My mother passed into heaven five years ago today. I wanted to re-post this blog I wrote at that time about the sweet gift that God gave us shortly before she died.
My mother passed into heaven five years ago today. I wanted to re-post this blog I wrote at that time about the sweet gift that God gave us shortly before she died.
In March of last year, 2018, I flew to Houston for a very happy trip. Our daughter, Andrea, was getting married in the fall and so this weekend in March was to be full of trying on wedding dresses and making wedding plans.
Of course, I had a layover in Dallas. There I sat in the terminal, catching up on social media and emails, when a fast movement caught my eye. I looked up to see a little bird flying among the ceiling beams. He would sit up there staring down at all the waiting passengers, though our area was people sparse at that time. He would observe for a minute, then fly down and land on the carpet, where a few passengers would toss him bites of bread or crackers. He was a cute little thing and broke the dull monotony of the usual airport terminal happenings.
I noticed a woman sitting not too far from me, within talking range, who was also enjoying the little bird. Our eyes met and we both smiled. We began talking about the bird. One thing led to another and we realized that we had much in common. The military…where we had lived…daughters in Texas…shared names. She introduced herself as Johnnie Latham and had soon moved closer to where I sat so we could talk even more.
The best and brightest thing we quickly knew about each other is that we were sisters in Christ. Believers understand this connection that is very evident, even when you meet a stranger. It’s the Holy Spirit, and the communion that two people have due to that indwelling is very real and very obvious.
Johnnie and I talked up a storm as we sat there. Gone were our phones as we talked and talked, enjoying every minute. Gone was the terminal drudgery of the airport as we crammed as much conversation as we could into the now short time we had before boarding the plane.
All too soon, it was time to board. We said our goodbyes and it was so nice to meet you as we got in line, with Johnnie several people behind me. Before long, I had taken my seat near the back of the plane. No one was in the seat beside me and it appeared, as passengers boarded, that my next-door seat would remain empty.
As I settled in and looked up, I saw Johnnie headed my way. We hadn’t compared seat numbers. Why would we? But closer and closer she came, looking at her boarding pass for her row and seat number. Then there she stood, confirming her assigned seat…and you guessed it! Her seat was the one beside me!!
We squealed and laughed and exclaimed our disbelief! Other passengers, I’m sure, were curious at this loud display of happiness over an airline seat!
“God wanted us to sit together!” Johnnie exclaimed as I fully agreed.
We just THOUGHT we had talked in the terminal. Now we were on full-speed motor-mouthed conversation! We spent the entire flight from Dallas to Houston sharing with each other as fast as we could. And I’m sure we shared with everyone around us because we had a hard time talking softly! We had stories to tell! We had examples of God’s goodness to talk about. We laughed. We praised God. We cried. The whole time was really sweet and amazing and so very special.
“Let’s take a selfie!” Johnnie said through her laughter.
So, she snapped this quick picture of the two of us.
And just like that, before we were ready, we landed in Houston. Our fellowship was over all too soon. I had never regretted finishing a flight like I did that one.
We hugged, said our goodbyes, friended each other on Facebook, and waved goodbye once more across the Houston terminal as we parted ways.
We kept in touch over Facebook through the next year. And one day earlier this year, her life changed. Johnnie was diagnosed with cancer. Now she became a fighter as she endured all the tests, the chemo, the hospital stays…struggles that I can’t fathom. Struggles for her and for her dear husband, daughters, and grandchildren.
But never turning her back on God. Never giving up hope, even knowing that her final healing might come in heaven instead of earth.
And so it seems that this will be the case. Her cancer has spread in her brain and there is nothing more to be done on earth. She is home now, on Hospice care.
Her husband, Jack, said this in a post I read: “She will win because she will be with our savior and she is looking forward to that day.”
Victory!! Johnnie and I shared victory stories on that plane…me about my dad and Johnnie about her sister. Now Johnnie will have the most powerful victory story of all!
What an impact this woman made on me in such a short time! I can only imagine the huge impact she’s had on her family and friends who have relished life with her for years.
And I was thinking about how we both thought we didn’t have enough time on that day to share and talk and laugh and cry. It wasn’t enough time.
But oh, we WILL have enough time one day!
We’ll have all of eternity to talk and share and laugh and worship God together. In person!!
But we won’t cry. No tears in heaven!
So, Johnnie, you hold my seat this time and I’ll join you in heaven one day.
I can hardly wait to hear you laugh on that day!
Today is my friend Atha’s birthday. It should be a very happy day of celebrating for Atha, her family, and for me. Atha and I should be going out to lunch one day this week to celebrate our birthdays that are close together, paying for each other’s lunch while we laugh and while we share some heart-to-heart time. But none of this will be happening today, or this week, or ever again. At least not happening with Atha present. Atha is in heaven now, and has been for nearly three months.
