A little more than one year ago, my family and I moved across the country from the Midwest to San Jose, CA when I accepted the role of Student Pastor at Crossroads Bible Church. It has been a great year and I am so thankful everyday for our church family. They go above and beyond for each other, and there is no other place in which I want to toil for the gospel alongside my brothers and sisters.
Shortly after our move and my beginning at the church, what I then perceived as a great tragedy struck a family that would come to be very close to us (In fact, as I write this, I am babysitting their kids while dad works and mom is at a meeting with some ladies). About four weeks into my time at Crossroads, I learned that a woman from our church was in labor and that the child was not expected to live long.
As I sat in that prayer meeting, I learned that this couple had learned months ago that their unborn daughter, whom we now lovingly call Audrey, had a condition that would not allow her to live more than an hour or two. The elders told me that months ago, months before I had arrived, they had to face the tough decision to either terminate the pregnancy and end the pain of the loss sooner, or to carry her to term, knowing almost certainly that goodbye would follow quickly on the heels of hello.
Hours later I learned that Audrey Faith Pelia BeBeau was born a beautiful baby girl, and just 45 minutes later, left the arms of her earthly father to jump into the lap of her heavenly one. Days later, much of the church came together around them for a memorial service that many will not soon forget. In attendance were family and friends (I now consider myself both), co-workers, and most impressively was the couples’ softball team, which they used as an outreach to non-believers. At one point in the service, that team sang a song on stage. The whole experience took my breath away.
Our lead pastor preached the gospel and we highlighted the hope of heaven, the obedience of the parents to do as God wanted, and the precious gift of life that is our children. The glory of Jesus Christ was lifted high and no one who attended left without being touched, challenged and encouraged. It was a privilege even to be there. I am so thankful that I was able to be a part of that for them. But that was not the moment that I am talking about.
This past Friday, we gathered at Billy and Laura’s for a celebration of Audrey. As I played horseshoes in the back yard with some guys from church, I could not fathom the amount of people who just kept pouring in, first 12, than 20, than 40, to celebrate and remember a little girl who changed more in 45 minutes than many do in a lifetime. We ate, laughed, remembered, and cried…together.
Later in the night, we gathered in the backyard to plant a tree in memory of Audrey, and that was the moment. Before we planted the tree, we worshipped with a song playing on an iPod. As people sang and raised their hands, the Spirit of God came among us in a special way. Billy planted the tree and their daughters got to sprinkle Audrey’s ashes at the base, and then toss in some dirt. Family and friends took time to toss in dirt, and offer their encouragement to Billy and Laura. I got to scoop some in as we video chatted with my wife, who was back in the Midwest with our kids. Grandparents who couldn’t make it showed up on an iPad, and people were sharing the moment with others on cell-phones and video cameras.
Guests began to share about how Audrey had affected their lives and their walk with Jesus. Glory was offered to God for all the work He had done, and this all (as it had been at the memorial service one year earlier) was in the presence of people who do not call Jesus Lord. It was unashamed, but gentle. It was bold, but palatable. It was everything the Church is supposed to be.
It reminds me of Isaiah 61, where the “servant” speaks of the role of the Messiah and what He brings to the redeemed. It’s really too perfect of a passage, which is how you can tell when God saturates peoples’ lives. It even involves planting a tree. My friends are truly a display of His splendor.
The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,
because the LORD has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the LORD
for the display of his splendor.