A person I presume to be the pastor is dressed in army attire. He opens the “service” with words that I can’t understand. A brief switch to English informs me that “you may not be used to this, but this is what she would want. She loved to dance.”
The pastor dons a guitar, as does another camo-clad man. A drummer and a vocalist round out the ensemble. The music begins — all in Spanish — and lyrics are briefly on the large screen, until videos and pictures of the girl we’ve all come to remember begin to roll through instead.
The songs are all unfamiliar to me, and the music is somewhat mariachi band-like, but at some point, I know we are singing about Jesus, and about the resurrection. Young girls wearing beautiful white gowns with red sashes twirl and wave flags near the front. Perhaps this is the kind of dancing the one who now lies so still used to do when she worshipped?
I begin to notice other sounds in addition to the singing and the band onstage. A woman dressed just like the girls, in a flowing white gown and a red sash, waves a tambourine in the front row. From the far corner, someone blows a shofar occasionally.
A boy a few rows up looks back and catches my eye. I know him from Kids Club. All the seats in this tiny house church are full. Some latecomers arrive with flowers and take them to the front, lovingly placing them near the casket and hugging family members.
The music continues. I believe we have been singing a variety of songs, but there has been no break in between them; the guitarist simply keeps strumming, and then they launch into another. A woman comes down the middle aisle again with a box of tissues, offering them to those who may need a fresh supply.
The girls at the front twirl and dance and sign. I keep looking at the screen playing pictures and videos. I see a video of her in a white gown, obviously at church. Was it her baptism Sunday? Then I see her at another service, bald-headed, in the front row, swaying and twirling. It is almost like she is with us at this worship service now, this celebration of her 11-year-old life. My eyes well up.
The ravages of chemotherapy and cancer could not stop her from praising Him. And here, in this moment, we praise Him, too.
Note: Natalie attended our Kids Club for several years and passed away last week. The 11-year-old had leukemia. After an extended period away from Kids Club due to infection precautions, she was able to come to our last Kids Club of 2014. I remember her friend beaming and excitedly saying, “Look who’s here!”