Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints. Psalm 116:15
“Hold that end for me son; this stud has a bit of a ‘wowey’ in it.” The board was indeed a bit warped but could still be used. The two men working on the finishing touches of the last framed wall were with great pleasure hammering the last stud into place. After this, they would move on to install the trusses, rafters and ceiling joints. Then they would retire for the night and enjoy a southern home-cooked dinner before taking to their beds.
She was so proud of them; her handsome, hardworking husband and their striking son with his mane of dark hair and his bushy mustache. (She did wish he’d get a haircut).
The mountain air was filled with the bouquet of evergreen, forsythia, honeysuckle, and mountain laurel. North Carolina offered magnificent mountains, and mild days with easy access to higher elevations which in wintertime were dusted with snow, and in spring, awakened with blankets of wildflowers. Glorious summers brought warm days and cool nights and autumn cloaked the pristine mountains with every shade of red, orange and yellow imaginable. They had often come to these mountains to vacation while their family was young, and now that their son was grown, they had made a decision to move north to enjoy their retirement years here in the Great Smokies. They gathered now, in this beautiful setting to build their new home in the style of an old fashioned red-barn.
She could hear the men laughing and congratulating themselves and each other as they finished raising the last framed wall and hammering it into place. Tomorrow after a sumptuous breakfast and steaming cups of coffee they would gather again to begin pounding the structural plywood panels into place and then some of them would start the process of attaching the siding while others would move inside to install the wiring, insulation and dry-wall.
She lay in the bed, a moonbeam reflected its silvery sliver onto the wall, and the stars echoed their shining symphony through the room’s window. On the winter breeze that billowed the filmy curtains inward rode the aroma of bridal veil, magnolia and night jasmine. Even at Christmastime, Florida was still warm enough to enjoy open windows and walks along the beach. It felt to her that she had lain there for a lifetime. All sensation of time seemed to confuse her as she allowed her mind to meander through the treasure places of her heart.
”Boys! Hurry; we’ll be late for school!” She heard nothing and so setting her lunch-pail down on the ground near her feet, she cupped her hands around her mouth and cried out even more loudly, “Boys!!! Come On!” There was a definite edge of warning to her voice as the boys crashed out of the trees and into the clearing, giggling and teasing each other, mimicking their older sister as they came.
“We’re right here sissy!” they chuckled, still lagging behind as she grabbed up her lunch-pail, turned on her heel and made her way determinedly further along the path leading to the little schoolhouse. “Boys!” she thought to herself. “Always, she had to get after them, watch over them, take care of them - - ALWAYS!!”
The room was so quiet. “Jesus”, she said into the darkness, “are you here? It all feels so strange Lord. You and I have been alone together for so long, but tonight I feel very much by myself. The sunbeams seem to have faded to moonbeams and even though they are beautiful Lord, I miss the blazing scarlet sky as it seems to have dimmed to an ashen ember and I feel so, so much like I want to come home. I’m tired Lord and my body hurts. There seems to be a quiet solitude surrounding me that is different. Are you here? I need you to be here and Lord, please make him hurry to me for my heart longs to see him, and touch him before I come home.”
He was younger than her – a ‘sailor boy’. But he had a wild flavor that tickled some place deep within her. He had flashing eyes and a quick wit, he was well liked by his peers and most of all, he was crazy about her. He told her he was going to marry her so she best stop lookin’ round for anyone else. She had giggled at him, but she waited until he came home again and then she had become his bride.
Her body indeed ached; she had hurt for so long, and the weakness seemed now to invade every remaining space her body had. Her hip was giving her fits and she wished for someone to come and shift her pillow. She had asked earlier but when she did, they did not seem to hear her or understand that she was talking to them. She always liked to use her own pillow but she didn’t know where it was. It seemed strange to not know where it might be since she always packed it to take with her when she traveled.
A gentle breeze stirred the curtains once again. She could hear the leaves rustle and the essence of pine needles, wild roses, hibiscus and new mown grass wafted through the wind, enveloping her. In the midst of even that, she was aware of a familiar fragrance. She turned as the moonbeam cast its spotlight on her lovely face, now framed in thick dark-honey-colored curls. He seemed to float toward her as he placed his fingers to his lips, signaling silence. Oh! How long she had desired to him and here he was! “Hush my love. I am here – all is well – settle now.” And into bliss she faded once again. . .
