The Funeral You Never Expect to Attend

Heart Lessons

Jennifer’s funeral, April 16, 2002

Opening Prayer at Jennifer’s funeral.

Loving Father. Almighty God. We need you here with us in this time of loss. We need your strength. We long for your comfort. We yearn for your peace. We know that you are here, because you promised long ago that you would never ever leave us or forsake us. so what we ask for tonight is an undeniable reassurance of your presence. O God, let us feel your loving embrace. Let us hear the beat of your heart as you hold us close to you. Be our fortress and shield. Be our ever present help in times of trouble. Be our strength when we are weak. Because of Jesus, our Savior Who died that we might have eternal life, and Who lives forevermore to give us the assurance that life will be victorious over death. And in His name we pray. Amen       (Dan Dozier, family friend, minister)

One of the first people who shared memories of Jennifer was Shana, her youth minister from our church, Madison Church of Christ. Here’s what she said.

Larry, Martell and I talk a lot about the metamorphosis Jennifer went through from middle school to high school and then college.

When I first came to be a youth minister at Madison, it was at the end of Jennifer’s freshman year.  She was someone college kids would not recognize; she became someone youth group would not recognize.

I walked into that first Sunday School class it was a pretty obnoxious little group.  Jennifer, Robin, and Tracy sat together, always there, never said a word.  Always there, always loving, always sweet but they never said a word.

Tracy, Jennifer, Kim, Robin in 9th grade

I first saw the light come into Jennifer’s eyes sitting in Jamaica when Lauren and Jennifer were leading 79 4yr. olds singing, “I just want to be a sheep, baa, baa” in Vacation Bible School. She just blew me away; I saw something in Jennifer I’d never seen before.

Jennifer on the back row with dreadlocks!

She went off to college at Tennessee Tech, jumped into the college ministry and that’s when so many of you fell in love with her.

Jennifer, first on left with friends at Tech

I went to the Girls’ Retreat for the College church and it was then she gave me the scoop on Josh (her fiancé).  She said, “He is the godliest man I know, and he wants nothing more for me than to go to heaven with him and be pure in our relationship.” That’s what she loved about Josh.

She went to Venezuela and Mexico on mission trips, mountain biking, hiking, and then intern for girls at Collegeside Church of Christ.

Mexico Mission Trip, building church buildings

Just a couple of weeks before she died, Jennifer came to visit me and told about the girls’ retreat for the teenagers  She had come a long way from the quiet little girl in a Bible class  to leading a girls retreat at Tech.

I’m reminded of something her dad said in staff meeting last fall when we named something we were thankful for. He said, “I’m  thankful for my beautiful daughter, who is an amazing servant of God.

Larry and I asked Jennifer’s high school history teacher, Conn Hamlett, to share his observations of her since she took a Bible class from him in 9th grade as well as American and World History in her last two years.

“The first time I met Jennifer was in 1995-96. She came into class, and you could tell she was shy, with a Geena Davis smile, a wholesome and good girl.  As she excelled in the classroom and in athletics you could see a wonderful positive transformation. Not only did she become more outgoing, she became more outreaching but all the time maintained that great core of kindness and goodness. Always helping, never hurting, giving honor, never seeking.  She was a wonderful example. What a beautiful butterfly of a person.”

Kevin Teasley, a minister from Cookeville shared these thoughts.

If Jennifer were here she would say the way to honor her was to honor her God.

Jennifer was absolutely prepared to stand before her God. She knew it was not her work that was getting her to heaven, but His work.

This quiet little girl touched so many people with her gentleness, her patience, her service.

My heart has been heavy since Saturday night. C. S. Lewis said that when we say “If I just had one more hour with my loved one”, that it is God’s way of reminding us that we were not built for this place.

Wednesday night Jennifer and I talked about her wedding, talked about pre-marital counseling I would do with her and Josh. A year from now she would be a bride right here in this church, a beautiful, radiant, dazzling bride.. But the glory of a wedding would just be a rehearsal for the wedding of the Bridegroom Christ when He comes again.

She had a smile that could fill up a room. Right now she sits under the smile of a loving Father, and she is discovering how wide and how high and how deep is the love of Jesus for her. God would welcome her by saying, “Let’s celebrate because my child has come home.”

Larry spoke last to thank all those who had come to the service, all those who had offered us help. He ended with this thought, “She’s graduated to glory.”

The last song we all sang together ended with this chorus:

“When this life is over, and the race is run, I will hear you calling, “Come, I will come while you sing over me.”

The youth groups from Madison and the church in Cookeville exited first and lined the lobby as her casket was slowly rolled down the aisle to a bagpipe playing “Amazing Grace.”

I am counting the joys of that celebration and all the friends and family who helped us through a funeral we never expected to attend.

JoyMartell

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