November 26, 2018
I opened a letter today that provided me with a number of options to adorn Tyler’s gravesite with fresh pine and poinsettias. I stared at it with several emotions flooding my heart. If I so choose, a “Grave blanket” is the most significant sign of adornment I could purchase. I had not anticipated being stunned by his absence today, but then again, I never really know when it will occur. My eyes got stuck on a phrase used from this particular marketing piece, “designing for all occasions.” At first it made me mad. We live in a designer rich culture, I don’t really know why it surprises me. I’m in the process of designing my home to look like Christmas has erupted on every window, bush, mantle, and counter space available. Why should I be so mad about someone offering to decorate the grave of my youngest son?
Maybe it was because my options only reached from A-M? Maybe it was because the personal information required the name of the “Deceased” and the “Spouse of Deceased;” no “Parent of Deceased” was an option. Maybe it was because in those few line item options and fill in the blanks, confirmation of the universal understanding that no one ever expects to lose a child and think about putting a pine blanket over a grave was validated. Maybe it’s just the timing of finishing another Thanksgiving without our boy and beginning another season of Christmas with a fireplace void of Tyler’s stocking.
Maybe as I think even more about why it stirred my heart, it’s because I think of how many people I know face their heartache and troubles with the same mentality of using a grave blanket to “remember, memorialize, or cover over” the very thing that causes them to squirm with uncertainty in this life. I know the funeral home is well intended or well intent on gaining more profit, but allow me some liberties in taking this into a deep seated issue of the human heart and our culture. Pain is recognized and then quickly discarded or disguised in one’s life. It is rarely viewed as a means of growth, despite the ridiculous saying, “what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.” It is common to endure pain and keep it hidden, it is common to numb pain and drink it away, it is common to forget pain and fill one’s life with busyness, it is common to disguise pain and design a pretentious way of living. In the end, all of these methods fail and leave us grasping for relief. Temporary it may be, but relief, from our mind and thoughts, our hurts, sufferings, pains, regrets. We desire a new design for the occasions when life seems so hard. A designer’s touch, to make things look or appear better than what they really are. The problem, even if there were a “design for all occasions,” my little boy’s body is still in the grave, out of my reach and under a pine blanket instead of a soft cashmere monogramed blanket. Your pain is still throbbing despite the measures you have taken to hide it from your closest of friends to your furthest of acquaintances.
I by no means am suggesting that we relish in our pain and cause those around us to feel sorry for us, or worse, steal their joy. I’m merely recognizing what I’ve experienced as pain and heartache, have been such a driving force to understanding restoration and joy. I fault no one who desires to bring a designer’s touch into their aching heart. I challenge them merely as to which designer they will use. We all have heartache. We live on earth; It is a guarantee!
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
But how do we live with pain and suffer well? How do we accept our position in life when relief seems so far off? How do we get to the point where we recognize that we have been “designed for each occasion?”
I’ll attempt to share a story about a man who lived long ago. He lived as a King, beheld all things beautiful and wonderful, but desired something that was out of his reach. In order to gain what He wanted and embrace what he found to be the most beautiful of all things, he took off his robe, left his crown, and entered the gates of a world that was filled with hatred, evil, death, pain, and suffering. He lived among people that did not know he was the mightiest king of all. He demonstrated kindness and humility and served people with a glad heart. Despite his gentle and kind approach to people, they hated him, rejected him, betrayed him. His message of love was so polarizing that those who knew of him plotted to kill him. His closest of friends denied him, sold him, questioned him. He would have been justified to leave, return to his kingdom where he was held with the highest of praise and adoration and not think twice about these people. It is not in his nature though. He would rather remain a common man with sorrows and acquainted with grief than return to his kingdom without the people he loved. He suffered well because he knew that in his sufferings he could teach others a new way of living. He not only accepted his position of a common man, he left his position as king and knowingly endured the sorrows that would never be relieved. He recognized that only he was designed for this mission to show people how to live during each occasion that comes their way. He actually used his death to demonstrate his greatest act of communicating to those hearts he finds so beautiful and worthy to live to his kingdom. Many of you already know the King I describe. He came down in love. Designed for death in order that we may know life. Life beyond a grave. If life stopped at the grave what is all this for? He designed His death in order that my pain of burying a child would not overcome me. He designed His death in order that the pain you experience would not overtake you. He designed His death in order that we may boast in His resurrection and victory over the grave. He ultimately designed His death in order that you could experience a life eternal with Him…free of pain, sorrow, grief, suffering. In His death, we were designed to experience the restoration and joy that He longs for us to know.
I think of the King, Jesus. What would His response be to a grave blanket? I think we are told as we read another story about His friend whom He loved. Lazarus is his name. He was dead 4 days before Jesus arrived at his tomb. His sister Martha pleaded to Jesus,
“If you would have been here my brother would not have died.”
Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha answered, I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
It’s why He came! We are told so clearly in this story that though we taste death we will live beyond the grave. But to drive his point home, Jesus spoke yet again…
“Jesus once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. ‘Take away the stone,’ he said…So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, ‘Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.‘ When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped in linen and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, ‘Take off the grave clothes and let him go.’
Take off the grave clothes and let him go! It’s what I believe about my boy. It’s the hope-filled promise we cling to, knowing that Jesus is going to prepare a place for us, but will come again and receive us unto HIM. It is the restoration each of us longs for who have lost someone so precious to us. It is the joy each of us desire as the heartaches of life seem to keep piling up. He tells us to suffer well, like Jesus did. He tells us that pain is temporary. He tells us that we can do all things through Him who gives us power. He tells us to take off our grave clothes and don the robes of righteousness!
I used the word “mad” earlier. It’s the wrong word. I am so passionate about the work of Jesus and His unfailing ability to love me. I have truly sat back and experienced His powerful ability to turn my sorrow into joy; to turn my greatest fear into a praise song of His unending grace; to turn a gravesite into a place of worship and peace. For those who memorialize their loved ones gone, my words are not meant to offend. In fact, last year at this time when I visited Tyler’s land, a wreath was placed on top of his brass marker, along with thousands of others. It was a beautiful site to behold the evergreen atop the grave. But it was the evergreen that captivated my thoughts, as that evergreen is a majestic representation of the timeless character of The Designer, who brings forth life from the grave and adorns us in His glory.