They told me she drank antifreeze, walked into the woods and died a violent, lonely, hopeless death. And then they asked me to speak at her funeral.
Three mornings later, I stood alone in our family cemetery silently reading names of our faithful departed—my grandparents, uncles, aunts and distant cousins—then looked at the spot where my mom’s sister was to be buried later that day. This wasn’t the way her story was supposed to end.
She was a joyful kid, but life—and in many ways death—began to catch up with her in her early teens. Mom said her little sister was a child of the 60s who never grew out of it—on a 30-plus-year journey from pot to coke to crystal meth. The chase never let up. She died so secluded and alone that it took four days for them to find her body.
It’s hardly the way we wanted to remember her. She used to laugh. No matter the situation, she’d find humor in it. And she always surprised us with little glimpses of hope, flickers of her improbable comeback from all the beat downs life had given her.
After a recent bout with depression and addictions, my parents took her horseback riding in southern Tennessee. She chose a horse that hadn’t been ridden in five years. Voices of concern began piping up,
“Don’t do that.” “That horse will throw you!” And my favorite, my mom saying, “Hey, you have to go to work for me on Monday!” Of course, she didn’t listen. Too bad for the horse.
She gave it a workout that made up for those five years, road it through the out of the safe pasture, through the woods and far out of sight. That was my aunt. She always seemed to be on the verge of pulling an upset when nobody would give her a laughing chance.
I walked down to the church in front of the graveyard. The funeral was a hodgepodge affair. There were addicts there, people she had called on her last day. Some of them didn’t believe she’d go through with it. Our family and some church friends of ours were there. For a few moments, some 50 people’s paths would cross with the Lord as we stopped to remember her. I just prayed that He would show up and take over.
I talked about what a help my aunt had been to me as my babysitter when mom had two jobs. She was a companion to my grandpa as he battled out of the basement of alcoholism and depression. She took care of my mom during mom’s breast cancer recovery. She drove a friend to New Orleans for dialysis monthly for over a year until he died. And yeah, I talked about that horse and her laugh.
Then I talked about the graveyard, our relatives and how this wasn’t how her story was supposed to end. I talked of how the thief has come only to steal, kill and destroy. What more proof did we need? Her ashes were right in front of us all. She’d been robbed—not just of her future but of the many days in her past that were riddled with addiction, depression, fear and disappointment.
I was angry and wasn’t afraid to say so. Her story plainly exposed the enemy’s true cruelty and our complete inability to face him alone. For four days, her body had lain face down at the end of his plotted path of destruction. She was farther down that path than any of us had ever traveled, and her body was enough proof for us to know where the road ended.
I quoted Johnny Cash’s “God’s Gonna Cut You Down.” He said, “Go tell that long-tongued liar, go tell that midnight rider, tell the rambler the gambler the backbiter, sooner or later God’s gonna cut him down.” In front of half a hundred witnesses, I spoke that the devil would have his day, that God will cut him down.
Then I said that her story didn’t have to end that day.
We’re praying that my aunt’s story, like her life, will find a way to snatch victory out of the jaws of cold defeat. The enemy would want for the addicts to give up, the doubters to shrug off God for good and for Christians to go another lap on that holy highway—far from those who need us most. Instead, the enemy’s plans were laid bare to us, and from that day, we all have the chance to change our path. Her story will end like it should …
If addicts, seeing where their path leads, turn to recovery road; if doubters, finally in the face of the enemy, turn to the Savior; if Christians would look at broken lives and wounded souls and turn to rescue, not reproach.
John 10:10 says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (TNIV).