It was 1:30pm Sunday and I felt like I was driving 130 mph down the I-5...a lump in my throat, tears welling in my eyes, and emotional exhaustion plaguing my being. In a frantic search for normalcy, of some kind, I stopped at Petco to return the 7 piece grooming kit I had bought with noble intentions but knew would likely never be used and swung by a potential development site I had been meaning to drive-by for several weeks. Unfortunately, the "normal" didn't help and I was left with a heavy heart. The weather seemed to match my mood overcast with low, brooding clouds that were starting to spit a little.
I arrived at my Grandparents house in Point Loma around 2:45pm. I tried to find a little more normal with the Charger playoff game and some time with family. The normal still wasn't helping and soon I found myself alone while everyone else was getting ready. Reluctantly, I decided it was time for me to do the same. A few minutes later in full suit and tie I headed to the Ellipse Chapel were I was to meet up with Jess, who had been getting ready with her college roommates back at our apartment. As we arrived the rain that had been an intermittent drizzle began to fall more heavily.
We huddled in the kitchen/supply area of the chapel as we waited for the time to arrive. The cold, stark, hard environment made it seem like an eternity. Thankfully, Jess' parents, my Mom, and two of Jess' closest work friends, Daniella and Heather, joined us for a quick prayer. A few minutes later, Pastor Marc Otto and Pastor Dee Kelley joined us, the time had arrived.
Uncomfortably, we walked down the aisle and stiffly sat at the front on the chapel. Pastor Marc opened with a brief prayer and led us in singling the hymn, "It is Well." He then read Romans 5:3-5 which had been a verse we had clung to throughout our ordeal. It states: "Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us."
Jeremy Watkins followed by performing the song, "Our God is in Control," written by Steven Curtis Chapman. Briefly into the song Jess and I were overwhelmed by the lyrics that seemed to capture our testimony perfectly. Jess proudly lifted her hand and I followed, my fist clenched in honor and overpowering emotion for our God who is in control even when "this is not how it should be, this is not how it could be" and "this first taste is bitter," yet, "we'll sing holy, holy, holy is our God."
After this powerful moment Pastor Dee Kelley gave a eulogy to Mark Allen and Jesse Robert as told through the blog. It was a powerful and moving depiction of the difficult journey we had been on. This was followed by a brief message that included the reading of a children's book, "Guess How Much I Love You." It was a beautiful illustration of the love we felt for our two sons at that moment.
Following Dee's message were reflections given by my Uncle Jim, Jess' Dad, and myself. Uncle Jim gave a powerful witness of the hope we have that one day will allow us to be in the presence of God in heaven with all of our loved ones. He told us of the altar he has made out of stone in the foothills near his house, each stone representing a specific prayer. Soon after hearing about our ordeal with Mark and Jesse he found two small stones to remember them. What an amazing blessing to have a family who loves so much and is so faithful to the hope God has given. Jess' Dad started with an analogy of the similarity of the service that day to our wedding four years ago. Upon hearing the words Jess burst into tears as the similarity had been haunting her throughout the week. He went on to tell the story in 2 Samuel 12:15-23 of how David loses a child and states, "I will go to him," which captures the hope that Mark Allen and Jesse Robert are resting in heaven and that we will one day return to them. I then got up and shakily spoke about our prayers through this journey had been answered, including our desire that this circumstance would be used to draw others closer to Christ, inexplicable peace and joy, and the protection of Jess' health. I also spoke of the thankful hearts we had forgetting a tiny glimpse into what it must have been like for God to give up his son to be crucified.
To end the service Pastor Marc led us in singing "Jesus Loves Me" acapella. This was the song we sung to Mark Allen right before we gave him back to the nurses and seemed to be a fitting way to end the service. I like to think this is a song that Mark Allen might have sung to us at that moment, if he could, to comfort us. The simple childlike melody seems to so succinctly capture the love from Christ, a love that proclaims no matter what happens in this world I love you and I will restore you.
Finally, a brief benediction was given and the service was over. We quickly shuffled our way to the back of the chapel for a reception line where we could thank those who came for their love and support. About two hours later we were able to leave and headed to my grandparents house for a meal with our families. As I slowly consumed the food it felt as though I was having an out of body experience. I seemed to be holding a conversation while completely off in another world trying to somehow digest all that had taken place. I still don't think that day has entirely settled yet, but I do know that God has been faithful and that our hope endures.