I went to a funeral on Friday for a man about my age.  The funeral was held at Fort Logan Cemetery — the burial site in Colorado for veterans.  I was impressed by the elegant, but simple pomp and circumstance — the salute of the gun-firing riflemen, the haunting honor of the trumpeting taps, and the precision folding and re-folding of the flag.  About twenty of us gathered in the ceremony shelter, and while the Colorado spring winds blew the remnants of winter in from the mountains, we said good-bye to a man that most of us never knew.

The funeral was for James Marquis — a fifty-something man who died about nine months ago.  The dignity and respect of the military honors were a gift planned by his daughter to write a good and true ending to a story that had become horrible and false.  James died of alcoholism, a disease that he had battled for over thirty years while he lost his job, his marriage, his relationship with his son, his dreams, and his dignity.  The only good thing that alcoholism did not take from him was his daughter — Jenna Marquis Prey.

I have been so privileged to know Jenna as a dear, sweet friend for almost ten years.  Because of my friendship with Jenna and my intimate relationship with alcoholism, I knew Jenna’s dad better than most of the people at the funeral.

I knew that he had been a handsome young man when he married Jenna’s mom.  He was a superb baseball player.  In fact, he never stopped loving the game. I know that before alcoholism stunted him, James had been a daring man — full of dreams.  There’s a song that David Wilcox wrote called The Eye of the Hurricane that is about addiction.  When I listen to it, I imagine Jenna’s dad years ago — not exactly sure why he loved alcohol so much:
Tank is full, switch is on
Night is warm, cops are gone
Rocket bike is all his own
It’s called a hurricane
He told me once it’s quite a ride
It’s shaped so there’s this place inside
Where if you’re moving you can hide
Safe inside the rain
He wants to run away
But there’s no where that he can go
Nowhere the pain won’t come again
But he can hide
Hide in the pouring rain
He rides the eye of the hurricane

I can only imagine the details of the broken marriage and shattered dreams of James’ life.  I do know some of the details of the past ten years — disastrous health complications, a few legal consequences, and countless visits and phone calls from Jenna watching and listening to her father’s slow suicide.  Of course there were interventions when Jenna pleaded with her father to get help, but mostly there were the phone calls when Jenna strained to hear her father’s true voice in-between his slurred words.  It is excruciatingly maddening to try to understand why an addict stays stuck, but it is even more maddening to love someone who is in the eye of the hurricane.

Tell the truth, explain to me
How you got this need for speed
He laughed and said “it might just be
The next best thing to love.”
Hope is gone and he confessed
When you lay your dream to rest
You can get what’s second best
But it’s hard to get enough.

During the funeral Jenna read a letter she had written to her father shortly after he died.  The letter memorialized all of the sweet, funny, good, and true things Jenna knew about her father.  The letter also told the truth about his alcoholism and how it had robbed both Jenna and her dad of so much.  But mostly the letter told what is sweet, funny, good, and true about Jenna.  I have watched Jenna love her father in ways that have convicted me, comforted me, and changed me.  When every other human being abandoned her dad to his days of stupor and dark sorrow, Jenna remained steadfast in loving him.  She never gave up.  She cared for him more than herself.  She asked her dad, with fear and trembling, to walk her down the aisle at her wedding — not because he deserved to or could even be counted on, but because he was her dad and she loved him.  I’m glad I got to see him walk her down that aisle.  I never heard Jenna wish for a new dad — she loved the broken one she had.   She begged her dad to get treatment, but she did not withhold love because it never “took.”

As Jenna told us little stories about her father and the ways she felt loved by him, even and especially in his brokenness, I marvelled at her not keeping score of his sins, but definitely keeping a list of his kindnesses.  I remember one Wednesday evening several years ago when Jenna and I attended a mid-week worship service.  At the end of the service Jenna remained kneeling beside the pew with tears flowing down her face.  After a few minutes I knelt beside her and put my arm around her.  She looked at me with the most beautiful countenance I have ever seen — a face marked with sorrow and love.  She said, “Sharon, I just want my dad to be who I know he really is — just my dad, who I love.”  I remember thinking that she was a testimony to why I don’t believe in “tough love.”  I’m afraid that all too often it is a show of judgment and control and just makes us tough.  Jenna’s love wasn’t tough but I have watched it truly transform her into a woman who “trusts God always, always looks for the best, never looks back, but keeps going to the end”.

We saw him ride so fast last night
Racing by a flash of light
Riding quick, the street was dark
A shining truck he thought was parked
It blocked the path, stopped his heart
But not the hurricane
He wants to run away
But there’s nowhere that he can go
Nowhere the pain won’t come again
But he can hide
Hide in the pouring rain
He rides the eye of the hurricane

It may seem like Jenna’s love didn’t change anything, but I passionately disagree.  It changed everything.  It changed Jenna, it changed me, and I think it changed everyone who has seen Jenna love her dad.  And it changed Jenna’s dad.  During his final days, her father could barely move.  He couldn’t even make his way to the bathroom.  But somehow in the midst of the horror and pain of those last days, he made it to the telephone to call Jenna on her birthday.  He didn’t call to complain about his condition or to ask for anything.  He was thinking of Jenna, wondering about the weather in Colorado, and checking in to make sure she had insurance.  When you think about it, that phone call was a miracle.  We alcoholics are famous for messing things up at the worst possible times.  We are selfish.  We almost never think of others before ourselves.  Years ago I taught a class on addiction that Jenna was a part of.  During a lecture I said, “Addiction is more powerful than natural disasters and even human love.  Addiction makes fathers forget their families and mothers ruin childrens’ birthdays.”  I remember Jenna started to cry and ran from the classroom.  Jenna, I was wrong.  I believe that years of being loved by you changed your dad.  Do you see it?  At the worst possible moment, at the most unlikely timeJenna, he thought of you.  You taught him to love like that.

During the funeral there was another song about a hurricane — about God’s love being like hurricane.

And He is jealous from me, loves like a hurricane,
I am a tree bending beneath the weight of His wind
and mercy

I do believe in God’s infinite love, he looked at Jenna’s dad and said, “Enough.  My child, you have hurt yourself enough.  It’s time to come home.”  It was love that blew through James’ brokedown, littered shack in Virginia and wiped him out, only to bring him Home.  But, Jenna, I want you to know that while your dad was deceived for a while into believing that the calm from the storm — the eye of the hurricane — could be found in a bottle, your love was truly the eye of the storm.  You loved your dad because you knew — heart and soul — God loved you.  You loved your dad, and in doing so, you taught us all how to love and be loved.

When all of a sudden I am unaware of these afflictions
Eclipsed by glory and I realize just how beautiful You are
And how great your affections are for me.
And oh, how He loves us, oh
Oh, how He loves us, how He loves us all.

“Death swallowed by triumphant Life!  Who got the last word, oh, Death?  Oh, Death, who’s afraid of you now?  It was sin that made death so frightening and law-code guilt that gave sin its leverage, its destructive power.  But now in a single victorious stroke of Life, all three — sin, guilt, death, are gone, the gift of our Master, Jesus Christ.  Thank God!”  (1 Corinthians 15:55-56, The Message).