I believe this ground, this sacred place where tears have cried a river, is reminiscent of that place the Israelites found themselves in after they were liberated from Egyptian bondage.
With Pharaoh’s army advancing behind them, it was as if their whole world was suddenly crashing down upon them. Because standing before them stood what they perhaps feared the most, the Red Sea. It stood before them like the casket of a loved one for it most certainly represented the end of the line, the end of dreams, the end of hopes. For the Israelites, encamped by the sea with an army closing in behind them, the sea represented certain death.
Overcome by fear, the Israelites did not know what to do. They could not go back to the good old days, and going forward into the promise of good new days seemed impossible. Paralyzed by grief, unable to take one step forward, they did the only thing they could do. They cried out. They cried out to the Lord. They cried out to Moses. They cried out to anyone who would hear. They cried out in disbelief. They cried out in anger. They cried out in fear. They cried out in grief.
But then, the good news. Moses said to the people: “Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.” (Exodus 14: 13-14).
And we know the rest of the story: The Red Sea was not the end of the line. It was not the end of their dreams. It was not the end of their hopes.
“Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and turned the sea into dry land; and the waters were divided.”
Then the same Israelites who were unable to move forward, unable to see beyond the sea, or the casket in front of them, rose up and walked into the sea of their fear as if it were dry ground. They rose up and moved forward into the future with a renewed confidence and a resurrected strength. And this is how they were able to make it to yet unimaginable promised land.
Gary, Josh, Heidi, Amy and Mike, although you cannot go back to the good old days, this is how you and your family will be able to move forward this day into unimaginable good new days. The good news is that the Lord will fight for you. And the really good news is that you only have to stand firm and keep still.
There is no other way that I can possibly explain the industrious strength and the unfailing patience of Jane Puckett. There is no other explanation for her tenacious work ethic, serving her country working for Vance Air Force Base with aircraft maintenance for 42 years. She only recently retired because her unbeknownst cancer made her work physically impossible.
And how else do you account for her courageous battle she fought once she discovered her stage-four cancer that started in her lungs but had metastasized into her brain? How do you explain someone who was as sick Jane, but never complained?
And if anyone had any reason to complain it was her. To work as hard as she did for 42 long years without the opportunity to enjoy a well-earned retirement would make even the sweetest personality bitter. The truth is: a diagnosis like Jane changes most people.
But not Jane. Jane remained firm. She was still the sweet, fun-loving person that she had always been.
The one who loved to go snow skiing in Colorado and water skiing in Canton Lake.
The one who loved to patiently cross stitch gifts for her family and friends.
The one who loved to make baby blankets that were so beautiful that the mothers who received them would hang them on the wall for all to see instead of wrapping them around their babies.
The one who never said anything negative about anyone else.
The one with terminal cancer who had every right to be jealous of those who arbitrarily live into their seventies, eighties and nineties, but still refused to join in any conversation that demeaned another.
The one refused to be bitter and impatient with anyone, including herself and God.
She was still the same firm and patient one who not only tried to make caramel once, only to have it explode sending its sticky shrapnel flying all over her kitchen, but she was the one who had the audacious forbearance to try it again, albeit with the same result.
Even with a terminal disease, she was still the same person who loved to sit on the back porch with Gary and her beloved pet Weazer enjoying a cold drink on a summer evening, thanking God for the gift of her life.
Now, some may say that her kids should probably take some credit for some of her patience and strength, for they were both known to test it a time or two or thirty. Like the time one winter Josh decided to go skiing in the back yard. However, the flat plains of Oklahoma have never been very conducive to backyard snow skiing. But Josh, being a crafty and smart kid, some would argue “perhaps a little too smart for his own good,” decided he would ski off the roof of the house.
Sitting inside, Amy was watching the snow fall out the window, when here comes Josh flying off the roof like some Nordic Olympic ski jumper. “Mama, Josh just skied off the roof!”
Amy also remembers trying her mama’s patience by doing foolish things like walking through a glass door, without first opening that door, requiring a multitude of stitches.
However, as much as these kids tried her patience and tested her strength, I still believe that her strength, her courage, and her patience, especially in the face of her illness, came from a much higher place. I believe it came from the God who continually whispered words to her throughout her living and perhaps especially in her dying. It was the same words whispered to Moses and to the Israelites when they were tested in the wilderness: “The Lord will fight for you, and all you have to do is be still.”
The good news is that her fight is now over. Jane has crossed the sea. Her enemy, her cancer, has been defeated like Pharaoh’s army. She has been led by a pillar of fire and cloud, led by the very hand of God, into a promised land.
And the good news is that as the Lord fought for her, the Lord will fight for you too, and all you have to do is be still. Be still, and then move forward, holding onto one another, holding onto the memory of Jane’s courage and strength, while holding onto the hand of God.
I want to close by reading some words that I read at my grandmother’s graveside service. She also died in her sixties with lung cancer that also had metastasized. However, because of her courage and strength, because she, like Jane, never complained, never had a bitter bone in her body, never uttered a word of malice against anyone, there was no doubt in my mind that before she died, God was there fighting with her and for her. And I knew that everything was going to be alright. The following are those words (author unknown):
Although Cancer seems to destroy so much, when God is fighting for us, it is obvious that there are many things that cancer cannot do. Cancer, in fact, is very limited in the presence of God. [Like my grandmother, Jane Puckett was a testimony of this].
Cancer is limited.
Cancer cannot cripple love.
It cannot shatter hope.
It cannot corrode faith.
It cannot eat away peace.
It cannot destroy confidence.
It cannot kill friendship.
It cannot shut out memories.
It cannot silence courage.
It cannot invade the soul.
It cannot reduce eternal life.
It cannot quench the Spirit.
It cannot lessen the power of the resurrection.
Thanks be to God.