The church I attend is multi-generational, which I love. Since we do not live near family, it is wonderful to have people in my life who are like my very own grandparents I can see at church each week, sometimes even twice a week.
I started attending my church as a college student, so being at the same church since 1997 means I have met a lot of special people, and have grown very close to many of them. These are not just fellow church members, they are like family.
Recently, several of these “family” members have passed away. In the past few weeks, I have attended two graveside services. The most recent of which was for Mrs. Shelby Good. (Yes, that’s her real name, which is so very fitting for her!)
Her grave is on top of a hill at Athens Memory Gardens. The day of her funeral was a truly beautiful day. The cold, wet weather that had dominated in the days before, was gone, submitting to a clear, beautiful sky, which allowed the sun to envelop us in a warm hug. Friends and family gathered around the two protective tents of Mrs. Good’s casket and her close family who were seated in neat rows of folding chairs on a green rug of artificial grass.
As I waited for the service to begin, I could not help but notice that a set of my “church grandparents” were sitting atop of where their graves would be. Others remarked how there were many familiar names on the gravesites around us. These remarks prompted several other “church grandparents” to point out where their headstones are, where their bodies would be buried when the time came. I know this sounds weird, but the conversation was actually pretty funny. One said, “Yeah, I wanted to be up on this hill with the good view, but I’m going to be way over yonder, down there”, as he pointed in the direction. Another said, “I’ll be over there adjacent to that road; my family won’t even have to step on grass when they come.” After the service, the couple sitting atop their own graves, said, “Well, now everyone knows how old we are since everyone could see our birth dates” (as the dates were already carved onto their headstones). I could not help but smile behind my mask at this whole conversation. None of these people feared death; none were concerned about what would happen when the time came. Their banter with each other was an extremely refreshing reminder that if you know where you will spend eternity, nothing on this earth matters anymore. All that matters is they will spend forever with Jesus in glory.
Mrs. Shelby’s service was amazing, and very special. She had the whole thing planned out, which was quite evident. It was like she was right there with us. Funny stories were shared, a mom and her daughters sang the most beautiful acapella hymn, and most important to Mrs. Shelby, the gospel was shared. She wanted to give every opportunity to share God’s rescue plan for sinners, including at her funeral service.
Afterwards, as the quiet crowd started to disperse, some went to sign the guest book, others stopped by the casket blanketed in a stunning floral arrangement to whisper a final “goodbye” and some stopped to have a quick visit with Mr. Good.
Mr. Henry, Shelby’s beloved husband and caretaker, is always smiling. Truly, I do not recall a time if I have seen otherwise. When he opened his arms to me, it was my turn to do the smiling, as it was near impossible not to do so in such a strong embrace, even with tears streaming down my cheeks. As Brandon, my husband, and I gave our condolences and promises to keep him in our prayers, what happened next should not have been a surprise at all to me, yet it was. Mr. Henry took the moment to encourage us, and specifically Brandon. He affirmed Brandon in being the family guy that he is, and charged Brandon to never stop doing that, to always be there for his family, for me, and for our twins. Of course, Brandon assured him that he would. Honestly, in that moment, we would have done anything Mr. Henry said to do.
As we ascended down the graveside hill, our faces warmed by the sun, but our hearts even more warmed by the sweet, Spirit-filled service, there was a peaceful feeling. A feeling so generously provided by the fact that this is not the end of our crossing paths with Mrs. Shelby, due to the hope of eternity in glory. Christ died so that those who believe in him, his death, and resurrection, may spend eternity in glory with him after our short life here is over.
Knowing this means that you can smile, laugh, and point out where your body will be when you are gone. This means you can walk away from a funeral of a fellow believer filled with peace in lieu of agony. Eternity with Jesus means you can be a new widower, yet be an encourager to those around you. Finally, knowing this means that all believers who were there gathered around those two funeral-home tents singing a praise hymn to the Lord will one day be gathered around the throne of the King of Kings, doing the exact same thing, which is what brings the biggest smile of all.
“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? John 14:1-2