Waiting for the Ground

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This story recounts moments that changed my life.  
They recount the effect of death 
upon the soul of those left behind 
to live here without their loved ones.  
The purpose of this writing is first to give 
comfort to those who have lost someone.  
I hope this communicates an understanding 
of God’s mercy and if possible 
some peace in dealing with your loss.  
The second purpose was unintended when I wrote it.  
The second purpose is to give people an understanding of 
what a Pastor goes through as he ministers to the many families 
that have seen their loved ones called home.  
It is my hope that my experiences help you. 

Waiting for the 
Ground to Move
 

By Tom Lutz

             I stand in my black shoes swallowed by the green grass of spring.  My  eyes look out over the expanse of ground. Even though there is no sound of trumpets in my ears, I scan for any evidence of movement.  I know the trumpet blast will sound before the earth moves, but I can’t help myself!  The ground does not move but the people around me do.  Some move through the grass with faces that have had moisture draw vertical lines on their cheeks. Mixed in with them are those who laugh despite where they are, taking a brief moment from their tears to remember a moment of joy.  I stand here scanning the faces of the people moving around me, looking for signs of pain in need of attention.  I find only those caught up in the healthy display of remorse for leaving behind one whom they love. 

It is at this moment that I feel uneasy; as if I don’t belong.  I stand here with my shoes being swallowed up with grass and I feel at home here in this beautiful garden.  Yet among the faces around me I strive to find a kindred spirit; one who understands what will happen here one day when the trumpet is finally sounded. If I had nothing else to accomplish, I could allow the grass not only to have my shoes but all of me.  It is my sense of belonging and joy here that makes me an outcast among my fellow brothers and sisters.  Perhaps the word “outcast” is a bit strong after all; people seek me out so that I may stand here with them.  Perhaps the truth is that it is my sense of wonder and joy about places like this that draws people to me at the time of their deepest grief.

It was not that long ago that I wanted nothing to do with this garden or any other like it.  I had no understanding of the wonder of these gardens.  My soul had not yet begun to embrace the truth that these gardens are waiting to explode with joy beyond our current understanding.  That’s not to say that intellectually I was ignorant of what one-day would bloom in these gardens.  What I am saying is that there is a great difference between knowing something intellectually and having your soul embrace it. 

When I first started wearing collars colored black with a contrast of white below the chin I made sure that my feet were never on the grass long enough to be swallowed by it.  I had a lot of growing up to do.  But like most young men out of seminary I thought I had all the answers and I was ready to give them to any one who was willing to listen and maybe to those who didn’t know they wanted to hear it. 

My acceptance of the grass began in a small room in a hospital where I sat with a man whose wife lay dying in the next room.  We were not alone in the room, his brothers and their wives, his mother and father were with us, along with his teenage son.  Tears were abundant, as it had become apparent that the woman who had not yet reached her forty-fifth birthday was going to die very soon.  We were in the room waiting, not for death, but for the bouncing vitality of life that was this man’s daughter.  I sat across from the man with saddened eyes as he tried to dry them before his eleven-year-old daughter could see them.  I examined his features with my eyes and he seemed to have aged years since I had seen him only moments ago.  The bushy beard and mustache could not hide the wrinkles under his eyes or the fact that his skin now seemed ruff and rubbery.  The hair of his beard and mustache framed the anguish that was on his lips.  I knew he was trying to think of the words that he would use with his daughter and I was thinking of all the great words I would use to fix everything.  I knew that I held the answers in my hands, the words of God as recorded by prophets, kings and evangelists.  I only need pull the words from this eternal reservoir of words and they would fix everything and make this moment livable.  And if I did it right, I might even make the pain go away.  I was ready for this moment; this is what I had been trained for.

All of us in the room heard the ding announcing the arrival of the elevator car just outside the waiting room; everyone in the room stiffened knowing the cargo of that particular car.  I swallowed and could feel the saliva building in my mouth in anticipation of the well of words I would speak.  

