I attended a most unusual memorial service yesterday.  A Christian leader in his church, community and home-town committed suicide.  He was dearly loved and well-known.   This dearly loved and well-known husband, father and grandfather had been a model for hundreds of people.  The memorial service was called a Celebration of Life.

To myself, I mused, How will the family handle the circumstances of his death?  as I drove to the church.  I arrived 40 minutes early.  This was good because the church was nearly full by the time I creeped through the crowd of people endeavoring to enter the sanctuary. 

How did the family handle the death?  With open, honest and sincere sadness.  They were extremely brave.  The family members conducted the service.  It was truly a celebration of life and a tribute to a wonderful man.

However, there was frankness that is rarely seen in church during uncomfortable circumstances.  Three pastors read scriptures and spoke briefly.  But it was the family that lead the congregation into praise.  In addition, they led us through the past months in an acutely honest exploration of the problems they had faced as their husband and father struggled with extreme mental pain.  They confessed that they had more questions than answers.  “Please, don’t expect us to answer your questions,” they said.  “We have too many questions of our own.”

However, after the service, their ministry continued to all who attended the reception afterwards.  They hugged us and allowed us to cry and to share in their tears. 

Who was this person to Special Gathering which is a ministry within the mentally challenged community?  He was friend who lavishly welcomed and loved our members each time we visited the church.  He served as our representative on the missions committee and advocated for us for almost a decade.  One year, he purchased Bibles for our choir as Christmas gifts.  For at least eight years, he drove a church van every week more than 40 miles to a pick-up spot so that we could use the van in Vero.  His family told me that he prayed for us every day for almost ten years.  Behind the scenes, he was a most valuable asset to the Special Gathering ministry. 

Life isn’t always a pleasant trip down a garden trail.  Sometimes a Christ-like hero to many people falls, leaving us confused and questioning.  However, I know that this man loved Jesus and he loved Special Gathering ministry.  And I thank God for him and his life.