I sat in a classroom with several young ladies at Gettysburg Seminary on a cold Pennsylvania January day in 2010. As music flowed out of the speakers from my friend Shera's computer, we strained to listen to the words coming forth. The song we were listening to was a song by Benjamin Splichal Larson and his cousin Jon. The words were words penned by a seminary classmate and friend. We listened closely as we heard them sing "hands parted after prayer like cups raised to receive!"
The song ended and we talked about the image of our hands parted after prayer. Class ended and we all went our separate ways. I sat in my hotel room later that afternoon scrolling through Facebook when I received an instant message from a seminary classmate. This classmate told me that there had been an earthquake in Haiti and three Wartburg Seminary classmates where there including my friend Renee who I had worked at Bible camp with for several summers.
For awhile, as you can imagine, the news was very vague. First, Renee was found but the boys were missing. Second, they were all missing. And then finally, Renee and Jon were together but Ben was still missing. As we waited for news, we found ourselves reading news articles and stories on the Internet and watching the news. I felt bad for our morning speaker the next day because most of us were not listening to her words but rather were trying to glean any news we could about the earthquake and Ben.
After the morning presentation, one of the young ladies in my small group came to me and shared an article with me and several of the other ladies. The article included an interview with Ben's dad where he shared "If you want to know Ben, listen to his music." We looked at each other and exclaimed "That is what we did yesterday!"
From there, we went to our classroom. In the classroom, we finalized our service which we would be leading the next day (Thursday) The young ladies had decided to honor Martin Luther King Jr. as it was MLK day the following Monday. They also choose to sing the song "Freedom is Coming" from the This Far by Faith hymnal.
Thursday morning, I awoke to my alarm clock ringing. I crawled out of bed, jumped into the shower and got ready for the day. As I was blow drying my hair, my cell phone rang. I went to answer it. Shera was on the other end of the line. She asked "Did you get an email from the seminary this morning? I replied no. She then asked "Can I come to you?" I said "Of course" and hung up the phone. The minute I hung up the phone I knew that the news was not good.
I waited for the knock at my hotel door. Finally I heard the knock. I opened the door to Shera and her roommate standing there. Shera looked at me and shared "Ben is gone!" We embraced each other and slowly let the tears begin to flow. After a few minutes, the three of us walked to the refectory for breakfast. When we walked in the door, several of our friends asked if we had heard anything. Shera couldn't get a word out and "Ben is gone" was all I could say. Those words were on autopilot that morning.
Before we knew it, Shera and I both were being embraced by our friends. And as they embraced us, the tears began to flow even more. I didn't realize it then, but now I see them as God's grace in the midst of this tragedy.
After breakfast, we continued on to the chapel for morning worship. We sat down in our pews; Shera and I next to each other. It came time for communion and the tears begin to flow even more freely as we gathered at the holy table. The words from the song from Tuesday were echoing in each of our ears "Hands parted after prayer like cups raised to receive."
After worship, we went to our classrooms. As we gathered, we found ourselves wondering what we were to do as we were still to lead worship that evening. We made the decision to still honor MLK Jr but also to honor Renee, Jon, Ben, and Haiti. We also choose to still sing "Freedom is Coming!" We also decided to play Ben's version of Psalm 30 as worshipers were entering into the chapel that evening.
After worship, we all went off to our hotel rooms. I remember laying my head down and reflecting on how that service and the whole week had felt like being wrapped in God's grace. Little did I know that the next day, this would be immediately confirmed for me. I closed my eyes and drifted off to dreamland for the night.
The next morning, we said our goodbyes and loaded up into limos that would drive us to Baltimore for our flights. As I was standing in line with two of my new friends, I pulled up Facebook and came across a blog post that someone shared. The post included Ben's sermon from his senior year at college. In the sermon, Ben shared how international music was important and special to him especially the song "Freedom is Coming." Chills began to cover my entire body.
Little did we know, the week before that when we choose that song, it was one of the most influential song's in Ben's life! BUT, GOD!!! God knew. God, through the Holy Spirit, graced us with the gift of those words.
Today Renee and Jon are married and have a little boy. Yet another gift of God's grace in the midst of this tragedy.
His last words on this Earth were sung. He sang the words "God's peace to us we pray" And, my friends, Ben Still Sings! He sings through his new liturgy. He sings when we listen to his music. His music is another gift of God's grace in this world.
This experience of God's grace indeed changed me. It, for sure, did not leave me where it found me! And it will always be a way to share about the incredible goodness of God's grace even in the midst of tragedy. I am so very thankful for that gift.
Mourning Into Dancing (Psalm 30) by Ben Larson
I am linking up with my favorite gals today: Holly at Testimony Tuesday, Kelly and the RaRa Linkup, Jennifer Dukes Lee and Tell His Story and Holley Gerth and Coffee for your Heart.