“Dry your tears. It will be over soon,” whispered the gnarled old lady sitting next to me. Staring at my knees, I fiddled with my new dress. I vowed I’d never wear it again. The memory of this day was better left hanging in the back of my closet.
All around me, people with somber faces fanned themselves with bulletins. The minister, sweating in his robes, dabbed his forehead and prayed, “I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Amen.”
As I rose to sing, my stomach threatened to leave its contents on the pew in front of me. Fighting the sensation, I clutched the hymnal like a life preserver in a storm. I swallowed hard as the congregation sang:
And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own;
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.
As the melody filled the sanctuary my mind raged in frustration, “If God really talked to me, I wouldn’t be in this mess. Thanks a lot, God. Where are you now?” Gazing at my mother’s casket, the years spent with cancer seemed a terrible waste. The reward for all of her courage and determination was death. Her memory, just like the beautiful flowers in the funeral spray, would eventually fade and wither away. Confusion and despair gripped my soul as my thirteen-year-old mind grappled with the finality of death. In absolute terror, I realized I would never see my mother again. Caught in the throes of that unthinkable reality, the hymn ended and its melody left my heart. Adrift in turmoil, I joined the congregation and repeated the words of the Lord’s Prayer, “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever, Amen.”
Paralyzed with grief, I stumbled as a gentle hand pushed me into the aisle. “It’s time,” the old lady prodded.
When we reached the cemetery, I stared at the hole that would be my mother’s final resting place. A chill crept up my spine as I imagined her frightened and alone under the mounds of earth. As a young girl teetering on the edge of womanhood, I fell into an emotional chasm without any hope of escape. When they buried her body, they buried me, too.
In the days and weeks that followed, life went on. Over the next twenty years I did what kids do – I grew up. After graduating from high school and college, I moved away, got married and started a family. Eventually the time came to seek a new church. The desire, born out of obligation rather than faith, led me to attend services one sunny Sunday morning.
Walking through the doors, I was welcomed by the smell of the polished wood pews. Shaking hands with the greeters, I muttered an inaudible, “Good morning,” As I took my seat, the light streaming through the stained glass windows reflected colorful patterns on the floor. Surrounded by new faces, I waited for the service to begin. Standing to sing the first hymn, my heart dropped when I heard the first few notes. Stunned I begged, “Why here? Why now?” I had spent my entire life trying to escape the memories of that day.
As the congregation began to sing, I was once again a thirteen-year-old girl in a pretty new dress. Transported through time, the melody took me back to my mother’s funeral more than two decades before. As I dabbed my eyes, the notes touched the buried pieces of my soul. The memories I had tried to escape stirred emotions long forgotten. As I lifted my voice in song, the journey came full circle. When I closed the pages of the hymnal, the girl in the new dress smiled. God had been there all along. Lost in the moment, I winked at my mother up in heaven. With His song in my heart, we shared the joy none other had ever known!
Dedicated to my mother who died on July 4, 1984.
Psalm 23:6 NIV
“I Come to the Garden Alone”
Text: C. Austin Miles, 1913 (Jn. 20:11-18)
Music: C. Austin Miles, 1913; adapt. by Charles H. Webb, 1987
Matthew 6:13 KJV
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