At the beginning and the end

Today I am officiating a wedding and also speaking at a funeral. I love officiating weddings because they are beautiful opportunities to be a part of the beginning of something so special between a man and a woman. Being able to speak God's truth into the lives of a couple as they say "I do" is a powerful thing. Plus, there is the benefit of enjoying all of the food at the reception - definitely a plus.

Funerals, on the other hand, are not so high on my list. It's not that a funeral isn't important - it certainly is - but the reality is that a majority of the time they are somber and incredibly sad events. Even when the one who has passed has lived a great life and is now in eternity with Jesus, those left behind still feel the sting of their lost presence.

But regardless of my feelings towards funerals, I have the honor of speaking at the service today of a woman named Cheryl who passed from this earth on Monday at the young age of 38. Let me tell you about Cheryl. I met her last year at my church and was immediately struck by her warmth and grace towards others. Cheryl was pretty much on her own - not much family in her life - yet she found herself surrounded by a community of friends and faith that loved and supported her and became her true family.

About the time I met Cheryl she informed me one Sunday that she had been diagnosed with cancer of the liver. She told me that she was going to fight it with everything she had. Once the treatments began she shaved her head as an act of defiance against the inevitable effects of chemotherapy and not once did she gripe or complain about the process.

As the months and treatments went by, Cheryl continued to fight but it became apparent that her cancer was fighting just as hard. Over the past several weeks she began to face complications and hospital visits became a part of her weekly routine. Last week, her best friend took her to the hospital one last time.

This past Sunday I received a text from Cheryl's friend asking if I could come see her at the hospital. I arrived at the ICU unit to find her hooked up to a respirator, dialysis, and all sorts of other tubes that were feeding medications into her failing body. She was resting peacefully, as if none of this cancer nonsense was all that big of a deal.

The next day I received another message - Cheryl was ready to go home. The decision had been made to terminate all of the artificial measures that were keeping her alive and I was asked to be there when the time came to turn them off. I'm not going to lie, I was conflicted. Watching as someone passes from this earth is incredibly difficult and is not something that I would naturally choose to do. Nevertheless, I drove to the hospital to be there with Cheryl and her friends when the time came.

As we were waiting in her room for others to arrive, I talked to Cheryl and read passages of Scripture to her - Psalm 19, Psalm 23, I Corinthians 15, and Revelation 21. These passages are beautiful reminders of God's love and purpose for us, not just here on earth but also for all eternity. Throughout the entire time she remained in a deep sleep, but I do believe she heard me. It is widely accepted that hearing is the last sense to leave prior to death and I firmly believe that she could hear and process my every word.

When the time came for the machines to be unplugged and the IV lines to be shut off, there was peace in the room. We all gathered around her bed and prayed over her, telling her that we would miss her but that it was okay to let go and go home to Jesus. As the minutes passed her vitals signs began to slow until she quietly took her last breath and the monitors fell silent. Without realizing I was even saying it, I exclaimed, "She's home!" and her friends gathered around her for one last goodbye.

Over the past sixteen years I have had the privilege of being in the room as all four of my children were born, assisting in the delivery of two of them. I've watched in awe and wonder as new life entered into the world, taking in that first lung-full of breath and crying out with the announcement that they have arrived.

I've also enjoyed the honor of officiating many weddings, celebrating with the bride and groom and their families as two lives merge together on a new and exciting journey. Their shared enthusiasm and giddiness during pre-marital counseling, the look on the groom's face when we first sees his bride, and the exhausted yet deeply in-love look they give to each other at the reception are memories that don't easily fade from the mind.

And then there is the end of life. Contemplating someone's years on this earth as you honor their memory is very sobering, yet it is also a wonderful opportunity to consider just how good and faithful God is. In the New Testament, James wrote that "life is a vapor," just a moment on earth in contrast to the continuum of eternity (James 4:14). During our time here, we live and breath because of a God who desperately loves us and wants us to know Him in a real and personal way through faith in Jesus Christ.

I am so very grateful that my friend Cheryl knew this and placed her faith in Jesus some time ago. As I speak on her behalf today, finding the right words won't be all that difficult. It's easy enough to speak about a life well lived. It's even easier to speak about a life well lived for Jesus.

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