So far, this year has been full of new and exciting experiences. And, while I am thankful for them, I am reminded that not all experiences are pleasant. Some leave us with questions, heartaches, and empty places in our hearts.
Yet, those experiences that cause us pain also afford us the opportunity to pour our hearts out in a raw, uninhibited way to our Father God. To receive His unexplainable comfort and peace. And, to know the joy which comes from leaning on Him when our hearts are broken.
Earlier this year, I lost my godfather to a very unexpected car accident. And, a couple of weeks ago, I said goodbye to a precious friend and neighbor who was also like a father to me for over twenty-five years. When I went into this year of experiences, these were not the events I was expecting; and, in the meantime, I have waffled between asking God, “Why did you take them?” and being thankful for the time I had with them.
But, today’s post is not about my experience in losing another loved one, but rather my experience in watching this beloved man’s wife of forty-eight years love, honor, and care for him in his final days. To me, she embodied the wedding vows: For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part.
On an unsuspecting Tuesday night in August, Mom broke the news to me. “He is on life support.” It hit me like a ton of bricks. Mr. Dave had been in and out of the hospital several times, but every time I just knew he was going to be okay. He was strong, funny, oreo-loving Mr. Dave, and I never seemed to worry that his health would improve. For some reason, I had the faith of a child when it came to him.
Mom and I got off the phone that night and I wept. For the first time in over ten years of medical ups and downs, it hit me that Mr. Dave may be going home to be with the Lord soon. I knew He was ready to see His Savior, but I was not ready to let him go. I knew his family was not ready to say goodbye either. We had been praying Psalm 118:17 over him – “I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord” (KJV). The thought of the Lord taking him home was overwhelming.
My heart broke as I fell onto the couch – the same couch I wept on a few months earlier when I received the news about my godfather. I kept thinking about his beautiful wife, his precious daughters, and his strapping grandsons – all the people who loved him more than life. And, I thought about myself. It seemed selfish to think of me at such a time, but I did.
Later that week, I drove to the hospital to see him and I cannot express how thankful I am to have had the opportunity to visit. As I looked ahead at the long road stretched in front of me, I reminisced, floated in and out of sobs, and pleaded with God to heal him. I remembered all the hours I spent at his house visiting with him and Miss Betty.
Before I was old enough to realize that people do not want company all the time, I bounced over often. ~smile~ I watched TV with him. He gave me boyfriend advice. He told outrageous stories and kept me laughing. Whenever I walked in the door he would say, “Hey girl! Did you bring me a treat?” I honestly wish I could travel back in time about twenty years and bring him a twenty pound basket of Oreos.
Then, my thoughts turned to his lovely wife. The woman who has unofficially mentored me for most of my life. The woman who always greeted me with a warm smile no matter how tired she was. The woman who has modeled a Proverbs 31 wife to me all these years. I could not imagine what she was going through and I wished there was something I could do to make it better. Something I could do to take away the pain. In my limited human understanding, she was simply too faithful, hospitable, and kind to deserve this trial.
When I arrived at the hospital in Raleigh, I had several thoughts running through my mind. Can I handle seeing him like this? Am I intruding on his family’s time with him? How must his family be feeling? I parked, walked in, got lost (~smile~), and eventually found my way to his room. As I turned to walk down the hall, there Miss Betty was. Though tired, she smiled the same warm, inviting smile I have come to know over the years. In that moment, I was amazed.
“She is smiling. She is okay. This is what the Holy Spirit’s presence in someone’s life looks like.”
His hospital room was filled with hope. Clearly, much prayer and worship had taken place there. Though there was some emotion, there was also an amazing peace. So many thoughts go through your mind at such a time. You realize how precious life is and you feel an overwhelming need to let your loved ones know how you feel. You wonder, “How would I do if I was in the same situation?” Then, there is that ever-present wish that you had the power to make everything better.