Is that even possible?
I wrote about my dear friend Atha after her memorial service. Here’s the link in case you missed it and would like to know her better. This Is My Friend She was……she is……so worth knowing. I can’t believe she’s not here now.
I still hear her voice clearly in my head, and her wonderful laughter. I had lunch today with Atha’s daughter, Sarah, and I saw Atha in Sarah’s movements……the way Sarah held up her index finger as she talked……the way she opened her eyes so wide and moved her head…….her laughter.
I have so much I’d like to tell Atha. I deeply miss our conversations, whether in person or more often, on the phone. She was my best porch buddy, where I would sit as we chatted on the phone……my iced tea by my side……until the mosquitoes would drive me inside.
I still hear her words of advice, mixed with southern charm and sometimes a dash of sarcasm, depending on the subject. I hear her words of comfort during the hard times, and her words mixed with the fire of resolve over injustices or wrong that either of us were enduring.
And I will always hear, and never forget, one of the most impacting things she…..or anyone……ever said to me.
“You are established in your purpose, Patty,” she said to me one day. I wrote about that, too. My Purpose
I will carry that with me always.
I’ve been missing her more the past few days, probably because of her birthday. The special days are always hardest. This past Saturday evening, for some reason, I just wanted so much to go sit out on my porch and talk to Atha. I was so sad, and the tears came. So I went up to my table that holds my Bible and I sat down, opening the pages, and reading here and reading there as I asked the Lord to give me a word that I needed.
I ended up in Isaiah 46. God was speaking to Israel but principles are there for us as well. Listen to verses 9-10:
Remember the former things long past, For I am God, and there is no other. I am God and there is no one like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, ‘My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure.’
I looked at that after reading it, and I said to myself, “Wait. What did that just say?”
So I read it again. Yes, there it was! Atha’s words to me were spoken by God to me as well!!
Atha said, “You are established in your purpose.”
God said, “My purpose will be established.”
Isn’t that just awesome and amazing?!!
God has a purpose, and His purpose WILL be established. He WILL accomplish all of His good pleasure. He will accomplish His plan, according to His purpose that He has established……and in which He IS established.
And I wanted to say, “Well, Atha……looky there!!”…….to borrow an old childhood word. Looky at that, would you?
Wasn’t God SO extra good and loving to show me those verses when I was so sad?
So I thanked God for reminding me of Who He is, and that He has a purpose even for the pain. I don’t understand it……I may not even at this point really like it…..but His purpose will be established. It will be accomplished, whether I see it or understand it this side of heaven or not.
Verses like this become memorial stones to me, so beside that verse I wrote, “Remembering Atha, June 2016.”
Atha would absolutely love this. I wonder if God told her how He leaned down and spoke to me on Saturday evening, using her words that are His words.
It was just all wrapped up together like a beautiful package, perfect for this birthday week.
Happy Birthday, Atha. I miss you, I love you, and I am so happy that you are…..and always will be…..my friend, Atha.
Years ago a visiting couple walked into a local church here in Wichita, sliding into a pew near the back. Having a long history of working with special needs, the husband was amused to see a young man sitting in front of them with his grandmother……a young man with special needs.
“They follow us everywhere,” Scott whispered to his wife, Atha. They chuckled, and after the service Atha struck up a conversation with this grandmother. Of course she did. That was classic Atha, friendly and warm. And this grandmother couldn’t wait to find me.
“Patty!” she said. “I met a couple who were visiting here for the first time. They have a background of ministry with special needs. I’ve got to introduce you!!”
So at the first opportunity, she did just that. Atha and I talked and talked the first Sunday that we met, making plans to get together soon for a coke and more conversation. We met at Spangles one afternoon soon after, and as they say……the rest is history. We clicked. We understood one another. We were on our way to a great friendship.
Over the next couple years, Atha achieved her life’s dream of being awarded her PhD. I was so proud of her, though I had gotten in on the action late in her life and late in her dream. It was only as the years went by that I learned more and more of the sacrifice and grit that went into Atha achieving this goal. She had put this part of her life on hold as she mothered their three children, but all along she was very active in the world of teaching special needs and writing Sunday School curriculum for special needs for the Southern Baptist Sunday School Board. She taught students; she taught teachers; and she taught me.
Atha taught me lots about special needs as we worked together trying to establish that ministry in our church. She taught me lots about how to teach students with special needs. She taught me lots about my own son, Aaron, although she was always quick to point out that I was the expert when it came to Aaron.
But what Atha taught me the most was what it was like to have a friend who loved unconditionally…….who stuck with me through good and bad…….who was there for me no matter how busy and complicated her own life was.
