Well our Memorial Day Weekend turned out quite different than we expected. As we received word Thursday night that the visitation for Maria would be held on Friday night from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m and the Memorial Service on Saturday at 11:00 a.m., we were overcome with the call that we had to be there. We cancelled all of our previously scheduled plans, packed up the van and headed out at 6:00 a.m Friday morning for Nashville, Tennessee. Our dear friend Carla and her daughter Morgan also joined us. Over the last year, we have had the honor and privilege to get to know the Chapman family, and the Shaohannah's Hope family on a more personal level. We love them so much and felt that we needed to be there in person to give them our love and support. What a BLESSING this turned out to be. We arrived at the church right at 5:00 and waited in the long line of thousands of loved ones and saints all there to be a blessing to this beautiful family. When we finally got into the Sanctuary we were graciously greeted by Kerry and Scott Hasenbalg, Executive Director of Shaohannah's Hope, who also lost their precious daughter this past January. We were then graciously received by Steven, Mary Beth, Caleb, Will Franklin, and Emily with her fiance Tanner, with a warm, loving and sincere greeting of gratitude that we were there. What a joy and blessing it was to hug, kiss and cry together as we all suffered through this state of shock, confusion and sadness.
The Memorial Service on Saturday was an extraordinary time of fellowship and grieving, but most of all it was a celebration. Little Maria lived a life that was full of love and life. She left quite an impact on all of us. For five years, she lived her life to the fullest, loving to draw flowers, lady bugs, butterflies and being butt naked. In an especially poignant moment, Mary Beth told the story of how just 3 months ago, Maria prayed to receive Christ as her Savior. What a blessing to hear those words! Emily Chapman, who was just engaged last weekend to Tanner, shared the analogy of Maria getting engaged 3 months ago to the Savior and she beat all the Chapman girls in marriage...she is now with her bridegroom. Will Franklin wore Maria's favorite blanket around his neck and they shared some of her artwork and cards she had made for them. All of the children at the service, including 6 of ours carried a flower and placed it all around her casket...she loved flowers, and were hugged and greeted by Steven and MaryBeth. It was an absolutely beautiful service!!
I often wonder how I will react when faced with tragedy as this, or how a family such as the Chapman's who live their lives in the spotlight will react to tragedy. People watch and wonder...I guess it's just human nature. I was totally blown away with the love, acceptance, and forgiveness that they exemplified. What made it so special was that it was genuine. No one was putting on an act. This family was overcome with pain and grief, and did not hide it. They were saddened that God had taken their little girl so soon, but accepted His Sovereignty. In the midst of their pain, they praised the Lord. They thanked Him for the 5 years of Maria that they had the privelege of enjoying. They remembered and shared with us what a special little girl she was. They were not just talking the talk, but walking the walk. They were looking toward the future with the hope that God has promised us, that we will see her again.
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” John 11:25-26
They took off their shoes to demonstrate that they were walking on Holy Ground. Over the last couple of days, I thought about just how significant that was, in the context of who was there. Many of the people in attendance were well-known celebrities that came to pay their respects. In fact, the folks who participated in this tribute to Maria looked like a who's who of Contemporary Christian Music. But these folks were not there simply to be seen (I won't evne name them here). We knew that they were there because of their love for Jesus and for the Chapman family. They sang words of real praise to a real God...to a just and holy God. As I listened to these very famous people, I was captivated by the thought that the person who was clearly in our midst, and whose presence I felt more than anyone else was the Lord Jesus Christ. As the Chapman's portrayed a perfect example of forgiveness, I could not help but think that only a true follower of Jesus can accept God's plan even when it is not our plan. Only a true follower of Jesus can forgive like Jesus forgives. The thought of Jesus forgiving a wretch like me is is still overwhelming to me. And yet I so often want to question and judge. Don't we sometimes think we know better than God? Don't we sometimes hold on to hurt and pain and a need to blame? We serve a God who is still on the throne and knows what is best for our lives. Why should we think that our plans are better than His? It is still so amazing to me that we serve such an awesome God.
The Chapman family requested that we continue to lift them up in prayer, knowing this is going to take a long time to comprehend. They asked for prayer especially for their son. Please keep them in your prayers!
You can give the Chapman family your condolences by clicking here.
(STILL NO WORD ON OUR M. IN ETHIOPIA PLEASE KEEP HER IN YOUR PRAYERS TOO)