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Life, Death, Panic …

be still 2Today (January 23rd) has been one of those days in ministry that will probably stick with me for a while. It’s one of those days when a great many thoughts, events, and reflections converge. I’ve been sad this week for a number of reasons, some I share here…some are reserved for my heart and my God. But I have been determined to press on and keep my eyes centered on His promises, grace, and unconditional love. There’s not really much sense in getting out of bed if we’re not going to lean into Him for each moment.

This morning began with the news that a dear colleague (Happy Hands teacher) and friend lost her husband after being violently assaulted three days ago. He left his wife and his home to go to work at 6:43 a.m. and by 6:50 a.m., he would be left with irreversible brain damage and eventual death.

His family, and my friend, would be changed forever.

What did the robber gain in that 7 minutes? A cheap cell phone.

Her first words publicly on Facebook right after his death were (translated from Spanish) “now in the presence of the Lord”, sharing that her husband had passed away. What sweet words to share in a time of such shock and grief.

Here in Honduras, viewings and burials are very different than in the US. The viewing happens within hours after death and many times is held all night long with the burial the next morning. Burials are usually done within 24 hours.

So, upon hearing of his passing this morning, I knew the school staff and I would all be waiting for news of where the viewing would be in the afternoon.  Sometimes it is held in a humble living room, a church, or a funeral home.  This one was to be held in a small funeral home.

I headed to Happy Hands School where the teachers had returned from summer vacation and were working on organizing and setting up their classrooms. It was a strange day.

I am no longer working as Executive Director of this ministry but am very involved still and helping in new areas of consultation, planning, and training. It’s a different feel and we are all still getting used to the new setup and reduction of staff (9 Honduran staff were let go).

This teacher who lost her husband had just recently decided not to return this next year so that she could focus on a medical procedure to help her and her husband get pregnant with their first. She had miscarried earlier this year.

I still refer to all of them (those staying this year and those not returning) to be “our” teachers because we always thought of ourselves as family. And that remains so whether they are currently employed with Happy Hands or not.

Another teacher was celebrating her birthday today and it was important to the staff to celebrate this day with her. But a sadness loomed over as they grieved the death of their friend’s husband of just under two years.

The teachers faithfully wrote “Feliz Cumpleaños” on the white board, put out tajaditos (fried plantain chips) with some kind of white mushroom sauce and jalapeños (her favorite), a cake in the middle of the table, and the traditional 2 liter bottle of coca cola with small plastic cups. We all put on smiles, sang (in sign language) Happy Birthday, talked about funny topics like the fact that one of our lady teachers just purchased a “man’s” motorcycle and is still practicing how to ride it. We told her how much we loved her and prayed for her.

I take special note of another teacher in the room on this celebratory birthday and on this day of sadness for the senseless violence that took this man’s life. She lost her almost six year old daughter to dengue just three months ago. They both lived with me for 18 months years ago and my heart misses that sweet little girl and grieves for her mom who is teaching the same grade level this year her daughter would have been in.

The party is over and everyone disperses, packing up their purses and belongings, and making plans to head to the viewing.

Oneyda, the school director, and I tend to attend these events together. We have represented our own hearts and sympathies as well as the ministry and Happy Hands school on numerous occasions (more than I can count) at viewings and funerals. There is something lonely sometimes about being a ministry leader. Oneyda and I are “one of them” but then again, we aren’t. It is times like these that I wish I could just hunker down in the corner and grieve and cry out, but that’s not what God has for me on this day.

belovedOn this day, God says “Get out of bed, celebrate the life of a friend who has her birthday, and celebrate the life of a friend who is now in heaven, and give tangible words of love and support and hugs to my beloved children. Don’t hold back. Don’t skip over this day. Don’t decide you don’t have time or the words or the courage to speak love and truth to those who seek your comfort and guidance. Don’t waste this moment, this day. Be my Light today.” I want with all my heart to say “No God, I just can’t do it.” But I know better and I know my God is right … He always is.

