It was probably over 55 years ago that a soloist with a beautiful voice went to sing in a revival service in the little town of Oakvale, West Virginia. She sang the hymn “I’d Rather Have Jesus,” and then she sat down to listen to the sermon preached by Jimmie Jones. Her heart was disturbed as she listened to the gospel being preached that night. She thought of the song she had just sung, and of the words that came out of her mouth in such a perfect performance…..words that she knew she didn’t really mean. For it was just that – a performance. She sang beautifully, but she sang a lie. She knew that she didn’t really know Jesus, and that she didn’t really mean it when she sang about wanting Jesus more than anything this world affords.
This woman was my mother, and that night changed her life and the life of our family. She went home and urged my dad to go with her to listen to Jimmie Jones preach. Mom didn’t know that my dad had already trusted Christ as his Savior. It wasn’t long before my mother made the same decision. She bowed her head and confessed her sin, and asked Jesus to be Lord of her life. God changed my parents tremendously. They raised their five children to know and serve the Lord, and they left us a spiritual heritage that has more value than anything this world affords. And “I’d Rather Have Jesus” became my mother’s signature song…..one we heard her sing many, many times over the years. One she sang with honesty for the rest of her life because of the work that God had done in her heart.
Last week we said goodbye to my mother for the final time on this earth. We had really lost her a long time ago to the horrible ravages of Alzheimer’s. She no longer had her memories, her personality, or any of her other faculties. But even Alzheimer’s cannot take the Lord away. He has promised to always be with us, and He always keeps His promises. We saw evidences of His presence with Mom as she struggled in various ways. What sweet comfort it brought to know that deep in her heart and her mind, God was ministering to her in ways that we could not.
Two weeks ago, on the day before the call went out to family that mother was dying, we saw a profound picture of God’s grace in her little body and in her heart. Jan and her daughter, Bethany, had gone to spend some time with Mom in the care home where she lived. Mom was sitting in the commons area, her head down and her eyes closed, unresponsive to the voices and the noises around her. Suddenly, on the television that was playing, a man started singing “Amazing Grace.” Bethany looked down at her grandmother and saw that her lips were moving. Surprised at this, she and Jan leaned down and put their ears to Mom’s moving lips. Here is what they heard coming from my unresponsive mother:
Jesus, Jesus, Jesus,
Sweetest Name I know.
Fills my every longing,
Keeps me singing as I go.
My mother was singing! Jan and Bethany wouldn’t have believed it had they not heard it for themselves. She was clearly singing this beautiful old hymn. She was singing about Jesus, whom she was soon to meet. God’s prompting, God’s presence, was there with Mom in that room. Jan and Bethany joined her in singing, and then Bethany said, “I love you.” Mom clearly said, “I love you” to Bethany, her eyes still closed. Then Jan said, “I love you, Mom.” And Mom said, “I love you” to Jan as well.
Those were the last words that my mother spoke. The next day the family got the call that she was dying, and on Monday, May 4, my mother met Jesus. Jesus, the sweetest name she knew. Jesus, who filled her every longing. Jesus, who kept her “singing as I go.” Singing as she got ready to go to heaven.
Like my brother, John, said at her funeral…..how appropriate that Mom’s walk with the Lord began with a song many years ago. And her life with the Lord ended with a song…..a song that surprised us all, but was such a gift of grace and hope from God.
A gift and an example that we will always, always cherish.