(Ana and Emma in 2011 when we came in view of a call)
A couple of weeks ago, Ana, Emma, and I were in the car with Wes when he got a call on his phone.
It had been a hard week full of long hours and late nights for Wes. One of the members of our church was in the hospital and wasn’t doing well at all, and Wes wanted to be there for him and his wife. I had been up there earlier in the week to visit them with him and had told the girls later about what was happening with Mr. Willis and Mrs. Genia, explaining to them how difficult it all was and why it was important for Papi to be gone so much.
So when he got the call and his side of the conversation made it clear that things were getting worse, both girls sat forward in their seats as Wes parked the car, listening as intently as I was.
When he asked Genia if he could pray for her right then, I glanced back at the backseat to see both girls with their eyes already closed. Emma with a worried expression and Ana with her hands clasped and pressed to her forehead, mouthing her own prayers as Wes prayed.
And then, Wes told Genia he’d be back up to the hospital in thirty minutes. So, we got home where he could drop us off and change clothes, leaving me in the living room with the girls, where they immediately launched into a whole lot of difficult questions.
“Is Mr. Willis going to get better?!,” Emma asked me.
“I don’t know,” I said. “I don’t think there’s anything else the doctors can do to help him.”
“What can Papi do, then? Why is he going up there?,” Ana asked.
“To sit with Mr. Willis and Mrs. Genia,” I said. “To listen to them and pray with them.”
“Then we should go, too,” Ana said. “We can pray with them.”
I tried to explain to her that while God had certainly equipped her, as a believer, to be the hands and feet of Jesus to those who are hurting… well, that this time, she probably needed to stay home, given how late it was and how crowded that tiny hospital room could get. We talked about how late Papi might be up there, what was ahead for Mr. Willis at the hospital, and the very real possibility that God might let him pass on.
Ana began crying as we talked. Emma reached over and put her little arm around her sister and told me, “That’s so sad, Mommy.”
I told her that it was indeed very sad. That someone can be here one moment and gone the next. How we’re never prepared for goodbyes. How a life well lived is almost always led by a person who will be well missed. How sad it would be if we lost Mr. Willis.
“It won’t be sad for Mr. Willis,” Ana sobbed. “It will be WONDERFUL for Mr. Willis, to get to be with Jesus. But Mrs. Genia, Mommy. Oh, Mrs. Genia…”
Empathy. Honest, real grief for what is true and difficult in death. Not for Mr. Willis, who was secure and confident in the glory of God he was about to behold, his fath made sight, and every promise made into a resounding YES in Christ… but for Mrs. Genia, who would have to say goodbye. Empathy, truly grieving for someone else and their loss, their pain, and crying because this world is a sad, sad place.
I wonder sometimes how “real” to keep things around the girls when it comes to what we experience in our church family. While we work hard to teach them and pray even harder for them to have a Biblical perspective when it comes to the hard parts of life and death… well, we know that we won’t have all the answers this side of eternity. How do you answer the tough questions, about death, about hurting, about how hard it can be? I remember telling Ana at my grandmother’s funeral last year that the world isn’t what God made it to be, that death was never what God intended for us, and that one day, He’ll fix it all. I remember telling her that all of Scripture is about how God is moving us to that day, how He’s going to make everything right again, and how He’s going to do it in His perfect way and in His perfect timing. I remember telling her that it was okay to cry because Mamo had died, that Jesus Himself had cried when His friend, Lazarus, had died. (“Yeah, and Lazarus had been in the tomb long enough to get stinky,” she’d sobbed. So Scripture affirms.)
But are these things too hard for them to learn so young? In a church community of many generations where death is familiar and where they are so involved with people as the pastor’s daughters, is it too much for them to know these things, especially as they grow to know and love the very people they’ll have to say goodbye to?
I’ve wondered, as I watch how tender-hearted they are, how they react when they hear that someone is sick, and how they draw conclusions that seem much too mature for children their age. I’ve wondered if this is a good thing or if their innocence has been lost too soon.
But I’m encouraged, even in ths sad season for our church community, to see how God uses the passing of a man who knew Him and served Him well, to solidify truths about eternity and His sovereignty into the hearts of even our youngest sisters in Christ.