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Posts Tagged ‘celebration of life’

Today my husband and I went to a memorial service for someone we knew from our rabid church going days. It was a beautiful Celebration of Life that brought people back together.

We first started attending the church when it was a mere store-front funded by a cult out of Arizona. I had my doubts about the church and some of the rhetoric spouted from the pulpit, but we also found community and began to make some life-long friendships. The church split from the cult and moved to a new location, inside an actual church building that we began to remodel. The split proved a boon to our charismatic pastor and we were soon overflowing that building and on the hunt for an even larger, more modern, church facility. Every move seemed to be rife with church “splits”, some ugly and some just because the new place was no longer accessible and some because people simply disagreed with the direction the church was headed. We stayed with the church for 12, maybe 15 years.

The woman who recently died started attending the church during the first move, or perhaps right after we moved into the bigger building. She was single and raising a young son. She gave her heart and time and energy to the church (as we did in those days). She left around the same time my husband got tired of the endless hours of volunteering.

The charismatic pastor moved us into yet another building – this one was new, the fulfillment of years of church building funds. Then he moved away and the reins went to the associate pastor. My own history of the church is tied more closely to the associate pastor as his wife and I became close friends. I remain friends with the associate pastor and the members of the “new” church (now disassociated from the charismatic church), but I do not bother to make the long drive to services and so have only an honorary membership. Somewhere in there, there was yet another church split, with one group of our friends following one associate pastor and another group following the other.

Meanwhile, A. was battling cancer and struggling to finish raise her young son while remaining faithful to the God she believed in. I saw her about four years ago when I was blessed to have a little free time to pick her up from a chemo treatment and take her home. I wish I could have done more for her. I feel like it was a stolen moment and did little to help her through the realization that the cancer was back and it was more aggressive than before. I watched her decline on social media, read her posts of her losses and victories, celebrated when her son won visitation with his son and she was able to enjoy being a grandmother on weekends. She posted that the doctors gave her one month to live, but she didn’t believe them.

She lived a year longer than they predicted, passing away quietly just before Easter. She was too young.

The service was held at a church we have never been to, one of the last spin-offs from the original church. Many of the people there were people we have known through all of the church changes. Some, like us, remain “unchurched” and happy to have our weekends free for family. One confessed he only attends on Friday nights, and he is so thrilled to have time for his family on weekends. Others remain entrenched in the role of volunteer, happily giving of their hearts and lives. We have all grown older, children have left home and married, and some of us have grandchildren.

I can’t help it that I have the most grandchildren.

I spent the greater part of the reception of A.’s memorial service getting caught up with the lives of so many people. Leaving, I was invited several times to a women’s conference at the original church next Friday. I hugged and was hugged by some of the world’s greatest huggers.

It has taken me most of the day to process this memorial service that turned into a sort of reunion. Initially, I felt drained. I felt sorrow for the things we have “lost”: A., the relationships that are now spread far and wide, the precious moments as our lives changed and adapted. I wondered about the many “splits” and mourned the “glory days” – and then God spoke to me.

“Dispersed” was the actual word that came into my heart. Dispersed, as in scattered like seeds. Dispersed, in order that we might reach out and help more people by virtue of being free to move further away. Some of us were sent to other ministries to continue in our calling. Some of us were put out to rest, servants who either needed a break or who had done what God called them to do in that place. God allowed us to reunite, briefly. Maybe He wanted us to have a feel for what it will be like when we finally reunite with A. Maybe, we needed to answer questions about each other (“are they doing OK? Is she happy? How does he like the role of Grandfather?”).

The ceremony was to be an honoring of this one woman’s life and the people whose lives she touched, in turn. She managed, in death, to reunite many people who, for one reason or another, went down another path. I don’t think any of us ever left our love for God behind, but some of us left our love for church behind. A. never lost either her love for God or her love for church.

One person I spoke to remembered A.’s love for an Easter play we held every year at our former church, “Blood Bought”. He remarked how he noted her death came on the eve of the day when the play (had it continued into this decade) would have begun. How the memorial service today happened to fall on the day when the play’s cast would have their final dinner together to celebrate the success of the play and to plan for the following year’s action. He felt it fitting that the one thing he could most remember her for – her love of that play and her involvement in it from start to finish every year that it ran – “just happened” to be when she chose to leave this life to go to that one.

The memorial brought together people who moved to Texas to follow our original pastor, people who stayed with the associate pastor, and people who followed the other associate pastor. It brought back people who left organized church altogether and people who moved to unrelated churches. Several women I spoke to were planning on attending a women’s conference at the original church next Friday – and I was invited more than once.

I may have to go next Friday. I am curious now to hear what it is that God is doing, and to perhaps see if there is yet another chapter in my life about to open that I haven’t even considered. It was certainly a mixed service and I wonder how much planning God put into it when He called A. home.

“Come Home, A. I have plans for what happens in the wake of your passing from that realm to this. Come sit by my side and watch what happens to people you touched in your brief stay on earth. You won’t believe what I am going to do.”

 

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