Saturday, May 8, 2010

Jeff's prayer and sermon

My brother, Jeff, led the memorial service for Virginia tonight. He did such a wonderful job and we wanted to include the prayer and the sermon for those who weren't able to be there.

Lord, we do not understand why this little one
Which we had hoped to bring into the world
Has died before birth.
We only know that where once was sweet expectation,
Now there is bitter disappointment;
Where once there was hope and excitement,
Now there is a feeling of failure and loss.
Nothing can replace this life, this child,
Whom we have loved before seeing,
Before feeling it stir in the womb.
In our pain we look to you, Lord,
To whom no life is meaningless,
No matter how brief or small.
Though our understanding may be limited,
May it not confine our faith.
Draw us close to you and to each other in our grief.
Heal our wounds and comfort our sorrows,
And raise us all from death to life;
Through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Based on Psalm 139:1-18
As we gather together tonight, we are here with hearts that are heavy yet full of hope. We are mourning the life of a little girl that was too short in our eyes, yet a life that we know will continue on through eternity. Though we weren’t able to meet Virginia before she went home to heaven, we are saddened because she is already missed. Our hearts are heavy yet full of hope because we know – with the Apostle Paul – that though we mourn, we don’t mourn as those without hope. We have a deep-seated trust that this beautiful girl is already in heaven and already belongs to God – we know with unspeakable comfort that she is not her own, but belongs – body and soul, in life and in death, to her faithful Savior, Jesus Christ. That is our hope and our joy: that before even her first cry, she found herself in heaven, where we know that every tear will be wiped away.

You see, this hope and confidence we have – even in the face of death – comes because we know that God is faithful.

That was the first thought that I had when I came into the hospital room to visit with you on Monday night, the night when Virginia was delivered. You mentioned it in your telling of Virginia’s story, but it’s worth repeating here. After the ultrasound had shown that Virginia had passed away April 21, you braced yourselves for the next step – the induction of labor. You two – by the grace of God and with the prayer support of those around you – were handling it all extremely well. You had come to grips – after the initial ultrasound – that there may be something wrong with the baby. You were shocked by – yet accepted – that your child had two fatal diagnoses that likely meant she wouldn’t live very long. You admirably accepted that she had passed away… yet desired just one simple request: that you might be able to hold her for a while. That you’d be able to gaze into the face of this child that you seen on ultrasound monitors. That you’d be able to take pictures and cherish the time – be it ever so brief – that you would spend with this child on earth.

The induction process started on that Wednesday night, and our family was surprised that the baby hadn’t been born on Thursday morning. The process continued through the day Thursday and into Thursday night. Thursday became Friday and Friday turned into Saturday… finally, after 60 hours of unsuccessful attempts to deliver, you were told to head home and make arrangements for a procedure to take place, one that would likely not preserve the body of the baby, one that would take away the one bit of consolation, the one thing that you still wanted from the pregnancy: a chance to hold this little child.

You – along with many of us here this evening – were crushed. Disappointed is a much too mild word. It was a time of despair, a time of hopelessness, a time when we – out of faith in God – asked, “Why would God let this happen? Why didn’t God answer all these prayers that had gone up to His throne?” Tim wrote on facebook, “We're already spent, I don't know how much more of this we can take.” Laura wrote, “can't understand why this is all happening to us? It's too much for us to handle!”

Little did any of us know that those prayers would be answered not in the way that we expected, but in God’s timing and according to His plan. Incredibly, God hadn’t been saying “no” to our request that Tim and Laura could hold their baby, He was saying “not yet.” Because 12 hours into the second induction process, after Dr. N. took a leap of faith in their case, our prayers were answered: little Virginia Rae was born intact, was welcomed with joy and sadness into her parents’ arms.

That’s one of the reasons we trust in God’s faithfulness and His care for Virginia in heaven – because we’ve seen His care so clearly for Tim & Laura. What we see is what Psalm 139 teaches us – a psalm that we often think about in terms of God’s care for unborn children but one that also speaks of his loving care for us. The psalmist says that God knows us. He knows when we sit and rise, he knows our going out and our lying down, he’s familiar with all of our ways. The gospel says that God knew us and loved us so much that He didn’t spare his own Son for us. So we put our trust in Him, we place our hope in Him – knowing His great faithfulness.

One of the great blessings of your time on Monday night – following the delivery of Virginia – was that little brown box that you received at the hospital. I’m talking – of course – about the memory box. In it you have pictures that followed soon after Virginia birth, you have keepsakes that were gifts from the hospital, and you have the seashell that held the baptism water for Virginia. You give thanks that you have a place where you can keep those reminders of Virginia’s life, of the things you learned during this time, of the way that God answered your prayers to hold her.

But that memory box has shortcomings. It can’t hold the joy you had in your heart when you first found out that you would be having another child. It can’t hold the feeling you had when your hearts thumped along because you heard Virginia’s strong heartbeat for the very first time. It can’t hold the incredible memories that you have of falling in love with your little girl when you first saw her on the ultrasound. It can’t hold the tears that you shed as we remembered – on the night she was born – God’s promises of Scripture for His precious child. It can’t hold the full day of memories that you have from today; memories from the graveside, memories of loved ones visiting with you, memories of loved ones who are here now to hug you, cry with you, and be there for you in the long journey of mourning.
Those are all memories that just don’t fit in a memory box; no, they fit within your heart, and I know they will be cherished forever.

And Virginia, too, will be cherished forever. Though she measured a mere six inches long, she holds a large place in your hearts. Though she weighed only eight ounces, she’s placed a heavy burden on your hearts. It’s incredible to think how someone so small could have such a huge impact on your lives. It’s unbelievable how someone so little could be loved so much already. But even more astounding is that while your love for her is great, God’s love for her is immeasurable. While you have known her and loved her since the day you found out you were expecting, God has loved her and known she was His before the foundations of the earth were laid. While you’ve caught glimpses of her on ultrasound screens, God – verse 13 tells us – knit her together in her mother’s womb. While you heard moments of her heart beating from the Doppler machine, her frame – as verse 15 tells us – wasn’t hidden from God while he made her in the secret place. While you – as every good parents do – made plans for Virginia, God – verse 16 tells us – knew all the days ordained for her, and He wrote them in His book before one of them came to be.

And while we had hoped and prayed and wished and desired that this child would be healthy and strong and well, we see now that God has answered that prayer in heaven. Though we all wanted Virginia to grow with her mommy and daddy here, we know that she’s with her heavenly father right now.

May we all cling to that hope and comfort now – that Virginia is with God right now, that she is whole, healthy, and happy. And may we rest in the assurance that God – whose faithfulness stretches to the skies – is with us, too. Amen.

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