A picture of the service.
As I walked into the courtyard thirty minutes before Ava's memorial service began last Thursday, I couldn't believe all of the people who had already gathered. We didn't expect many people to show up even though we had passed out flyers in the community to let people know about the service.
I noticed some people getting coffee and many already sitting down. So many who attended were elderly or disabled. As we walked in, we met up with Ava's family. Elissa, who works with me, had coordinated through the funeral home with her family, and they drove several hours to be with us Thursday.
Her daddy told me with tears in his eyes, "I just didn't know she had so many friends." It must have comforted them to see the overwhelming support by those of us in the community for Ava. I can't imagine what it would be like to know my sister or daughter or aunt's life was unjustly -- and more than that, murderously -- taken.
The service began, and Pastor Jonathan led us. Mr. B and I also got to participate in the service. I read Psalm 23 ...
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall not fear.
We had communion together; some people couldn't walk forward, so Jonathan took it to them.
What filled my heart the most, besides the tragedy of the loss of Ava, was the community present for her service. This community, which is really my community -- we, all of us together, are a community -- we were all present to honor and celebrate her life, as well as to talk about her death, and people's voices were heard, their feelings were aired, and their memories of Ava were spoken.
One woman remembered that when she entered the shelter for the first time, Ava, whom she did not know at all, gave her a blue dress. This woman had entered the shelter with only the clothes on her back, and immediately Ava shared her own dress with this new woman.
Another woman, who is paralyzed from the waist down, spoke of Ava's light that she carried wherever she went, speaking how Ava would encourage her not to complain but rather to thank God for the good in her life, in her day, and that as Ava spoke these words to her, Ava simultaneously fanned her with a book to cool her off.
We acknowledged Ava's struggles, using drugs at the beginning of the month.
She was both a light and someone who struggles.
Isn't this who we all are? If we are in Christ, we know that we are a "new creature" (2 Corinthians 5:17), and yet what we will be, perfectly conformed to Christ's image, we are not yet.
As humans, we love to put people in a "camp": We like to think that either you "love" God and follow him and do the "right" thing or you do carnal things like sex and drugs. We think, You cannot really "love" God and smoke crack or drink alcohol throughout the day every day or have an affair. Because if you do those things, you prove you don't really love God?
Or do you?
In reality, aren't we all just like Ava -- don't we all have something that, once a month, or once a day, or ten times a day, we retreat into for a little safety from the storm of life? Even though we know deep down inside it isn't really safe and that Jesus is the only safe thing? Is it food? Or pornography? Or praising ourselves for being such good people?
The grace of God is such that we do not see ourselves as we really are -- we do not see all of our sin or all of our blindedness. He bears with us, and continually, slowly helps us move towards his love and light. But we are not yet there -- none of us are.
I am not saying it doesn't matter what we do, or that there are not difficulties that come from the choices we make. I am just saying that praise the good Lord my salvation, and your salvation, is not, nor has ever been based on our having it all together. And that Jesus saves a broken people, and that his remaking work is a beautiful, messy, lifelong process. Praise God for Ava's life, and praise God for yours!