They brought the baby in and handed him to her. She held him gently in the crook of her arm. He was beautiful with a crown of thick curly black hair. Her smiling husband sat on the edge of her hospital bed as together they counted their new son’s fingers and toes, delighting over him and in one another. Thanking God for giving them this gift and silently praying they would be good parents and that their son would be not only their pride and joy but would grow to be a man of honor and grace, integrity, kindness and compassion.
She had dreamt of giving birth to a daughter. In fact, she was so sure that their newborn would be a girl, that she only packed a tiny pink dress and beautiful lacy crocheted booties. Now, as the baby rested against her, she couldn’t imagine ever wanting any other child but the beautiful son she held. She marveled over him as the tears filled her eyes and trickled over onto her cheek.
There was a noise in the room. It was yet another woman coming in to check her vital signs. Oh, how she hoped the nurse would understand that her pillow needed to be readjusted, and that she needed help to reposition in a way which would relieve the constant throbbing in her hip. Through parched lips she made her request known as the woman drew near to her bedside. But the nurse went on about her business as if she had heard not a thing. And then, she left the room, but not before shutting the window against the night air and its gentle breeze which carried the wonderful spicy aromas she had been enjoying.
“Lord, you promised never to leave or forsake me – and Lord, I am in pain. I cannot see through this suffering and my body and soul are in torment and distress. Help me, for I want to come to you but I want to see him. Give me strength - -help me to fight -- come to me!”
And He came. In his gentleness, her pillow was not only readjusted, but it was replaced by her own pillow, encased in her own pink pillowcase and scented with roses. He placed His hands on her, readjusted her frail body as the pain in her hip soothed away and He took her hand, and held her, leaning toward her, smiling down on her, smoothing away the wrinkles of pain that crossed her forehead and she settled into slumber once again.
She loved roses; pink ones and she really loved them when they were made from tissue and attached a mothers day or to a birthday card. Her “little man” was always busy and creative and she adored him.
Today they were at the beach. The white sand was warm and the sun high. The gentle lapping of the surf against this Florida beach was soothing as she sat beneath her umbrella visiting with the other ‘girls’, while their children dashed in and out of the water, carrying buckets of sand with which to create yet another castle. Her husband bantered and joked with a group of “the guys” while the ladies chitchatted happily, comparing stories of their children.
She had been so life-loving, energetic, always aware of what has happening around her. Full of a wonderful sense of humor and ready to take on the world. Now, she felt like a dying ember, as her moments of defiance became further and further apart.
A rustle in her heart reminded her that he was there. She had nearly forgotten. He reached out to take her hand in his. She felt a transfusion of love as he cupped her face so gently in his hands. Looking at him, she quietly asked, “Honey, am I old? Why can’t I seem to remember how I got here? In the morning, I’ll get up and I’ll make you a proper breakfast and then I’ll bake a cake for supper. We can listen to our son play guitar and sing those silly songs of his.”
He leaned toward her, and gently brushed her lips, “Hush”, he said as she tasted once again after so many years, the delicious nectar of committed love.
The kids swung on the rope and as soon as they were high enough over the lake they let go, and went crashing into the water, only to swim to shore and do it all over again.
The ladies laid out the picnic. There seemed to be two kinds of everything. No one could settle on a single recipe. They set the table with ham and turkey, potato salads, collards and all the fixin’s necessary for a proper Thanksgiving feast beside a Florida lake.
The men stood off in their typical men’s group, smoking and betting who would be best at horseshoes.
The daylight faded and darkness reigned for a brief moment as she gasped for air. Her body fighting, as her lungs desperately struggled to do their job.
They brought the baby from his crib, and with great joy, presented him to his grandparents. Oh, he was beautiful – her first born grandson! She looked on while her proud husband held his newborn grandson in his arms. Yes, this baby was indeed pure joy!!! Absolutely the most beautiful child she had ever seen and she knew that he would be dearly doted upon. Their son stood nearby with his wife as they thrilled in the joy that their new baby boy was obviously bringing to his delighted grandparents. They were proud new and young parents and this little boy had come into such a welcome home.
