Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Memorial Service of Carissa Ireland

I am on my way to Carissa Ireland's memorial service.  I have Abigail Miller's cd, "I Can Go In" playing.  As I listen to the title song the thought occurs to me that this song would be perfect for Carissa's service.  I can just imagine Carissa entering into heaven with the many sinners washed in blood & justified by faith.  What a comfort it would be to the hearts of the Christians that would be in attendance and what a witness to the many lost, as well.  Well, whatever music has been chosen is God's will and He will use it.

I enter into the church building that Carissa often entered when in New York.  The church where she saw old friends and where she witnessed her sister get married not quite a year and a half ago.  There is my current pastor hugging my former pastor.  There are many other familiar and friendly faces.  The atmosphere is somber, but not depressed.  Laughter can be heard from time to time and smiles are numerous.  The aftermath of the shock is still subtly felt.

I take my seat in the upper half of the sanctuary.  I observe many people enter, hug one another, find a seat, and settle in.  The sanctuary fills to near capacity in 30 minutes.  My brother, sister-in-law and two of their children make their way towards me and we sit together.

Music has been playing.  Beautiful instrumental hymns.  Hymns that Carissa probably listened to hundreds of times in her twenty years.  Hymns she sang, played, and loved.  With little fanfare, the family enters the sanctuary.  We almost do not notice, but one by one, we realize they are taking their seats to say their "final" good-bye to their daughter, sister, sister-in-law, niece, grand-daughter, cousin.  To the one they all could not help but love and cannot help but miss deeply.

The screens in front light up and pictures of a sweet baby girl appear.  Then, I cannot believe it.  As the recorded music begins, I hear the piano introduction.  It is Abigail Miller's "I Can Go In."  The song God would have begin this service.  Just a small gift to an insignificant member in the crowd.  The song is sung in it's entirety as we watch Carissa grow up before our eyes - a happy baby, a sweet little girl, a beautiful young woman.  It almost seems surreal.  Is she REALLY gone?  The last picture is on the screen as Abigail holds out the final words.  It is a profile picture of Carissa.  She is smiling widely, her hands our semi-outstretched, and she is looking slightly upward.  Is this how she looked as she entered into heaven just a week and a half ago?

Pastor Gary Sauer walks up to the podium.  He and his wife have been friends with the Irelands for as long as the Irelands have been a part of FBBC.  His voice cracks many times as he welcomes us and the family.  He asks the family to take a moment to look around at the filled sanctuary.  It is a tribute to Carissa and to them - so many lives they have touched throughout the years.  So many souls who love them.

We sing some favorite hymns of the faith.  From my seat, I can clearly see the Ireland family.  We sing "It is Well With My Soul" and I watch.  Robin's hand flies in the air as we sing the last verse - "And Lord haste the day when my faith shall be sight..."  That day has become more dear to her.  How she looks forward to seeing her daughter again.  She is rejoicing in this promise.  My tears begin.  We then sing Carissa's favorite song, "This World is Not My Home."  The joy filling this place is amazing.  This is truly a celebration!

A short video is now going to be shown.  Ah!  I recognize it from the facebook page remembering the lives of Carissa & Irina.  This particular video was taken in Ukraine.  It shows a group of young people standing in a circle singing "This World is Not My Home" in Ukrainian.  They are clapping and singing with their whole hearts.  There's Carissa.  Her smile is a light as she sings with exuberance.  There's a look exchanged between Carissa & her sister Coleen which makes their smiles even bigger - a private joke or something to be certain.  We see in this short video a sisterly bond, a bond of love between brethren, and the love of Christ.

Nancy Curran - a woman with so much grace in times like these - sings a song written by another missionary wife.  The song speaks of how awesome the moment is when we look upon Jesus' face.  I think of how Carissa must have felt at that moment.  Does that feeling ever go away in heaven?  I think not.  We will have our moment one day, too.

Pastor Bob Brado, who has been introducing the various parts of the memorial service walks behind the podium once again.  It is time for the eulogies.  As I looked at the "program" before the service, I saw "eulogies" listed, but not who would be giving them.  I am curious.  My heart jumps when Pastor Brado mentions that three of the Ireland children would be the first to speak.  How will they do it?  The grace of God. 

The youngest sister is first.  She has been crying throughout most of this service already.  My heart is breaking for this sweet little girl old enough to know that she will never see her sister on earth again, but young enough to not really be able to comprehend any of it except for the horrible ache in her heart.  She speaks of how she loved her sister because she would bring her and the other children gifts and candy whenever she came home (to Ukraine).  She loved when Carissa would call on Saturdays just to talk with the kids.  They loved sharing a room with Carissa although her hair (which was waist-long) was "all over the place".  We laugh with her through our tears as she reads to us through hers.  The broken-hearted young girl finishes - "But, most of all, I loved Carissa because she loved me."  I am choking down my sobs at this very moment.  Oh to go down and just give that baby a hug.  But, her big brother is holding her up right now.  They are leaning on one another as their oldest sister stands behind the podium. 

