ORLANDO, Fla. (BP)–Despite fears of protests and disruptions, the Feb. 10 memorial service for Caylee Marie Anthony turned out to be a calm respite despite the storm that has engulfed the Anthony family.
The service, held at First Baptist Church in Orlando, Fla., was every bit a call for people to give their lives to Jesus Christ as the only way to heaven as it was a celebration of the short life of the little girl whose tragic death has made worldwide headlines.
The Caylee Anthony case has riveted people since July 15, 2008, when the toddler was reported missing, a month after she had disappeared according to her mother, Casey Anthony. On Dec. 11, a child’s remains were found a quarter-mile from the Anthony home. On Dec. 19, officials with the Orange County Sheriff’s Office announced the remains were those of 3-year-old Caylee Anthony. Casey Anthony, 22, the prime suspect in the toddler’s death, is being held at the Orange County Jail on no bond and was not permitted to attend the service.
The memorial service — simply called “Remembering the Life of Caylee Marie Anthony” — began with a piano medley of Caylee’s favorite songs such as, “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,” followed by other kids’ favorites “This Little Light of Mine,” “Jesus Loves the Little Children,” “This Is the Day that the Lord Has Made” and “If You’re Happy and You Know It Clap Your Hands.” Pictures of Caylee on an overhead screen accompanied the tunes.
During the medley George and Cindy Anthony — Caylee’s grandparents –along with their son Lee entered the First Baptist worship center accompanied by a large contingent of friends and family.
First Baptist pastor David Uth set the tone for the one-hour 45-minute service.
“We are here to celebrate the gift of Caylee Anthony. Though short, her life made a huge impact on many people,” Uth said.
Uth asked an estimated 1,000 people in attendance as well as those watching on television and viewing by live Internet stream to pray not only for George, Cindy and Lee Anthony but also for Caylee’s mother. “Please pray for Casey,” he urged, “and pray for the Lord to speak peace into her life.”
Uth also touched on another theme throughout the passionate and hopeful service.
“Lord,” he prayed, “we look forward to seeing Caylee when there is no more night and we no longer have to say goodbye. We look forward to that day when you wipe away every tear.”
The service’s messages were punctuated by 12 live songs performed by a team of vocalists from First Baptist and the Anthonys’ home church, Eastside Baptist in Orlando.
The list of songs varied in theme from lamentation — missing those who are now gone — to future glory — being reunited with loved ones in heaven. Those themes were reflected in the songs’ titles, including “Child of Mine,” “No More Night,” “One More Day,” “Because Jesus Lives,” “I Can Only Imagine,” “Homesick” and “To Where You Are.” One other number, “Caylee’s Song,” was written specifically for Caylee and performed by Jon Whynock.
Uth told the gathering though they grieve, there is always cause for hope because of the One who died on the cross for mankind. Assuring Christians that God has His eye on them , Uth quoted from Isaiah 43:1-2: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.”
Uth also continued the theme of heaven by quoting from John 14:1-3: “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”
After Uth, former Eastside pastor Shane Stutzman addressed the reason why such tragedies occur. Stutzman, now senior pastor of Northside Baptist Church in Orangeburg, S.C., acknowledged, “It’s difficult to say goodbye to someone as precious as Caylee or to understand why this happened. We all have many questions, but too many questions can often leave you empty.”
Stutzman pointed to the One he said is the only source for answers: “Jesus is the one who has all those answers. He knows what everyone in this room is going through. The Bible tells us that if we would but call upon His name, He will answer us.”
Stutzman also touched on the theme of eternity. “[I]f we know Jesus Christ, then we never have to say goodbye to Caylee. We just need to say, ‘See you later.’ Believe me, the Anthonys are going to be a family forever.”
In a stirring moment, George, Cindy and Lee Anthony took the stage to share their thoughts and reflections of Caylee.
Lee Anthony spoke first. Fighting back tears, he addressed those who “are frightened, angry, mournful and don’t understand.” He urged them to “fill your heart with patience and grace.” Referring to “those of us who will never be the same,” he urged those listening to “fill your hearts with forgiveness” for those who are suffering most. He also called the memorial service “a day for the family to unite.”
Lee Anthony concluded his remarks by speaking directly to Caylee, referring to her as “CMA”: “Each day you teach me how to live,” he said through tears. “I love you. I am so proud of you. I hope you are proud of me too.” He then ended by saying, “I will never forget the promise I made to you,” though he did not elaborate.
Lee Anthony was followed to the microphone by his father George Anthony who strained to keep his composure. George Anthony recalled how little Caylee used to refer to him by the nickname she gave him. “Though I was Grandpa George, she used to call me Jo Jo,” he said. “She knew how to push my emotional buttons just by smiling at me or giving me a hug.”
On a more somber note, George Anthony said Caylee’s memorial is a reminder that there are other families out there whose “children are missing and need to be brought back.” To those whose families are intact, George Anthony reminded the parents to “hug your children, because they can be gone in a second.”
Returning to the theme of heaven, George Anthony noted that though he knows Caylee is there and that he will one day see her again, “her presence is still in our home today. I can still see her coming through the door and lighting up the room.”
On a more personal note, George Anthony talked about Caylee’s love of vegetables — especially green beans — how the two of them used to share a bowl of popcorn just about every night, how he taught her to sing the song “You Are My Sunshine” and the locket he wears that says, “You are my Caylee, my little sunshine.”
He also mentioned the most conspicuous absent party of the morning, Caylee’s mother, Casey.
“I miss my daughter,” he said. “She deserves prayer and understanding. Please take the time to write a letter to her and let her know that you are thinking of her.”
George Anthony concluded his remarks by talking about the difficulty of the long ordeal.
“Nothing is what it used to be,” he said. “There is a new ‘normal’ every day. One thing I’ve learned is that we need to be positive in order to get through the difficult things of life.”
George Anthony’s wife, Cindy, followed him to the microphone. She recalled the day “when Casey told me I would be a grandmother. I had total peace and joy about it. And when I held Caylee for the first time, she completely stole my heart. I knew she was a special child. She was the perfect baby.” To support that claim, she told how Caylee who, along with Casey, lived with her and George “would never wake up crying but would always wake up laughing.”
Like her husband, Cindy Anthony also shared some of her favorite memories of Caylee such as the way she loved coloring; having grandma — whom she referred to as “Cece” — read stories to her; throwing tea parties for imaginary friends; and playing dress-up while decking herself out in multiple strands of beads. She also spoke of Caylee’s love of Spiderman; saying good-night to the stars; and how she watched her favorite movies over and over again, among them “101 Dalmatians,” “Sleeping Beauty,” “Lady and the Tramp” and “Bambi.”
Also like her husband, Cindy Anthony mentioned her daughter.
“It breaks my heart that Casey is not here to honor the child she so loves,” Cindy Anthony said. “Thank you for giving me the greatest gift I have ever received — Caylee Marie. Stay strong, my child.”
Cindy Anthony said her faith has sustained her during this traumatic time.
“I believe Caylee’s purpose was to give us hope,” Cindy Anthony said. “As for me, faith is the reason why I stand here today with a smile. I couldn’t have endured the past seven months without faith.”
Stutzman concluded the service with a prayer of gratitude.
“Thank You, Father, for giving us the opportunity to be here for such a time of this. Help us to truly share Jesus Christ with all those with whom we come into contact,” Stutzman prayed.
The service was followed by a releasing of about a dozen doves, attended only by the Anthonys family and friends.
David Ettinger is the writer/editor for First Baptist Church in Orlando, Fla. This article first appeared on the website of the Florida Baptist Witness (www.floridabaptistwitness.com). Used by permission.