The fragrance of baby powder flooded her senses as a moment later she looked down into the huge chocolate eyes of her toddler grandson. He was straining to look into her arms for within them she held a baby girl.
My! It seemed only a second ago, he was the baby in her arms and now, he looked at her with his wavy tresses of white-blonde hair and his huge eyes as if to say, “I need to take care of my new baby sister, so, let me see Mimi!”
She sat down on the sofa and communed a special time with her two grandbabies as the gentle huge white dog looked on. It seemed as if the rest of the world for at least a moment had faded away. She had a girl baby in her arms and a beautiful grandson with his sweet spirit snuggling beside her. She had a fine-looking grown son, a lovely daughter-in-law and a wonderful husband. Life felt absolutely perfect.
The air was stifling! She could feel as the sponge was placed against her parched lips. The water felt cool and sweet but her struggle to breath seemed overpowering. She simply could not get a breath, and then --- she could.
She looked around and could see everything. It was as if she were a little bird sitting in the branches of a live oak tree, surveying everything from its vantage point. The room was not her blush colored bedroom with its pretty pink and burgundy comforter and pillows. It was instead a rather stark hospital room. More than that, there was a pretty young woman who sat beside the bed in the center of the room. In the bed lay a frail looking woman with snowy white hair. She wondered why she was in the room, and who the woman in the bed was and who on earth the pretty girl was, she seemed so familiar to her.
Then, as if storm-clouds had cleared, she became aware of the fact that the tiny woman lying in the bed was obviously enduring great suffering. The little woman whose tired misery and distress she now witnessed was indeed suffering her way to the gates of heaven; wasting life away before being ushered into glory. She was isolated in suffering and yet cocooned in a peace as sacred as the birth of a child. More than that, she realized that she was looking upon herself and compassion flooded her.
She lay for a time after this realization quietly wondering if the lessons she was learning in this terrible place of her life were being learned by the people who came to see her. She tried often to relate them but they gave no indication that they understood. She had come here with just her Lord Jesus some time after being informed that she had contracted the disease doctors called Alzheimer’s. This horrible disease attacked silently, robbing a little at a time a person of the gifts of communication, the ability to think and reason, leaving in its wake a sense of agitation, aggression, wandering, insomnia and helplessness.
Smiling to herself, in spite of herself, she remembered the days when she used to laughingly refer to some simple loss of memory as “old timer’s disease.”
No, this had not been a journey of joy as most would define it. She had learned that true joy was defined not as feeling happy but rather as experiencing a depth of joy which is not always visible to those who look on. Perhaps it was better defined in this place of silence as an awareness of the grace of God.
It had all started so simply. She began to experience terrible trouble remembering things, and then it seemed to progress. She thought back on the times of confusion and the difficulty she suffered in even the performance of simple tasks. She had felt disoriented, and then came the dramatic changes in her personality, and the overwhelming sense of helplessness, needing to be fed, washed, and put to bed just like the babies she had cared for. She had lost slowly the ability to carry on a conversation. Her weight had dropped to nothing and she began to wither like a leaf ready to fall at any moment. Tears came to her heart as she thought of how one by one she had lost her body functions, in a slow moving process like torture itself; her name, their names, singing, dancing, cooking, canning, baking, and typing. Her hands – she would look at them and wonder what they were and what they had been used for, all the time knowing somewhere deep within herself that they must have been used to minister to the needs of others all of her life. They must have been used to give forth encouragement and life, to write hundreds of cards of encouragement to friends and family. They had to have been used to help make a living for her family, to sooth a child and cheer on her athletic son as he played baseball, football, basketball and all the other sports he had excelled in. They surely must have held her husband’s hand as he passed from this life to the next.
”Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust”…..her husband was gone. Her handsome son was at her side. It couldn’t be possible. They were just married ‘yesterday’. She wore that white dress and pretty hat. She carried gardenias.
Oh, the days that followed – she had been miserable, lonely, longing to hear his voice and the familiar sound of his footstep on the porch. Her heart cried out in anguish for him as her bed seemed so lonely without his presence. She had longed for even her son’s nearness and had at times chided him so unmercifully for his unwillingness to leave the mountains of Montana to move back to be near her again. How ashamed she felt as her need poured forth. But now, he was here, he was “out back” and all was well.
