I just returned from a visitation. I have to work tomorrow, so I cannot attend the funeral, but the viewing was my chance to pay my last respects... not to an elderly aunt, who passed in the night from a long battle with cancer... not to a grandfather, who died suddenly at the ripe old age of 84 from a massive stroke... not to a close relative or friend who passed later in their years... no, I paid my last respects to a 17 year old girl.
Her name is Porcia. She's one of my kids, as I call any of the kids who come through WalkAbout Drama, the middle school ministry I helped found and led for a time. She's just a few days into her final summer of school, her senior year awaits, then college... but, that's not to be. She died a few days ago in a... well, I hate using the term "freak accident", because it puts forth this image of a bizarre circumstance that is hardly to be believed... it was an accident. No one to blame, no fingers to point, no one's fault... just a case of God saying, "This is what I'm going to do, these are My plans, and those plans involve Porcia coming home to Me."
Porcia loved her mom. I'd see them together, when girls at church were huddled together, doing their girls-in-a-huddly type thing, Porcia would often be seen hanging out with Ashley. And, wow this chick loved horses. And from what I understand, she was really good at riding too, an underrated talent, if you ask me. I think I'd be scared of being kicked in the head, or getting Chris Reeved by a mad palomino or something.
The visitation was peaceful, nice, beautiful. I stood next to Mrs. Paula Maddox as we waited to go into the sanctuary of Valleydale Church (an sbc fellowship), and we walked through the "receiving line" together--I know that's what its called in a wedding, I'm not sure what its called in this circumstance, but you know what I mean... a line of people waiting to pay their final respects to the deceased, and give condolences to the family.
Paula and I chatted briefly as we made our way around the room in the line, each of our hearts tearing a little bit more at the sobs coming from Ashley, as she hugged each person that came through the line. I asked Paula about Courtney, her daughter of the same age and same class, and what she would do in Ashley's situation. Paula just dabbed her eyes, shook her head and said, "I don't... I don't even know. I cannot even begin to understand how this feels... I mean... Courtney... I just..." she stammered for a minute and just shook her head. "I just... I don't know."
We finally arrived where Ashley stood next to Porcia, lying in her equestrian outfit. Porcia's stepfather and stepbrother stood nearby. Paula whispered, "You want me to go first, or would you like to go?" I told her I would go first, as I knew Paula would take much longer... I hugged Ashley and spoke to her for a minute, then gave the guys a big hug and handshake. I walked to a seat near the back of the chair rows, and stood watching the line as they came through. Paula grabbed Ashley and hugged her so tightly, in a way that I can only assume a mother can hug another mother when it comes to the safety and care of their daughters.
There was a ROTC group of about five guys, full uniform, none looking older than 16 or 17. I watched as they got close to Porcia, stopping and then breaking into a small march. The marched to the side where Porcia was lying, turned to face her, saluted in unison, turned back again and marched down the aisle. Three were stoic as they walked. One guy... boy... was barely keeping it together, his jaw trembling, his lip shaking, eyes squinting. The other wasn't even trying, one hand covering his mouth, the other wiping his eyes, all in perfect march. If I came close to tearing up at all tonight, it was right then and there. (oh, don't judge me for not crying... we grieve differently, back off)
I guess this begs the question... why, God? Why take Porcia, God? Is it fair that a 17 year old girl, just really beginning to live, ready to get her last year in high school behind her, get that diploma, go on to college (I suspect Auburn), join a sorority, meet some guy that is nice to her that no doubt Ashley will like but never feel is good enough for her baby, get married, make Ashley a grandmother, then grow old and die the ripe old age of 92 of heart disease, won't get to do any of this?
Is it fair that you take her from this Earth, and leave behind so many people that we know that we just feel like don't deserve to be here? What kind of God would do this to Ashley, who loves You and follows You? What kind of God would take away a loving sister to little Nicki, her sister? Its not fair, and who would want to follow a God that would treat His children so cruelly, to take away someone--one of Your followers--so loved and adored, so young and beautiful that might bring such glory to Your name? Who would want to follow this God?
Its such a conundrum that we as people put on ourselves. If you can blame God, or be furious at God (which, by the way, being angry at God and questioning His motives are not sins... its the lack of faith that follows that leads you to into murky waters) that concludes that you believe in God. And if you believe in God, then you probably believe in The Word. And through this chain of thought, if you believe in The Word, then you'd have to at least consider these three things...
1) God is love. He is truly love, He loves us more than we can possibly understand, and in that love, He does things and allows things that we may not agree with. 2) God's purpose is to glorify Himself, and everything that happens will either directly or indirectly lead to His glorification. 3) If love is wanting what's best for us, then what's best for us is to glorify Him through His plans and purposes, which means that things happen that we don't understand, that we don't like, and that we downright hate, but those things are things that are best for us in order to further glorify Him and spread His kingdom.
The first thought I had in my head when I heard the news was a verse I used to quote frequently, but hadn't thought of in years... Psalm 115:3, which says, "Our God is in Heaven and He does what He pleases." And it's a comfort, to me at least, to know that what pleases Him is His love for us, which in turn is glory for Himself. He does what He pleases to accomplish what's best for us...
I think Porcia has probably impacted hundreds of lives in her 213 months on Earth, and possibly would have impacted hundreds more in a long life ahead. But now? Through the tragedy? She might impact thousands. Thousands of people who will hear this story, and will hear the Word of God not only spoken, but lived through Ashley and those in her family. And that is a strong statement for God's glory.
Let's be real though... this doesn't make it suck any less. Sure, its a warm fuzzy to know how God is being praised and leaned on now, but it still absolutely, positively sucks. All of it. It just plain sucks.
And life goes on, as it always has.
By the way, I had a thought... if there was a phone in Heaven, and you had Porcia's number, and you called her to say, "Hey Porcia... you leaving was not cool. There are a lot of people hurting down here, and lots of people missing you... can you come back? Would you like to come back to us?" I have a pretty definite idea that she would look at her surroundings now and say, "Nope, I'm cool. I'll just see y'all when you get here. You're going to love it."