She came in wearing a smile that lit up the gloomy room.  There was a bounce in her step that revealed the carefree nature of her existence.  I glanced into the eyes of her father and saw him age before my very eyes.  I read in his eyes the understanding of what he was about to do; that with his words he was about to destroy this little girl’s world.  I began to wonder if the bounce would ever return to her steps.

She was totally oblivious to the ominous cloud that filled this room.  She had spent the last two weeks at a church camp.  The last time she had seen her mother was when she was dropped off at the camp.  Her mother was not a lump of tissue lying in a bed unable to speak or move like she was now.  Only two weeks earlier she had been a healthy woman, vibrant and full of life, with no signs that the days of her life were soon to come to an abrupt halt.  This little girl had no knowledge that three days after her arrival at camp, as she woke up to a new day, her mother did not wake up.  That as she played games with friends and learned that her best friend was Jesus, her mother had been rushed to the hospital where it was discovered a tumor was growing out of control.  While a little girl played capture the flag with her new friends, she had no idea that her mother was having a tumor cut from her brain.  It was the little girl’s father that heard the news that the tumor was too large and they had to leave some of it behind.  It was he that was told by the same doctors a week later that the tumor was growing even faster than before and there was nothing they could do but make her comfortable until the tumor took her life.  None of this knowledge belonged to the little girl, but that was about to change.

The utter cruelty of that moment will always haunt me.  Too often people come here where the grass grows green with life and fear being haunted.  What a ridiculous outlook!  There is nothing here below or above the grass that can haunt us!  What does haunt us are moments like that one with the little girl in the hospital with her father.  A girl at the age of eleven should be able to stay eleven, however things in this world don’t always function the way they should. 

The eleven-year-old entered the room and was drawn to her father right away.  With his sixteen-year-old son behind him the father began to talk to his innocent daughter in slow raspy tones that were interrupted by cracks of emotions.  I griped the word of God in my hands, getting ready to speak the words of life to wipe everyone’s tears away, while the father spoke the words to take away the innocence of his daughter. “Honey . . . . .we are here at the hospital because . . . . . .oh God I don’t think I can do it.”

The daughter’s soft voice responded to the tears on her father’s face.  “Daddy, why are you crying?”

“Because honey  . . . . your mother is asleep, but she can’t wake up?”

“What do you mean that she can’t wake up?  I don’t understand.”

Here I wanted to speak, but I knew that if I did her father would not be able to finish.

“Well honey, your mommy is very sick. . . . . .  And it makes it so she can’t wake up."

          “When will she be able to wake up?”  The girls eyes were beginning to fill with water as her eyes moved back and forth, as if looking for the answers written some where on her father’s face.

            “. . . . . You see honey, she’s not going to wake up . . . . . there is nothing we can do.”  Her father was crying and the pitch of his voice had become even higher cracking with every other word.  His sorrow filled the room, there was no escaping, it swallowed all of the souls in that room.  We who were witnesses to this sadness that touched our souls have from that moment on been haunted by it.  We can hear the man’s voice cracking, not by virtue of the great assemblage of drums and the other equipment God saw fit to put in our ears to capture sound waves.  We hear the man’s voice in our souls.  Every day of our lives our souls take us back to this moment. With our souls we hear the little girl’s voice trying to grasp an idea that didn’t fit into her understanding of the world.  “I don’t understand daddy?  What do you mean that she won’t wake up.”

“You see . . . . O GOD! . . . It means that your mommy is . . . . going . . . (I can’t do this) . . . it means that your mommy is going to    . . . die.”

The scream the child let loose wakes me up to this day.  With my soul I can see the father swallow the little girl in his arms as they both cried uncontrollably.  Emerging from the two intertwined bodies is the voice of the little girl.  “Who’s going to wake me up in the morning?”

“I don’t know darl’n?”

