(Dawn Cribbs/McCook Daily Gazette)
It's OK to cry.
And it's OK to hope.
This was the thrust of the message delivered today by the Rev. Bruce Lester, at the memorial service for 14-year-old Kailee Clapp, while across town, 18-year-old Stathis Sebastian Mobley Kirkpatrick was charged with her murder.
The service was delayed for more than 20 minutes in order to allow every one to find a seat in the filled-to-capacity auditorium.
(Audio of the service is available here.)
"There is no way to spin the circumstances of Kailee's death," Lester admitted. And the questions it prompts do not have any easy answers.
"What we can know is that somehow, someway, someday, God can and God will, through this unspeakable tragedy, work good in all of our lives. Someday."
Photo montages of Kailee's life, set to music, gave mourners glimpses of a girl who loved to dance, loved to sing, "loved to run around in her pjs, singing and dancing."A handful of friends and Kailee's sister Karen spoke about the hugs they will miss, the memories they will cherish and the love they will always have for "my best friend."
"She had an ornery streak," Lester shared with a smile. " And every once in a while her little horns would pop up. But they didn't stay out long."
"This is why you're here today," said Lester. "because of this special young lady. Because she has touched all of our lives."
Death is part of the human experience, Lester said, and "Jesus talked about death a lot." He didn't hide from it, but acknowledged the power of the pain that death, at whatever age, brings. Death causes humans to ask a lot of questions, to question even what they understand about God. "Where was God on Thursday night?" Lester asked. "Why do bad things happen to good people, to young people? Why did it happen to Kailee?"
"Why?" is the most natural question humans can ask, according to Lester. Created in the image of God, we think, we reason, we create, we explore and we, unique among all of God's creation, have been given the ability to choose.
"God wanted us to choose to love; him and one another," Lester said. And so we choose. Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Sometimes right, sometimes wrong.
"We live in the consequences of our choices, and the choices that others make," Lester continued.
Ask the questions, he said. God can handle the questions. But while you're asking, while you're waiting for an answer remember the story of hope in John Chapter 11.
Lazarus, like Kailee, had a lot of friends. And Jesus was one of them. Lazarus became deathly ill and his sisters, Mary and Martha, sent for Jesus, saying, "the one you love is ill." Yet, even though Jesus was only a day away, he delayed his departure and arrived in Bethany only after Lazarus had been dead four days.
Not surprisingly, the sisters had some hard questions for the Lord, each stating in her own words, "If you had been here, my brother would not have died."
It sounds accusatory, as if it was Jesus' fault that Lazarus died, said Lester. "And you may be wondering the same thing today about Kailee's death."
Jesus didn't condemn the women for asking the question, for wrestling with what they knew of Jesus, his power to heal and to save, but he answers them with his next action. "He wept."
For some reason God chose not to intervene then or on Thursday night. God knows pain, he knows what it's like to lose a child. Lester assured those gathered, "he wants to walk with you, he wants walks with all of us. Remember his promise, 'I am the resurrection and the life.'"
We have a skewed vision of reality, Lester warned. We think this is the land of the living and when we die, we enter the land of the dead.
"It's reversed," he said. "This world is all about dying and entering into life eternal."
"Jesus loved children," Lester said, sharing the passage in Mark when he calls the children to himself and blesses them. "And Jesus loves Kailee."
Lester shared the joy that Kailee shared with her mother, Nora, two years ago, when she came home from youth group.
Quoting Kailee, Lester said, "Mom, I know that when I die, I'm going to heaven!"
She knew that, he explained, because she had just made the most important decision anyone can ever make.
Kailee knew the promise of Jesus. The promise he gave in the 14th chapter of John. "I go to prepare a place for you, that where I am there you also will be."
Lester offered everyone the opportunity to make that "most important decision" and closed, thanking God for his presence, for the peace that only he can give and for the promise that only he can fulfill.