Rom 12:15 NIV - Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.
I met Dorothy on two separate occasions that I recall; once at her home when I stopped in with her son Paul, one of my very best friends, to help move or pick up a piece of furniture; and at least once at Paul’s house when one of his girls had a birthday party. While I don’t remember spending time in substantive discourse with her, I remember having this distinct impression: she is a woman of real strength. To me she carried herself in a way that was covertly resolute and self-evidently confident, as if she had a concealed weapon yet everyone knew it. Over the past few days I was honored to learn even more about her character and her life while looking through the windows of the past with family and friends. Dorothy was promoted to heaven last Wednesday. She was about a month shy of her 82nd birthday.
The common term for a “wake” around here, at least in non-catholic circles, is “visitation.” I find both terms a bit odd in light of the circumstance. The most conventional interpretation of “wake” is that it means to “watch” or “stand guard.” Some also believe it is to watch to see if the loved one will “awaken” or “wake up.” These days we most often refer to it as a “visitation” because we visit with family members to offer our comfort and support. It was obvious when I walked into the funeral home for a visit Sunday afternoon that Dorothy had touched many lives. She has touched mine deeply through her son Paul. The incredible man he has become is testimony to the deposits she made in his life. They have born the fruit of Righteousness in him, and his siblings. They are her vines pollinated from her vineyard of virtue.
As we sat and watched a slideshow tribute, Paul turned to me and asked, “Did I ever tell you about when she got saved?” “No, I don’t think so.” Dorothy’s father had abandoned his family several years earlier and left his wife to raise seven girls all by her self in the backwoods of Louisiana. A certain neighborhood lady would stop by his grandmother’s house each week and invite their family to church. Each time the lady left the home empty-handed. Finally, Dorothy’s mom told her daughters that she was getting embarrassed that none of her girls would go to church.
Dorothy decided to take one for the team and volunteered. That was the night she heard the gospel for the very first time and got saved. Paul could hardly finish the story as he broke down somewhere between grief and joy. I told him it reminded me of the scripture when Jesus said, “You did not choose me but I chose you…” (John 15:16) In an interesting quirky divine appointment years later in Fort Worth, Texas, this same woman who took Paul’s mother to church, would also become Paul’s Sunday-school teacher. This was the visitation of Jesus through a persistent lady who lived “Love thy neighbor.”
As I drove home from the visitation, the Lord reminded me of His encounter with Mary and Martha at Lazarus’ FIRST death (John 11: 17-37). Martha had faith. Mary had grief. Jesus responded to both. Martha said she knew that “even now God will give you whatever you ask.” Mary just fell at his feet and sobbed. Scripture says Jesus was deeply moved and wept. In the moment, he responded to Mary’s grief, and in the end He responded to Martha’s faith. I am always challenged on how to respond to someone’s grief. My first inclination is to throw my arms around them and just weep with them and I’m pretty sure that is okay with most folks. I usually follow it with a prayer and then sit in awkward disposition feeling helpless and human, and thankful I don’t have to be God.
The experience also reminded of a movie I once saw called Guarding Tess. Doug (Nicolas Cage) is a Secret Service Agent in charge of the detail assigned to protect Tess Carlisle (Shirley MacLaine), widow of a former U.S. President, and close personal friend of the current President. Doug has just completed his rotation when he finds that she has requested he be assigned to her permanently. Doug is crushed. He desperately wants off of her detail because she is very difficult to guard and makes her detail crazy with her whimsical demands. Then one day it all comes to a head and she breaks down and reveals why she’s requested him. She pulls out a video of her husband’s funeral and there is Doug in the pew weeping and sobbing. Such great love. Such great loss. In the moment Tess knew Doug was genuine and she could trust her life to him.
I sense God wants us to be “in the moment” as well as eternal – Resurrection AND Life. He wants us to help resurrect a broken heart, and breathe life into a crushed spirit. Come along side, come as you are, and just be real. Words may fail, but love never does. We need to have the faith of Martha that no matter what, as long as Jesus is in the equation, everything will be okay. And we need to have the honesty of Mary to bear bitter tears and weep openly to mourn with those that mourn. In their moment of need, people need to know that they can trust their life, their emotions, and even their sins to us. In short, people need to know they can be naked in a safe place without ridicule or breach. THAT is the Kingdom of God. THAT is loving one another.
I love you Paul. You are a great man. I see in part where you got it.