This was the moment I had been waiting for.  The moment where I would speak the words of hope and they would do their magic wiping away of all tears from their faces.  But even more than that, these words were so powerful they would wipe away the sorrow that now gripped all of our souls.  So I opened my mouth, but nothing came out.  It was as if the words were literally caught in my throat. 

“But mommy always gave me a hug when I got up in the morning and before I went to school.”

“I know honey.”

“Who’s going to give me my hug?  Who’s going to help me with my math?  What are we going to do without mommy?

All the words I wanted to say were log jammed in my throat.  I kept trying to free them but, it was no use.

“I don’t know darl’n, I don’t know.”

That day I was witness to the death of the innocence of an eleven-year-old girl.  I carry that sorrow in my soul even as I stand amidst the green grass of this garden of life.  You see that’s why I’m always looking for signs of movement from underneath the ground, because when the ground does finally move, this moment will no longer haunt me. 

Looking back now, the words weren’t caught in my throat, but in my soul.  Trapped by the sorrow that had permeated the room.  Every time I wanted to speak, I couldn’t because I had not been prepared for the amount of sorrow generated by the situation.  I had been to seminary but no book could contain the sorrow that was in that room.  Everything I wanted to say seemed to be dwarfed by the situation.   It was at this moment that for the first time, I began to wonder of the potency of those words. 

I have grown since then.  I now understand the power of those words as my shoes are swallowed by the green grass on this hollowed ground.  They are no longer words to be spoken at the proper time to comfort.  They are words my soul has swallowed and made part of my very being.  This is why I can live with the haunting of that moment and many more like it, because they are not magic words I speak from my book of spells, but words of truth that bring life.  These are the words of the Gospel, where in the midst of sorrow, there is hope.  It is after all the reason why my eyes scan the ground for evidence of movement.

Unfortunately for me this understanding was years away when I held the white roses in my hand.  It's funny, as I look back at how the white roses were a last minute after thought. only hours before the first funeral I ever presided over.  It was in Louisville, the father of a member that I had known and spoken the Gospel with.  There was no doubt in my mind, due to the conversations I had with him, that he was in heaven.  His wife was obviously grieving and I was searching for a meaningful way to bring her an understanding of what God had done for her husband.  I thought of the flowers everybody had sent expressing their sympathy.  I thought it was quite appropriate, after all flowers have long been used as an example of the resurrection.  This is when I thought of the white roses.  The flower representing the resurrection should be white, bringing to mind the scene in the book of Revelation where John sees a multitude wearing robes made white by the blood of Christ.  During that first funeral and all that would follow, at just the right moment in the sermon I give white roses to the family who is in the grips of great sorrow.  Little did I know that the roses would end up meaning so much more to me as I grew in my ministry.

The eleven-year-olds mother’s funeral was no exception.  I held three white roses in my hands during her funeral, hoping that this offering of roses would make up for my silence in the waiting room; I was so naive.  I had spent the moments prior to holding the roses preaching into the eyes of family and friends, but not them alone.  To the young eyes of troubled teens that this woman had a gift to work with.  I could see the question coming from their eyes, WHY?  I had anticipated this question and searched for an adequate answer and found none.  This was an important realization for me.  If I had not understood this, I would have died from sorrow years ago.

            Understanding my limitations was the first big step toward my soul taking hold of what the garden grass offered.  That sermon was the most difficult sermon to write and deliver.  Being only two years out of seminary, I still thought I had all the answers.  That a good Pastor with enough study of scripture could give a definitive answer to any question.  So in preparing for that sermon, I delved into the scripture searching for the answer to the question: WHY?.  I knew that everyone at the funeral would be looking for me to give a credible answer to that question, so I endeavored to find it.  I was guided by my misunderstanding of the passage in Romans, “all things work for the good of those who love the Lord.”  I believed the passage demanded that I find something good from this tragic death.  But as I searched for something good, I came up empty.  Not only in answers, but in my soul.  After all what could be good about this situation that left a man without a wife and two young children without a mother?  Not to mention a mother and father without a daughter and a class full of pregnant girls without a teacher to guide them.  I could not find anything that was good in her death.

