Yesterday was a very long day for me. I preached at our morning worship gathering, had a rehearsal for Christmas Eve right after that, and then I hopped in my car and drove up to Baltimore for a memorial service for my great aunt. Since my wife and I didn’t think the kids would handle the 5 hours in the car very well, I took the trip solo.
Driving up 95, I had a lot of time for reflection. Over these last few years, I think I’ve had plenty of time for reflection. To be honest, I was kind of feeling numb. I’m growing weary of attending funerals and memorial services for people I care about. Not sure what the magic number is that you hit, but I think I’ve finally crossed the threshold.
I reflected on my aunt and the times spent with her. For most of the time that I remember, she and my uncle lived in Carlisle, Massachusetts, but there was a time when they lived in Blandford, MA in the western part of the state. I remembered going up to stay with them a few times after I got out of college to go skiing. Whether it was just me or whether I brought a bunch of friends, my aunt and uncle opened their home willingly, cooking us breakfast, providing us with a place to sleep, and just showing us all around hospitality.
I walked into the community center where the service was being held, I found myself acting very introverted. I knew no one in this unfamiliar place. I looked around and tried to take in all that I saw. Eventually, I was saved because my uncle and cousin showed up. At the same time, my aunt and uncle from Williamsburg showed up who have been such an incredible support to me and my brother over the last few years.
As I listened to my cousin, his wife, and my uncle share about my aunt, I was struck by their stories. I watched the slideshow of pictures of my aunt and realized that, while I didn’t know her as well as they did, I did know her fairly well. The pictures that they painted with their words were of a gracious, humble, sweet, loving, gentle, and hospitable woman. It had been a long time since I had spent time with her and my uncle. Over the last few years, dementia had overtaken her and it was painful to hear my cousin talk about what had become of her. Yet all the time, my uncle had stood by her side, upholding his marriage vows, and loving her with a Christ-like love. What a testimony.
As I sat there, a thought popped into my head. For those of us with families whom we love, it seems that God gives us family to give us a taste of heaven. My mind was filled with memories of gatherings when we enjoyed one another’s company and I couldn’t help but wonder about the glorious reunion of all of those we have loved when we are finally gathered together without pain, tears, or death.
I did the obligatory mingling at the reception after the service, but my head was somewhere else. When I finally left, I drove home feeling numb. I was glad to have shed some tears at the service. It had been such a long time since I had cried that I was beginning to wonder whether or not I was even capable any longer. To be honest, I think losing Mom took most of the tears out of me and I haven’t had a whole lot of them since.
Ultimately, I think the place I finally landed was a place of gratitude. I found myself grateful for the family that God has blessed me with. I found myself grateful for the family that I married into as well. Family has always been important to me, but I still need reminders, especially on those occasions when you face challenges. I have a friend who says that friends are the family that you can choose, and I completely agree, but it’s really nice when you have family that you would have chosen to have as friends as well.
When it all came down, I smiled to myself as I thought about my aunt and Mom and Dad hanging out together. As my cousin reminded us during the service, hope that is seen is no hope at all, as the Apostle Paul said. I appreciated his candidness as he echoed Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 13 about faith, hope, and love. He said he didn’t have a great faith (which was admirable for me coming from another pastor) and that he didn’t love very well either, but he could hope very well. It’s into hopeless situations that hope comes. A reminder of this Advent season and a reminder, even more so, of the coming arrival of Jesus again some day.
Until that day, I like my cousin will hope too!