The other day, I was going through my mom's desk, and I found a small box. When I opened it, I found all sorts of little figures made out of clothespins, dressed in costumes. It was a nativity scene that Mom had made with Lucy a couple of years ago. She would take care of the girls while I was at work, and one December, she and Lucy crafted a different figure or two each day that she came over.
We've also been listening to the music for the school Christmas program in the car, and I keep remembering last year--how my dad drove my mom over early in the morning, and she went to Elaine's program, though she had a hard time sitting up for very long. Then she came back to our house and laid on the couch the rest of the day until it was time to go to Lucy's program in the evening. Her face looked gray and ill, but I know she knew these were the last Christmas programs she'd see. It must have cost her every bit of strength she had to make it through that day.
There's a verse in 2 Kings that to me is one of the hardest verses in the Bible: "Your servant my husband is dead, and you know that he revered the Lord." As in, "He loved God, and he died."
There's a phrase that is not allowed at our house (well, besides "shut up"), and it's: "That's not fair." I don't let my kids say that, ever. But in my own heart lately, I've been thinking about how Elaine's 5th birthday is coming up and the Christmas programs at church and school are coming and a little voice (mine) is saying, "She should be here. I wanted her to see them grow up. She loved God, and she died. It's not fair."
When I was growing up, my parents had this wonderful group of friends, mostly from their Sunday School class. I remember so many gatherings in each other's homes--Sunday nights after church, New Year's Day, 4th of July--seeing my mom and dad and their friends love each other and their families and love God. They would pray together and sit around the table and sing together, lots of laughing mixed in. When someone got sick, they would all rally around and bring meals for the family.
Two years before my mom died, I had a gathering of her old friends, just the women, to celebrate her 75th birthday. At the end, they all sat in a big circle and talked about old times--good times and hard times--and one of the ladies, Alice Dauchy, said, "Sometimes I didn't know how we were going to make it through. But Jesus led us all the way." And all the other ladies assented.
Mrs. Dauchy's in heaven now; she died of cancer six months before my mom.
Another friend, Muriel Holsteen, talked about how her son had met a girl in Germany and they came back here to get married. The girl didn't know a soul, and my mom threw her a wedding shower. My mom said, "Oh Muriel, I don't even remember that!" and Mrs. Holsteen said through her tears, "We have never forgotten it."
Mrs. Holsteen's husband, who was one of the ushers at our church for years and years, died a couple months after my mom.
Another good friend of my parents, Mr. Jim Stone, was our Sunday School superintendent when I was a little girl. Even in his 80s, he still taught Sunday School and took classes at a nearby seminary. He died of cancer a few weeks ago.
Last night I saw on the Moody Alumni Association that another of my parents' friends, who was also our church organist--Dr. Gil Mead--died over Thanksgiving weekend. Darren and I actually met in his Intro to Music class. A few years later, when we were planning our wedding, we asked Mr. Mead to play the organ for the ceremony. He said he didn't normally do weddings but, in his words, "I had a hand in this one!" so he made an exception.
Now, two more of my family's close friends, Annette Anderson and Larry Brown, are nearing the end of their life--cancer again. My mom and Mrs. Anderson were always on the phone and in and out of each other's houses, raising their kids together. Mrs. Anderson's son Dave works at my brother's company and is one of his best friends.
The Browns have been part of the fabric of our life for as long as I can remember. Their son Bill is a good friend of both my brother and me. My parents had a party years ago where everyone brought whatever white elephant items were lying around their house, my mom passed out Monopoly money, and she appointed Mr. Brown the auctioneer because he is the funniest--and they auctioned off their junk to each other. Yet besides his great sense of humor, something I'll remember always about him was the first time my mom had cancer, he came to the pre-op room to pray with her before she went in.
So many good friends and good memories.
"Your servant my husband is dead, and you know that he revered the Lord."
My heart is aching for Bill and Dave, all the kids--my contemporaries--because I know now what it feels like. Nobody loves you like your parent. Nobody takes care of you like your mom. Nobody has got your back like your dad. Nobody can give you wise counsel or pray for you or love your kids like your parents can. I'm praying for them through the hurt I know they're feeling.
But I also keep thinking about all these awesome, godly people I've had the privilege to know. Alice Dauchy. Darrell Holsteen. Jim Stone. Gil Mead. Annette Anderson. Larry Brown. Lois Nichols. And lots more, too. What a treasure they have been and leave for the rest of us.
As my mom's best friend Nita wrote to me, "Heaven can't come soon enough now that Lois is there," or as another friend, Gordy, says, "The receiving line there looks a lot better than the send-off line here."
Our pastor is big on Scripture memory or as he says, "Rinsing your mind with Scripture." It's an area I haven't done well in in a long time, so it's been a good thing for me. Rinsing your mind with Scripture helps rewrite the soundtrack from "It's not fair." I write verses on 3x5 cards and either keep them on my kitchen counter or carry them around in my purse, continuing to go over them throughout the day. Get this--Mr. Holsteen did this throughout his life, and at his memorial service, his grandchildren got up and read the verses off his 3x5 cards.
So, in honor of these righteous people I love and am so honored to have known, these are the verses I've been carrying around with me lately.
"Who can count Jacob's descendants, as numerous as dust? Who can count even a fourth of Israel's people? Let me die like the righteous; let my life end like theirs."
2 Peter 3:11-13
"Since everything here today might well be gone tomorrow, do you see how essential it is to live a holy life? Daily expect the day of God, eager for its arrival. The galaxies will burn up and the elements melt down that day--but we'll hardly notice. We'll be looking the other way, ready for the promised new heavens and promised new earth, all landscaped with righteousness."
Lather, rinse, repeat!