            It is only now with twenty-twenty hindsight that I realized I held the answer in my hand during the sermon and handed it out that day to her husband and two children.  But at that time I had no understanding of the significance of the white roses because I was not yet watching the ground looking for movement.  My mind and my soul were so focused on this world I could not understand or grasp that one thing that makes sense of any of this.

            It was only  later when I was watching Billy Graham on TV giving a funeral sermon for the victims of the Oklahoma City bombing.  I was watching it for a couple of reasons.  First, because like so many other Americans, I was grieving the loss of the people who died in the blast.  Second, I was interested in how and what he was going to preach.  It was professional curiosity that drove this second one.  I wanted to learn from him and I saw this as a great opportunity.  As the sermon unfolded before the grief stricken congregation made up of family and friends of those who had died, I was very impressed with his approach and demeanor in the face of such tragedy. 

I don’t think that most people understand the task that was laid out before him.  He was a man of God who the whole nation was looking toward to give them solace.  But even more intimidating were the rows of parents holding teddy bears in their laps, the teddy bears representing the toddlers that had died in the daycare center.  These realities didn’t seem to faze Rev. Graham as he preached one of the best sermons I have ever heard.  In the middle of this wonderful sermon he did something that made my jaw drop.  He quoted that passage from Romans, “And we know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”  There looking into the eyes of the parents holding those teddy bears, he quoted the passage that I had abandoned at the mother’s funeral.  He used it not in the sense that I had tried to find meaning in tragic death, but to give an understanding of the spiritual reality of death.  That is what happens here in this world of sin, the innocent cannot be stolen from the grasp of their loving God.  You see he understood the rest of Romans 8 and let that guide him in his understanding of the passage I had abandoned. ”For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” These passages proclaim that what God is working for is not a fixing of this fallen world, but our presence with Him in heaven forever.  This is the good of which God is always working towards.  It was through these things that I start my journey to understanding the roses and God’s garden. 

For next few years I felt less uncomfortable standing in the grass.  However, I was not yet watching the ground, I had just begun my journey.  It was two summers later that the next important leg of my journey would start.  It was a summer filled with tragedy and a summer that sorrow almost swallowed me whole.

This leg of the journey began with a phone call from one of the hospitals in Huntington, West Virginia.  The woman on the other end told me that a member of the church had been in a bad accident and that his wife was in need of help.  I rushed out to the hospital, all the while believing it would turn out to be nothing.  My experience had been that things are never truly as bad as they first appear.

            I arrived at the hospital finding Debbie surround by her family, she was fighting back the tears as she told me that Bob, her husband, had pulled out in front of a truck on a busy street.  Though I had heard Debbie and understood everything that she had said, I still believed that everything was going to be okay, after all she was still working on preliminary information.  I opened the word of God and read a comforting passage to all in the room reminding them that Bob was in God’s hands.  We joined together in a prayer led by another man who had arrived shortly after I had.  We prayed in a circle made by clasped hands.  Little did I know that this would become a circle of life for a young man who had not yet arrived.

            It was soon after this prayer that we found out things were worse then we could ever imagine.  Bob lay on a table barely clinging to life.  The internal injuries caused a catastrophic loss of blood; it was only a matter of time, unless an operation was performed.  However, the doctor believed that he would not survive the operation, to the point that the doctor had to be talked into performing the operation. 

            It was then that the family was huddled in the waiting area as the day had already given away to night. The operation would take a few hours.  Huddled together were family and friends all wondering what life would be like if the doctor was correct. 

