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Under His Wings I am Safely Abiding

Country Roads

The first funeral I can remember was for a 3-year-old cousin who drowned in his family’s farm stock tank. I was 6-years-old.

The service was at Ramsey Reformed Church north of Titonka in Iowa’s far northern Kossuth County. This is my extended family’s church; my parents worshiped there until I was 4-years-old and we moved away. I was baptized there 71 years ago.

I remember two things from my cousin’s funeral. First, the incredible sadness that clouded the day. Second, a mixed group sang an old hymn, Under His Wings.

Over the years, I have attended scores of funerals including several at Ramsey Reformed Church. Earlier this month, I attended another funeral there.

My Aunt Marjorie died in early April. Marjorie was one of my father’s older sisters. She and Dad were close as youngsters and our families remained close over the years.

Marjorie lived to the remarkable age of 94 years, the last several in nursing homes. Funerals and I have never been friends. In the early 1980s our neighbors, a young couple from our church, lost their infant son to SIDS. Several weeks earlier I had photographed little Travis and his big brother, Jake, for their family’s Christmas card. Jake’s funeral was heartbreaking.

Ten years later we said good-bye to my father. Just three years after that we buried my 20-year-old nephew. Then my in-laws passed away. Six years ago my wife died. Just four months ago we said our earthly goodbyes to my mother. I do not like funerals.

On a recent Saturday it was time to say good-bye to Aunt Marjorie. The family visitation preceded the funeral and we extended our condolences to my cousins and their families. We visited with other friends and family members, some we hadn’t seen for years.

My wife and I found a pew in the familiar sanctuary. The church organist was playing a medley of old hymns before the service and in that medley I caught the familiar melody of Under His Wings. The tune quickly took me back 65 years to my cousin’s funeral in this very church.

I have spent enough time on farms to appreciate the image of a mother hen protecting her chicks:

Under His wings I am safely abiding; Though the night deepens and tempests are wild, Still I can trust Him, I know He will keep me; He has redeemed me, and I am His child.

Under His wings, under His wings, Who from His love can sever?

Under His wings my soul shall abide, Safely abide forever. (Lyrics by William Orcutt Cushing. Public domain.)

The funeral service began several minutes later. Two of Aunt Marjorie’s grandsons, one a pastor and the other a theology professor, shared precious memories of their grandmother. Both alluded to their grandmother’s difficult life experiences, including the illness and untimely death of her husband and the loss of an infant daughter, and how her faith in God had sustained her over the years.

Indeed, this service was a celebration of the life of one of God’s faithful servants who is now in heaven. We have no doubt.

Still, a mother, a grandmother, an aunt, a friend was now absent from our presence. Under the best circumstances it is difficult to say good-bye.

In the days that have followed my thoughts have gone back several times to my aunt’s funeral. It was good to see her family and other friends and relatives. I appreciated the messages of her grandsons. Beyond the sense of loss was the acknowledgement of a life faithfully lived.

I thought again of my cousin’s funeral 65 years ago and how perhaps that experience may have affected how I have dealt with funerals in the years that have followed.

Through all of the experiences of loss, some extremely painful and heartbreaking, there has been a constant ̶ the awareness and confidence of the love of a caring Heavenly Father.

Under His wings, under His wings, Who from His love can sever?

Under His wings my soul shall abide, Safely abide forever.

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