If ever there was a story of a life so tragic and filled with heartache, it was Nancy’s story.
As a baby, her parents abandoned her; if it had not been for the love and care of a grandparent, Nancy would have been sent into foster care or put up for adoption. As a young girl, Grandma planted a seed into Nancy’s life that never sprouted, but remained dormant for 60 years: she took her to Sunday school and church as a child.
Her teen years were full of turmoil and struggles; she rebelled against grandma. She ran away from home and ended up at the Mitchellville Corrections Facility for young girls.
At 18, she married Cliff in 1958. Married life was not perfect, but soon a daughter was born; followed by 4 more girls. Finally, her life had some meaning and she poured herself into caring for the children.
She had approached her husband about attending church but received his notice, “Go ahead if you want to take the girls, but I am busy working.” Cliff was a railroad conductor which took him away from his family at all hours of the day and for days at a time. The more that Cliff worked, the more that Nancy withdrew from her marriage; the more she rallied around her girls and their needs. Nancy tried to take the girls to church by herself, but was not welcomed into the tight culture of the church.
The girls grew; like the saying goes, “apples don’t fall far from the tree”. Nancy began to experience through her girl’s lives heart ache similar to her own childhood: teenage pregnancy, unwed mothers, addictions, abandoned children left on her door step by their confused mothers. Nancy became a full time mother to her grandchildren at 37.
Cliff is my 80 year old hunting buddy; on one of our hunts, I had told him I would preach Nancy’s funeral when the time came. Her kidneys had failed her seven year ago, and her years of smoking had affected her lungs. I received a call from Cliff this past week, “Nancy has decided she wants to go off dialysis. She has given up.”
I began to visit Nancy at her home. During my visits I met three of her adult daughters; there was constant friction amongst the girls and no visible love or affection towards their mother or father. On Monday, I knew that she did not have much time left; she had been off dialysis for 8 days and her body would soon shut down. Cliff had asked me to visit with her about the particulars of the funeral service.
That evening, by divine intervention, the house became quiet; other times I had been there it had been a circus: grandkids, visitors, daughters, in and out of the small kitchen getting food. I sat at the kitchen table and held Nancy’s frail hand. My first comment to her was, “Your eyes look so bright.” On prior visits, her head had hung; her eyes were glassed over with pain medication.
I soon discovered she wanted the song, “Rock of Ages”, and the verses about the vine. I went right on talking and asking questions, “If you died tonight Nancy, do you know whether you will spend eternity in heaven or hell?”
“Probably, the latter.”
“Would you like to know that you will spend eternity in heaven?”
“I think I would.”
“Lord, forgive me of my sins. Thank you for dying on the cross. I accept you as my Savior.” She repeated after me.
I had meetings the rest of the week and didn’t get to visit Nancy again until Friday. She had been confined to her hospice bed for the last three days. I sat by her bed in the living room on Friday afternoon, reading to her from John 15 and Psalm 23. I sang all three verses of “Rock of Ages”. I sat and wept over the wantonness of the rest of the family.
She died at seven that evening. I arrived shortly after her death .The mortician arrived by eight to pick up the body. The family gathered in the kitchen as we prepared to lift Nancy from her bed onto the gurney. As I assisted moving Nancy, with my hand placed on the small of her back getting ready for the lift, I said, “Welcome home Nancy. Welcome Home.”
“Rock of Ages, Cleft for me. Let me hide myself in Thee.”
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