The forsythia was in bloom and its brilliant golden blossoms reflected in the waters of the little creek which wound its way behind the Red Barn house on this mountainside in North Carolina. Little Susie was frolicking in the grass and trying with all her heart to find something icky to roll on before being scolded by her silver-haired mistress.
Scooping up the little dachshund just seconds before she rolled, the striking widow hauled her mischievous charge back into the house, scolding her lovingly for her shenanigans as she toweled off her wet feet and belly before releasing her.
She had cooked up a batch of blackberry jam earlier that morning and the house had captured the fruity fragrance. Her son was visiting and had spent hours lying on his back under the blackberry bushes the day before, picking the ripe dark fruits.
The neighbors from up the road were coming over for supper that evening and she needed to bake another of her famous cakes – then the house would indeed be insatiably delicious smelling! They were going to fry up a passel of chicken and serve all of it with greens, tomatoes and okra and all her son’s favorite foods; but first, a glass of tea and a time to get her bearings.
“Lord,” she thought, as she settled in her chair with her cold glass of sweet tea, “Thank you for the years You have given to me, and for my beautiful family. Lord, I worry that I have not been a good mother. I wanted to be. I love my son and I love my grandbabies and oh, how I loved that man you gave to me, and how dearly I miss him Lord! Lord, please forgive me; I have not been a perfect wife or a perfect mother I have made so many mistakes. My own need as a young’un seemed to get swallowed up in the needs of others. Lord, I confess, there have been times when I did not feel the love, the security or the safety I needed to feel. And Lord, I have nursed an insatiable need to feel needed. To the point of sometimes being a controlling wife and mother and I hope You’ll forgive me for that. And help my son to have mercy for me. Forgive the urge I have had or have placed on him or my precious grandbabies. Help me Lord to let You fill the empty places, for I confess, I have them, as you well know. I confess my loneliness and I miss my husband Lord, help me to seek satisfaction even in spite of my widowhood in You and to let my wonderful son off the hook, as I have put him in that place so often. I’m sorry Lord. You know how many times I’ve said the wrong things, done the wrong things and I know Your desire and love is toward me and toward my dear family. Help me to listen to You and to find my safety in Your love and in Your authority. I confess my need, my desire, my disappointments Lord, my hurt feelin’s and my empty places.”
The back screen door banged as her son came back into the house. He had been outside repairing the railing on the back deck and was in need of a cool glass of tea himself.
Oh! How her body throbbed with hurt. She couldn’t seem to feel her extremities and wanted to look to make sure they were there, but couldn’t seem to do that either. It was as if she was not in control of any part of her body at all. It had been some time since she had tried to take food or even water and yet, it didn’t really seem to matter to her as she lay here, gently wandering the pathways of remembrance. This would be such a peaceful wonderful journey, if only she could escape the periodic exposure to pain that kept nagging at her.
It was while she was drifting in this state that she suddenly became very aware of the fact that the young dark haired woman was still at the side of the bed. In her heart, she looked over at her and realized how very familiar she seemed, and like a flash, she realized that it was her sweet baby girl who sat next to her. It was her precious grandbaby now grown into a beautiful young woman; she reminded her of a vision of herself when she was yet young and lovely. “Oh Lord” her heart cried, “be with my precious girl and give her comfort, and peace and make her life rich and wonderful and cause her to know how dearly she is loved. Thank you for her, thank you that you have brought her here to be with me, bless her for her undying love and willingness to help but Lord, keep her from falling into the trap I did. Don’t allow her to think that she must fix all the problems of the world. Help her to instead trust you to do that and help her Lord to walk in your favor, provision, love, acceptance, peace and healing. I love her Lord; I love her so much, please bless her life.”
The young woman looked up suddenly at her grandmother for she was certain that she had heard her speak her name, and she gently called out, “Mimi. . . Mimi, I am right here….all is well.” Taking her grandmother’s hand, she sat forward, looking down into her face, still hoping for some outward sign of recognition. But the aging woman was silent, only her eyelids fluttered.