As Mom and I visited with the family around his bed, I watched Miss Betty. I saw the faith in her eyes. She knew that God could heal him. There seemed to be no doubt whatsoever. Though the prognosis did not sound good, she knew their Heavenly Father could heal him if He chose to do so. She spoke to him sweetly, talked to him as though he was going to get better, and loved on him just as she always had. I could not get over how profoundly the grace of God rested on this precious woman.
When someone has poured nothing but love, prayer, and advice into you for most of your life, you feel helpless at the thought of him or her hurting. I kept thinking, “God, she does not deserve this struggle. She loves you. She has been faithful. She should have nothing but joy.” But, I was reminded that God’s ways are higher than ours. We do not always know why He allows those He loves to go through certain struggles and trials. God is still good no matter the circumstances.
A Blanket of God’s Grace
“Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.” (Psalm 116:15, KJV)
Two days later, the Lord called Mr. Dave home into everlasting rest. His celebration of life service was just that – a celebration. We laughed, we cried, we remembered what a tremendous man he was, and we thanked God for His grace. We missed him, but we celebrated because we knew he was with the Lord.
Before the service began, I again found myself watching Miss Betty. The phrase which kept coming to my mind was “a blanket of God’s grace.” It was as if she was clothed in peace and joy. She smiled warmly, greeted and hugged people as they came by, and was a testimony of the hope we have in Christ. She was not a woman saying goodbye. No, she was a woman bidding the love of her life, “farewell, for now.” She is not lost and hopeless because (she knows, beyond the shadow of a doubt) he is with the Lord and she will join him soon enough.
Heaven seems closer than ever.
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18, ESV)
“Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD.” (Jeremiah 17:7, ESV)
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16, ESV)
To all you young sweethearts out there, I want you to know a couple of truths. You cannot control the hand you are dealt. God may take you through a number of unexpected trials in your lifetime together, but He can also give you the grace to take each step in faith. Miss Betty’s faith was unwavering during each of Mr. Dave’s health battles. I know she had moments of weariness. I know she wanted life to return to normal. However, she continued to pray, trust God, smile, and put one foot in front of the other knowing that her Lord was with her through each trial.
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9, ESV)
“And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20b, ESV)
“Though he slay me, I will hope in him.” (Job 13:15a, ESV)
Secondly, you can make a lasting difference with your marriage. Miss Betty and Mr. Dave did not spend half their marriage overseas on the mission field. They did not open and run an orphanage. They did not pastor a megachurch. Yet, they made a lasting difference in my life and the lives of others who knew them. How? Simply by demonstrating open love for each other and showing hospitality. They were not perfect, and I am sure they had their share of disagreements, but they were good to each other. They laughed together. He picked on her. She took care of him. And, my personal favorite, she got excited when she heard his vehicle pull in the garage.
I am not sure why that made such a lasting impression on me, but it did. After seeing her face light up that afternoon twenty years ago, and hearing her say, “Yay! He’s home!” I knew I wanted a marriage like theirs: a marriage where I would feel genuine happiness when my husband came home from work. Sometimes, when I hear the rumble of Eric’s car pulling in the driveway, I feel excited and I think of my precious neighbors and all I learned from them. ~smile~
When you take those wedding vows, remember that you will likely have to deal with sickness at some time. There may be seasons of poorer rather than richer. Sometimes situations will get worse instead of better. As I watched Miss Betty care for him until the very end and continue to pour out her heart in prayer on his behalf, the wedding vows came alive for me. This is the commitment and devotion lasting marriage requires. Experiencing her enduring faithfulness strengthened my faith and made me want to be a better wife.
As you set out on your marriage journey, remember that your relationship is not only about you; but, most importantly about glorifying the Lord and Savior. Conduct your marriage in such a way that in fifty years a church full of people can say, “I was blessed by their union.”
I am where I am today, in part, because two special people opened their home to me and allowed me to witness their marriage. I am so thankful I was able to experience such a precious relationship for almost thirty years. I am forever blessed for having known them.
How can your future marriage be a beacon of light and hope to others?