Their white-gloved hands reverently took the corners and lifted Old Glory. They brought them together to form a long red, white and blue piece of fabric.
I have seen flags folded many times. I have even done it myself. My daughter’s Honor Scout troop folds them in daily ceremonies on Mackinac Island. But yesterday was the first time I watched a flag be lifted from a casket and folded.
From taps… “all is well, safely rest, God is nigh” to the flag slowly folded and presented… “on behalf of the President of the United States and a grateful nation” to my veteran father-in-law… I was barely controlling my emotion.
The man in the box, Arie Verkaik, was a sailor whose fellow seamen nicknamed Hollywood because he refused to swear and live like the men on his ship.
For 93 years, he continued to live out his beliefs whether it meant doing odd jobs, beginning a thriving ministry, raising 5 kids with his sweetheart of 65 years or fighting for the fatherless. Encouraging his children and grandchildren to build strong marriages was so important to him that he wrote a letter reminding us to always do the little things and never pass up a moment to hold hands no matter where we are.
I have a mental picture of them waiting to be seated during our wedding ceremony: Grandpa in a wingback chair with Grandma on his lap. That was just who they were.
Even after he lost his sweetie, he fought to live without bitterness through the daily grief of missing her. He found ways to serve and build relationships with those around him in his care facility. He leaves a legacy of life and love and a challenge to live looking for ways to serve God in everything.
Yesterday, I held the hands of my children and walked with them to the casket. They looked in and immediately whispered. “Mommy, that doesn’t look like him at all!” “You’re right. This is just the husk, the leftover part. He is more real than ever, right now. He’s not struggling with his failing body anymore. He’s not praying for help to live like Christ. He is face to face with Jesus!” I got through maybe the first few sentences and the rest was just spoken in my mind.
This Independence Day is tempered for me.
Freedom isn’t free. We get to be the land of the free because of the brave. But brave soldiers with strong integrity willing to be called names because they choose to live according to God’s directions? Our country could use many more of those.
Grandpa completed his race and won his battle, but swords are still clanging down here. John Bunyan was right about life as a pilgrim. When we think we’re the safest, that is when we’re most in danger.
We often think we’re safe for various reasons, but we must continue the fight to live like Him, to love like Him in everything. We can’t skip over things we decide aren’t important or feel too hard. God’s boundaries are His expression of love for us.
I don’t know what the future will hold, but someday, I know this body will return to dust and my family will gather and I pray they simply see how this broken-and-put-back-together woman did her best to love and live like Jesus in all things.
Most of all, I hope that encourages them to continue their fight, like Arie did for me yesterday.