“Hello my darling”, she smiled up at her grand-daughter. “Precious one, I am coming near unto the gates of heaven right now, but I am still here – right here; don’t be afraid, I love you. Where on earth is your brother? When he comes, will you please tell him how dearly loved he is. How beautiful and gentle I think he is. Tell him how I have loved being his Mimi and how precious he is to me. I will be watching him and his life. I will be watching over the both of you and I will be waiting for you. Be sure to meet me there. My boy! He has such a wonderful sense of humor and has kept me in stitches so often in my life. He is so like his dear grandfather, his Poppy, who adored him so much. Tell him to trust in the Lord with all of his heart and not lean on his own understanding and tell him, my precious girl, how I love him.”
Christmastime!! She didn’t really remember Christmas Day this year, but she knew that the New Year would dawn very soon and she was ready for its glory to explode on the horizon. It would bring with it fresh miracles and fresh promises; in a sense, it was a time of celebration not only because of the birth of the precious Lord Jesus as He came to earth clothed as a baby, but it was as if all things were made new in some way. Or perhaps just in her heart. It was like God’s special gift to help all his creation start again from fresh.
Florida was still alive with tall yellow irises, bursting open to meet the sun, orange hibiscus bloomed, and zygo cactus with its huge pink flowers. Japanese apricot trees were dropping their last petals and the smell of jasmine was heavy in the air. She fought back the shroud of desire to let go; she wanted to touch him just once more, she wanted to look into his dark eyes and make sure he knew that she would meet him there one day, and that he should for now, stay the course….always stay the course. “Lord, help me to hold on.”
The words of the old hymn came to her. One of the many she played on the piano before her hands got so shaky and painful that she couldn’t even enjoy playing her beloved instrument any longer.
Safe in the arms of Jesus, safe on His gentle breast,
There by His love o'ershaded, sweetly my soul shall rest.
Hark! 'tis the voice of angels, borne in a song to me.
Over the fields of glory, over the jasper sea.
Safe in the arms of Jesus, safe from corroding care,
Safe from the world's temptations, sin cannot harm me there.
Free from the blight of sorrow, free from my doubts and fears;
Only a few more trials, only a few more tears!
Jesus, my heart's dear Refuge, Jesus has died for me;
Firm on the Rock of Ages, ever my trust shall be.
Here let me wait with patience, wait till the night is over;
Wait till Safe in the arms of Jesus, safe on His gentle breast
There by His love o'ershaded, sweetly my soul shall rest I see the morning break on the golden shore.
(Francis Jane Crosby – 1868)
She could not help but notice that darkness was giving way to dawn. The stars began to fade and moonlight gave way to the coming of the new day. She could see the miraculous transformation as it displayed itself through the windowpane. “Lord, this is a glorious day, and I give you this excruciating, nagging pain, help me to not fuss Lord, for I know you are here. Give me courage and give me strength to stand it.” She felt terribly weak, almost transparent and yet, comfort seemed to envelope her as she drifted peacefully off once again.
All at once, she was overwhelmed with the sweet scent of gardenias. A beautiful voice startled her…..“Lavenia!” She opened her eyes without realizing they had been shut. Taking in a deep breath of the sweet air, she saw a man standing at her bedside. He was brilliant and He said again, “Lavenia!”
Looking around, she saw that she was not alone. The room was filled with light and the walls were lined with angels who stood sentry. Music flooded the air. “Lavenia, arise my love, my beautiful one and come with me. Your winter is past, the rains are over and gone. . . “
Taking the pro-offered hand of her brilliant Savior, for it was He who called her, she sat up on the bed and as she did, she heard her own laughter ring out of her innermost depths as she realized she had no pain. The pain and the sorrow she had lived with day in and day out had completed melted away.
As she swung toward the edge of the bed, she caught sight of shapely, beautiful legs, long, lovely sinewy arms and elegant hands void of painful arthritis. It seemed it had been only moments ago that she had wondered if any of these things still existed. It had been so long since she was truly aware of her extremities; her body had felt so numb, and detached.
The Lord took her hand as she came to her feet, and she noticed that she wore a beautiful filmy white gown with ribbons tied here and there along the bodice; the whole thing was edged in soft white lace and embroidered with tiny pink rosebuds. Gold slippers rested together at the edge of the bed and even they were embroidered with pink rosebuds and tiny blue sparrows.
