodbye” to our loved ones who trusted Christ (1 Corinthians 15:54-57; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).
We felt bathed in love and prayers from both our churches – the one we had recently left and the one we have now joined. Our new church prepared a loving, bountiful and delicious home-cooked meal in their Fellowship Hall after the service. Lorraine would have loved this, as she delighted in feeding family, friends, unexpected visitors, neighborhood children, and even staff at the assisted living facility where she spent her last years.
Equally fitting was that the date of her passing was February 14, Valentine’s Day -- how perfect for a woman who generously gave out love, candy and handwritten notes to those she held dear, and even to those she had just recently met! And such a blessed reminder of God’s great love for us!
The associate pastor from our former church led the memorial service, as he knew her personally and had been the one to lead her to the Lord five years ago, when she was 85 years young! What an encouraging reminder that we should never give up on praying for our loved ones who do not yet know Christ (1 Thessalonians 5:17; Hebrews 4:16), as He will answer those prayers with His perfect will and perfect timing. If we are faithful to pray, sow the seed, and water, He will give the increase (1 Corinthians 3:6-8).
At the service, her family, friends and pastor spoke of her generous spirit, good humor despite many hardships, and her love for music. Kathy’s son Philip played and sang “Home Again,” while our son accompanied him on guitar.
The pastor acknowledged that his role was to offer comfort, yet he had no source of comfort in his own strength. Our only Comfort is God Himself, the God of all comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3-4), Who gives us the peace that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7). Jesus told us not to be troubled, for He has gone to His Father’s house to prepare a place for us, so that we may be with Him always in Heaven (John 14:1-3).
So what about Lorraine, the pastor asked. Is she in Heaven? I don’t know, he admitted to deafening silence, for only God knows the hearts (Psalm 44:21; Luke 16:15 Acts 15:8). We are all sinners (Romans 3:10,23) deserving eternal death in hell (Romans 6:23), yet God in His infinite love gave His only Son, Jesus Christ, to suffer and die, taking on our punishment so that all who trust in His death, burial and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) will not die, but have eternal life (John 3:16).
She is not in Heaven because she was a good person, even though she worked selflessly to provide for her family and to fill their lives with love and laughter. All our own righteousness is as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6), unacceptable to Holy God, but Jesus Christ has appeased His holy wrath by suffering in our place (Romans 3:25; 1 John 2:2; 4:10. Now when God looks at born-again believers (John 3:3-8), He no longer sees our sins, but only the perfect righteousness of His Son.
She is not in Heaven because she was religious, even though being raised in the Catholic Church, she was in the habit of praying her rosaries and taking communion. The high priests and Pharisees of Jesus’ day made a great show of their religion, praying out loud in the public square, wearing their religious garb, and tithing, but their hearts were far from Christ, and they did not even recognize Him as the promised Messiah (Matthew 23).
She is not in Heaven because of her academic knowledge of Scripture, or because of her belief that Jesus was a great teacher and prophet. In fact, she did not read her Bible or listen to preaching, because her eyesight and hearing failed in her later years, and she was distracted by pain and labored breathing.
There are many who have an intellectual understanding of Jesus but who do not know Him as their Lord and Savior, and unless they have a personal relationship with Him in their heart, they will not be in Heaven (Matthew 15:8; Mark 7:6). Satan himself knows Scripture better than any born-again Bible scholar, and he knows it is all true (James 2:19), yet he is unsaved because his pride keeps him from worshipping God (Isaiah 14:12-20).
I don’t think it is a “coincidence” that the Scripture we chose for Lorraine’s memorial book, video and leaflets were the same verses highlighted by the pastor in His message:
John 14:1 Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. 2 In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.
John 3:16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
John 11:25 Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: 26 And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.
So is Lorraine in Heaven? Only God knows the hearts. But we believe and have hope that her profession of faith reflected her genuine belief in and submission to Christ as the only Way (John 14:6) to Heaven, and that He has brought her “Home Again.”
© 2014 Laurie Collett