Saturday, August 13, 2016

A Voice of Cheer

Writing is a very personal, exposing of one's soul.  At least that's the case with writing that moves us to action.  And because writing tends to leave the writer feeling vulnerable, I find it difficult to record  some things until the raw edges have healed a bit.

That's why I've waited until now to post about a recent funeral.  Many people look at my life and suppose that the joke I once heard is true.  "Preachers and their wives are for marryin' and buryin' and baptizin'.  Beyond that, there ain't much to 'em."

(Yes, someone did express that opinion to me when I was young in ministry.  Fortunately, Frank and I now serve a congregation filled with people who are much more thoughtful and observant.)

It's true that we're privileged to be right in the middle of all sorts of joy.

We have a front row seat to the tender look in a groom's eyes as he pledges his forever love to his bride.  We usually have the privilege of holding newborn congregants within hours of their arrival on this earth. We sense the utter joy of new converts being baptized.  And the freedom that comes when someone prays to make Christ Lord of their life.

These times are like the jet fuel that keeps us moving at the pace necessary for our life-style. Frank and I always feel so honored to be invited in to those intimate life moments with others.  It's truly a privilege we respect and appreciate.

But there are also the sorrowing times of people's lives when all we can offer is a shoulder to lean on and a strong hug reassuring them of our love for them and that God has not forgotten them.  We often walk back to our car, after sharing in sorrow moments, close the door and weep.  We genuinely love the people we serve and their pain becomes our own.

That's how it was for me when we got the call saying Jasmyne was in the hospital and not doing well.  Just 31, Jasmyne had been extremely ill for over a year.  A car accident eleven years earlier nearly took her life but Jasmyne made a valiant come back after three weeks in a coma.  And went on to become a phlebotomist in our local hospital.

Unfortunately, the trauma took a real toll on her body.  At 30, she went back into the hospital with pneumonia and just never recovered.  But she maintained her positive outlook and her fierce love for family and friends.  An email.  A text.  A phone call.  A message on Facebook.  Jasmyne was always reaching out to encourage; always acting as a voice of cheer.

Frank went to the hospital as soon as we got the call on Friday.  I went up Saturday morning and quickly realized Jasmyne wouldn't be with us much longer.  The stroke left her unable to talk or even open her eyes but she let me know by raising and lower her eyebrows, she heard me.  Later that afternoon, Jasmyne slipped into the waiting arms of her Savior.  I closed my door and wept.

She had only been a member of our congregation for a couple of years.  And she wasn't able to attend at all for the second year.  But she stayed engaged through our online services; generously expressing her appreciation for every point of contact.

The funeral was incredibly moving.  Not just because she was so young.  And not just because her life had been such a struggle.  But because of the broad spectrum of people Jasmyne had touched.

See, Jasmyne was African-American.  And this is the deep south were racial prejudice is supposed to have clearly delineated boundaries which keep people separated.  But Jasmyne just didn't acknowledge those boundaries and we all discovered the depth of her beauty at her funeral.

Frank was very honored to be asked by her family to bring the eulogy.  The team from our church provided and served the lunch for all the family.  Our skin color made us stand out a bit among the richness of Jasmyne's family and 300 closest friends.  But no one that day was concerned with color or culture or even protocol - we had all gathered to celebrate the short life that had touched us in long-lasting ways.

Each person there had a story to tell of how this young lady had impacted them; challenged them; encouraged them.

"Jasmyne is the reason my boys are respectful and on the right track today," told one.

"She encouraged me to get my degree," expressed another.

"That sweet girl had a smile and a hug for me each time I saw her," shared her grandmother.

"Jasmyne was always the same friend with everyone," said a high school classmate.

"Jasmyne told me about Jesus.  Now I know I'll see her again," testified a cousin.

When her uncle stood to introduce Frank, he asked a simple question.  "I'd like to know where all the media is today?  All the ones saying that we can't love one another and care about people who look different from us. Look around you today.  Listen to the words that have been spoken.  Shouldn't they be here to report on this?"  His piercing, dark eyes reached to every corner of the packed auditorium.  Loud "Amens!" rang out all around me.

And he was right.  There were no divisions of color or age or gender there.  Jasmyne's love for everyone covered each soul equally and that was the blanket comforting all our grieving hearts.

I, too, look forward to embracing Jasmyne again when I exchange my earthly address for a heavenly one.  What a day that will be!

But until that time, I hope my life will more closely reflect the influence she had on me.  I'm praying to live in such a way that my own funeral will be a blending of so many different hues and ages and backgrounds that you won't be able to tell where one group ends and another begins.

It's unlikely that the media will report on my passing either. But I do hope there will be some who can testify that my life encouraged, challenged, or impacted them in a profound way for good things.  We each matter on this journey; there is someone who needs your smile and touch.  May I encourage you to pick up the torch Jasmyne laid down?

Decide to be the voice of cheer for another today.  You'll be ever so glad you did.



  










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