Slipping into the shoes, she looked up into the eyes of her Savior, and met the most radiant smile she had ever imagined.
He said, “With a deep longing I have called you and I had to set you aside for a time, so that you and I could be alone. Beloved, healing comes only after pain but with my deep love I have drawn you.”
Just then, a voice came from somewhere next to her; the sound of such precious familiarity, more precious than that of her own beating heart, which now fluttered with more joy than she imagined possible. Still holding the hand of her Master, she turned to look straight into the face of her beloved husband as he joyfully extended his arms and she came into them. “Oh, my love” he cried, “I have waited for you long, and here in the moonlight of this room, I have rested, night after night as you flowed in and out of death – as you matured into this sunlight, as you came once more to my side.
She lingered in his embrace for sometime before they both turned back to their Savior. And in all humility and in the presence of His pure grace, she said to him, “Lord, may we wait for another moment in this sad room, until our son arrives, for he is even now on his way into this place and I so desire to lay my hands upon him one more time.”
It was just then that the door to the hospital room opened and a man with black-silver hair and beard walked hurriedly into the room and directly to his daughter’s side. She was still sitting at the bedside of her beloved grandmother, and she was quietly weeping. Looking up through her red-rimmed eyes she stood and with one motion, came into her father’s arms. Holding her and stroking her hair, he comforted her as his own tears began to fall. Father and daughter stood together, made one in pain and loss. As they released one another, he took his mother’s lifeless hand in his and drew it to his mouth where he held it against his lips for a long time as his heart cried out within him. A bittersweet mixture of loss and pain and sorrow and even joy washed over him for he knew that she was again with his dad and more that that, with the Lord. That she was out of the pain that she had suffered for so long, that she was again able to dance and play and tell her funny stories to all who would listen, embellishing them even more with her special humor. He wondered if the coffee in heaven tasted as good as hers did and he did envy all of them her famous sour cream pound cake that he felt certain she would be baking like crazy for all the new “neighbors, and family and friends who had gone before her.” It would indeed be a joyous homecoming but he would miss her. The world already seemed a smaller place. And sorrow washed over him again as he bent his head over the body of the woman who had given him birth.
Reaching out, she placed her hand upon her handsome son’s head and for a long time, she just rested it there, pouring her love and motherly comfort into her man-child. Her husband joined her and together, they blessed their son, asking the Lord to do all with him that He wanted to do and to create in him a new heart of joy and blessing and peace and fulfillment. Blessing him they said, “Son, may you engrave the Truth upon your heart and face your daily challenges in renewed strength as you trust in God and draw close to Him. May you incline your life and your spirit to listen carefully while He surrounds you with songs of deliverance. Their Creator, the Lover of their souls, the Mender of Broken Hearts, their Savior, looked with joy upon them and assured them that He had a very special work for the son of their flesh to do on this earth and that He would indeed walk beside him through any fire that lay ahead and would refine and purify him with His love.
After they have given their blessing to their only son, they turned and took the hand of their Savior and as they did, the room washed with radiance and a meadow of glory, beauty and splendor opened up to them . . . and everything began….
Come, soul, and find thy rest,
No longer be distressed;
Come to thy Savior's breast;
O don't stay away.
Prayers are ascending now,
Angels are bending now,
Both worlds are blending now,
Don't stay away.
(Johnson Oatman, Jr. 1895)
In Loving Memory of my mother-in-law, Lavenia Smith Sparks, who was escorted by the High King, the Lord Jesus, into Glory at 7:00 a.m. on the morning of December 29, 2002.
I come to the garden alone,
While the dew is still on the roses;
And the voice I hear, falling on my ear,
The Son of God discloses.
He speaks, and the sound of His voice
Is so sweet the birds hush their singing;
And the melody that He gave to me
Within my heart is ringing.
I'd stay in the garden with Him
Tho' the night around me be falling;
But He bids me go- thru' the voice of woe,
His voice to me is calling.
And He walks with me,
And He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own;
And the joy we share as we tarry there
None other has ever known.
(C. Austin Miles)