Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Turning to my faith

The day after my aunt decided to enter hospice care, my sister, Lisa flew in from her home in Texas. I was so glad that she came when she did because she was able to spend some quality time with my aunt before she passed, and our family as well. She stayed at our house most of the time, and I was so thankful to have that time with her for many reasons, but the one that is foremost in my mind right now is that we were able to talk about our faith.

One conversation that we had was about how a few years ago, she felt that although she was going to church, she still felt a distance from God. She wasn't attending any Bible studies, wasn't really involved in her church, and wasn't reading the Bible. One of her neighbors, a sweet older woman, encouraged Lisa to come with her to a Bible study. Lisa did, and really that was the start of a strengthening of her relationship with God.

Lisa started describing to me how many times over the years how she felt that when she turned to God more, or leaned on him in crisis, it seemed that he would send her little signs to encourage her. One example that I clearly remember is when she was in a car accident with her kids a couple of years ago. She tried to stop her car and her brakes went out. She pressed them and NOTHING happened. Right in that moment, a Christian song that she loved flashed through her head, and she prayed, "God, only you can help us now..." They were in a very serious crash, and if they had not broken the axle of their car, they would not have slowed to a stop right before they entered the lanes for oncoming traffic. Fortunately she and her children made it through with very few injuries. That night, after an ambulance trip to the hospital where everyone was checked out, my sister opened her Bible and just so happened to turn right to the Psalm that contained the words to the song she thought of in the crash.

Here are the words:

1 I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
2 My help comes from the LORD,
the Maker of heaven and earth.

3 He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber;
4 indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.

5 The LORD watches over you—
the LORD is your shade at your right hand;
6 the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.

7 The LORD will keep you from all harm—
he will watch over your life;
8 the LORD will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.

Can you imagine how comforting that would be to her? She just endured an crash where she and her children nearly lost their lives. God was telling her that He is watching over them night and day.

These thoughts really resonated with me. I go to church with my family. I consider myself a Christian and a good person. However, to be totally honest, I don't really read my Bible. I don't spend enough time talking to my children about our faith. I was not really growing closer to God, and in many ways my heart was hardened to the idea of doing just that. I have four children. I am a wife. We have a house to take care of. We have a dog. I am busy. How can I carve out more time to read the Bible more? How can I do more in my church? We already have so much going on with our kids' activities. I can't.

Then, this past week happened. I don't want to appear to be all dramatic, but God spoke to me like he did to my sister. There were so many times this week where I truly felt him. I knew that he was there with me, with my family and our friends.

The morning my aunt passed away, my sister and I were going to visit her again at the hospital. My mom had stayed the night with her, and when Lisa and I arrived, my mom told us that Aunt Shirley had not had a good night. Mom said that Aunt Shirley seemed to be in pain until about 1 AM, but the nurses were able to adjust her pain medication and she was able to sleep peacefully after that. After my mom filled us in, the phone rang. Lisa and I sat by my mom while she was talking on the phone. I looked over at my Aunt Shirley, and thought, "She doesn't look right."

I went over to her and noticed she wasn't breathing. We quickly got my mom off the phone, and I went to the nurse's station. On the way there, I saw that my aunt's best friend, Amy, had just arrived. She could tell that something was wrong, and went right to the room. The nurses came right away, checked my aunt, and confirmed that she had passed. (I was dumbfounded at the timing of it all. Amy, Lisa and I had all come to the hospital within five minutes of each other. My aunt passed away right after we got there.) We surrounded my aunt's bed, held each others' hands, and my sister, Lisa, led us in a beautiful prayer.

Obviously, it was an excruciatingly sad moment, but at the same time, it was an amazing blessing to be in the same room with someone that I love so much when they went to heaven. Afterward, my sister and I sat by my aunt's bedside where we talked about a Bible study my sister is in. A verse that they had just talked about was Luke 10:42... Do you remember this story? Jesus was visiting Martha and Mary. Martha was very busy preparing the meal for Jesus, trying to be the best hostess she could. Instead of helping Martha, Mary chose to sit by Jesus and visit with him. Martha was angry at Mary, and when she shared that with Jesus, his response was, "Only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her." Lisa and I talked about how that applied to our lives. So many times we concern ourselves with how much we need to get accomplished, how much we need to clean our houses, all the things we need to do. God seems to be telling us in this story how all of that does not matter as much as our relationships, with him and with the people we love. We need to strengthen those relationships...nothing matters as much as that. Thinking of my aunt...that is how she lived her life. She was extremely close to God, and always, throughout her life, cared for those that she loved. She was always helping, always encouraging, always loving. That is why we told her so many times what an inspiring aunt, teacher, woman she was. She truly was, and still is a huge role model for us. It was a wonderful conversation, made even more special by the sacredness of the moment.

Fast forward to the my aunt's funeral yesterday. It was truly a beautiful service, a celebration of my aunt's new life, filled with hymns and verses that were her favorites and spoke of what she believed. Guess what the verse was that the pastor used in his sermon? Yes, it was the one that my sister and I had talked about right after my aunt passed, Luke 10:42.

Apparently, God wanted us to hear it again.

When we heard it, my sister and I just looked at each other. Wow. What is contained in that verse is a powerful lesson, and I want to learn from it.