One of these people was Bob’s twenty-year-old son Randy.  Randy had survived Leukemia, that was discovered four years earlier.  He had beaten it just a year prior, or so everyone had thought.  The signs were already beginning to show that it might be back, but no one was sure.  His mother and father had divorced years before and he had lived with his mother for most of his battle with the cancer.  But he had moved from Florida to West Virginia to be closer to his father and sister.  He had not spent much of his teen-age years in church and had not agreed to meet with me yet. 

Now, however, with his father fighting for his life, he had gotten up and prayed with us a few times as we joined hands and then sat by himself with his thoughts.  It was here that I saw a opportunity that God had given me.  I talked with him and he didn’t turn away as I had feared he might but he listened.  It was not a conversion of Paul situation, he just listened and remembered the things he had learned in Sunday School as a child.  As the night went on, we got word that Bob was still alive and the operation was proceeding. At this time, we joined in a circle and offered our prayers to God to save Bob.

Finally, after an eternity of waiting, the doctor emerged shaking his head.  At first, we thought the shaking of the head meant the worst, but as we found out, it was the result of the surgeons surprise that Bob was still alive.  The doctor still did not hold much hope that he would survive the rest of the night, but that he had already been surprised by Bob's ability to survive.  It was a miracle, pure and simple, no one will ever convince me other wise; it was the first of a series of miracles that would find its culmination in a young man who would be fighting for his life. 

However, this was the beginning of a long assault on my hope, it was to become the darkest part of my journey of understanding.  This would be a summer where God’s Garden was the enemy and I was not about to let the garden claim another of the members of my congregation that God had given me.  I am amazed as I look back now to see how ignorant and arrogant I was, even with everything I had learned prior in my ministry.

This was not something that was over quickly.  It was going to take months before we knew for sure who would survive and who wouldn’t, and I wasn’t prepared.  I could have handled a sprint, this was going to be a marathon.  In the past, I had been through some very intense, emotionally charged events with families, but they had been short waiting for the final result.  This was going to take months.

            The first day bled into the next and the next.  Each day the doctors told us that it would be Bob’s last.  He was so swollen from his internal injuries that the surgeon was unable to close the incision he had made, and Bob was in a coma.  They eventually moved him up to intensive care where the family gathered around during the three times that we were allowed to see him.  All the while, as the days were passing by at 100 miles an hour, something wonderful was happening.  Even though everyday he was falling worse, it was Randy who would jump up and announce it was time to pray. We would join hands and I would lead the family and loved ones in prayer.  It didn’t matter whether it was good or bad news, he just knew that God was answering our prayers and he wouldn't let us leave without having at least one prayer.

            While I was being strong and positive with the family in the hospital, with my own family I was becoming irritable and short tempered.  It was as if I used all of my positive energies up at the hospital and had none to share with my family.  I spent most of my time out at the hospital. What little time I had with my family,  I just slumped down in a chair and watched TV.  It wasn’t that I enjoyed what was on, but it was all I could manage.  It was when one of my children wanted to sit in my lap, that I first realized that something was horribly wrong with my soul.  This child, whom I loved, and loved me back, wanted her dad to hold  her in his lap. She wanted to know the closeness of her father.  Prior to this event, I loved the feel of my children in my lap.  It was as if God had proportion my lap to be the perfect receptacle for the children he had given me.  Feeling the weight of my children was one of my simplest pleasures.  But for the first time in my life, I did not desire the warmness of that simple pleasure.  There was nothing wrong with my lap, it’s dimensions had not changed, the change was deep inside me.  The light of my soul was swallowed by the darkness of the tragedy unfolding at the hospital.

            How and why was this happening?  Looking back now, I can see it.  But then, I was just doing my job.  My job was to bring hope to all who I came in contact with.  By this time I would be spending time with the family in the waiting room for the intensive care units of the Hospital.  It was a large room that was always full of people in need of hope.  I would sit talking to the family God had given me to see through this tragedy and I would look into the eyes of the others with loved ones beyond the door and I could feel the uselessness of hope.  It was as if this waiting room should have a sign above the door:  “Abandon all hope when Ye Enter”.  This was a place that cried out for hope, in whatever form it could take, but it seemed it ended up being a place where that hope died, so it kept calling for more.  And it was my turn to answer its call, its challenge.  I would look around the room and often times I was the only minister who was there.  So I began to take upon myself, not only the spiritual well being of the family from church, but every family in that waiting room.

