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Sunday, September 18, 2005

Jesus Wept

John 11:35. The shortest verse in the Bible. To recap, Lazarus has died, and his sister has come to Jesus, distraught and mourning. Jesus already knows at this point that He is about to raise Lazarus from the dead. He already knows it's going to be a happy ending, yet instead of telling her to just wait and see, it's all going to be alright in just a minute...he weeps. I've heard dozens of sermons and Bible lessons on that verse, and I've heard all the standard explanations. They've always made sense, but I never really got it until today....

All last week I was in LA at PDC (more impressions from it later this week). Friday afternoon, just as I was boarding a plane to come home, I noticed that I had a voice mail message. That was annoying, but it wasn't too unusual, since I often wind up with voice mail because I couldn't hear my phone ringing nor feel it vibrating. I quickly checked it, and heard my mother's voice say, "Call me when you get a chance. It's about Paw Paw." After all the times my grandparents have been in the hospital, often seriously ill, and my parents hadn't told me about it until days later, I knew immediately.

So as soon as I got home Friday night, Heather Marie and I rushed around washing and repacking the clothes we would need for the trip. We made it down to Sheridan just in time to go to the visitation at the funeral home, where I was able to meet with some of my family members whom I haven't seen in several years.

All in all, the visits with my family were fairly pleasant, all things considered. We really ought to find some good reasons to gather once in a while. I guess with all the grandkids married, we'll just need to make up a reason. There's something comforting about being with your family. You look around, and you see people who share your eyes or your toes or your chin or your ears. It's like looking in dozens of fractured mirrors that only reflect a portion of who you are, and catching a glimpse of how all those things came together to create you.

All through Friday and Saturday and up to now, even including the service this afternoon, I still haven't cried for Paw Paw, even though the only grandfather I had left is now gone. Honestly, I'm not sure if I ever will. Looking around his little country church at his four children, nine grandchildren, eighteen great grandchildren, and one great-great grandchild, not to mention all of the friends and church members whose lives he'd touched, I could see only the evidence of a life well-lived. He fought the good fight, he finished his race, and he kept the faith. I could see no cause for tears of sadness. I have no doubt that he's with Jesus, waiting for all of us to join him someday, when our races are done. I'll miss him, but only in the way that you miss a friend who's gone for a while, but whom you know you will see again.

When my grandmother looked down in the casket, though, and sobbed her final good-byes, my heart broke. She'd just lost her best friend of sixty-five years. My heart aches for her and her pain. Jesus wept.

When I sat in the pew with my cousins and fellow pallbearers, watching our parents grieve for their daddy, I heard even my tough, stoic cousins sniffling, and my eyes teared up. We understand their particular pain because we know that someday it will be ours, and our hearts hurt for them. Jesus wept.

When I stood at the graveside and listened to Taps being played as the honor guard folded his flag and presented it to my grandmother, I thought about what it had meant for him to go fight in Europe. How all the wonderful things his life had been since 1945 could have been forfeit, and how that was a chance he and thousands of others were willing to take. I felt a tear roll down my cheek not for him, but for all the families who didn't get sixty more years of their Paw Paw, and for all the brave young men who never got to bounce fat grandbabies on their knees like he did. Jesus wept.

When we got back to their house after the service, and I saw Paw Paw's little dog, Trixie, who sat beside him in his big easy chair everyday for the past five years, turning toward the door expectantly everytime someone came in, then looking disappointed when it wasn't her favorite person in the world, my heart broke for her. She knows something is wrong, and she misses him, but she doesn't know yet that he's not coming back from the garden this time, and that she'll never sit and watch TV with him again this side of Heaven. Jesus wept.

Now I get it. Even though Jesus knew, as I do, that everything is going to be ok in the end, He knew that doesn't stop it from hurting right now. And He wept. Now I get it.

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There are people in your life who give you strength just because you know they believe in you. Even though my grandfather and I weren't as close as either of us would have liked, he was one of those people for me. There was never any question that we loved eachother, and I never doubted that he was proud of me and believed in me. I know he felt the same way about all of my cousins, too, and their children as well. I feel that connection even more keenly now, and I'm grateful for it. He's joined my Grandmother and Grandfather Northum, my Great Aunt Naida, and my Granny Warren, along with others I probably don't even realize, in what I suppose I think of as my Heavenly Cheering Section. I'll do my best to be worthy of their applause.

Looking around at my family today, though, I'm reminded of Heather Marie's eulogy for her own grandfather several years ago. Paw Paw's really not gone at all. Parts of him, physical and spiritual, are visible in very real ways all throughout the enormous and expanding family that he left behind, and we're all the better for it.

I love you, Paw Paw.

James Edward Wells, Dec 1, 1920 - Sep 15, 2005


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