Of funerals and letting go

CSLewisQuote_purpleI went to two funerals yesterday, and I’m working on a third (my own).

The first one was through the pages of a book – the true story of a little girl whose family loved her very much. A tragic accident cut short her very full and vibrant 5-year-old existence.

The second one was in the church where I grew up – the true story of a good man who lived long and prospered. He was 86, and I grew up with his sons.

The third one … well, we’ll get to that. First I want to talk about Maria Sue Chapman and Roy Glenn Provence and the marks they made on the world.

ChoosingToSee_coverIn the book I was reading yesterday morning, written by Maria’s mom, Mary Beth Chapman (wife of contemporary Christian singer Steven Curtis Chapman), we get to know Maria as a giggly, silly, princess of a girl who loved to laugh and dance, climb the monkey bars, swing, and play with her big brother Will. Her mom paints a full picture of Maria, from the moment Steven laid eyes on her in China to the day they said goodbye to her five years later.

Excerpts from Maria’s funeral, as well as the hours and days immediately after the accident, show that the Chapman family and friends – while grieving – believed God to be sovereign, loving and full of grace, mercy and hope.

Even in the midst of wondering why the accident had to happen, the family’s aim was to honor their sweet girl and bring glory to God through her death, by witnessing to the fact of His goodness and our need to turn to Jesus as Savior.

In the middle of my grieving with the Chapman family, I had to put the book down to get ready for another funeral. (Click here to read my review of the book on my other blog.)

Fast forward a couple of hours to Pleasant Valley Missionary Baptist Church.

RoyProvence
Roy Glenn Provence, 1929-2016

Roy Provence, by all accounts, lived a full and prosperous life.

Was he rich? Not in worldly possessions. He certainly made a decent living and provided for his family, but his real riches were evidenced by his loving wife, children and extended family, a boatload of friends and the mark he made on the world by serving the Lord through his church and his daily life. All you had to do was look around the sanctuary yesterday to see the impact he had on all of us.

Roy’s son Keith, the youngest, was my high school classmate. The night before Roy died, he asked Keith to sing at the funeral.

And Keith, while grieving, stood at the front of the sanctuary, guitar in hand, and carried out one of his dad’s final requests:

Farther along we’ll know more about it,
Farther along we’ll understand why.
Cheer up, my brother, live in the sunshine,
We’ll understand it all by and by.

Roy knew Jesus, and he led his family to know and serve Jesus, too. God’s presence was evident in that place yesterday, for we know – as Roy’s oldest son, Ron, preached – that Roy was with Jesus and that Jesus was among us.

We grieve for Roy, we hurt for his family, but we are not without hope.

“And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13).

In Jesus, we have hope. We have peace, mercy and joy, even as we grieve the loss of a beloved one.

We know that Roy is in a better place. No more pain, sorrow or suffering. He is rejoicing with Jesus!

We miss Roy, but – if the Provences are anything like my family after we lost my dad, and I know they are – we wouldn’t ask for him back for a second. For we are the ones who see only this side of heaven. Roy has crossed over into the arms of his Savior. There is no better place to be, my friends.

So … I bet you were curious about the third thing.

My own funeral – the true story of a recovering perfectionist.

Perfectionist tendencies don’t die easily. I tend to struggle, strive, question, beat myself up, beat others up (unfortunately) and generally plow through life on my own power.

Trouble is, my own power doesn’t get me very far. It doesn’t help me to be very gracious or loving – to me, to others, to my Savior. It means I design my life according to my own plans and schemes.

Pitiful, eh?

So I need help.

The summer I graduated from college, I spent a bit of time with my Uncle Bill in Yuma, Ariz. He gave me a book that I’ve come to consider the best daily devotional book I’ve ever read: My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers. (I’ve found so much wisdom – and conviction – in the pages of this little book that I’ve given it to several people as gifts over the years.)

The Jan. 15 reading (coincidentally, my friend Keith’s birthday) talks about a “white funeral.”

“There must be a ‘white funeral,’ a death with only one resurrection – a resurrection into the life of Jesus Christ. Nothing can defeat a life like this. It has oneness with God for only one purpose – to be a witness for Him.”

I’ve spent a good amount of time striving. For the past few years, I’ve struggled, questioned, researched, agonized, fretted and strategized over how I could serve the Lord and be a witness to Him through my writing, my career and my everyday life.

My writing serves a twofold purpose: 1) to help bring extra income to my family (and by extra I mean eliminate the paycheck-to-paycheck existence) while allowing us to bless others with our abundance, and 2) to be a witness to my Savior’s goodness, kindness and mercy.

Most of my striving in this area has been figuring out a way to make both of those goals mesh: to tell stories authentically, to be honest and transparent about my life (the good and the bad) and to draw people in without coming across as greedy and selfish (because of the ways I might earn money through blogging: sponsored posts, affiliate links and the like).

Bottom line: If I had to choose one, it would be Jesus.

My relationship with Him makes everything else possible. If I didn’t have Him, I would have no hope, no joy, no peace.

And probably no friends. (Maybe my dogs. Maybe.)

While my outward life may not always look like the picture of Jesus’ love and mercy, He is there with me. He goes ahead of me, behind me and beside me. Sometimes He carries me on His back. (He certainly carried the burden of my sin on the Cross.) Jesus has saved me from myself more times than I can count.

And while you may not be able to tell it, my No. 1 goal is to bring others to know Him, too, despite my foibles and fumbles, my feeble attempts to be like Him.

“There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12, NLT).

There is no other name under heaven that deserves honor and glory except the name of Jesus. I know this to be true.

So I strive, I strain, I struggle, I plot and I plan.

And all of it is in vain.

For, as Oswald Chambers says, “Death means you stop being. You must agree with God and stop being the intensely striving kind of Christian you have been. We avoid the cemetery and continually refuse our own death. It will not happen by striving, but by yielding to death. It is dying – being ‘baptized into His death’ (Romans 6:3).”

As Mary Beth Chapman discovered – after Rambo-ing through most of her life – God is good, He has a plan, and His plans are not always the same as our plans:

“Real success in the kingdom of God is not about being strong and looking good and knowing all the right answers. It’s about continually yielding oneself to Jesus and determining to take purposeful little steps of obedience, and the ragged reality that it’s all about God and His grace at work in us.”

These people – Maria Sue Chapman and her family, Roy Provence and his family – have all witnessed to me of the grace, mercy and love of Jesus.

As King David cried out to God for rescue from physical foes, I cry out to Him for rescue from my own enemies of perfectionism, weak faith, reliance on self … of the times I’ve failed to be a witness to His goodness and faithfulness.

Psalm61.3purpleI’m having a white funeral. My death to self won’t be an easy one, but don’t worry: The God of Israel will be my rear guard.

What about you? Do you need to have a white funeral?

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