Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!
A dear family friend died a few years ago.
Knowing how beloved she was in the community, we guessed the memorial service would be packed.
We arrived at the large Lutheran church long before the service began, but the main sanctuary was already full. We opted for the balcony instead of the extra seating provided in a side room. The balcony offered a panoramic view of the scene below. Above us, the cathedral ceiling soared to breathy heights.
The organist and pianist played our friend’s favorite hymns in magnificent tandem. The pastor was appropriately genial and compassionate. Flowers overflowed the altar next to the urn containing the remains of the beloved wife, mother, aunt, and friend. A smiling portrait sat beside the urn.
But I couldn’t take my eyes off the mourners. At the invitation, friends and family members stood one by one and gave touching remembrances of the woman they loved. They were sad, of course, in losing this dear lady. Something else, though, infused the air, a breathy golden lightness flowing from the faces and the words and the smiles and the tears. I suddenly knew what it was:
This amazing woman faced death with the same smile with which she faced life. She lived her last days as she lived her life, simply and thoroughly soaked in the presence of her God. She enjoyed every day she was given to its fullest. And she trusted God for the rest.
After the service we stopped at the local DIY’er supply store to pick up some insulation for my husband’s shop. While my husband found his supplies, I drifted the aisles preoccupied, still mulling over the sights and sounds of the memorial service.
I was lost in these thoughts in the cabinet aisle when we ran into another acquaintance of ours, a woman who had recently lost her husband. Her pain was fresh, the emotions raw. The three of us talked for what seemed like forever. Though I’ve never suffered her loss, I knew the look of desperation that lined her face and quivered in her voice.
The eternal always lurks just below the waterline of our lives.
Having endured my own desperate days, I understand the pain. But as I sit here this morning, as dawn threatens to chase away the dreary night once again, my mind wanders back to the flowered altar and the joyful portrait of a lovely woman who now beholds the face of her Lord. I yearn to live, like her, smiling at the future.
May God continue to remind us that death has been cheated, that we do not mourn as those who have no hope, and that joy is possible – even expected – for us.
Joy really is a choice, after all. We can dwell on our pain, or we can dance in the rain. For this moment, for today, through the power of the Spirit of Life, I want to be different.
Lord, teach me to smile.