Sunday, November 21, 2010

A Tearful Baptism

Today at church, Bryan had the privilege of baptizing a friend of his named Richard.  Bryan first met Richard about two and a half years ago when he was asked to perform the funeral for Richard and Marty's six week old daughter, Olivia.  I remember hearing Olivia's story and shuddering.  I couldn't imagine being in her parents' shoes, getting a phone call from the NICU in the middle of the night telling me to hurry to the hospital because my daughter, who was supposed to recover from surgery and be home in about a week, wasn't going to make it through the night.  I could barely even go there in my imagination.  It was too horrifying.  I saw how much Bryan hurt for them over the course of several days leading up to the funeral and in the days afterward.  And it seemed like more than I could journey with Bryan through.  I was terrified to hurt with them because it just seemed so, so horribly painful.

We've run into Marty and Richard at church a few times since Samuel's death, and they always seem to have a knowing look in their eyes.  I know they get it -- the aftermath of losing a child, the ups and downs of grief, the good days and dreadful days.  I wish no one else knew this pain of grief, but there is comfort in knowing you're not the only one to walk a lonely and often barren road.

Today as I sat in church next to my dear friends, Adam and Tracy, I wondered how it would be to watch Bryan baptize Richard.  I wondered if Richard would talk about Olivia in his baptism video.  I wondered how Bryan would hold up.  When the video played, I was a wreck before Richard even got to Olivia.  Richard did tell about his sweet daughter; he told how her death brought him to faith in Jesus, something I didn't know.  I am so moved that losing someone so dear and precious could truly draw someone to our loving God for the first time.

And then when Bryan started to talk through tears, when he looked Richard in the eye and told him that because God raised Jesus from the dead, He will someday raise Richard and Olivia too, and they will be together in Heaven again, and Olivia will be more a part of Richard's future than of his past, I was wiping away tears left and right with my kleenex.  And I was so thankful for my friend, Tracy, who was crying right along with me and griping my hand tight.  It was good to not be alone in my grief.  And it was beautiful to watch Bryan talk so truthfully about God's redemptive work and the hope of Heaven and to see him battling through his own emotions and offering his own hope to someone who shares our sorrow and clings to the same promises we do.

After Bryan and Richard walked out of the baptistry, Joel Thomas, one of the pastors at North Point, came out on stage, and he told the several thousand people in attendance something I wasn't at all prepared for.  He said, "What many of you don't know is that Bryan and his wife recently lost a child too.  What you see here is real.  We aren't actors.  Their faith is real.  God really changes lives."  It had never occurred to me that I might hear our story told before the church without knowing ahead of time that it was coming.  At that point, I was crying buckets of tears, and I was doubly glad that I knew the person next to me and that she was crying with me.  I'm sure we looked like basket cases to the people around us. 

Though I was completely caught off guard by Joel's statements, I was really, really glad that God was using our story again.  As time moves on and Samuel's life is farther and farther in the past, the difference his life made feels farther and farther away too.  Sometimes I doubt that he has made a lasting impression on anyone other than me and Bryan.  And it's good to know that God can keep using Samuel for His purposes, that our story can still be told and still draw people's hearts to God. 

Bryan joined me a few minutes into the sermon, and I was relieved to have him next to me, to know my partner in life was with me as I continued to choke down tears.  When church ended and we stood up, numerous people came up to Bryan who must have recognized him from the baptism and thanked him.  Some were friends who were teary-eyed, and I appreciated their compassion, and some were complete strangers who patted Bryan on the back and said sincere thanks.  All down the halls, people were stopping Bryan and expressing thanks, and I felt so grateful to be his wife. 

I feel thankful for Samuel's life, and that once again, it has a chance to touch others and make a difference.  I feel grateful that Olivia's story is making a difference, too.  It is a good and kind God who uses the most painful and broken parts of our stories to heal us, to draw us to Him, and to show others what a faithful and true God He is.  Today I feel especially thankful to serve my God.

1 comment:

  1. I'm getting teary eyed just thinking about what it must have been like for you to sit through that service at church. So thankful that Tracy was there with you. You and Bryan are two of the most amazing people we know, and your constant and abiding faith regardless of life's circumstances sends me straight to my knees and makes me want that too. The Conleys love you guys so much.