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The Hardest Part

June 15, 2007

It was a baptism by fire, I tell you. December 7, 2004 I received the phone call I’d hoped not to get. Cody Ring had died.

I had only been under appointment since July 1. When I say under appointment, I don’t mean “at that church,” I mean under appointment at all. I had immediately befriended Cody. In July Cody was only thirteen years old. We had shared passions – music and baseball, especially Cardinals baseball. He had a great sense of humor.

My wife is a physician assistant, and she had already known Cody and his family for a few years through her practice. She had sent him for tests that brought difficult news – Cody had Burkitt’s Lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system.

Since I was attending seminary in St. Louis, that made it easy to visit him at least once a week while he was at Children’s Hospital. His care was first-rate. His new Fender Telecaster and tiny Marshall amp were in his room and he loved for me to play it for him. Even when the cocktail of medications effected serious personality changes, the music could make him smile and laugh.

Cody’s family and I received bad news together. We laughed and cried and prayed together. I held a small crystal bowl of water while God baptized Cody in his home, surrounded by family and friends. One night he was rushed to the Emergency Room and I gave him the shirt off my back to keep him warm for the trip back home.

And the first funeral I had to preside over on my own took place in a filled High School gymnasium. It was most likely the hardest funeral I will ever do. I preached. At his family’s request I played Cody’s guitar for him one last time, singing the Tim McGraw song “Live Like You Were Dying.” His classmates sang one of his favorite songs, “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” by Green Day. His baseball coaches and teammates cried. At the beginning of the summer they had dedicated their season to Cody, carrying a wooden baseball-shaped sign with his initials and number (CR 23) to every game. Miracle of miracles, they won the state championship in his honor. We mourned our loss, but affirmed the goodness of God.

Dave Barry once wrote that adopting a pet is inviting an eventual tragedy into your life. So is befriending a teenager with cancer. So is, to be realistic, befriending anybody. Relationships are like that. Life is fragile, and we never know what will happen next. Friendships are risky, but very much worth it.

Every so often Katy and I get a bit melancholy when we remember Cody. He meant and still means a lot to us. I don’t really know why I’m thinking about him today. But I do know that God did a lot of good work in the community of Wolf Lake, Illinois through Cody. The community and the churches came together in a way they never had before. Teenage kids still visit Cody’s parents, loving them the way they loved him. At the moment of his death Cody’s parents sensed and experienced the goodness of God, testifying to this day that “he (God) was right there.” The grief is real, but so is God’s presence and God’s goodness.

A funeral for a 14-year old child is a tragedy for friends and family, a baptism by fire for a new pastor, and maybe the hardest hour of my career. But it is also a defining moment, one that took me from being “licensed student” to Pastor. One that taught me to lament, and to find God’s presence in the midst of tragedy.

I miss you, Cody.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 15, 2007 12:25 pm

    Thanks for sharing such an important time in your life with your readers.
    I found your article while doing a tag search for “funeral.”
    I write a blog for funeral professionals. So often, we get so wrapped up in the logistical side of funeral services that we forget the way others interact with the work we do.
    I’d love to share your essay with my readers, if you’d allow it.
    I’d also love to hear your reflections on the way you’ve interacted with funeral professionals and the ways our industry could work better with clergy.
    Thanks again for sharing with your readers. I look forward to hearing from you.


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