It took nothing short of a miracle for our college friends to get to Northbrook, IL on Sunday night, Aug. 26th 2012 for Gloria Hsu Pirotte's memorial service. Flights had to be rearranged, vacations cut short, first days of school plans changed, sacrifices made by all. I wasn't sure I'd be able to make it happen either until a friend of mine generously covered my flight from Dallas to Chicago. God provided a way for me to go, and I was grateful beyond words to be able to attend.
Despite the steady downpour of rain that entire night, it was standing room only at her memorial service. Collages of her pictures were displayed in the foyer of the church, and everyone received a CD of songs written and performed by Gloria.
When I walked into the sanctuary, I was struck by a strange feeling, a mix of beauty and dread. I realized the last time I saw Gloria was in a church, 6 years ago, on her wedding day. As I perused the crowd and recognized so many familiar faces, I wondered if I was entering a season where I'd be attending more funerals than weddings.
When I saw the casket, I broke down. I couldn't believe Gloria's body was really confined to that wooden box. Sweet, funny, wonderful Gloria. This is the first funeral I'd attended for a friend my age, (she was only a few days shy of her 36th birthday), and I was not prepared for all the tears that flowed out of me from somewhere so deep inside.
Before the service began, there was a slideshow of pictures of Gloria in her college days, with her church friends, with her students, on her wedding day, her family, their vacations, the birth of Kelissa and Karinna, and a few of her in a hospital bed with the oxygen tubes in her nose. It was completely silent in the chapel for almost the entirety of the video, except for some chuckling at one precious picture of a pregnant Gloria standing next to Kelissa, who was pushing out her stomach to match her mommy, and Chad who was on the other side of Gloria, pushing his belly out to match the rest of his family!
Chad began the service with a eulogy. He talked about how he fell in love with this girl whose heart was so pure and simple, who did not hold on to material possessions, who was extraordinarily intelligent, receiving a perfect score on her GRE and almost perfect on her SAT, but did not pride herself in her musical talent and accomplishments, like earning her BA in English and Psychology from Northwestern, her MA in Education from Harvard, and teaching English at Walter Payton College Prep, one of the best high schools in the nation. Instead, she was content in a modest home, with her T-shirt and jeans, and drove a car that was dented with hail because the other one was stolen. He had only seen her wear makeup twice; once as his bride and another time as a bridesmaid. You would never guess from looking at her that she was probably one of the smartest people you'd ever met! He said all of this made her so beautiful to him.
One of the things that Chad loved about Gloria was her voice; she sang all the time, to him, to the girls, to herself, to God. She would play the piano while he worked, and he said it helped him to focus. He was also amazed at her ability to disappear while she led worship at their church; she made sure that all eyes were on Christ, not her. He smiled when he said that the reason their church was small was not due to Gloria's worship leading but their pastor's preaching! (The pastor later came up to speak and amicably agreed with Chad's assessment).
Chad shared about the secret pain that Gloria had endured because of her rheumatoid arthritis. They had to train Kelissa not to shut doors because Gloria could no longer turn a doorknob. She felt guilty because she couldn't rough house with Kelissa or carry her newborn like other moms. Chad read a couple excerpts from her journal where she was brutally honest with God about her RA, writing a list of every part of her body that hurt and sharing her fear that she may no longer be able to do the thing that she loved most: lead others in worship through her music. She was confused; was God upset with her? Did she misunderstand her calling? Didn't He know how much she wanted to serve Him in this capacity? Why were things getting worse? Didn't He want to use her anymore?
She was also concerned about sharing her pain with others because she did not want God's name to be defamed if He chose not answer their prayers in the way that they wanted. She knew that she would worship God whether He healed her on this side of Heaven or not, but she feared being the cause of hurting someone's faith if they prayed for her healing and it was not granted.
As Gloria was entering her final days, she and Chad had to talk about the memorial service. Gloria, in her typical lighthearted manner, suggested that it would be funny if they presented a half-open casket with only the bottom half open instead of the top half! (Chad said that obviously the family chose to keep it closed for the solemnity of the service, but they let Gloria be dressed in her favorite outfit: her PJ pants and her Northwestern sweatshirt.)
Gloria did want to pick out the songs that she wanted to be sung during the service. One of them was the hymn "In Christ Alone," with lyrics that end, "No guilt in life, no fear in death, This is the power of Christ in me. From life's first cry, to final breath, Jesus commands my destiny. No power of hell, no scheme of man, can ever pluck me from His hand. Till He returns, or calls me home, here in the power of Christ I stand." Not a dry eye in the house when we all sang that together.