Pete asked me this morning when I was going to finish my “Dear God” letter or Part 2 of what I was going to share about Chris. My first reaction was “it’s been 2 weeks, it’s probably too late now. I’ve missed my window.” Clearly, the world has moved on (which is normal), but those of us that knew and loved him are still feeling the gaping hole of his absence. Sharing openly on the show, and here on my blog has made me super sensitive to other’s pain. More than ever before, I am keenly aware that at any given moment, countless numbers of people are experiencing pain, hurt and loss. On the flip side of that, I never want to come across as if our best friends and family are the only ones who’ve ever experienced loss. We are not.
Bottom line is this… Life is hard. And grief in the real world is hard. This particular blog post represents a group of family and friends who are still hurting. So, I’m writing this more for us. I invite you to read, tho. Especially if you’re interested in seeing how God had to put a huge tropical storm out in the gulf to save me from my plans. – Or better yet – if you want to see Him as a loving Father who hand paints a sunset, takes care of every detail, and is Comforter to all who mourn.
Kellie is actually in Roswell now packing up Chris’s things and moving them out of the condo they lived in for barely a year. It’s been a hard week. Thanks for keeping her in your prayers.
A Girl with a bad weather attitude.
Before I write a letter to God, there’s something you need to know about me. I have serious issues with weather. It’s a love/hate relationship with me. And lots of times I base my mood/productivity/and evaluation of the success of an event based on the weather. It’s crazy, I know. I confess it. And it’s really crazy that I live in Florida. I only like the weather about 5 or 6 months of the year. I hate humidity, I hate extreme heat, and I really hate it when it feels like you can drink the moisture in the air. We call it “tropical” and I’m not talking about sunshine and sea breeze. I’m talking a sticky, suffocating, miserable, oppressive outdoor steam room.
I will say tho, we’ve had a BEAUTIFUL 1st quarter of the year. Unlike last year, we’ve had cooler weather with zero humidity. It’s truly been phenomenal!! I can only name 3 ugly weekends. Of course they were the 3 weekends I had something significant happening. It was gorgeous all of February. Until the Princess Run. It was gorgeous all of March. Until we had a Building 429 pre-CD release. And it’s been a gorgeous April. Until we planned Chris’s memorial. Sometimes I feel like my punishment from God is bad weather. Terrible theology, I know. But just being honest. Telling you all of this will make sense shortly.
Rewind to Wednesday, April 10.
I met Kellie at Anna Maria Island at the location where we would have Chris’s party. It was a beautiful afternoon, and right before sunset we launched a wish lantern to see how they’d work for Friday. They worked beautifully. That same evening Kellie told me she wanted to lay Chris’s ashes at sea on Friday, because Chris had said he wanted to do it all in the same day. After burgers on the beach, the plan was to have a friend come around in his boat, and then Kellie, the girls, Kip and our friend Rob, who would preside over Chris’s memorial service, would wade out into the water and get on the boat. They would lay Chris to rest at sea, and once she and the girls said their final goodbye to husband and daddy, I would watch for the signal back onshore, initiating the launch of the 100 wish lanterns in the sunset sky and a memorial to Chris. I could see it in my mind’s eye. It would be moving. It would be tender. It would be respectful. It would be a “moment.” And I was determined to make it happen.
our first attempt!
it worked beautifully!
Fast forward to Friday, April 12.
Remember when I mentioned earlier we’ve only had 3 bad weekends this year? Well, of the three, Friday, April 12 has been the worse. A huge tropical system was just off the coast that made the day muggy, cloudy, super windy, and just an all around horrible weather day.
I’m not proud of what I’m about to confess to you, but I want to be real. And this is real and raw. I got up on Friday morning, emotions a mixture of sadness and anger. Sad because of what we’d be doing that day. Anger because God had not healed Chris, AND because the weather was so bad. I actually made this comment to God out loud in my bathroom: “God, you took Chris from us; the least you could do is give us good weather to memorialize him the way we are hoping to!” Yep, it’s true. Terrible isn’t it? I’m glad God has a chest big enough to take our temper tantrums. I drove all the way to the church, crying and praying: “God, I don’t want to be mad at you today. Please help me.” I put on Chris Tomlin’s Burning Lights. “Jesus, Son of God” was the song I played on repeat. “At the altar of our praise, let there be no higher name, Jesus, Son of God. You laid down Your perfect life, You are the sacrifice, Jesus, Son of God. You are Jesus, Son of God….” At that moment, I focused on what I knew OVER what I was feeling. God inhabits the praises of His people, and I needed Him to inhabit me! I don’t tell you this to show you how holy I am. I am the furthest thing from it. I tell you this to show you I have a heart blacker ‘n soot sometimes.
I wrote about the Celebration of Life in “Dear Chris,” so if you’ve read that you know what an incredibly special service it really was. Hands-down the most celebratory service I’ve ever attended. Chris lived a life that preached his own funeral. And we all walked away comforted, knowing that it’s never a final goodbye for those who know Jesus. If you haven’t read “Dear Chris,” please scroll back and share the day with us.
