I sit on the well-worn couch in the back of the room and smooth my black skirt. Other visitors shuffle in with long faces and moist eyes focused on the floor. In the front of the room a 32-year-old man lies in a wooden box. He died in his bed as the consequence of hard living.
Two years ago I sat on a different couch in a different room with the same sorrowful faces. Another young man in the same family died in his bed, the consequence of hard living.
I look around the faces at the funeral home; I am a stranger to most of them. I see grandmothers, great aunts, children, nieces, and nephews. But the ones who capture my attention are the same age as the man in the box, the same age as me. They are young men and women grief-stricken by the loss of their friend, racked by the reality that he is gone.
Nine months ago, the man in the casket was in my living room. He had questions about Jesus and life.
Was Jesus who he said he was? How could an all powerful God die in such a degrading way? How could he allow His son to be beaten and hung on a tree?
My husband opened his Bible. He reasoned with him. They spoke openly of fears and failures and my man explained grace and mercy and love.
Our guest couldn’t grasp it.
God chose suffering. Love didn’t just live, it was willing to die. Grace is a gift, unearned and unmerited. He left our house that night having heard. I don’t know if he ever understood.
After the service a young man in the family approaches my husband, “We have to stop meeting this way.”
My husband nods as he continues, “And as sad as it is, this could happen again next week.”
How true, I think as I scan the room. How true.
My heart breaks for people I barely know because their pain is just beginning. Generations of ripples will be left in this wake and I feel powerless. I want to stand in the middle of them and scream, “It doesn’t have to be this way! This doesn’t have to be your story! There is a God and He is good. Knowing Him and living in Him is better than any pill or any drink or any concoction you can make on your stove.”
But I don’t scream.
Because judgement is all they will hear. What they need is grace.
Instead, I sit quietly, speak softly, hug the great aunts. I echo their sorrow and agree it’s a shame, a waste.
I drop to eye level with the wee ones. They’ve grown in two years and I ask them about school and their plans for the summer and what grade they’ll be in next year. I mirror their smiles and return their hugs. All the while I’m wondering what they understand. How many of their childhood memories will be filled with young men lying in caskets?
Will they just accept this as part of life — some young men die in their beds?
To most of them I’m only the lady in the black suit who leaves with the preacher.
How do our stories fit together?
I don’t have the answer but I know the One who does. I’m asking Him to knit our stories together — to heal them and to break me. I’m asking Him to change the face of this family and heal their wounds and bind up the brokenhearted. I’m asking him to break my heart in their hurt.
For those of us who follow Jesus this is our story: we are broken to be healed so we can be broken for others. We share in their suffering because he bore ours. We love because He loved us first. And even when the story ends badly we enter into it, participate in it, and love anyway. Because we know, this really isn’t the end.
My name is Eyvonne Sharp, and I Am A Prodigal
A wife, mom, worker, and writer, Eyvonne is an idealist who masquerades as a realist. She writes about the tension between the ideal world Jesus described and the reality we see around us at her blog, EyvonneSharp.com. She lives with her preacher husband and three kids in Louisville, Kentucky.
[photo: markhillary, Creative Commons]