Eulogy for my friend Jeff Little. Note “Keeper of the Stars” by Tracy Byrd was played at he and DeeDee’s wedding, and again as the family entered.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts and minds be acceptable to you, oh Lord, our Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer. Amen
We are all stunned to be here. Jeff is gone far too suddenly, and far too soon.
We wish there had been another chance to talk, to hug, to learn one more lesson from Jeff. To see the twinkle in his eye and hear his laughter and encouragement once more. But we know that is not to be.
We wish there had been a miracle, a way around this tragic loss. I want to suggest to you today that there was a miracle. The miracle was Jeff’s life. That we had him as long as we did. In our sorrow, we can recognize the miracle that we were given the privilege of walking with him for a while. Sharing the wonder and beauty of creation with him – be it the goo of a cattleyard… or the red dirt of the ball field.
The Scripture that the family selected is fitting for Jeff. Psalm 104 is a hymn of creation. A text encountering and praising the Creator and Sustainer of all that is.
God who provides and cares for all creatures. God who is known by works, and among those works are both the ships humans build, and the Leviathan, an ancient symbol of chaos and the unknown. The psalm – like so many beautiful passages of the Bible, reminds us that we don’t fully comprehend all that God is.
In our time of sorrow and anguish, it makes sense to turn to the Psalms. For in the Psalms, like all Scripture’s wisdom books, we find it all…
Anger, despair, deep grief. Incomprehension… wonder. And laughter, praise, and celebration.
We find rejoicing for God’s provision, that life is possible at all. And we find anguish when we realize our finitude, our limitations, and our times of loss.
One of the things that I love about the Bible is that it contains the whole range of human emotions. It’s not a simple rulebook about being good. It’s a chronicle of human encounter with the wonder of God’s presence.
So I need to say something, especially to the kids, to those who maybe haven’t walked through this shadow time, the valley of death before, I want you to hear this.
It’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to cry. It’s even okay to feel angry. Yes, even angry at God.
We aren’t the first. The Bible is full of people who struggled with what it means to be human. Who struggled with what it means to lose loved ones. To wonder…why?
As we cry and as we are angry… we need to know something else.
It’s not your fault. In a time of tragedy we all second-guess ourselves. If I’d done something different… If I’d noticed something. But it’s not your fault.
The mystery that is life… includes the mystery that is death.
Bad things happen, even to the very best people.
We humans have always struggled with that
sometimes we try to read scripture in a way that makes sense of it by saying God controls, wills, every single thing that happens. And that is comforting in a way, but also terribly confining.
And in fact, much of Scripture pushes against that idea. The book of Job, for example, is about a man in the depths of sorrow and pain who angrily demands answers from God. And winds up getting a glimpse of the very mystery of life.
Jonah too is about a man who is angry, and comes to understand the vastness of God’s mercy and love.
God doesn’t will the bad things, but they are part of a universe, and every human life, that has freedom to live and create, to work and build and play and somehow God makes it all right. God who is greater than our comprehension. God who is life itself, makes it all right. God who became flesh and walked among us, revealing mercy and love and laughter even in the face of the worst suffering.
Scripture shows us that if we pour our hearts out to God, we will find a way to go on. God will make a way where there is no way.
The sorrow and the tears and the anger will mellow and the laughter will grow stronger. The Joy will prevail, even if it doesn’t seem like it right now.
One of my favorite Psalms is Psalm 22. Its first line is “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me” It’s a psalm of anguish and sorrow. Mark and Matthew tell us that line was on Jesus’ own lips as he suffered on the Cross.
When we learned of Jeff’s death, we may have felt it come to ours. My God, My God, why have you forsaken me… but God hasn’t left us. Psalm 22 goes from that depth of pain to become a psalm of praise for the wonder, the miracle, that is life in God.
It’s soaring language is a lot like Psalm 104 and the other psalms of praise. The mystery of life is greater than even the sorrow of death.
So hear this as well. It’s okay to laugh. It’s okay to smile and remember and just be goofy, just like Jeff was.
As I visited with the family this week, they told a number of stories about Jeff. And knowing Jeff, you know how often they said, “I don’t know if you can use that at a funeral…” They were all about Jeff encouraging and inspiring people, or making them laugh.
Others were about how much he loved working with the kids, doing special things for the ball teams – like all the planning and effort that went into the Shocker’s trip to the Slumpbusters tournament in Omaha last summer.
Another was about Jeff’s first trip to Denver.
Many of you know this one, but it bears repeating.
You know that point way out in the high plains when you can first see a glimpse… the faintest shadow of the mountains on the horizon. And it is glorious.
Your Spirit just soars there. You know you’ve got a long way to go yet, but you can see the destination. The magic and majesty of the mountains.
It’s one of my favorite spots on earth.
The story goes that on this first trip, Jeff wanted to capture that moment, to freeze it so he could share it with others… so he took a photo.
Now we live in a digital world… instant, you see the photo immediately… but at the time, you just had to wait and see what developed…
and when they developed the film, there, in all it’s glory… was the Kleenex box on the car’s dash. And so it became a family joke. Don’t forget the Kleenex…
We have been using a lot of Kleenex this past week, as we have learned the tragic news… as we have begun to mourn and as we have laughed and shared…
And while I hope this day is one of healing, we know that our mourning is not over.
This next year, especially, will be difficult for us. There will be many firsts. Birthdays, Anniversaries, Holidays… and Jeff’s chair will be empty.
There will be the first trip to the feed lot, the 4H pavillion or the ballfield, and Jeff’s truck won’t be there. But maybe hardest of all will be those days when it’s all falling apart. When you just CANT’ spot your fastball. When you’ve already struck out twice and you’re at the plate, and it’s 0-2 already…and you’ll step off.. you’ll step out of the box, and you’ll look down the line and Jeff won’t be there.
But I want you all to know that at that moment… Jeff is here… (indicated heart and mind) Jeff is with you because he is a part of you. His belief that you can do it is still there. His love for you and his confidence in you will never be gone.
and let us not forget, that somewhere… just beyond that box of Kleenex, is a horizon we can only imagine. as the Psalmist wrote: I lift up my eyes to the hills — where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth Amen.
Now as we conclude this service, I note that the Psalmists didn’t have the benefit of knowing the great game of baseball, as we do. So I want to close our celebration of Jeff’s life with a verse from a reflection on baseball that DeeDee shared with me.
Baseball, it says, is a haunted game… in which every player is measured against the ghosts of all who have gone before. Most of all, baseball is about time and timelessness… speed and grace… failure and loss… imperishable hope – and coming home.
Our friend Jeff is safely home. You and I, we’re still at bat.
Thanks be to the Keeper of the Stars. Amen.