Mari Alexis Schaeffer
Yesterday, my friend and I attended the funeral of a recent graduate of Greenville College. Beginning a post with that sentence grieves me deeply. A recent graduate. Class of 2012. She was 26 years old, and suffered from an illness that, until just a few days ago, I'd never heard of and even now can't pronounce properly: scleroderma. Scleroderma, or systemic sclerosis, is a chronic connective tissue disease generally classified as one of the autoimmune rheumatic diseases. As with most chronic diseases, the effects of scleroderma range from mild to severe. For Mari, the disease took her life.
They called her funeral a "Celebration Service," and the family's faith in God was inspiring and contagious. This precious child who had suffered for so long is now free, in the arms of her Savior and Lord, awaiting the arrival of all those who will follow after her. Those who led the service reminded us often of Mari's desire that all would come to know and love Jesus. For Mari, showing people the way to Jesus became her life's goal. She turned her suffering into a platform for showing others the love and mercy of God and the hope that is ours in Jesus Christ.
Since yesterday's service I've found myself deeply in thought about Mari, about her journey, and my own. I suppose it just makes sense -- the longer you live, the more you experience all the "stuff" of this mortal life. All the stuff that makes us human and vulnerable in so many ways. All the stuff that makes us laugh and cry and grieve so hard and so deeply that we think we will die ourselves.
I've discovered something along this journey. While we cannot avoid suffering and death, disappointment and anger, rejection and sorrow, we DO have a choice. We can choose not to let it all in. We can choose to protect ourselves from it. We can put up some pretty elaborate defense mechanisms. We can rationalize and spiritualize it all. Or, we can choose to FEEL.
A precious young woman has passed from this life to the next. I could have gotten to know her better when she was a student, but I didn't. I knew her, but I didn't REALLY know her. How I wish that I could change that, but I can't.
What I CAN do, is choose to let life in, the good and the bad, the joys and the sorrows. I can choose to let PEOPLE in -- with all their pain and sorrow and suffering, all their passions and dreams and visions.
It will most certainly hurt. No one knows this better than Jesus Himself. Jesus took it all in, which is really the only way to truly love people. And He's asking us to do the same. To really love each other. For His sake. Because He loves each and every one of us.