Then, rewinding to when I was making the photo collages for my aunt's funeral, I kept playing a song that I have on my blog's playlists. It felt comforting to me while I was reflecting on the wonderful memories that I have of my aunt. It's called, "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing." I love it. I had heard it on one of the blogs that I read, and right then and there put it on my playlist. It's actually the song that you heard when you opened my blog today. I love the melody, but truthfully had never paid close enough attention to the lyrics.

I think that God wanted me to pay attention.

At the funeral service, we sang this song. I felt His presence through these beautiful words...

Come, Thou Fount of ev'ry blessing, Tune my heart to sing Thy grace:
Streams of mercy, never ceasing, Call for songs of loudest praise.
While the hope of endless glory Fills my heart with joy and love,
Teach me ever to adore Thee; May I still Thy goodness prove.

Here I raise my Ebenezer, Hither by Thy help I've come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure, Safely to arrive at home.
Jesus sought me when a stranger, Wand'ring from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger, Interposed His precious blood.

Oh, to grace how great a debtor Daily I'm constrained to be;
Let that grace now like a fetter Bind my wand'ring heart to thee;
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it Prone to leave the God I love.
Here's my heart, oh, take and seal it. Seal it for Thy courts above.

Oh, that day when freed from sinning, I shall see Thy lovely face;
Clothed then in the blood-washed linen How I'll sing Thy wondrous grace!
Come, my Lord, no longer tarry, Take my ransom'd soul away;
Send Thine angels soon to carry Me to realms of endless day.

It is amazing to me that now that I am listening closer, He is speaking to me. I hope that I can continue to have an open heart and open ears to hear what He has to say. Now what? My sister and I have committed to each other that we will read and share with each other the first of the four Gospels, Matthew. And I am going to see if there is a moms' bible study at my church that I can join.

God, you've got my attention. I'm listening.

James 4:8 Come close to God, and God will come close to you.


Mary Ellen said...

Thanks Sarah for putting into words the beautiful message for all of us to read. Who said that I was finished crying? Now my tears are tears of joy knowing that Shirley in her passing has drawn all of us closer to God.


Karen said...

Sarah, what an amazing post! I am so happy to hear how God is working in your life. I wanted to add my little piece of the story. For a long time, I have loved "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing." I had been meaning to memorize it so I could sing it to Robbie, but I hadn't done it yet. Then, when I went to the hospital that Thursday night, I printed a copy of the lyrics so I could sing it to Aunt Shirley. But then I never sang it to her because I didn't remember to bring the lyrics with me to her room. (So I sang "Great is Thy Faithfulness" barely in a whisper as I cried.) After she passed, I mentioned to the Pastor that I would love to include "Come Thou Fount" in the service, but said I would understand if he couldn't do it. Then, in my church on Sunday morning, the first song we sang was, "Come Thou Fount." I couldn't believe it! I cried and cried. It really felt like a blessing from God that we would sing that song. And our church doesn't sing traditional songs too often! Anyway, you know it meant so much to me that the Pastor did include it in Aunt Shirley's service too. God is good! I love you!

Monkee said...

What a Beautiful witness to share Sarah. Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing is one of my favorites, but like you, I was more drawn to the melody, but now I have an even better appreciation for it.

I too have started reading my Bible. I have "The Message" which Bee actually got for me when we first started dating. It's the Bible, but they wrote it in "today's" language and it reads more fluid, like a book. It's a little easier for me to understand haha! Anyway, I started at Genesis (I've read most of the New Testament before, but never the whole thing)

Maybe, if you can't find a mommy group, we can do an online Bible Study? We could get your sister, and anyone else who wants to join. We could make a blog for it so we can all share our thoughts or even Skype and we could buy a study and go from there.

Just an option. :)

Sarah said...

Monkee, I love that idea. I have been reading the Message too, and have found it gives me fresh insight on God's word just by reading a different translation. Let me know if you want to start Matthew with us. I've been journaling from it. By the way, just read a wonderful book called "Becoming More than a Good bible study girl" by Lysa Terquist. It is amazing and inspiring and is spurring me on like you wouldn't believe......

Love that idea. By the way, this has really encouraged me tonight.

Sarah said...

Thank you all so much for encouraging me...guess what one of my friends posted on Facebook yesterday? The words to "Come Thou Fount"! :) Love you all!
I love the idea of an online bible study, Joy! That would be wonderful share with you and my sister, and anyone else who wants to join us! I'll pick up a copy of "The Message". My sister has been encouraging me to read that version too. She said that she calls it something like "The Tired Mom's Bible", that it's easier to read and soak in. That sounds like what I need too. :)

Sarah said...

The first message from Sarah was actually from Lisa...the second one was from the "real" Sarah, lol

Monkee said...

Haha! I figured :) I LOVE The Message. It reads more fluid, like a book. I started in Genesis and that was always hard for me to read because of all the "begots" and family tree stuff they go into, but it while it wasn't any less long of a list, it was easier to understand :)

I have my mom and two other friends who would be interested in doing an online bible study! How fun! I guess, maybe over the next week or two keep an eye out for any studies ya'll might want to do, then we can all go out and get it!

Anonymous said...

"Lisa started describing to me how many times over the years how she felt that when she turned to God more, or leaned on him in crisis, it seemed that he would send her little signs to encourage her."

Sometimes that is all you can do is just turn to God and wait for him to let you know that everything will be ok. He has his way of letting us know, and we are not always quick to pick up on it, but I always know he's there.

Anonymous said...

Great post turning tears into tears of joy. Thanks Sarah!