Saturday, February 22, 2014

Home Again

Photo by Tim Evanson 2013

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
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Brenda said...

That was a lovely post Laurie. I hope your husband is recovering from his fall. I believe each of us suffers sadness at losing loved ones, each in our own unique lives. Yet there is no better comforter than the Holy Spirit that is in us when we are born again. God is love, and is omnipresent - having the ability to reach, teach and comfort all who come to Him through that One mediator - Jesus. He alone knows what your mother in law heard throughout her life, and His word can not go out and come back void to Him.
God bless you and your husband.

Nadwra┼╝liwiec said...

Heroes of faith are among us. Last year I met mother of my leader from children's club. She was suffering from the Alzheimer disease, so contact with her was very difficult. But her daughter told me, that she, despite the fact she hadn't remember family and neighbours, she remembered all Scripture.
She died in Juny 2013.
Greetings from rainy Cracow :)

Laurie Collett said...

Thank you, Brenda! Yes, my husband is doing much better, praise God! You are so right about the Comforter, and it was so apparent as I looked around at the faces of those at the service. Those who are saved were at peace and had moments of joy at blessed memories, but the unsaved were tearful and fearful. Thank you for your words of comfort and hope, and God bless,

Laurie Collett said...

Dear Zim,
That is an amazing testimony of the power of God's Word. How blessed this woman was to have hidden God's Word in her heart. Thank you for sharing, and blessings & greetings to you!

Denise said...

Wonderful post.

elizabeth said...

I'm so sorry for your loss. I can see that God is already comforting you! Visiting from still Saturday.

Frank E. Blasi said...

Dear Laurie,
Yes I agree, whenever a believer in our church dies, and there has been quite a few over the years, including a not-that-old fellow who died of leukaemia a few years ago, I have wondered whether such people have gone to Heaven.
What Jesus spoke about in Matthew 7:21 about those who call Jesus "Lord, Lord" and were still shut out of Heaven is something that creeps around at the back of my mind - even when I reason to myself that he was referring to those who trusted in their own righteousness. The heart is an extremely complicated centre of the soul, and Jeremiah the prophet was right to ask, "Who can know it?"
But you are right. God only knows the heart, and it is my sincere hope that your Mum-in-Law is now safe in the arms of Jesus.
This comment was not meant to be discouraging to you and your family. Rather, it reflects my thoughts and feelings about death and its implications.
An excellent post. Thanks for sharing.

Laurie Collett said...

Thanks, Denise! God bless.

Laurie Collett said...

Thank you, Elizabeth, and praise to the Comforter for His healing grace!
Love in Him,

Laurie Collett said...

Dear Frank,
Thank you for your comment, which I do not find to be discouraging at all. I think it is wise that we reflect on salvation, not in a judgmental way, but so that we understand it and can share it with others. Our current pastor's testimony is that he was a "wet Baptist," baptized, raised in church, singing in the choir, and teaching Sunday School, yet not realizing he had no personal relationship with Jesus until he was born again at a revival meeting. I think you are right, that many who sit in the pews every Sunday, tithe and serve are not saved, and will be kept from Heaven even though they served in His name. That is why I am so thankful that our pastor works the Gospel message and plan of salvation into every sermon, so that those who are unsaved have every opportunity to know Him personally.
Thanks as always for your thoughtful comment, & God bless,

Ceil said...

Hi Laurie! What an amazing series of events...the jolt through your husband's body, the fall, the IPod song...all of it like a confirmation that your mother-in-law is ok. And what a blessing that you could all be together too.

Of course you are sad! I think that sadness speaks to a wonderful life, and how much you appreciate her time here with you. And that you felt her understand that you were all there is such a gift.
May God tenderly hold your hearts as you heal, and hold your mother-in-law close to his heart.
Thank you for sharing this hard time with so much faith,

Laurie Collett said...

Thank you Ceil, for your lovely wishes of comfort and affirmation. You are always such a blessing.
Love in Christ,

Unknown said...

I am so sorry for your loss but you have shared some truly beautiful things. Thanks for sharing at Essential Fridays.
Mel from Essential Thing Devotions

Donald Fishgrab said...

It is amazing to see the difference in those who believe in /god and those who don't when death takes a loved one. Though they are hurting, the Christian still has a sense that God is in charge and there is hope. It is hard to deal with those who have no hope and believe it is just chance.

Laurie Collett said...

Thank you, Mel, for your kind words and condolences. Thanks also for hosting such a lovely blog.
May you have a blessed day,

Laurie Collett said...

So true, Donald! Once we attended the homegoing service of a missionary, where the prevailing mood was one of peace and joy over knowing that all would be reunited in Heaven one day. In the chapel next door at the funeral parlor was the funeral of a teen who had committed suicide, and the Goth attire of the friends and wailing created a mood of darkness and despair felt even in the parking lot. I don't know how unsaved people deal with any loss, particularly with death.
God bless,

Connie Arnold said...

May God bless and comfort you and your family in your loss, Laurie. Thank you for sharing the thoughtful post.

Laurie Collett said...

Thank you, Connie, for your comforting words. You are a blessing.
Love in Him,

Unknown said...

Laurie, it is hard when loved ones pass away, especially parents but it is so wonderful when they know the Lord and we have the hope of seeing them once again. Thanks for sharing.

Laurie Collett said...

Amen, Judith! weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning, when we and our loved ones know Christ.
God bless,

Hodson said...

Thanks for linking up on my #oscarhop ! Be sure to chat w/ us today on Twitter w/ that hashtag! #oscars #redcarpet

Happy Kids, Inc

Laurie Collett said...

Thanks, Meg, for hosting & for your comment! Enjoy the Oscars!