            The announcement would come that visiting hours were starting and I would start my walk around the back of dying and patients teetering on the edge of death.  There were three different Intensive Care designations. I would walk them all, stopping where I found no Pastor, asking if I could pray with them.  All of the families invited me, desperate for a source of hope; so that is what I became, the source of hope for all those I could find in that place.  I prayed with them. I cried with them. I laughed with them.  In my mind I was shaking my fist at the room that dared me to bring in hope, and I was winning.  But then, I would go home and deny my child a moment on my lap.  The darkness was winning, but I was blinded by my own arrogance.  Everyday I was losing my hope. 

Oh, I was being a good Pastor, that wasn’t being assaulted, it was my soul that was being darkened, bit by bit. It was the very fiber of my being that was being eaten away.  I was becoming more and more hollow inside every day.  I did not know it then, but I came very close to being a Pastor on the outside, caring and praying for everyone I met, who had nothing left inside him.  To this day, realizing how close I came to that, sends shivers up my spine.

How did I recognize the danger?  It was the constant desire of my children to climb into my lap that saved me.  To this day they do not know that they saved their father by sitting in his lap.  The more I said no, the more they wanted to sit.  Finally after saying no for so many days, I allowed one of them in my lap and it felt wrong.  Can you imagine it?  I felt uncomfortable with God’s gift sitting in my lap.  She would turn and smile in my eyes and my in my inmost being I was yelling, “get off my lap, you don’t belong here!”  Faced with this, I did the only thing I could think of; I took her in my arms, held her tight and prayed to God to let me feel that simple joy again.  I let the smile of my children beat back the darkness that was over taking my soul. 

The battle was joined within me. Hope against hopelessness and to the victor went the spoils: my soul.  My weapons in this war?  God’s gift to me, my children.  Once I had employed those weapons, it was only a matter of time, they were far too powerful.  You may think that silly, but I remind you of Christ’s words; “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven."  There is no greater power than that of the faith of a child.  Christ did not say this idly.  It is a truth we so called “sophisticated” adults forget.  I am here today, the person I am, because of my children and their faith in God and me.  They reached into my soul and rescued me.  They never knew it, but they saved my life, my eternal life.

It was a simple process. Every time they asked to go to the park or sit in my lap, if it was possible, we did it.  At first the darkness snarled within me and took the joy of those moments from me.  But before too long the smiles on their faces entered my soul and I felt pure joy for the first time in months.  As a result, I was a better father, husband and pastor, the darkness had come close, but it had lost.  So, if you happen to be driving by the parsonage, and see me out playing with my children, know that I am saying thank you to my kids, for quite possibly they are energizing me with the faith of a child.

I was just in time, for while Bob was making painfully slow process, the cancer was working much faster on his son Randy.  Radiation treatments for him came between visits to his father’s room.  The treatments were taking from him his physical strength, and I was worried it would take from him his spiritual strength as well.  My concern was that he had seen the miraculous recovery of his father who should be dead but is alive.  It was in this context that his faith was given birth.  Now that the family knew that Bob would survive, their concerns were turning more to Randy, and whether he would survive this second bout with cancer. 

Yet in the midst of all of this, it was still Randy who demanded that we get up and join in hands and pray everyday for his father’s recovery.   Bob was still in Intensive Care and while awake we were not sure how much of “Bob” was still inside him.  It would end up taking months for him to get out of the Hospital and to the Rehab Center three hours from home.  As the days passed for this to occur, Randy got weaker and weaker.  The radiation treatments did not do the job, so now he faced Chemo-Therapy, a harsh variety that would take even more of his strength, but not his faith.  For God was about to use him to give me an understanding of the white roses and the movement of the ground.

