A lovely bouquet of flowers from Tyler's memorial service is the last tangible reminder of a week filled with sorrow and joy.
JOY because a brother in Christ has seen the face of God and is a better theologian than anyone on earth. Sorrow because those left behind must learn how to live, without him.
In a few days the petals and leaves will wither and fall, and only memories will remain.
There are dozens of memories. Probably hundreds.
Some are sweet while others are laced with grief, and each one makes up the whole of what was Tyler's last week on earth.
I was only on the outside looking in, but the things I saw, the words I overheard, and descriptions of the affection shared between everyone who entered that room could fill a journal.
There are three memories that keep replaying in my mind's eye, and every time they do I am reminded of God's goodness and grace - His provision - and His love.
The first time I walked into the hospital room was the day the doctors told the family that Tyler had only a few days to live. All of the hope from the last nine months disappeared, and despair settled over every heart at the thought of losing this precious man. Tears flowed freely, hugs lasted for long minutes at a time, and a palpable silence hung in the room - because there was nothing to say. What IS there to say at such a time? Words are inadequate. Prayers seem empty and futile. Hope is gone.
And that is when the Lord ALWAYS shows up.
As I sat on a chair holding Mariah on my lap, my eyes fell on Tyler's parents who were leaning over him with tear-stained faces, speaking tender words of love to their son. I could not hear them, but I heard Tyler reply, "I love you." More words were spoken, and then in a clear strong voice, he said, "God is in control. God is in control."
I sat there - stunned.
Tyler was the one in the hospital bed trapped in a body that was in pain, and dying, yet he was comforting his parents in their grief. And - he was trusting God.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. Psalm 23:4
I will n e v e r forget that moment.
I was not the only one who witnessed Tyler's peace, his strength, and his faith. Every person who entered that room was affected by him. Whether he spoke words of encouragement or prayed, they saw his heart - and they saw his God.
There was one group of people, however, who made a profound impact on me. The Marines.
They were young, just like Tyler, except for his Gunnery Sergeant who was clearly the leader and respected by all. These men entered the hospital lobby sober and then exited the hospital room with red eyes and somber expressions. One Marine literally dropped to his knees and wept when he looked upon the face of his friend.
These men are MARINES. They are trained for battle - trained to succeed - trained to adapt and overcome. But in those few minutes in the hospital room, they knew their brother would never stand beside them in uniform again, and they were helpless. And yet, they stood firm and served the only way they could. They talked, they laughed, they encouraged Mariah ... and treated Tyler with respect in death, just as they did in life.
I have always respected our men in uniform, but last week, as I watched Marine after Marine filter through the lobby of the hospital to honor a brother, my heart was filled with PRIDE.
Men in uniform. They matter.
Men in uniform. They matter.
More than once we discussed the need for Tyler and Mariah to have time alone together. Even when we made a "family only" policy for visitors, the two of them were never alone. They have faithful, loving, thoughtful parents, siblings, and extended family, so there was always someone in the room to meet the needs of this sweet couple.
On Friday it became very clear that they needed time alone. NOW.
Everyone agreed, and my role was to tell Mariah what was happening. She looked at me with her huge, brown eyes and said, "It's okay. Everyone doesn't have to leave." I took a deep breath, prayed for the Lord to give me grace and said, "Sister, it wasn't a question. I am in charge of this room now. Everyone is out - and you are going to have your husband all to yourself. I will come back in an hour, and if you are not ready, just say so and I will give you more time." She gave me a sheepish smile, and I left the room.
How I wish I had a camera at the ready when I poked my head back in over an hour later!
The room was quiet except for the faint sound of worship music playing in the background. Mariah had changed her clothes and looked beautiful with her long, brown, curly hair falling over her shoulders. She was sitting on the bed holding Tyler next to her like a mother holds her child, stroking his hair, and speaking softly to him. She looked up at me with a huge, contented smile on her face, gently shook her head and said, "No. I'm not ready."
My smile matched hers as I closed the door behind me.
Oh, friends! That image! It is etched in my mind. Not only because it was beautiful, but because it is a picture of God's faithfulness.
None of us knew Tyler would take his last breath on this earth at 10:15 that night - but the Lord did. He orchestrated the details. He gave them those two hours - alone - together. He knew what this young bride needed before she did, and He provided, as He always does, faithfully - and in His perfect time.
He is a good Father - even in the hardest moments we face - He is perfect, and He loves us.
Thank You, Lord, for the gift of this week. You welcomed another child into the splendor of heaven, and showed us through Tyler's unyielding trust in You that we can be as faithful in death as we are in life because there is no reason to fear when the Shepherd upholds us in the shadow of death.