Saturday, November 15, 2014

Tribute to Michael

I'll be honest, friends---I've been putting off this post. Wanting to write it, but just not ready. Sometimes grieving + pain takes awhile to work through. I'm definitely not through, but its time to come back, and write, and learn, and keep going.

Life is different, somehow. I think of everything in a new way. The word RELATIONSHIP has taken on a whole new meaning. Somehow, I just can't get enough now. People I loved before are twice as dear to me now. Things I wanted to do before with people but just didn't get to, are TOP PRIORITY now. Hugs and kisses and notes and phone calls and little kindnesses and just taking time to talk, have become so important to me. It blows me away how death changes things like this; how it makes us just stop in our tracks and re-evaluate relationships.

Michael's funeral is so hard for me to describe. Friends asked me how it went and I honestly just struggled with putting it into words. It was the most beautiful, most meaningful, and the most heart wrenching of funerals. As I sat with the huge tribe of cousins + uncles + aunts + grandparents up near the front, and listened to the soothing instrumental music playing, I kept thinking it must just all be a dream. But that casket was a very real reminder that it was not a dream. It was real. I held it all together until two of Michael's friends got up to lead worship. At that point the pain just hit so hard. And yet, the peace of God hit hard too. One of the songs we sang was a favorite of mine, "Bless the Lord, O My Soul". The second verse...I may have cried through the whole thing, but it spoke to my heart:
"And on that day when my strength is failing,
The end draws near, and my time has come,
STILL MY SOUL WILL SING YOUR PRAISE UNENDING
Ten thousand years and then forever more."

So POWERFUL. Just think about that a minute. So much meaning in that verse!

Later, I stood in the line of cousins + friends waiting to take a turn shoveling dirt over his grave. The cold November wind whipped around us all and I shivered, wanting to somehow pinch myself and wake up finding that this was all a horrible dream. But it wasn't a dream.

It was such amazing comfort to have so many of our cousins there. In times like these family just pulls together and it was incredible. We hugged and cried and hugged some more. Nothing needed to be said; the bond was enough and volumes were communicated without even speaking a word. I felt it in each hug, "You are loved. I'm thankful for you".

Afterward the burial I was sitting with a group of cousins eating supper and reminiscing. We were talking about how difficult it is to explain to people the loss of one of our cousins. Most people don't have many cousins and then the ones they do have, they aren't close to.
I have talked about this before but I am one of the most blessed of girls to have the world's greatest group of cousins-on BOTH sides of my family. We have this common bond of knowing JESUS, and it is just amazing. I recognize that it is so rare, and I am so grateful for it. But when you have all this in common, and you are so close, losing a cousin is just like losing an extension of your family. You all grieve together, because that cousin was a part of all of you, and so loved.

Nights have been difficult to sleep through. It was at 2am just over two weeks ago that I got the call that Michael had died. And now multiple nights since I have suddenly woken up in the middle of the night, afraid that my phone is going to ring + it will be another call to tell of a loss. This may sound crazy, but to those of you who have been through it-you know. Death has happened to someone I loved; someone that was so dear. And when you see this, how life can be ended so quickly, how its so fragile...it really just changes things.

The picture at the top of this post...ah, I remember that moment so well. (Michael is in between Denver & Allison in the picture)
It was time for our family to hit the road once again, after spending five days in one of our favorite states with some of our favorite people-the New York relatives. 
As always, I was sad to leave. We had made so many memories that week. Cookouts, work parties, countless games of prisoner's base, Dutch Blitz, & football, long conversations, sitting on the hill overlooking the lake watching the fireworks on July 4th, the morning us girl cousins cooked for the guys while the aunts + grandma all went out to breakfast....and the list went on and on. So many special moments to treasure. As usual we had waited til the last minute to load up, cause its just hard to tear yourself away from these amazing cousins, you know? 
I remember everyone starting to head for the door and I yelled out after them "just one last cousin picture...please?!" It wasn't even like we were all there or anything; it was just a random collection of some of us who had been together for supper. I guess it was just the photographer in me that had to have "just one more picture". Or maybe it was something else. 
I will never regret it. I had no way of knowing then that it would be our last picture with Michael. 
I am SO THANKFUL for this time we had with Michael & his family last Thanksgiving.  (above picture) It was a last-minute decision for them to come visit and I remember how excited we were. It had been so long since they had been out to Iowa.
Now, I am just doubly grateful for that time together.

I remember my last conversation with Michael this summer. He was leaving to work with this ministry and he gave me a couple of his prayer cards just before we left. I remember that we talked for a few minutes about the ministry he was going to be a part of, and I remember how excited he was to go and make a difference in the lives of these struggling boys. He was excited to do the hard things in life. He left a great job, a great family, and a great community, to go and MAKE A DIFFERENCE for Jesus Christ, to give his life for others.

And make a difference he did. It may have been short in our human thinking, but in his twenty-two years he made a difference. Not just in the lives of these boys he mentored and discipled, but in the lives of everyone he knew. His funeral was such a testimony of that. It seemed like relationship was just the key word. Michael was 100% into living life with passion and zeal. He was always the life of the party and pretty much ALWAYS had some child either on his lap or running after him. He was always laughing, and always up for a challenge.

