My family has encountered death quite a bit this past year. This past July 9th was a year we said good-bye to my father-in-law. This past week we buried a good friend. I guess death is on my brain lately so, at a time I should be cleaning and decluttering my desk but wish to do anything but, I am, instead, reading a timely, poignant post.
My good friend Wendy wrote here about the loss of her nephew Corey. Everything she wrote hit strangely close to home and I'm grateful to her for opening her heart and sharing her thoughts about addictions and young nephews who fall prey to this disease.
Death simply is not the time to judge, ridicule, cut-down, and condemn...least we be judged, ridiculed, cut-down, and condemned. No matter what the circumstances, death is the time to pray, embrace, console, and forgive.
Addiction can, and does, happen to every family, good or bad. And the children who cause so much grief and sorrow are still loved and valued. This was evident at our nephew Aaron's funeral. The good memories we all had and shared of Aaron transcended the mistakes he had made those past several years. The love we had for him, the desire we all shared to see him recovered and whole again, out-weighed any past hurts. His indention in our lives was a clear impression that we are all one body...one body in Christ.
About her nephew Corey, Wendy wrote:
"He desperately wanted to change his life and had been studying the Bible. He longed to "win back his girl", marry, and raise a family. He sought and accepted the guidance of his parents,...He was weary and ashamed of his inability to kill the tiger that daily tormented him."
So was Aaron.
Aaron's family knows how much he longed to be whole, well, loved, accepted, guided, forgiven.
Wendy also shared a picture of her nephew taken at the last family get-together in January/December. And she writes:
"He had a hard time going to such things, as he did not feel worthy of love. After his death, Beverly found that he had written inside one of his ball caps, "Just for today". It is a phrase that he learned from Alcoholics Anonymous."
Aaron did too.
Like Wendy's nephew, Aaron had also withdrawn from the family. At his funeral, one aunt spoke for the family and shared how distant Aaron had become. My oldest son often commented how distant Aaron was. I fear my son took it personally at first. It helped when another cousin, then another, mentioned the distance they felt with Aaron as well. Aaron was harder on himself than any of us could be. Aaron felt the displeasure. Aaron understood the discomfort. Aaron sensed the disappointment. Despite the love we all had for him, he felt he had betrayed the family and he withdrew. We loved, accepted, and forgave. Aaron did not, could not. And the disease grew stronger. Yet we never stopped loving him and now his son Benjamin is the recipient of that love.
We are all so weak and judge ourselves harsher than anyone else. Yet, as we forgive those we love, I can only imagine how much more God loves and forgives these souls who struggle so mightily...gut-wrenchingly so. Even in times like these, when we think the disease, the addiction, has won, Scripture reminds us that death has no power over us.
"Do not be amazed at this, because the hour is coming in which all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and will come out, those who have done good deeds to the ressurection of life, but those who have done wicked deeds to the resurrection of condemnation." (John 5: 28-29)
What was Aaron's personal relationship with Christ? Only he truly knows. We hope. We hope in Christ. We hope in the Resurrection.
Like Wendy's nephew, Aaron also carried a personal prayer card in his wallet which was found after his death. It was a prayer he prayed daily: hoping for God's mercy, clinging to God's mercy. I don't remember the words to that prayer but I saw it repeatedly in his sister's hand, clasped tightly during the funeral. It was a crumbled, folded piece of mortality. Weak in body, strong in spirit. The outer appearance did little to speak for the minutes, the hours, the days Aaron might have held it in his hands, crying out to his Lord and Savior to help him, save him, have mercy on him.
Here is the last family gathering taken July '08 after my father-in-law's funeral. Aaron is on the back row, far right, next to his father. Rusty's other two children are not in the picture. Neither is my oldest son , as well as several other grandchildren. My son regrets having left only moments prior to the impromptu photo-taking. But that is what it is. It is God's providence. This picture is but a piece of family history. It is not the whole story.
I have told my oldest son that God's plan for him might be to live a long life, become a father, a grandfather, a great-grandfather and live to be in many, many family settings and pictures. This was Aaron's last photo op. It's a last memory and it's nice to have him in it, under the Cajun oak he once played on as a child. He is remembered. He is loved. He is still part of our family.
It is because of precious souls like Aaron and Wendy's nephew that Christ died on the cross. He did not die for the righteous. He died for sinners. For all of us. It is because of these tortured, suffering souls that I personally cling to and believe in God's incredible mercy and love for us...fallen creatures all....but for the grace of God, go I, go any of us.
Like my friend Wendy, neither do I mean for this to imply that our family approves of or makes apologies for our nephew's conduct, behavior, and any hurt he may have caused others. Neither do we approve of this sort of activity. The addiction must be fought. At the same time, I have compassion for Wendy's nephew and mine and the families who suffer with them, and I forgive them.
It is yet another time in my life I am called to step-up to the cross and look down from it...in sorrow, humility, weakness, and, above all, forgiveness.
But for the grace of God, go I. Go any of us.
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Wendy's sister Beverly asked that this link be shared. I'm sharing it here ~
Eternal rest grant these souls, O Lord. And may perpetual light shine upon him. May the souls of all the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace.