For the Living of These Days—A Word from Renee Purtlebaugh

Saturday’s Memorial Service for little Rylee was perhaps one of the most difficult moments our congregation has walked through in many years. With this family who is part of the fabric of our congregation, with the teachers who loved and taught her each week in our Toddler classroom, with the families in their Bible study class who have become close friends, even now closer, we grieve. 

When the vibrant life of a beloved child is too soon gone from us, we wrestle to find our way through the confusion and the grief and the darkness. We name the reality that there is so much sadness, disbelief, and heartbreak that it is difficult to speak any adequate words that might bring comfort. When a beloved child dies, I think it is normal and right to feel these big feelings because it means that we have loved deeply and we have loved well.

And yet God is here, showing up in the midst of the sorrow, weeping and comforting too. Saturday’s gathering of collective grief and celebration of Rylee’s life brought together so many of the circles she moved through and the lives she transformed with her little light. Sunday’s remembering of this family as we saw beautiful flowers remaining in the Sanctuary and Commons reminds us that grief continues for days and weeks and months and years, and that they will need our support and care and love in the ways a community of faith offers. And the depth of courage of our Toddler Bible study teachers and worship care volunteers who didn’t have the strength to walk into the nursery area on Saturday in their sadness, but found it as they walked boldly into those classrooms Sunday morning to embody God’s love is a testament to God’s strength within, for it is step by tiny step that we walk forward into the days that are ours to live and make a difference within.

Friends, these are the vulnerable moments in which we live out all that we believe—that we do have the capacity to sit in the midst of that which is so difficult when the world just doesn’t make sense, that we do not grieve as those without hope, that God is our good shepherd giving strength and courage for the journey.

As we read on Saturday afternoon, Jesus’ strong embrace [of the children he hugged and blessed] reminds us that God is our refuge and strength, a help always near in times of great trouble (Mark 10, Psalm 46). I wonder today if that refuge and strength looks a little bit like this blessing from Jan Richardson, Blessing When a World is Ending.

Look, the world is always ending somewhere.

Somewhere the sun has come crashing down.

Somewhere it has gone completely dark………

Somewhere it has ended with a tenderness that will break your heart.

But, listen, this blessing means to be anything but morose.
It has not come to cause despair.

It is simply here because there is nothing a blessing
is better suited for than an ending, nothing that cries out more
for a blessing than when a world is falling apart.

This blessing will not fix you, will not mend you, will not give you false comfort;
it will not talk to you about one door opening when another one closes.

It will simply sit itself beside you among the shards

and gently turn your face toward the direction from which the light will come,

gathering itself about you as the world begins again.

© Jan Richardson.

May we have the courage in these days and always to turn our face toward the direction from which the Light will come, trusting that while it was never gone from us, we will see it clearly and brightly once again.