You see, the whole time I was there thinking I was ministering to him, it was the other way around.  While his body lost everything to the Chemo and cancer, his soul gained in strength.  I saw before my eyes an unbearable tragedy unfolding and in the midst of it a young man who’s faith was new standing in the midst of it unwavering.  I was fresh from the battle over my soul, where my children had saved me, and I wanted to save Randy.  I wanted to save him more than anything, but you see God had already done it, I just didn’t know it yet.

Bob was home by the time Randy had to go three hours away to the hospital to get even more drastic treatments.  Bob was not himself, he was fighting to come back, but it was a long journey.  However, he was himself enough to know that he had come back from death, just in time to see death take his son.  This was the great tragedy that was unfolding, the cruel joke this world likes to play on us.  In the midst of this there was a young man who didn’t want to die, but understood it was probably going to happen whether he wanted it to or not.  So, I would bring him the word of God as much as I could. Randy would want to talk, but he didn’t have the strength so he would give me the thumbs up signal.  The same one the Fonz had used on “Happy Days” to show his approval, Randy gave me.  But not for the same reason as the Fonz.  He told me that he gave me the thumbs up because everything was going to be okay.  If he survived this cancer, he would live to tell others of Christ and His love.  If the cancer took his body, everything was going to be okay, because he was going the same direction that the thumb was pointing, to be with Christ.

He was teaching me a lesson I needed to know.  I couldn’t save him, because God already did, that’s the meaning of the white roses.  They represent hope in the face of hopelessness.  As the winter takes the life of the flowers. the winter can never truly take their lives. for they spring back from the earth. from death to life.  The whiteness of the roses represent the scene in the book of Revelation where the uncountable host are arrayed in white robes. because they have been washed in the blood of Christ. 

Eventually. there wasn’t anything they could do for him and they sent him to a hospital closer to home.  There they made him as comfortable as possible.  The last hour I spent with him. he didn’t even know I was there.  I sat in the sanitary room. with a bed and a couple of chairs. while he moaned unable to come to the knowledge of his surroundings.  When I left. I knew that he could not give me the “thumbs up” sign. so I gave it to him.  Less than four hours later the Lord called him home.

            A few days later. I was holding a white rose in my hands. sharing with the congregation the “thumbs up” sign  and the spiritual lesson I had learned from Randy.  For the first time. I truly understood why I gave out the white roses.  It was to give to those who had suffered such a loss an understanding that we were here to celebrate a victory.  The victory of Christ over the imperfection of our bodies and our souls.  This was something Randy knew.  While his faith came as a result of seeing his own father come from life to death, it only got stronger when he faced his own death.  He knew that he wasn’t truly facing death, he was facing the fruits of the victory won almost 2000 years go on a hill called Golgotha .  Where a place of death became a place of eternal life, when the Father raised his Son from the dead.  The white rose is a proclamation of victory, it is a sign that reads, “Receive Hope All Ye Who Enter Here.”  During a funeral with its activities and dark outfits all proclaiming death there is this while flower, to remind us that death does not exist. 

            Thus, when I stepped into the grass that grew above God’s garden, I did not resent the grass for reaching up and swallowing my shoes.  This was the first time I had seen God’s garden as it truly was, a place of life waiting for the call of the trumpet to spring it forth to life.  Surly I had an intellectual understanding of this reality, but the truth of it had not sunk into my soul.  My faith had grasped it as the truth, but my soul still wanted to believe what the eyes saw; the lifeless bodies lying in the caskets.  My soul still accepted the reality of the fallen world, yet now as I stood beside Randy’s casket, I knew that he was not dead, but in the presence of God.  That the work of the Pastor was not to keep the loved ones from crying, but make it safe for them to shed their tears.  I understood now that the tears were necessary, because while Randy was not dead, he was not here and that saddened me.  I could no longer go in his room and share the Gospel with him, while he gave me the thumbs up sign.  For this I shed tears, but not at his grave.  No, they were tears of joy in expectation of the resurrection, where we would finally see the truth with our eyes.  That death has been swallowed up in victory.

