I prepared the boys the best I could, we talked about it, and had a balloon release on All Saint's Day in their daddy's honor. It was a poignant, fun, sad time, but we made it through.
But who was preparing me for today?
As I went to the room where approximately 20 or so families were waiting, all of them representing a loved one they and Floral Heights UMC had lost, I prayed a quick prayer for God to help me get through this. We got our directions and headed to the back of the church, where we walked down to reserved seating near the front of the sanctuary. Imagine my surprise as I heard handbells as I walked to my pew. There, in front of me, were the Wesley Ringers, the youth handbell choir. Two of those members are mine and Mark's hearts walking around on the outside of us...yes, Andrew Joseph & Benjamin Wallace, dressed in their cobalt blue choir robes, were playing the prelude for me. My tears, which had already been flowing and dried at least 3 times prior to now, flowed freely once again.
I felt so fortunate to have friends on either side of me, we processed alphabetically. As the remembrance service began, a photo of each saint flashed up on the wall behind the choir. Every photo looked like a professional one, not that there's anything wrong with that, a photo from a family portrait or church directory. Not Mark Howell's! He was in motion, the way he always lived, in his t-ball coaching jersey, walking in our backyard. Andrew chose the photo, and I cropped him out to use it. You see, wherever Mark was, his boys were always pretty close by. I have very few photos of Mark alone. I have even fewer photos of Mark alone, posing or doing nothing.
As I put the rose in the vase, I glanced at his two sons, sitting near the front. They both gave me a knowing smile, and I felt better.
I felt better until we stood to sing the morning prayer response, my husband's favorite hymn, "O God, Our Help in Ages Past!" Then I watches as my sons joined their choir, the high school choir, and chancel choir for a combined anthem that was simply beautiful, simply perfect for this day. There they stood, front and center, side by side, singing with great enthusiasm, "Deep, Deep Love." I don't know what I did more of, smiling or crying during that song. For I could see both of us in their faces, but most importantly, I saw the face of God.
After the service, we headed for home. Before losing Mark, I had never experienced deep emotional fatigue, the kind of fatigue that is more encompassing than the fatigue I felt after running 13.1 miles in Oklahoma City in May. Now I know that level of fatigue. It's like I'm running a full marathon now, no longer training for a fun run. It takes dedication. It takes training. It takes everything I've got inside of me.
I'm not running just for me, I'm running for our sons. I'm running in remembrance of an awesome husband and daddy. I'm running to be both mommy and daddy, provider and head of household, chief cook and bottlewasher, spiritual guide, sometimes-drill sergeant, and everything else under the sun.
So, imagine my surprise as I open my Bible tonight, in search of some prophetic message to spur me forward, to help me put my grumpiness and fatigue aside.
It opens to Hebrews, chapter 12:
"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses (SAINTS, including Mark Howell!), let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart."
verses 1-3, NIV
Well, that settles that. Even a left handed girl from Western Kentucky can figure this one out. Out of all the things I could've read in the Bible tonight, I read this passage. Just what I needed. Just in time. I'm going to crawl out of this bed, put on my clothes, take my boys and mom to Chuck E. Cheese for a little boy-fueled R&R. Shucks, if we're surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, there's nothing we can't do. The race just got put into perspective for me. Thanks, God. Thanks, saints.....thanks Mark :)