Cut to Friday evening.
With the huge storm continuing to brew off the coast (that never made landfall, btw, nor rained on our party), and whitecaps on the water, I soon accepted the fact the “moment” wasn’t happening. At the end of the evening I went to Plan B and planned for a few us to execute the plan on Saturday, albeit on a smaller scale. Kellie was happy it never rained; I was wishing I could model her grateful attitude.
Saturday, April 13.
I went for a run, just to get some fresh air, and I received this text from Kellie: “Jim got us a bigger boat. We’ll all be able to go out. Be here by 6.”
We had never planned on being part of the laying of Chris’s ashes at sea. But in that moment, I knew instantly God was about to give us a precious gift.
Followed by tears.
Followed by more tears.
I beg your forgiveness. I am so sorry I’m such a spoiled, rotten child who constantly thinks my ways are better than Yours. Specifically, I am sorry for yelling at You yesterday about why You couldn’t give us nice weather. I have such a black heart, Jesus, and such a long way to go. Thank you that You love me in spite of me. Left to my own thoughts and strong will, I am nothing but a wrecking ball waiting to strike again.
You tell us, Lord, that our plans are not Your plans. That our ways are not Your ways. That Your ways and Your plans are better. Will I ever learn this and even more importantly, believe it? I am so so sorry, God, please forgive me. I am a wretch.
I have no words when I think about the afternoon You gave us. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced anything so holy. So sacred. So close to Ecclesiastes 12:7 “…for then the dust will return to earth, and the spirit will return to God who gave it.”
Lord, it’s almost as if you made the day just for us. It was surreal seeing Kip carry the bag to the boat. We all followed quietly behind, still trying to wrap our minds around the fact that we were saying goodbye. It still just doesn’t seem real. Chris is gone. How did this happen?
The view from the boat was breathtaking. In one direction we saw the Skyway Bridge. In the other, we saw Anna Maria Island, and yet another we saw nothing but the sea meeting the horizon. And who could forget the sunset? Your creation truly does declare Your glory.
Scott (in the water) and Pete (on the boat) trying to un-anchor us!
God, I’m convinced you have a sense of humor! It was great comedy relief when the anchor got stuck in the sandbar!! Lord, this is SO us! Anything less than Scott having to go in the water to free our anchor wouldn’t have been true to our personalities individually, or as friends. As long as we’ve all known each other, we’ve never NOT had a Lucy or 3 Stooges moment. It actually makes us nervous if things go too smoothly. We all wanna believe that perhaps you gave Chris a quick glance at this sight. We can hear him now saying, “yep, those are my peeps! They’re trying to lay me to rest, and they’re stuck on a sandbar.” It was good to have a cathartic belly laugh in the middle of something so hard. You’ve blessed us with humor throughout the whole ordeal, usually led by Chris, so why would it be any different now?
Rob reading from the Holy Word of God.
Once unstuck, Kellie let Caroline choose the place. She chose perfectly. Now anchored properly, we all made our way to the bow of the boat. Rob opened the scriptures, and the tears began to flow. He read from Your word, Father, and we felt Your tangible presence. After spending time in Your Word, Kip removed the lid of the box and released Chris’s ashes to sea. I’ll never be able to articulate the hard and the holy in that moment. But for those of us on the boat, it will forever be written on our hearts and minds. It was “The Moment” that was suppose to happen. My moment would’ve been woefully less.
I’ll never forget hearing Kellie say, “I’m sorry girls,” as they sat holding each other, on both sides of their mother. I can hardly think about it now without crying all over again. Jim so respectfully gave us the quiet time that was needed to take in/process/live the moment. Rob read more scripture and we made the boat our altar. As I sang yesterday, “on the altar of our praise, let there be no higher name, Jesus, Son of God….” I don’t know that the ocean has ever been any of our altars. But it was today.
the ocean was our altar
My heart is still sad and glad. Sad for all the obvious reasons. But glad for all the obvious reasons too. No question, God, You knew exactly what You were doing. And I am so sorry I didn’t trust You. Saturday afternoon was perfect. It was intimate. It was sacred. It was a good and perfect gift; an evening only You could orchestrate. Thank you for making it all that it was suppose to be. But most of all, thank you for being near to the broken-hearted.
C.S. Lewis said:
“If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”
We weren’t made for this world, Father; we were made to be with You. Chris is home with You now. Kellie and the girls miss him. Cynthia misses him. We miss him. But until we can be where y’all are, Father, be with us, hold us, guide us, stay with us, talk with us, protect us, and on some days, we may even need You to carry us. We are your children, God, in desperate need of Your care.
Thank you, John, for capturing all of these pictures.
Kip hugging Kellie after this sacred moment.
We took a pic of the coordinates. And yes, Chris, we had on The JOY FM. : )
the day that God actually had planned for us.
and yes, we still lit some lanterns!
Caroline & Kellie