“You need to make sure Debbie and Geoff know. Frank may not have called them.”
It was that simple...that plain. Not grandiose words or a long, drawn out narrative. Just simple words telling me that I had a job to do.
Only hours before, my brother Frank had called to tell me that we would need to cancel our dinner engagement for Friday night. We had planned to get together so I could deliver some Christmas gifts and catch up some since we hadn’t visited for over a month. He went on to tell me that he needed to cancel because his wife Clare’s dad had died suddenly the day before and the funeral would be on Friday. I quickly extended my condolences and told him that is would be no problem to schedule for another time and asked how he and Clare were doing. He told me that he and Clare's dad had grown close over the past ten years, but he was doing OK. We visited for a few more minutes and I hung up.
At choir practice, the director opened with an invitation for prayer requests. I sat there quietly as member after member shared their requests to the group and the list grew.
“Please pray that I find my cat’s eye medicine. I just bought a new bottle yesterday for $85 and it has disappeared.”
“Peggy’s mother is in the hospital and it doesn’t look good. Let’s pray that God will give her a sense of peace about her mom.”
“My brother Frank’s wife Clare’s father died unexpectedly on Monday night”, I shared. “Could we pray that God would provide comfort and strength for them?”
It was added to the list and after a few more moments, we joined in prayer and lifted up all of the requests to God…agreeing that He would hear and meet our many needs. I had NO clue how God was going to answer my own request.
Our family structure has been fractured for years. In fact, I haven’t been in the same room with both of my brothers and my sister at the same time in over ten years. Actually, I have no idea the last time we were all together. But I do know that it has been the desire of my heart for over a year that we might all be together again. That there might be healing in this family of four. That whatever ever wounds are still open that have created a chasm too wide to bridge would finally find some healing.
And so, as I rounded those curves on a dark, rainy evening, I made a decision to be careless. Even as another silent voice screamed at me, “NO Mark!!! Stay out of this, it’s not your place to get involved!”, I pulled out my Blackberry and started to enter a short e-mail to Debbie and Geoff. Now I know that a convicted felon on probation probably shouldn’t take a chance by breaking the law and sending a text while driving my car, but the sense was so strong that I needed to be doing this. I kept one hand on the wheel and the other on the Blackberry as I crafted the message, glancing down when I dared to make sure that the information was correct and hit the send button.
What happened over the course of the next 48 hours can only be described as a miracle. After various e-mails and phone calls, Debbie and Geoff said that they planned to attend the funeral on Friday. I have to admit, I had a little bit of apprehension about what might happen. Although Frank knew that I would probably be there, I hadn’t told him that I had notified Debbie and Geoff about the funeral and he had no idea that they might be there. I knew that it was going to be a hard day for both Frank and Clare and I didn’t want to be the cause of any more heartache or distractions on the day they were burying a man they both loved.
“Could we pray that God would provide comfort and strength for them?”
As we arrived at the church and entered the sanctuary for the beginning of the service, an astonished Clare came over to greet us. It took only seconds to realize that we had all made the right decision to be there. The hard, clinging hug and the tears streaming down Clare’s cheeks were the first indication. The heartfelt words of appreciation that we were there came next. After a few moments of visiting, we took our seats and awaited the beginning of the service.
Moments later, the bagpipe played the haunting melody of “Amazing Grace” as the casket was wheeled in, attended by six men serving as pall bearers. I almost didn’t see him. Looking older than I had ever seen him, my brother Frank walked with one hand on the casket and his head down alongside the casket. In that moment, I knew that this man he called his “father-in-law” was indeed a special man in his life. Clare wasn’t the only one who had lost a father…Frank had as well.
We spent the next ninety minutes rising and sitting as the full Catholic mass worked its way to completion. Scriptures read of loss and love. Prayers recited for all those groups who this man had represented. A humorous eulogy that left me feeling as though I wished I had known this man. And then it was over. The family gathered and followed the coffin out as it was taken to the Cadillac hearse for his final trip to the cemetery.
As Debbie and Geoff, with his wife Lynn, and I waited for Frank and Clare to return, I wondered what the reaction would be when Frank and Geoff met. Theirs is the most tenuous relationship and up until now, any bridges laid down to restore it had not been crossed. Frank soon walked over and gave me a hug, thanking me for being there. He moved on to Debbie and embraced her as well. I couldn’t help but hold my breath as Geoff stepped slightly forward and Frank pulled him into his arms. I could be wrong, but it seemed that he held him for just a moment longer and perhaps a little tighter than he had Debbie or me.
We stood and visited for nearly an hour. I wished it could have been hours. The tears that would occasionally find themselves appearing in the eyes of my oldest brother may have only been tears of grief over the loss of his father-in-law. But I think they were more. I believe they were tears generated by a sense of love and appreciation for the four of us being there with him and Clare. Tears that come when our hearts are filled to overflowing with emotions that we can’t quite explain. Tears that I found myself fighting back as I watched a little bit of youth restored to the man who appeared so much older only hours before as he walked beside a casket.
“Could we pray that God would provide comfort and strength for them?”
My prayer from only two days earlier was indeed answered! I had seen God’s love provide strength and comfort for my brother and his wife. But I had seen more. I had seen God’s hand in helping to bring healing and restoration to a family that needs it by nudging each of us across a bridge not yet crossed. God is definitely still in the miracle business and he blessed me by being a part of one in my own life. I could have chosen not to ask for prayer. I could have listened to the ‘negative’ voice telling me to mind my own business. We all could have simply been “too busy” to take time to go to a funeral of a man we had never met. But God was working in the lives of a family that He loves and that He desires to see restored.