You think that the moment will be seared into your brain forever.
And then you start to forget.
For me, death became a reality for the first time when my uncle passed away suddenly.
It’s hard for me to even remember things about him now, but this favored uncle that lived right across the street was bigger than life. I was a young girl (only 13 when he died), and small for my age–his tall, lanky frame looming over me. As it turned out, he had a big heart in more ways than one. His enlarged heart failed him when he was only 34 years old. I was heart-broken and didn’t understand, but many of the songs that he would sing with his quartet were of heaven, and they played over and over in my mind–and I was reminded of the truth they conveyed: This is not the end.
Do you see the inscription at the bottom? “I’ll have a new life”. He didn’t just sing songs about heaven, he chose to believe that there was something beyond the grave!
Thirteen years before, my parents tragically had to bury their second child, a 8 month old little girl. Every memorial weekend we would go visit her little grave, but it wasn’t until I was a young mother myself that I was able to grasp the life-changing grief that these very young parents had experienced.
Because there were very rarely any conversations about her, I didn’t process the impact of her death until I was much older. I was standing at the grave of a sister I never knew, and I realized that it was a very real possibility that I would not have been born if she had not died. It was a sobering thought. She died and I lived–and that’s why my Mom had always called me her “sanity child”. My sweet mother was only 20 years old when I was born almost 10 months to the day later.
And I remember.
I remember that even though death is a part of life,
…it changes you.
It can break you and alter you in a way nothing else can. The pain and the devastation of losing a loved one changes the course of your life and how we respond to it can impact generations. Where, then, do you find hope and healing? Only in recognizing the Giver of life and continuing to trust Him even when we don’t understand. Believing in Jesus and His gift of eternal life is our only hope. Hope cannot be found in anything that we do—it is in what Jesus did. He came to show us how to live and then He willingly gave His life as a sacrifice to pay the debt we owed for sin. A debt we could never pay. He died so that we can live and His resurrection proves that He has power over sin and death and hell.
And it proves that this is not the end.
God in heaven loves. Even when our human emotions take over, and we feel like blaming Him, He offers hope. He understands and He even forgives our grief-ridden doubt. He doesn’t just give the hope of eternity for the dying, He gives the grief-stricken hope for a life worth living.
Almost four years ago now, as I watched my sweet father-in-law graciously surrender his last breaths, I thought my heart would never stop hurting. But it did.
Because I am changed.
I am changed because I have hope. I watched as this follower of Jesus died, and I’m changed because this man, who loved and served Him, slipped into eternity peacefully with confidence in where he was going. The sweet memories of him are still painful at times, but more often than not, joy comes–from the memories we have–and the promise that we will see him again!
Every day is Memorial Day for those that have lost loved ones. We never forget.
I know that this is a national holiday recognizing those who sacrificed their lives in service to our country, and I’m grateful. Both my father and father-in-law served in our nation’s military. They didn’t have to pay the ultimate price, but I’m sure they knew some who did–and they could never forget. They know, and I am reminded, that I am blessed with freedom that isn’t free. We owe it to them to remember. To never forget.
We must also never forget the price that was paid on the cross. Our spiritual freedom came from a battle that was won over 2,000 years ago. That cross, that many wear as an ornament on their neck, is the dog tag of Christians. It defines us. It sets us apart from a religion that says “Do this, and God will love you”. Our identity is in what God has already done for us:
“But God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us!” [Romans 5:8]