He left such an amazing example. I am so thankful for the opportunity I had to know him and to have him as my cousin. I think of him and his family everyday. And everyday I am challenged by his memory to love people more and live life to the fullest.

He is so sorely missed, but how thankful I am for the hope + promise of life everlasting for those that know the Lord! It is such a comfort to know that he knew and loved Jesus with all of his heart, and to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is now rejoicing in glory with the King of Kings!

Love you all.
-Chels

20 comments:

  1. What a lovely tribute, my daughter. I will always treasure those memories of our time together in IA and in NY. Becky Bontrager

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  2. So inspired by Michael's example, Chelsy. "People I loved before are twice as dear to me now. Things I wanted to do before with people but just didn't get to, are TOP PRIORITY now. Hugs and kisses and notes and phone calls and little kindnesses and just taking time to talk, have become so important to me. It blows me away how death changes things like this; how it makes us just stop in our tracks and re-evaluate relationships." >> such a convicting reminder to cherish my cousins (and everyone else) and the memories made with them, for time truly is short. Love you and pray for you often with this. <3 (P.S. Would the audio of the funeral happen to be recorded somewhere?)

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  3. Beautiful Chelsy. That left such an impact on me. I read it, and God just moved in my heart and I could only cry. Mom read it to us all then and we cried again. We had been praying for Michael the whole time, and Mom would read us the updates. I can't tell you what an impact Michael's life has left on us, and we didn't even know him. I pray and think of you all everyday, and we are continuing to pray.
    God bless you.
    ~ Morgan R.

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  4. Chelsy,

    I'm so sorry for your loss. This was such a sweet post. Thanks so much for the reminder to treasure life ,remembering that we may not have tomorrow. I'll continue to pray for you and your family. Keep clinging to Jesus.
    Haley

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  5. Beautiful tribute. I am so sorry for your loss.
    -Lynnae

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  6. Chelsy,
    Even though we've only met once, I feel like we're close friends from the last 2 years of reading your blog. I just wanted you to know how my heart grieves with you at this hard time and that I'm lifting you up in prayer before the Almighty. I also wanted to encourage you and let you know that God is using the words you write in your blog to inspire others and to bring them close to Him. I'm sure this blog post was difficult to do, but your reminder to focus on the relationships in our lives and to love and serve the Lord are so moving. I always feel motivated by God (through your words) to look at life with a new perspective; loving others more dearly, pursuing God without abandon, standing for righteousness and purity, etc.. You are a dear daughter of His and an inspiration to many. I thank you for writing this blog, you are making a wonderful difference in this world just like Michael did.
    Along for the journey,
    Kayla from Grand Rapids

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  7. Thanks for sharing, Chels! And thank you so much for the reminder to love and cherish those around us! It's so important, and yet we so often forget! Thank you! I always enjoy reading your posts!

    Praying for you and your family!
    Sarah F.

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  8. So sweet. So special. I know it took courage for you to write and post this, and I am so proud of you for doing so. Love you, Chels.
    -Ali

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  9. Aww, thank you for sharing, Chels! I was inspired and moved by Michael's example...this tribute is very special and touching. Love you! Praying too!
    ~Pris

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  10. This was a lovely post Chelsy. It reminded me that I really need to cherish the people God put in my life, today, because they may not be here tomorrow.
    Blessings,
    Hannah L

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  11. I'm so sorry for your loss Chelsy! This post was a good reminder to never ever take for granted those special people and relationships in your life. Praying for your entire family!

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  12. Chelsy I am very sorry for you loss! I am praying for you all. This post was a great reminder to cherish every moment!!

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  13. Reading your words brings back so many memories of when grandma died. Everything you've shared is so true. And tough. I'm praying for ya'll.
    I've actually learned to be grateful for gma's death, it made/makes think about life and it puts eternity in such a real light when you can actually picture some one you loved and knew so closely.. and for so long in the glorious presence of God... and it makes me SO SO grateful for my family, relatives and friends. You never see them the same. Love ya'll. Be strong in the Lord!

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  14. Thank you for sharing your thoughts as you work through this loss, Chelsy. In the short time we have known of Michael through your family's blogs, his family's trust through his last days has made a significant impact on our family.

    Know that we are standing with you all in prayer during this difficult time.

    Isaac

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  15. These are beautiful words. Thank you for sharing them. We are so blessed!
    Now I think I'll go cry somewhere...and wish you were here to cry with me. I miss you!

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    1. Yeah, I wish we could be together too. miss you!

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  16. Amen Chels! I totally agree with you about relationships being that much more important.

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  17. Hi Chelsy,
    I love your blog. I go on it everyday. You are very pretty. Actually beautiful. I will be praying for you and your family everyday as you go through this very rough time. I hope that you are all doing well. I wish the best for you.
    -Kaie

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  18. We sang that song at my Grandpa's funeral. It's a very good song.
    I'm praying for you and your family.
    -Susan

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