I had the honor today of speaking and singing at Karlena's Celebration of Life service. It was a beautiful service and something that she would have loved. I was so nervous about getting up in front of everyone but right before it was my turn we sang one of her favorite songs "I can only imagine" and I could picture her arms raised praising God and it gave me such a peace. I wanted to share here what I wrote for today. Thank you for sharing her with me here!
It is a difficult task to sit down and put to words all of the things that I wish that I could share about who Karlena has been in my life. There are so many memories, so many stories and not enough time to share them all. Some of the moments, conversations are ones that were private and special and just between us and those I will treasure forever. I know that standing here before you we all have those similar experiences. Each one of us here in this room has been touched by the woman that Karlena was. For some of us we remember her amazing, big smile. Others of us remember her changing hair-styles/colors and long bright fingernails, her laugh and the way that she made us feel comfortable.
My friendship with Karlena started just that way. She was someone that never judged. Someone that accepted me for me, she was reliable and trustworthy and it didn’t matter the time between conversations, I always knew that she would be happy to talk to me whenever the time came.
Somewhere in our journey as friends I started to see a different side of Karlena. When we were younger we didn’t talk a lot about God, but as we both grew up a little we started sharing our faith with each other. It is that woman that I want to share with you today because it is Karlena’s faith in God that has had such a profound impact on me.
Finding out at 18 that she did have the Ataxia gene, Karlena knew ultimately what direction her life would eventually take. Her response to that news could have gone a couple of different ways. But as we all know she embraced her life and those things that she didn’t have control over and found an even deeper faith in God as a result. I am sure that she had doubts and fears but when I would talk to her about it as her symptoms progressed she always remained positive. She would tell me that she knew that God had a plan for her and she trusted that plan.
It was this faith, this trust that challenged me to look at my relationship with God. Karlena and I had many conversations where she would remind me that she wasn’t afraid of the future and each time that things got difficult for her she would press into God. This is how I want my faith life to look. One in which I am leaning towards God when life gets tough and not running from Him. It is this legacy that I hope to be able to pass along to our long anticipated daughter – a woman that will hopefully carry Karlena’s legacy of faith along with her name.
As we chose to name our daughter after Karlena I spent some time searching for the meaning of her name and found that I couldn’t find anything specific to her unique name – it is as unique as she was. So for our daughter I will pass along these meanings that I believe embody who Karlena was.
Faithful, Courageous, Steadfast, Loving, Kind, Supportive and Follower of Christ.
You know Karlena was always more worried about all of us and the condition of our hearts. She knew that when the time came that she would be called Home and she wanted to make sure that the rest of us would be joining her. She wasn’t afraid of sharing her faith with others and she was an amazing example of a woman living out a Christ-filled life. I know this because people gravitated towards her and grew in their faith because of her example.
It is an example that I hope to model my life after. It was always easy for me to let her be the example for me – to grow because I saw growth in her, to love unconditionally because I saw that unconditional love in her, to speak out because she spoke first. I feel that loss most heavily in my life now. Who will be that example for me now?
I know what Karlena’s answer would be.
God. He was her example, He was her strength, He gave her the courage to live life even when living was painful and He gave her the peace that she would one day spend eternity with Him.
I know that having a relationship with God was something that Karlena wanted for each of us. If she taught me anything it is that time is short and we just don’t know when that last breath will be for us. Karlena wasn’t afraid of dying because she knew what awaited her after her final breath.
A friend of ours from Augie – Anna – posted on my FB page something that I have to share. She said isn’t it awesome to think that with Karlena’s last breath she was opening her eyes and standing at the feet of her Heavenly Father! I praise God for that truth today. Today she is feasting at the banquet table of Christ - one that is set with a place for each of us.
The question is will you choose to be there?
Karlena can’t ask you the question any longer….so I will ask it for her. If you haven’t yet established a personal relationship with God what are you waiting for? Today is our opportunity to secure a place with her in Heaven. And all it takes is asking God into our hearts and our lives and then trusting Him in the journey that follows.
In 2008 I went to Denver to attend a Woman of Faith conference with Karlena. On that weekend we talked in depth about her “celebration of life” ceremony. She asked me if I would sing at her service because she “knew that I could do it without crying”. In fact she told me that she wanted signs on the door of the church that said “No crying allowed”!
I shared with her that weekend a song that I had just heard that instantly made me think of her. It is called “I Will Rise” by Chris Tomlin. Because as her body continued to fail her, as she continued to struggle with some of those daily tasks we take for granted – she held onto the promise of a Savior that loved her enough to die for her and make a place for her where one day she would dance unassisted, rising in worship to a God that loves her, loves me, loves all of us.
What an amazing gift we have been given – the gift of GRACE.
I hope that the words to this song will touch you as it did me. And as I attempt to sing this without crying I ask that each of you spend some time in communion with a God that has a place saved for you, just as He did for Karlena.
** side note...by the grace of God I did make it through the song...that and staring at the EXIT sign helped a little too! :) **
Karlena, you will forever be missed and never forgotten. Thank you for giving me the courage to stand up today. I love you!