Oneyda and I arrive at the viewing. We embrace our friend and fellow servant. Her eyes are swollen and red but she manages a sweet smile and hugs for us. I have Lili with me. I don’t have a caretaker right now so Lili is with me 24-7. She has a sweet smile on her face unaware of what is going on around us. Her innocence and sweet touch brings a greater smile to my friend’s face. I thank God for how He uses my Lili in ways such as this.

My heart sinks as we are informed the casket is in the back room and not displayed yet because the glass on top of it broke and is being repaired. We wait, we visit. I give my condolences to those I know. Again, Lili takes a special liking to my friend’s grieving mom and insists on sitting beside her and touching her arm for a moment. Sweetness.

The small room is filling up. More and more people are entering. Some with work uniforms on coming straight from work, some with jeans and t-shirts, and some more formal. Most of them woke up this morning having no idea they would be attending the viewing of this young man on this day.

The casket has been repaired and is being brought into the room. The room becomes quiet. My friend escorted by her two best friends, also teachers at Happy Hands who were at the birthday party earlier in the day, embracing her.

She sobs quietly and gracefully, full of love and pain. I look down at Lili sitting beside me. She is still grinning. A few moments pass and I again take notice of those around me. One of the teachers consoling and helping my friend through this difficult time lost her father just over a year ago. He was missing for over a month and was eventually found dead. He had been killed. Two other teachers showed up, twins. They suddenly lost their mother this past year to a medical issue.

I admire them in so many ways. Their lives are just plain hard on so many different levels.   Yet I see their resilience, their faith, their strength, their resolve to be there for one another, their patience, and their trust in God Almighty. I am moved and humbled and convicted and touched deeply by these my sisters in Christ.

A few sobs are heard but the room has remained quiet. The young man’s mom has now arrived. She makes her way to the casket where we are seated just a few feet away. And the cries of her heart for her young son can’t be held in. I am caught in a moment of deep sorrow as I hear her loud cries continue and then I remember … Lili. Lili does not do well with babies crying or loud unexpected noises. I look down and her pleasant smile has now turned to a look of fear and concern. As I have many times, I cup both my hands on her ears and bring her closer to me. I begin planning an escape route fearing the worst. Oneyda tells me there is an outside patio. We get up to head there but Lili cannot wait.

Her panic attack has begun.

She begins screaming louder than the poor mom wailing and is shaking and trying to walk with me at the same time. A well-meaning lady I don’t know tries to jump in and tell me how to “handle” my daughter. I quietly look her in the eyes and say in Spanish “I am her mother”. Thankfully, she respects this and steps aside.

I am heartbroken this incident has disturbed the viewing and I am heartbroken for my poor Lili whose eyes well up with such fear and anguish in these moments. It takes some time to calm her down. Friends who know me and Lili come to help and console, and it is much appreciated. When it’s all done, Lili is exhausted and so is her mom. We wait until the room is quiet again and I decide it’s time for us to go home. As we walk through room, I see eyes turned to us and am thankful so many seem to be understanding and forgiving. I see the young man’s mom and give my condolences. And I see my friend (who was also Lili’s teacher last year). She hugs Lili, hugs me, and we are on our way home.

At home, I try to unwind. I watch a little TV but cannot engage. I read a book for a bit but cannot concentrate. I tear up and am very aware of my growing headache. And then I write …


  1. Christy Owen says:

    Thank you all for your sweet words, prayers, and encouragement.

  2. after reading this post, i am exhausted with you, such mixed emotions in one day. Sigh…
    Praying for your rest and peace.
    Sitting with you in your sadness..
    **Huge hugs**

  3. Stan Stepleton says:

    Thank you for writing the story. Grace, peace and His Strength be with you and Lily.

  4. Christy, my arms are reaching out to hug you from Oklahoma. My heart aches for the teachers and Lili and you. Please tell them I love them and pray for them.

  5. This post has touched something deep inside me. The contrast between life and death. One full of happiness; one mostly tears. And I am reminded both are a grace of God. Thank you Christy. Your words are a healing balm.

  6. Lisa mcghghy-jungheim says:

    Wow– now I am in a puddle of tears and I am lifting you and your sweet family/friends to our Father. But there is such beauty in your story, to read about how you and others are experiencing life together and spurring one another on even in the midst of your own pain. THIS is he love we are called to. Prayers for you.