Jennifer speaks eloquently of Carissa.  How beautiful and sweet she was.  She uses the analogy of a flower.  She mentions how Carissa was seemingly taken too early, but God knew exactly when to transplant her into His garden where she will bloom forever.  The grace and peace of God is evident on Jennifer. 

Michael Jr. walks to the podium.  He is strong, but his grief is evident.  Unlike his sisters, he has no paper to read from.  He speaks as his heart fills.  He speaks so much like his father - with passion looking at the audience with eyes full of intensity. He tells us of the time that he and Carissa were in Florida with their grandparents.  They had played in the water and on the beach all day and now they were sitting in the sand with their feet being washed by the water.  Carissa reached over and held his hand (he wasn't crazy about that at the time).  She said, "Mikey, I wish mom and dad could be here.  They would love it."  Then he tells us, "The she said, 'Mikey, I love you.' I just want everyone to know, I loved my sister.  I loved her very much."  The three walk off the platform together.  It is silent.

Pastor Brado introduces four college friends of Carissa's from PCC.  One has been appointed by the group to speak.  There are two boys and two girls.  The dark-haired girl is the one who approaches the podium.  She tells of how she stayed in her room the first two days of her freshman year and just cried.  She didn't think she'd make any friends.  Then she told us how Carissa came to her room and became her first friend.  She tells us that she lost her own mother to suicide a year and a half ago.  She didn't think she'd ever make it back to college due to the emotional and financial stress.  But, Carissa was famous for two sayings - "Jehova Jireh" (the Lord will provide) and "We have a big God."  Carissa would say those things to her friend all the time - even times when her friend did not want to be reminded.  But, when she said she wouldn't make it back to school, Carissa told her, "We have a big God.  You're coming back and we will graduate together."  She made it back. Carissa meant so much to this group of friends and to the many friends she had at PCC.

Now, Pastor Brado walks back to the podium.  He tells us that Irina McEntee's family is here.  Her service was two days ago.  The  three remaining family members all walk up onto the platform.  Mr. McEntee seems to be a business man - well groomed, well spoken, and kind.  He tells us that he didn't know Carissa long, but the friends from PCC described her perfectly.  He says that the first morning in Maine, he was sitting at the table reading his Bible when Carissa came down.  She asked him if she could call him "Uncle ---" and he said that would be fine.  She then went to read her own Bible on the rocks outside.  Later that morning, the girls were talking at breakfast.  Irina was telling Carissa of all the "treasures" she had collected on the island.  Many buoys would wash up on shore and she had collected many of them.  Irina told Carissa of the time when she was a young girl and she had found a muffler and her parents saw her dragging it down the street homeward.  So many "treasures."  The girls laughed.  Mr. McEntee speaks of picking up the girls from the Boston airport and the conversation during the 100 miles to their summer home in Maine.  The girls spoke of the kids back at college - what boys liked what girls and vice versa.  They spoke about who they liked and who liked them.  The McEntees listened to that for 100 miles!:)  Mr. McEntee said he then realized that the girls' treasures had changed from buoys & mufflers to boys.  They were growing up.  Then he says that now they have found their greatest treasure - Christ in heaven.  As he speaks, his wife looks tired and wipes her eyes often.  Their youngest son, Nick, stands with his arm around his mother. This family has lost 2 children/siblings in a year's time.  The grief is unimaginable to me.  Mr. McEntee stands like a rock.  His family must be leaning hard on God at this time for there is nothing else to lean on.  I quietly pray for them...again.

Pastor Bob Brado and his daughter are the last to eulogize.  They speak of their friendship with the Irelands and of their time in Ukraine.  They speak of how Carissa truly was godly and lived for Him.  Their eulogies, like the rest, make us laugh and they make us cry.

This time includes eulogies sent via video from those in Ukraine who loved her.  Carissa's mom has spent time doing the voice-over to interpret what they say.  The look of grief on their faces is intense.  They are in shock.  They are sad.  But, in each eulogy, they mention the same thing their Christian brothers & sisters here in America have said - they trust God and His timing.We are half a world apart, but we feel the same pain, we trust the same God, we love the same family.

Another song is now being sung; again about the moment when we will bow before Christ.  These songs are specifically chosen by the Ireland family obviously because they desire to focus more on the joy Carissa must  now be experiencing rather than their deep sorrow.

The song has ended.  I see Pastor George Grace walk up the steps and to the podium.  The pastor I grew up with.  The Ireland's pastor.  The pastor that lives up to his name - grace.  Through experience, I know that the message he will bring in a moment will bring encouragement, hope, tears, and smiles.  He is saying that he has two types of messages - the kind where he takes a really long time to say not much of anything and the kind where he takes a short time to say as much as he possibly can. :) He'll do the shorter tonight/  He tells us about the hope that Carissa had.  He tells us of her godliness.  He tells us that we ought to love one another as brethren, for, if we cannot love each other how will we ever love the lost?  Carissa loved.  He leads an invitation.  I wonder how many are praying right now to be saved.  I am praying that many are inviting Christ into their hearts and that they will let the Ireland family know so that they will be able to rejoice in this time.

