A Day for Tears
I teetered a little on the pile of loose dirt by the newly dug grave and tried not to cry. Just as the Lahu people don’t smile for the camera, they evidently don’t cry in public. Mine were the only tears showing for this little one who had died so suddenly.
She was just seven years old – so young for life to end. It was difficult with the language barriers to piece together her story. She had a “blood sickness” (leukemia?) but had been doing well and was symptom-free. She went to the doctor for her check-up appointment. The doctor put her in the hospital and gave her three shots in her back. (chemo?) She quickly went downhill, but the doctor sent her home very ill. She had diarrhea and evidently died of dehydration.
We had planned to go to sports day to see the children play soccer and ta-claw. A call from the family changed our direction and we headed out to the village of Long Koad for the funeral. They don’t embalm, so the funeral had to take place quickly in this hot climate. It was the first Lahu funeral we’ve attended, so we didn’t know exactly what to expect.
In some ways it was similar to funerals in the US. The family and friends met and ate a meal served by the church people. Rice, fried pork and stew instead of fried chicken, and no need to bother with expensive paper goods. We were served our rice in plastic bags. Everyone ate with their fingers and shared the serving bowl spoons to eat the juicier stuff.
Then we gathered around the pickup which held the make-shift coffin. It looked to me like a well-used blanket chest with short legs, probably a precious piece of furniture donated by someone in the family to use for the little girl’s last bed. We sang a hymn and prayed, then got into our cars to follow the truck to the graveyard in the jungle. Family members rode in the back of the truck, holding on to the casket.
Time is one of God’s greatest gifts, he said. Every day is precious. Don’t waste it and don’t waste opportunities to show love to your family, because you don’t know how long you will them. He spoke of Jesus’ love that brought Him to earth to die so that death can be conquered. He gives the gift of life and the gift of eternal life.
After another hymn and a prayer, four men of the village came with hoes and crowbars and knocked the legs from the chest. They lowered it down into the hole with ropes and the mourners came and threw flowers and handfuls of dirt into the grave.
As Paul tossed in his handful of soil, his phone rang. He quickly clicked it off, but answered the call as we got back to the truck. As he walked down the path and talked, I watched as flames shot up from the newly covered grave.
“What are they doing?” I asked Lek.
“They are burning her clothes and her mattress and all her things,” he replied. “The Lahu people do that so they won’t see the things and be sad.”
By then I noticed the look on Paul’s face. Something was clearly wrong. I knew the call was from Bro. Danny Roten back in Oklahoma and suddenly realized that it was two in the morning there. Only bad news could account for the expression and the call at that hour.
“What’s wrong?” I asked when Paul got into the truck.
“I don’t know if I ought to tell you right now,” he said.
Thoughts of loved ones flashed through my mind. Which one was the bad news about?
“Tell me now!” I insisted.
“It’s Roger Ragland,” he said. “He died a few hours ago.”
Roger and Vickie were in our church in Oklahoma for more than 30 years. Our kids grew up together. We’ve seen each other through numerous family trials and griefs and have spent many happy hours of fellowship and laughter together. With Roger you could always count on the laughter. He had a dry sense of humor and was always making the corniest of puns. There is a hotel here in Chiang Mai called “The Pun Fun Home.” I always think of Roger when we pass it.
Paul’s message struck home to my heart again. You never know how long you have to live. Roger was just 65 – barely older than Paul. The sweet little girl was only seven. Life is a gift – and we don’t know how long we will have it.
I thought of many I love who aren’t ready to meet the Lord when their gift of life comes to an end. They can deny Him, refute Him, and curse Him – but that doesn’t change the truth. One day they WILL meet Him. Roger surrendered to Jesus as His God, trusting that His death paid the penalty for his sins. He served his God faithfully for many years. There’s no doubt that he heard, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” when he met his Heavenly Father.
For those I love who insist on holding the reins of their own lives and who deny their Creator – I pray that the Lord will soon open their blind eyes and bring them to the truth.
Life is uncertain. Death is not. Oh how I long for all to be ready for it!