Of all the things in life to procrastinate, designing your grave marker is at the top of the list. And so I did. For almost two years. There was a simple marker at John’s grave with his name, but it was temporary. I was supposed to design a permanent one for us in the first few months after he died. But, I didn’t.
There were so many reasons to avoid it. It was so final. So permanent. So official. My heart just wasn’t ready.
Also, the possibilities of how to design it were endless. The options overwhelmed me. What if I didn’t like it once it was set in place? What if the font style looked awkward? What if I forgot to put something on it that was really important?
And, I wasn’t just designing it for John. It is my gravestone too. It is a lonely job to plan your gravestone by yourself. Very sobering when you have four children who are still dependent on you, their only remaining parent.
Last January came and I couldn’t avoid it anymore. The second anniversary of John’s death was approaching, and I felt embarrassed that I hadn’t completed it. I was sure his parents were very ready for a more substantial marker, but they had been gracious enough not to bring it up. I was ready to face it.
There seemed to be only one way to design it: I had to look at examples. Walking around the cemetery and looking at other markers seemed to be the only way to get inspiration and know what I liked.
So, one day last January I went to walk and look and design.
Cemeteries are solitary places. If you come alone, you go directly to the marker you’re visiting and then you leave. You don’t typically take a stroll. I knew I was embarking on something unusual. Thankfully, it was a quiet day with very few people around.
I started in the back section and began to work my way forward. After a while, I passed a young woman walking in the opposite direction; I nodded my head in greeting. Graveyard etiquette means you give one another a wide margin of privacy.
I kept walking and reading stones for over an hour, awkwardly taking photos on my cell phone whenever I saw something I liked. Then, I sat down on the bench near John’s grave to read my Bible and try to decide which verses to include on the grave marker.
As I was reading my Bible, a most unlikely thing happened. I heard someone ask, “Excuse me, Ma’am. May I ask you a question?”
Startled, I lifted my head to see the young woman I had passed earlier. She was standing there with a notebook in her hand.
She hesitantly smiled and asked, “I couldn’t help but notice you today. I am in college and my English professor gave us an assignment to go to a place and explore it, then do a first person interview of someone there. Since I have seen you walking around for a while I wondered if I could interview you?”
I smiled. Incredulous. I knew that I was in the midst of something wondrous. “Sure. Have a seat.”
Melissa told me that she had always liked the cemetery and its sculptures. When she was given the assignment, she knew it was the place to use.
“So, why are you here?” she asked.
I took a deep breath and began to tell her my story.
“Well, this is my husband’s grave. John died very suddenly almost two years ago while out on a run. I’m here because I need to finalize our grave marker. The one you see is supposed to be temporary. I’ve been here today trying to decide how to design it, and now I’m reading my Bible to choose the verses for it.”
I told her how the Lord has carried me every day since John died. She was tender and sweet as she listened. Tearing up as she heard we had four children.
Time passed as we sat and listened to each other’s stories and the pain that we both have known. Melissa’s journey in 20 short years has been challenging. She told me she felt like she was at a crossroads. The more I talked about God’s presence in my life, the more interested she became, so I opened my Bible and told her about His love for her.
The irony of talking about eternity while sitting in a graveyard was remarkable.
“Melissa, we are all going to die. Look around you. We are literally surrounded by death in every direction. We need to be rescued. We need hope. God has given us that rescue and hope in Jesus Christ. At the end of life, the only thing that matters is your relationship with Him.”
I continued explaining what the Bible says about us and our need for someone to rescue us from our self-focused lives and the death we deserve.
“Only a flawless life can enter into God’s presence. He is holy. No matter how much He loves us, our imperfection is a barrier between us. That is why God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to die for us.”
“Christ lived a perfect life because He loves His Father and He loves us. He gave His perfect life up to God so that we could be forgiven. Forever. Ephesians 2:13 says, ‘But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.”
I continued to show her verses in Romans. “A relationship with God has a beginning. Romans 10:9 says that it starts quite simply: ‘If you confess with your mouth, Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.’ A few verses later we’re told that, ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.'”
It was like being on holy ground as we talked about the most important things of life. It was astounding. Melissa was finding hope. I could see it in her smile and hear it in her voice. We both knew we were meant to be there together. There is nowhere His love can’t go.
As our conversation ended, I prayed for her and gave her my contact info. I encouraged her to do all the things I tell anyone who wants to move forward with God:
- read the Bible- the book of John tells you about Jesus and Psalms puts our own struggles into words. They are great places to start.
- talk to God about the things that are on your heart and mind. He is listening.
- find a church. I invited Melissa to come to ours and to attend a women’s conference with me.
- listen to Christian music. It will change your perspective when you’re overwhelmed and spiraling downward.
We hugged each other and headed to our cars. Amazed and refreshed by the time we shared.
In the following weeks and months, Melissa’s journey with God began to gain momentum. She did the things I suggested, even attending the conference, though she barely knew me. She has found our church to be a place where she can grow and be encouraged in her faith.
A year later she isn’t the same young woman I met in Westhampton Cemetery. She is full of joy and peace and confidence. She has made some changes in her life that took great courage. It is obvious that God is working beautifully and powerfully in her life. I can’t wait to see all that He has in store for her.
I am still amazed how God transformed a dreaded day into a precious gift for me to treasure. It really felt like John and I were together encouraging a young woman who needed hope.
And, the marker? It turned out beautifully. I will show it to you in my next post.
You never know where His love will take you, so “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” 1 Peter 3:15
We go nowhere by accident, and the Lord loves to do amazing things when we least expect it.
Peace & grace in all your goings,