On Sunday, we celebrated the beautiful life of my Mammaw, Gerry Harden. And even though there are thousands of words in the dictionary that I could choose, there is one word that best describes that tear-filled day: hopeful.
If thinking only about the secular meaning of the word, you might wonder why I would choose hopeful as the best description for that sad day. Even for me, in the majority of the time since Thursday morning at 10:07 am, I would have scoffed at the thought of being hopeful during this time of grief. The temptation to focus on her absence, the lifeless body that lay in the casket, and the constant reminders of life with her before: this temptation was overwhelming. With force, it ruled over my body, my mind, my heart, my soul. I didn’t want to eat, sleep, talk, or carry on in life without her. I loved her at a depth that I couldn’t even fathom. I still do. She was my Mammaw, the mother of my very own mom, the feeder of our family, the unifying force that brought our extended family together year after year. And in that phone call on Thursday morning at 10:58 am, she was gone…
You see, in order for there to be hope, there must be something in life that causes us to need hope in the first place. Something has to happen that robs us of our joy, steals our passion, or even makes the journey of our life seem to have reached an end. As the contrast to total despair, that is the only way that we can see that hope shines, cutting brilliantly through the darkness.
There is no doubt in my mind that many more tears will be shed. Grieving is part of the healing process. As a co-worker told me yesterday after my SECOND breakdown of the day by only 9:30 am (I had only been there for 30 minutes), “You just have to get it out before you can get it together.”
I look back now on all the tears that I’ve shed, and while I don’t regret a single one, there comes a point when we cannot continue to live in the darkness of mourning. If we truly believe that Christ died for the sins of the world, to be the living sacrifice that would one day bring God’s children back to Himself, we cannot cling to suffering. We must reach out in faith; we must continue on in hope.
What is difference between secular hope and hope that the Gospel offers? Hope in this world is merely the wishing that things would be different, that things would get better, and it is marked by the possibility that what is hoped for WILL NOT or CANNOT happen.
But this is not the same hope that we have through Jesus.
The hope that Jesus offers is based on God’s promise, the Truth. This hope is the blessed assurance that God’s promise WILL be fulfilled! That Jesus WILL come back and that he WILL abolish the darkness and all that’s in it, that one day we WILL sit in the lap of our Father, and He will wipe away every single tear: this is the hope that we have. He will tell us, “Shhh, my child, death is overcome. Mourning is no more. Heaven has come to this new earth, and I am here. I am here.”
On Sunday, October 16, 2011, we may have laid Mammaw’s earthly body in the ground, but we did not bury her spirit. The life that she lived and the legacy carrying her memory forward: forever, these will always live inside of me and inside of those that knew her. She was and still is a remarkable woman of God. Never will I use only the past tense to talk about her because this is the hope that I have in Jesus: the spirit of my Mammaw, Gerry Harden, is still alive and well. Right now, she is smiling down on me and on all of her family and friends. Free from the devastation of ALS, I can hear her saying to me,”If only you knew what it feels like to be in the presence of Jesus…” If only we could experience it on this side of heaven…
“You have turned for me my mourning into dancing;
you have loosened the sackcloth and clothed me with gladness,
that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent.
O Lord my God,
I will give thanks to you forever!”
And so here I am, learning now to praise the Lord even in the midst of this hard time. He is the giver of real hope, the kind that, through faith, will give me the strength to keep on going and rejoice in the promise of Heaven. Deep down, I know that I have more to cling to than a single rose that I pulled from the cover of flowers on Mammaw’s casket. I have even more than the memories of our past together…
…I have the promise of our future together.
Hope that comes from the Lord: what a beautiful promise this is.