So now years have passed and many more graves I have stood beside, consoling those who are overwhelmed by the absence of their loved one.  A man’s body has been planted in God’s garden, waiting the sound of the trumpet from Heaven.  I am amazed at God’s grace.  This man was almost planted too soon.  For most of his life his family had worked on him.  Telling him of God’s love.  But he never believed it.  Then nine months earlier they called me, their Pastor, to talk to their father, because he could die at any time.

One by one, they took me aside, warning me that I might not be received all that well.  However, when I went into the room, I spoke to him of Jesus and his love and the man began to cry.  His life had been one full of sin, just like the rest of us.  He could not believe that at this late hour he could be forgiven.  The next day, I read the account of the thief on the cross and the tears flowed once again.  God bestowed on him the greatest gift of all, faith.  The man survived the illness and was baptized.  But nine months later the Lord called him home.  This is the joy of ministry, to see the word of God at work, to see a man come from death to life, it cannot be described by words put upon a paper.  What words can contain the awe and wonder of God's forgiveness?  Of his promises to a man in his old age on his deathbed?  What words can hold any measure of the joy of a man believed worthless, but brought into the knowledge of God, knowing that God died for him?  What words can contain the peace of this man? 

So when my soul runs out of energy once again, I will pull into another garden of God, I will stand in the grass and I will listen.  I will listen for the trumpet and look for the ground to begin moving.  Why?  Because it is the only thing that makes sense in this world of sin.  For there is far too much pain and tragedy in this world and none of it makes any sense.  I have only seen but a glimpse of that sorrow, yet it almost killed my soul.  Nothing can make sense of this world of death and sorrow, except one thing!  The movement of the ground yet to come!  I have had people ask me why bad and evil things happen in this world.  What is God’s role in all of it?  I wish I could bring them here, that they would let the grass swallow them, then they would understand.  God’s role in this rests under the ground waiting for the right time.  The time the Father long ago decided upon.  I wish they could all understand that here, in the garden that the world fears, is the true answer to God’s actions in this world. For what lies beneath the freshly mowed grass is not the dead, but seeds waiting to be called forth into the light that shines from the face of God.  Here is the truth waiting to be reviled.  Because when that trumpet does sound, the seeds will birth forth with life, like the white roses that I held in my hands, these bodies that have been sown the seeds of God shall birth forth with life.  As the rose opens its petals to the sun, so shall these bodies bask in the glow of the light from the Son of God who calls them from the ground.   Their hearts will start beating again. The only difference this time will be that these functions of the body will never stop.  For the old order of things will have passed away, there will be no more death.  There will only be joy and peace. And these eyes that have been sown shut will break their bonds and behold the glory of their God, who has called them from their places of rest.  The brightness of the white rose shall pale in comparison of the white robes they shall be wearing, because their sin shall be part of them no longer, the blood of the Lamb will have cleansed them for ever of the stain of sin.

This is what makes sense in a senseless world.  It is the only thing that can make sense of all the things we see around us.  The one thing I wish and hope is that the Lord allows me to be standing in one of His gardens at that last trumpet blast.  That He allows me a single moment to watch those I have laid to rest rise again before He calls me to Himself.  Perhaps this is the real reason I stand for long periods of time in these gardens, just in case the trumpet will sound, I can see it with my own eyes.


[1]The New International Version, (Grand Rapids , MI: Zondervan Publishing House) 1984.

[2]The New International Version, (Grand Rapids , MI: Zondervan Publishing House) 1984.

[3]The New International Version, (Grand Rapids , MI: Zondervan Publishing House) 1984.

 

 

 

 

For God so loved the World that He gave His one and only Son
that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.
John 3:16

   

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