It’s been a little over six months now since this world lost Donald Herndon. I didn’t know Donald very well. Mostly, I knew of him because of the Brice W. Herndon and Sons Funeral Chapels and Crematory. I know Donald’s reputation for handling death and dying gracefully and professionally for generations of people in our community. While the major responsibility of his mortuary business was navigating the tasks and logistics associated with death, it was his particular care for life that I will never forget.
In the year prior to Donald’s death my husband, Scott, and I had come through a difficult season that helped us realize that the very thing we had devoted our lives to for years was no longer returning the favor. We had begun to gasp and choke on the smoke from the fire that had previously fueled our purpose. We kept waiting for God to move, but soon realized that God was waiting on us to move. So, we grieved over what once was and stepped away from the heat. It was time to let go. It was time to go.
We were reminded that God has a strong record of telling people to go. The first account of God speaking the word go is in Genesis 7 when He told Noah to go into the ark. God told Abram to go to the land He would show him. God told Moses to go and bring the Israelites out of Egypt.
Jesus spoke it often.
“Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come follow me.” Mark 10:21
“Go. Your faith has healed you.” Mark 10:52
“Now, go. Call your husband and come back.” John 4:16
“Go into all the world…” Mark 16:15
Noah. Abraham. Moses. The rich young ruler. The blind man. The Samaritan woman. The disciples. Scott and Nancy. Go. Just go. I will show you. I will show up for you.
We thought our going would take us far away. As it turned out, we didn’t have to take very many steps, just one big one. Less than a month after taking that step, Donald Herndon reached out, offered encouragement and provided the next stepping stone. He offered Scott a job and told him it would be an honor to have him working at the funeral home. With that, Scott and I both felt like the air was clearing.
A year later, Scott participated in Donald’s funeral. The sanctuary was full, a bagpiper led the processional and recessional, a robed choir sang Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus. There was congregational singing. An Episcopal rector led the service from the Book of Common Prayer. A Baptist minister preached a sermon. Happy memories were shared that brought smiles and laughter. Words about heaven were spoken with both assurance and hope.
Donald’s daughter, Allison, sang “Holy Ground.” When her sweet voice sang the lyrics “We are standing in His presence on holy ground…,” it ushered in one of those miraculous moments that is hard to express in words. I began to sense that, at last, my going had ceased, at least temporarily. I was finally standing still. So still, in fact, that I couldn’t move because I didn’t want to push away the presence I felt surrounding me.
After the sermon, Scott sang the Lord’s Prayer. I’ve heard him sing it many times and he’s proven over and over that he can do it well. It had been an emotional and exhausting few days and I was concerned that it might take a toll on his voice. As he began to sing, my face fell to my hands and tears flooded my eyes. With every measure, Scott’s voice grew larger and more powerful as it filled the sanctuary. Honestly, I had never heard Scott sing like that before. My heart knew that the all-powerful authority in heaven and earth was there and I was undone. I understood some of what Isaiah felt when he said he “saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of his robe filled the temple” (Isaiah 6).
When Scott got home later that night, I told him, “Honey, I have NEVER heard you sing like that.”
He looked back at me with his own tears welling up, and said, “I haven’t either.”
A few days later, when he could finally talk about it, he said that it was almost like someone else was singing. Indeed. The Holy Spirit showed up to fill the sanctuary and He used Scott’s voice to do it.
I couldn’t help but take that personally, as if the presence of God was there just for me. I say that because Donald’s memorial service took place in the very sanctuary where, just a year before, our calling had grown faint and our vision had grown dim. The once shaky ground became holy.
Now, months later, people still ask Scott about his singing that day. I wasn’t the only one. The presence of the Holy Spirit showed up for all of us.
When Isaiah saw the Lord high and lifted up and His train filling the temple, he heard the voice of the Lord, saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”
Isaiah responded “Here am I; send me!”
Then God said, “Go…”
(Nancy Davis lives in Walterboro with her husband Scott. Reach her at email@example.com.)