One more song.  The man who is about to sing is explaining to us that the song has a story.  Carissa sang this song with a choir at PCC and she absolutely loved it.  She obtained the sheet music for it and had been practicing it on the piano and had been working on translating it.  It seems she was looking forward to presenting it to her loved ones back in Ukraine.  When Mike & Robin found out that Carissa had entered into heaven, they asked for the music to be found.  It was in Carissa's luggage.  He begins to sing:

"Blessed Be the Name of the Lord."
As the sun rose that morning on the day of Job's trials,
He rose up to serve God as any other day;
Bound and determined to live in God's favor,
And nothing would stand in his way.

But then the messengers came one by one with their story,
In just a few moments Job lost all he had;
Great wealth and riches the health of his body,
And even his children were dead.

The Lord giveth, he taketh away,
Blessed be the name of the Lord;
I served him before and I'll serve him today,
Blessed be the name of the Lord...
I am listening and I am in amazement at how this song not only speaks of Job, but of Carissa and her family.  They rose on a morning just like any other.  They went about their business of serving the Lord just as they have these last 20-plus years..  Then, they received a phone call - their daughter was missing.  Another call - the kayaks were found but not the girls.   Then the call each parent dreads - your daughter is gone.  They cry.  They  hold onto one another.  They look to heaven and repeat the words of God's servant Job.  They grieve, but still serve.  They grieve, but still praise their loving Father.  They grieve, but continue to be a light shining for all who watch. 
"Lord, Carissa had a plan for this song.  You had a different plan.  How could she ever have known that she would never perform this song in Ukraine but that You would be glorified through it in a service remembering her and her love for You?  I don't understand, but blessed be Your name."

My current pastor is the last to walk to the podium.  He is to lead us in a final prayer.  He speaks of the girl who looked just like her mother.  He tells us of how he visited their family in Ukraine when Carissa was just 10 years old.  She took him to the market and while he was quite nervous, she had great boldness.  He tells us how he recently was in Florida and had taken her to lunch and walked away amazed at how she just exuded God.  He introduces a short video to us.  She will not be seen in this video, but we are to listen to what are, in a sense, her last words to her parents.  My heart jumps a beat.  I heard that she had sent her parents a multi-media message of the island she and Irina would be kayaking to.  Is this it?  Is this going to be a bit much for all of our emotions?  The clip begins.  It is dark and  there is a humming noise in the background.  We hear Carissa's sweet voice.  She focuses on Irina and tells her to say hi to her family.  They must be on an evening boat ride.  I hear her say something and the video stops short just as my mind was processing what she said.  Pastor comes back to the podium. "Did you catch what she said?  She said, 'Mom & Dad, you would love it here...' "  
She is saying the same thing now - "You would love it here."

Please pray for the Ireland & McEntee families as they continue to grieve & lean heavily on their Heavenly Father at this time.  May they never doubt our love for them.


Philip the Organist said...

That was an excellent description of an extraordinary event. Most definitely one of the most, if not THE most, powerful services I've ever been in. The singing was especially special to me, to think of all of us grieving, but yet praising the Lord with all our might.

Tricia said... are quite the writer. That was "the" most beautiful description of a home going service. I felt as if I was right there. I have been grieving for the Irelands, even though I do not know them.
You captured the very heart and emotion of the service. It took my breath away.
May Christ be praised and may many come to Him because of who He is and what He has the Irelands lives', as well as, ours.

Robin said...

Mike and I just read through, sobbed through, your account of Carisa's service. Thank you so much for taking the time to so eloquently describing the evening. You warmed our hearts today, thank you so much for your prayers!
Much Love,
Mike and Robin

Julie said...

Simply beautiful. Wish I was there. Thank you for sharing this.

Jillian and Emmaline said...

Wow! Thank you so much for posting this.


Ted Snyder said...

Vickie, We so want to be there for Mike and Robin, but....and then you allowed us to be there! Thank you! I just sat and cried and tried to read the words through the blur. My heart aches for the Irelands but rejoices for Carissa! Thank you again. Dawn

jen said...

so very nicely done, Vicki. You captured/remembered things that I hadn't. One more thing, similar to your experience with Abigail's song: On my way to the church, I happened across the Valley of Vision song on my ipod. I thought of Nancy Curran, as I have heard her sing that one before…and what a sweet surprise to actually hear her sing it that night!

Jamie Parfitt said...

All I can say is, Good job, Vicki. I was there that night, and you helped me relive it. I cried again! We always cry for the ones who are left; those who went on are in a much better place! My cousin's 14-year-old son just died this weekend from a rare bone cancer. I am so happy he is not hurting anymore. I am also glad Carissa did not have that agony of dying over the space of two years. God is merciful, even if we don't think that way at first.

Victoria said...

Jamie - I am so sorry to hear of your cousin's son. I think it is every parent's worst nightmare to have to see their child suffer. I will be in prayer for your family.

Unknown said...

So glad to be able to read this. I was a friend of Carissa's, but I had to be back at PCC and could not go to her funeral. Her life is still making in impact in my life, and I still can hear her tell me, we have a big god!

Unknown said...

So glad to be able to read this. I was a friend of Carissa's, but I had to be back at PCC and could not go to her funeral. Her life is still making in impact in my life, and I still can hear her tell me, we have a big god!