Today’s blog has been ripe for writing for about a week now; I hope I can type fast enough to keep up with my brain!
We drove into Mobile with a sad countenance. It was the first time in seventeen years that I went to Mobile without first going to NaNa’s house. My husband, his sister, and his mother were so affected by the empty feeling that none of them even wanted to be in the city. But it was the day before the funeral, and we had family to meet at a restaurant, so to Mobile we went with dragging feet and hearts.
We had about an hour before the meal with family, so we detoured to Starbucks for a little pick-me-up. This detour was divinely orchestrated, for sitting in the corner was Father Eamon Miley. A priest from a local parish, Father Miley sat in one of two comfy plush chairs with a journal and his Bible. My daughter plopped down beside him so as to enjoy the remaining comfortable chair; the rest of us gravitated towards her and sat at the wooden tables.
My mother-in-law has a gift for making friends everywhere she goes — anywhere from the grocery store to the doctor’s office to the local Starbucks — she has never met a stranger that she didn’t end up calling friend. But on this day, the day before she buried her mother, my mother-in-law felt empty. She struck up a conversation with Father Miley and told him that we were not at Starbucks to celebrate but that we were in Mobile for a sad occasion.
He sat quietly for a moment and then began rifling through his journal.
“Let me see what the Lord would have me say to comfort you,”
he told us in a delightful Irish accent. Then, with his finger running down the page, he found a quotation he’d written that said:
“Pain passes, but beauty endures.”
We all sat up straighter and looked carefully at each other. Hadn’t we just been discussing the way NaNa always started each morning with the declaration: Isn’t it a beautiful day?
Father Miley then went on to explain that for the Christian, death is a joyous occasion. We are grieving, but she is not. The pain that we experience at her loss is like the pain a mother feels as she is giving birth: they are labor pains because we are sending her off to her new home. She is being reborn. Although it seems contradictory to celebrate at a funeral, Father Miley pointed out Psalm 51:8 as an example of the way David dealt with grief:
8Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice. (KJV)
He emphasized the words “make me.” David needed the Lord to cause him to hear joy and gladness; as the Lord did for David, so He could do for us. He can make our very bones rejoice. Again we all looked at each other in wonder as we realized that NaNa’s broken bones (she suffered a fall six weeks earlier and broke her hip, her arm in two places, and a rib) are not a concern in heaven; they must certainly be rejoicing, and so should we!
Our conversation with Father Miley lasted about half an hour, and when he left Starbucks, he left us feeling much comfort. There is no doubt in my mind that the Lord orchestrated our “chance” encounter.
As if that wasn’t enough to grab our attention, the Lord did something else spectacular later that night. My husband’s task at the funeral was to say a few words at the gravesite. He grabbed the Bible at the hotel to look up Psalm 51, but he didn’t have to look very far because it opened exactly on Psalm 51. We both got goosebumps and told the Lord that we were listening! My husband spoke a beautiful tribute to his grandmother and ended with the story of Father Miley and the message of Psalm 51: make me to hear joy and gladness, that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice.
The providential hand of the Lord was very present with us during our time of sorrow. I pray that those family members who were perhaps skeptical about the existence of God and his Son Jesus are now looking towards Him with new eyes as a result of these events that were so divinely orchestrated that they can’t just explain them away as coincidental. The Lord is real! The Lord is alive, and he loves us and comforts us.
So, thank you, Father Miley, for obeying the prompting of the Holy Spirit and taking time out of your day to give comfort to sheep that didn’t even belong to your parish flock! Thank you, Lord, for pulling all the pieces together and for loving us!