The lines ran long and the sorrow ran deep as the river of mourners came to pay tribute to this beloved young man only sixteen summers old. Around images, which included a pizza faced toddler, a gridiron captain, the angler extraordinaire, the hunter, the boy with his mama and his dad and his sister, they whispered sweet memories and embraced.
They told stories of this God lover who once said to a friend “If you believe in God, you don’t have to worry about anything.” He was only eleven at the time.
Out of the mouths of babes.
“I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full “(John 10:10). The evidence continually mounted that he lived these words of Jesus at full throttle.
In an historic church, one of the oldest places of worship in the country, we gathered to the strains of “Onward Christian Soldiers.” We celebrated his life by singing, “Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.”
This morning, in the middle of thousands of acres of low country wilderness, his body rests in the place he loved more than any other on the earth, near the swamps, the cypress trees, the wild boar, and all the living things that made his life so rich.
I never knew him, but my husband did. My son did. They’ve spent many hours with him around the table of camaraderie, a “band of brothers.” His last words to my son as they left the hunting camp just after Christmas were, “I’ll see you next season.” I’ve grieved with my son and husband for this precious one and cried the tears that mothers shed when their family hurts. Though I cannot possibly know the breadth and depth of the terrible pain, perhaps I share a sliver of it as my heart breaks with a mother and father who have lost their only son.
After every mourner left the church yesterday, I stayed to capture the stained glass window picturing our Lord with outstretched arms, because the image brought comfort.
“Come to me…” Jesus said. (Matthew 11:28).
On this Ash Wednesday, we come to Him. We come bowed. We come repentant. But we also come expectant, because beyond Ash Wednesday is Easter. Beyond the sorrow is the joy. Beyond the pitch black night is the brilliance of sunrise. Beyond the grave is heaven.
We don’t know just the first chapter.
We know how this story ends.
Today, as we cope with the crushing death of a boy only beginning his life, we walk away with hope.
“I know that my Redeemer lives..., I myself will see him with my own eyes…” (Job 19:25-26), the Priest said quoting Job yesterday.
Our young one, now departed, sees Him.
I hear again the words of Jesus, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.”
I know that God will do this. I believe God's word is true, and I'm thankful for His presence in the life of one who knew this rest, a person wise beyond his years who once said, “If you believe in God, you don’t have to worry about anything.”
In Memory of Stuart Frederick Sligh Jr.