I have found it hard to get to sleep tonight (or this morning, I should say) so I decided to get up and try to express what is on my heart. I don't think that I will have another chance to get on the blog before we get back to Montana on the 24th. so I wanted to give you an overview of the service while it is fresh on my mind. As a side note for those of you who are wondering, I will leave the music on the blog until we get back to MT in order to give everyone a chance to experience the "blog memorial" but then I will take the music off.)
The service yesterday was wonderful. Mom and I were talking about how it's kind of hard to say that you "enjoyed" a memorial service, but that's really how it felt. We were emotional at times, of course, but there was mostly just an overwhelming sense of joy in Ellie's life and peace that she is with Jesus now.
Mom shared a compilation of memories and thoughts that she had gleaned from friends and family. It gave such a beautiful picture of who Ellie was, with all of her sweet and funny ways. It was so special to me that Ellie's "Gramma Gramma" was the one to speak of her life. Mom's courage in standing up to speak of Ellie while her own heart was breaking, was amazing.
Then Jessica Rich sang. Jessica's dad (Mark) was kidnapped with my dad and another co-worker, Rick, 15 years ago in Panama. Rick's wife, Patti (who is now re-married) along with their daughter, Dora (who is now married - which makes me feel so old!) came to the service from Missouri. I was just so touched that they would come and spend this special time with us! Jessica's sister, Tamra, and their mom, Tania were there - along with Tania's new husband, Josh. (Josh played the piano for Jess while she sang.) Another special blessing of the day was to see a newly pregnant Tania!! I held Jessica when she was just a baby, and over the years I would sing to her and Tamra. Then when I had Ellie, Jessica would sing to her - sometimes the same songs that I had sung Jess to sleep with. Jessica sang "The Fight of the Dancer," a song that she had written just after Ellie died! I will try to find a way to share it with you... I cannot even tell you what a touching tribute that was.
Next, Larry Brown spoke. It has meant so much to us that Larry would do, not one, but TWO memorial services for Ellie! Larry has an ability to share the Word of God with such wisdom, and he just talks as if we were sitting down at his table with a cup of coffee - all 500 of us. (Yes, there were 500 people there!) Larry was able to encourage our hearts with the fact that we can simply rely on the character of God.
As the Celtic Woman version of the song "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" began playing, Lauren and Lindsay Bell performed a glorious ballet dance in honor of Ellie. John and I used to babysit those girls (along with their brother) back when they were small... before we ever had children. Over the last three years, Ellie and her "Bubbie" (Pat) had the tradition of watching them perform "The Nutcracker" at Christmastime. It was their performance that we attended back when Ellie was just getting over the chickenpox. Ellie loved waiting to hug the girls after the ballet ended as much as she enjoyed watching them dance! So you can imagine how special it was for us to watch their beautiful dance, set to one of Ellie's favorite songs - a song that held so many memories for me.
We then watched a slideshow of pictures (similar to the one I posted on the blog) set to the version of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" that I posted and Twila Paris' "Do I Trust You" medley. That was the point in the service that everyone who hadn't already been crying, lost it.
Cindy Acosta and Stephanie Cline came forward and danced next, to the Celine Dion song "A New Day Has Come". Not only did they give a beautiful and moving performance that expressed the song so perfectly, but I was particularly moved because they were Ellie's ballet teachers. Ellie took ballet for only one short school year, but it was the highlight of her young life! You all know how much Ellie loved to dance. Those two sweet ladies helped to cultivate that love in Ellie's heart, and she loved them.
Larry once again stood up to speak. The first thing that he said was "Ellie would not be happy with us if we didn't clap for those dancers!" And so everyone was able to clap their hearts out as they had been wanting to do, but afraid that they shouldn't. He was so right - Ellie would have wanted to kick our butts! After the laughing and clapping was over, Larry read Scripture and presented the Gospel - the Gospel that Ellie believed with all of her heart, and the very reason that she is enjoying Jesus in Heaven right now.
Just before the service came to an end, we did the same thing that we did in Montana. We had the song "We Will Glorify" by Twila Paris play as the lights went out. In Montana we used candles, but here we used tiny flashlights to shine as the music played. This was something very personal to me. Looking back 15 months to when Ellie was diagnosed with cancer, the first couple of weeks are such a blur in my memory. But I remember that the grace of God covered me like a blanket when I had no strength of my own. And I remember that I didn't pray that Ellie would be healed. I wanted her to be, but somehow I knew without asking that this journey would be about suffering, and that if Ellie was to be healed on this Earth that it would not be soon. I knew that there would be a long road ahead. I don't know why I knew that... I just knew. So in those early days and weeks, the only prayer that would come out of my heart was "please, God, please - take glory for Yourself through this..." It was the only prayer that my heart knew how to form. And so, in both of Ellie's memorial services, I turned around to look at the little lights shining all over the room. That light was, to me, the reflected glory of God Himself - shining from the people who loved my little girl. The people who were touched by Ellie's light, which was not her light at all, but the incredible light of her Maker and Savior. I'm crying as I type this, because God answered my prayer. You see, with all due respect to my precious Ellie, she was just an ordinary little girl - just like every other child in the world. Yes, she was special - but no more and no less than every other child... your children... your grandchildren... We are ordinary parents. We don't love our children any more than you love yours. We did not handle this situation any better than any other parent going through such a horrible situation. We simply have an unbelievably powerful God. That one fact has made all of the difference in our lives, and in Ellie's life most of all. The little lights sparkled around the room as the song played... "... we will glorify the King of kings, we will glorify the Lord. We will glorify the Lord of lords, who is the great I AM."
That is the only purpose this life has for me. It is the only reason that I will get out of bed every day. It is the only reason that I will survive the crushing pain that wants to sit on my chest when I realize that my daughter will never put her arms around my neck again. Contrary to popular opinion, I am not strong. I am the weakest human being that you will ever meet. But I have a God who carries me when I cannot walk. I only appear strong because I haven't been able to walk for a very long time. And the only encouragement that I have for you is to stop trying so hard to walk on your own, when you and God both know that you can't.
Well, I suppose that I can sleep now. You must know by now that this blog has been as much a blessing to me as it has been to you. I'm sure there would have been many sleepless nights for me had I not been able to pour my heart out to you all. I won't stop, but it may be a bit patchy at times. There are two reasons that I don't post - one is when I am insanely busy, and the other is when I am going through a really hard time. I always have to wait until I can sort out my thoughts a bit before I can write. But rest assured, I always come back. The next week or so will be busy, so I don't plan to write for a bit due to that. But if I can't sleep again, I'll be back sooner! Once again, I must thank you for your faithfulness in praying for our family. You are such a blessing to us, and we love you all.