She is clothed in Strength and Dignity, and laughs without fear of the future
The Bible verse above, from Proverbs 31:25, summed it up best as over 500 gathered to both mourn and celebrate the life of Tenley Jo Thompson, whose funeral was held on Saturday, November 4, at Peace Lutheran church in New London.
What follows is the sermon given by Pastor Wayne Kopitzke, who led off his sermon with this Bible verse:
2 Corinthians 9:15, Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!
In the face of what the families have been through, the darkest fear, the death of your child. We have agonized with you over these past five to six years, we have all rejoiced when news was good and wept when it was not so good.
We commend Tenley to God's eternal keeping while giving thanks to Him for giving us his inexpressible gift of her life.
It is a strange thing that we are gathering to give thanks. For what is there to be thankful for? We've seen the ravages of Krabbe leukodystrophy work its deadly way through the body of a child we love. We have seen this disease take hold of a little girl so full of life, overflowing with life. We have had to come face to face with the rawness of the death of a child whose life was so full of promise and hope for the future.
What is there to give thanks for when confronted with all of that sorrow, grief and loss?
First, we give thanks because Tenley was a gift from God. Trent and Emily understand this more keenly than anyone else present. Back at the time of Tenley's birth, before you even brought her home from the hospital, you brought her to, of all places, worship at East Norway Lake church. That first Sunday morning, two short days after her birth, was the beginning of her worship journey.
Oh, make no mistake, how Tenley loved Holden evening prayer, midweek during Lenten worship.
Often her parents were asked how she was doing, and Trent and Emily would respond, "Tenley is Tenley."
That's in part because her path of life was uncharted. She was expected to live only two years. She lived to celebrate her golden birthday, this past May 7. On top of that, she celebrated her brother's fourth birthday, just on October 22 of this year.
Even in death, Tenley was Tenley.
The night before Tenley died, her family gathered knowing that death was near. Her family sang for her and took turns holding her. The next day Tenley did something all on her own, writing the final page of the final chapter of her earthly life on Monday. She prepared to enter heaven's gates with just her daddy, as she was a daddy's girl, and grandpa Jim.
Meanwhile, Emily, Nicole and Bryden were off getting Bryden's Halloween costume, which, by the way, he decided to wear all last night here. He finally changed into a Tenley t-shirt today. If you didn't see him last night, you sure missed something.
Tenley was Tenley, a gift from God.
When asked about her, family members would describe her as a rock star. Another phrase used was the "Krabbe old lady" for her longevity with that disease.
What a term of endearment.
You also used words such as 'sassy, stinker, brave, resilient, determined, courageous.' You could add much more to that list.
Tenley was an easygoing, content, loving. Nurses would fight over who could care for her.
And Bryden, what a wonderful brother you have been to your sister. If she wasn't home, you would always wonder about where she was. You could always make Tenley smile with your hugs. We are so proud of you, Bryden, that you have become such a good helper for your mom and dad.
We also give thanks for community and relationships. Just think of all the relationships formed by or touched by Tenley. Trent, Emily and Bryden blessed her life even as you were blessed by hers. Your family included your dogs, including Opie, Spencer, Remmie. And Bryden's pet cat, who he has named Twinkle Toes, Guy Diamond or Mickey kittie depending on the day or the Disney movie you're watching.
I suspect that it was your wonderful care and never-ending love that powered Tenley to live so long and so well. You opened her life to so many relationships and experiences, which was a two-way path I might add.
We often hear how it takes a village to raise a child, and how children need community. Tenley belonged to a huge, extended family, both her biological family, the local medical community, Children's Hospital in the cities, her wonderful in-home nurses (Alyssa, Heidi, Heather, Ivy and Amelia), the Hunter Hope family and the extended family of the Norway Lake church parish plus countless neighboring communities.
Tenley was baptized through East Norway Lake at our community service at Games Lake park on June 20, 2010. It has been said that the counterbalance to grief is community. To Tenley's family, thank you for sharing Tenley with us. We pray that we, as a community, can serve as a counterbalance to your grief.
We are grateful for the gift of community and relationships.
Yet another gift we had from Tenley is the gift of time. A funeral like this causes us to wonder what is a full lifetime? Is it 80 years or 20 years or seven and a half years, or two days or two hours? We think in terms of time and too easily use that as a measure of how to look at one's life. It's almost as if someone who lives to 100 years of age, or who has ability and resources to accumulate degrees, honors and accolades has lived a fuller life than someone who has only lived a short time?
Are the flowers in a garden any less beautiful than a 100-year old oak tree? Are the flowers less beautiful or appreciated any less even though they only last a season?
Tenley's life on earth is complete, but that doesn't mean her influence on us is any less complete or over. It means her influence has reached far beyond the normal capacity of a seven-year old child's influence in terms of peace, love, hope, comfort or compassion.
A life cannot be measured in years, days, appearances or accomplishments. No, rather, a lifetime is the time that God considers enough for his gift to remind us about the Giver. If Tenley has accomplished anything in her short time with us, she has led us, all of us, to look closely at our Lord, our Giver of Life. She has caused us to see what really matters.
Tenley's life was too short of time by any of our measurements. Nevertheless, she showed us that it is possible to live a lot of life in seven and a half years.
As a family, you have brought her to so many places. 'All the places' as said by Dr. Seuss. As a family you've traveled to New York, California, Florida, Nebraska, South Dakota, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts. Tenley even went kayaking at Faith Lodge in Wisconsin in September and thoroughly enjoyed it.
Trent and Emily have over 8,000 pictures to document so much life, adventure and love that has been shared over Tenley's life. What a difference she made in our lives because of her strong gentleness and her gentle strength.
Tenley completed preschool, kindergarten and first grade and two hours of second grade. She even saw the new cafeteria at the Prairie Woods elementary school.
To her friends and classmates at school, we are so sad that Tenley will no longer be with you in school or graduate with you, the Class of 2028. We hope you will continue to remember Tenley forever and ever, continue to share your stories about her and talk about any sadness you have with your parents and teachers.
Also, talk to Jesus about how you're feeling. Jesus was Tenley's friend, and Jesus is the greatest friend we can ever have. As we sang in the opening, "Jesus loves me, this I know. For the Bible tells me so!"
Jesus died on the cross and rose on Easter so that death is no longer in control or such a scary thing.
Because of the gift of Jesus of Tenley to you and me, our death becomes a path to a new life where there are no diseases like Krabbe. A life where there is no more pain, grief or limits of our earthly bodies.
Tenley is okay. Tenley is safe in the arms of Jesus. For that we say, this day and always, thanks be to God for our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.