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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 62 years of living.  I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh.  I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me.  Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying.  I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Vaya con Dios, Zoe

On April 2, 2010, our precious granddaughter, Zoe Arianny Villon, passed from this life at the tender age of 5 months.  In her brief time with us, she had been burdened with some serious health problems, the worst of which was Cri du Chat syndrome.  I performed the funeral service, simply the most difficult thing I have ever done as a minister. 

In the months since, I have come to know many who also lost children.  We have shared the pain of loss and the tears of healing.  I offer this, the funeral sermon I prepared and delivered that day, as an offering of healing peace and solace to those are similarly suffering.

During the past few days as each of us considered the tragic and untimely death of baby Zoe, our hearts have been full of questions – chief amongst them being the simplest one, “Why?” Even if we knew the answers to those questions, there still would be no adequate explanation for this loss. Our hearts are grieved beyond measure.

We are not here today to answer those questions, even if we could. Rather, we are here to mourn and to commend the spirit of Zoe into God’s loving embrace. And also to ask God to help us heal.

Those of us who tend gardens are familiar with the occasional rose that may bud but never bloom. The flower isn’t any different than the others, but for some reason we can never fathom, rather than bursting forth in beauty and color, it simply fades away.

In the garden that is humanity, this also happens. A baby comes into the world, full of life and beauty, but never unfolds into the life that was supposed to be. We mourn those times, but at the same time we know that the baby’s soul has been gathered back into the arms of Jesus, where love, joy, justice, and perfection awaits.

Today, we mourn the loss of a child. We weep, just as Jesus wept. And yet, I have seen already the work of God’s healing spirit. In one of our many conversations, Nikki said to me of Zoe’s passing, “Jesus came in the middle of the night when she was at peace and took her home.” It was the most courageous, most faithful statement I have ever heard.

Tonight, we have gathered, unified by our burden of grief. We are told by Jesus Christ in our times of sadness to…

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden,
and I will give your rest.
Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me;
for I am gentle and lowly in heart,
and you will find rest for your souls.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

I go to prepare a place for you.
I will come again and receive you unto myself;
that where I am, there ye may be also.
I am the way, the truth, and the life.
Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you;
let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”

In the scriptures, God promises us that there will come a time when there is a new heaven and a new earth – a time when we will be reunited with all those who have been lost to us.

But this is not yet that time.

For now, Heaven and earth remain separated. The joy of eternal life will be experienced only after our time here is done. And when our loved ones depart this life for the next, we must be patient and faithful as we wait for that time when we will be reunited.

Grief is a journey; a difficult, yet cathartic path strewn with rocks and potholes. Yet, this is the path we must choose to walk. For only upon completion of this journey can healing take place.

Today, there are no words that will ease our pain, or assuage our grief. We can express our sympathy and sorrow. We can offer words of love, care, and concern. We can promise to pray for each other. But the best thing we can do is to walk this path with Danny and Nikki, always letting them know that they do not walk alone. Sometimes, the most powerful form of ministry is simply the silent and supportive presence.

It is important for all of us to know that in the midst of this pain and sorrow, God is with us.

One of my favorite poems is called “Footprints.” It is one, I’m sure, is familiar to you.

“One night, I dreamed a dream.
I was walking along the beach with my Lord.
Across the dark sky flashed scenes from my life.
For each scene, I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand,
One belonging to me, and one to my Lord.

At one point, I looked back at the path I had walked.
I realized that during the lowest and saddest times of my life,
There was but one set of footprints.

Angrily, I asked the Lord:

“You promised when I decided to follow you
That you would walk with me all the way.

Yet, as I look back, I see that
during the most troublesome times of my life,
There was only one set of footprints.
Why is it that at those times
When I needed you the most, you left me?”

He whispered,
“My precious child,
I love you and have never left you.
My promise to you I have kept.
During your trials and testings,
when you saw only one set of footprints,
You were never alone.
It was then that I carried you.”

Danny and Nikki, God understands your pain. Today he holds his arms out to you. Today and in the difficult days to come, he will carry you. Open your hearts to him; fall into his embrace. And there in the comfort of his unending love, he will grant you peace, and the strength to endure your journey of grief. Remember that it was Jesus who said,

“Blessed are those who mourn
For they shall be comforted.”

Today, there is a new angel in heaven, one whose loving and joyful spirit lights the heavens. The stars will shine a bit brighter, even as her eyes and her smile brightened our days. We will always carry that light within us, till the day we are with her once again.

Pastoral Blessing

Brothers and Sisters,
May the Lord be with you;
The Lord bless you and keep you;
The Lord make his face to shine upon you,
And be gracious unto you.

With the healing love of God in your hearts,
And walking always within the loving embrace of His Son, Jesus Christ,

I bid you

Go with God;
Go in Peace.
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