A Legacy of Shells and Jesus
On Thursday evening, I sat low in the last pew, my eyes riveted on the sanctuary's screen: "A Celebration of Victory in Christ."
A dear friend of sixteen years had passed away after a decade-long battle with cancer. Hundreds upon hundreds of his friends and family members packed the sanctuary.
I could hear laughter. Stories shared. Questions asked.
But I had my own question.
Why didn't I feel like celebrating?
When I first entered and walked past his casket, I couldn't linger. In fact, a quick glance from a distance was all I could muster before I found my seat. Because resting in that silk-lined box laid only an empty shell covered with make-up. That wasn't my friend.
The real essence of my friend ... that's what Jesus got.
I sat there feeling blindsided. My call to the hospice care facility about visiting him one last time came 7 minutes too late. Carl had always chosen to fight and bounce back.
Not this time.
I didn't join in the singing. I didn't want to talk to anyone. I needed to sort out the sudden loss. Normally, I remain composed at funerals and process grief privately.
Not this time.
During the service, I just listened. And soaked in words spoken. And smiled at stories shared. And absorbed the Scripture passages that Carl had asked to be read.
And let the tears flow freely.
I just kept thinking: We've been left with a shell. The best part of Carl has gone.
The part that made me laugh. The part that shared long talks with me and pondered unanswered questions about a similar heartbreak. The part that shone like a beacon for Christ. The part that made me want to do better at everything.
He was gone.
Jesus got the part of Carl that lived life to the fullest. Loved people unconditionally. And served God wholeheartedly.
Jesus ended up with the best.
And that's how it should be.
That's what Carl lived to accomplish.
He always strived to give Jesus his best - in his profession (he was a gifted dentist), his family, mission work, friendships, and his heart.
To know Carl was to love him. Plain and simple.
And the multitude gathered to remember him reinforced that truth more than words could ever articulate.
Carl handled debilitating illness like he handled life - with grace and the love of Jesus shining through. His big smile and kind heart greeted everyone he met. This giant of a man was gentle to the core. He made friends fast and kept them long.
Right now he's experiencing the promises of God received by faith. He is gazing into the face of Jesus, his Savior. His pain is gone. His worries are over. His sin debt fully paid by his crucified, resurrected Christ.
Do you know what he's seeing?
"I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.' He who was seated on the throne said, 'I am making everything new!'" Rev. 21:2-5
When I think of that, I smile through tears.
My friend is gone ... only for now. He didn't just leave a shell. He left a legacy - etched in countless hearts about God's unconditional love shown so vividly through his life. What an incredible gift he left to his two sons and all who knew him.
God has made Carl new. Just like He promised. He's fully healed. And smiling again.
Though my heart is heavy knowing his smile now resides only in my memory, I rejoice that he no longer struggles in pain. It makes the processing easier.
Save a dance with Jesus for me, my dear Friend.
I will see you again.
How have you processed an unexpectedly difficult loss in your life?