Her phone calls were regular and so welcomed, no matter what all she had on her to-do list. Our lunch dates were refreshing to me on so many levels. And every June we made sure that on our schedules we placed a very important lunch date……one at which we celebrated our birthdays. Atha’s birthday was June 15 and mine was June 18, so we would try to celebrate close to both of those dates. I would pay for Atha’s lunch, and Atha would pay for my lunch, and we would laugh and laugh.
Atha took my family as her own. Not only did she take Gary and our children into her heart, as did Scott, but she also grew to love our extended families. It didn’t matter that they were clear across the country in the mountains of West Virginia and North Carolina. She grew to know and love each one as if she had been a part of their lives forever.
Atha loved human beings and the stories that each person carried. She loved telling stories….she loved hearing my stories…..and she loved all the stories of the hundreds of people that she took the time to know and care for over the years.
A favorite quote from Atha tells so much about her: “Successful leadership begins with how you treat others. I challenge you to find time to be kind today.”
Atha definitely followed her own advice. No matter how busy she was as she worked to start her ADHD coaching business; taught college courses in multiple places; conducted seminars for teachers; and so many other activities……she still had time for those phone calls and visits. Time to keep in touch with me, to love me, and to be there for me no matter what. To teach me one of her most unforgettable lessons – to be established in my purpose. https://hesaidwhatks.wordpress.com/2016/03/09/my-purpose-2/
Atha and I started going to different churches three years ago. We truly missed each other on Sundays. But I would often get a text from Atha on Sunday. “Are you worshipping?” she would ask. Or after church, she would ask what songs we sang. She and I would compare songs, and talk about what they had meant to us. Sometimes she would even text during her worship service to say, “We are singing Great is Thy Faithfulness!” That was our favorite song, one which encouraged each of us so much. We would talk about the sermons we had heard, and Atha would ask what I had learned. Ever the teacher. Ever concerned.
Atha began having some significant health issues last fall. On Dec. 26, I got a text from her son, Kyle, telling me that they were taking Atha to the ER. The day was very grey, cold, and icy…..just like my heart felt as I worried about her all that day. It was discovered that in addition to some other issues that had plagued Atha’s body, she had also recently suffered a stroke. I was shocked when I first saw her in the hospital. How sick and tired and old she looked!
On one of my visits to the hospital to see her, two CNAs came in the room to clean her. I sat behind the curtain as they worked. Soon, in typical Atha fashion, she looked at the young man and said, “Young man, what do you want to do with the rest of your life?” He stammered around for an answer, not expecting such a question from this little sick woman. I just smiled. He didn’t know my Atha. She then proceeded to instruct him on setting goals and achieving them. I bet he never forgets her.
Weeks went by, with Atha sometimes rebounding and giving hope that she would recover, only to be followed by a downward turn. She would fluctuate between rehab centers and the hospital. On some of my visits with her, she would talk in her special way….slowly and with difficulty, but still like her old self.
“What do you know today, Patty?” she would ask. She didn’t want to talk about herself, but I felt guilty talking about me and my family and my issues, so small compared to hers. But that was Atha, always concerned for me above all of her own cares.
One day in the rehab center, she was very vacant. I was worried. I couldn’t get her to engage in conversation and she seemed far away. A therapist came over to her and asked Atha to tell her who I was. Atha looked up, brightened, and said, “This is my friend, Patty Moore.” Just like she always used to do.
On Monday, March 21, I sat by Atha’s bed at the hospital. She wasn’t doing well at all, but we still hoped for a full recovery. She kept her eyes closed, but she often did that. She didn’t talk. I opened my little Bible and held it up close as I read her some Psalms. Every little bit Atha would quietly say, “Amen.” That was all. Then she asked me to pray for Jesus to heal her, so I did. And before I left, I told her I loved her, my friend. And she said she loved me, too.
On Thursday, Sarah got the call about end of life issues and hospice. No one could believe it was happening. I spent part of that evening with them at the hospital. Before I left, I leaned down to my mostly unresponsive Atha. I said some things to her, and then I told her that she would always be my dear friend. Very softly, she spoke to me. One word.
“Friend,” she said.
Atha was moved to hospice late that night. I saw her on Friday and on Saturday, where a little twitch of her mouth was the only response she gave me. On Easter morning, a gloriously beautiful morning with a soft snow and bright sunlight, Atha went to heaven. How significant that her home going was on Easter! Atha always knew how to do things right.
This morning, a couple walked into a local church here in Wichita and slipped into a pew near the back. They were dreading this day. He put his arm around her as she fought the tears that were forming. Gary and I were here for Atha and for Scott, like they had always been present for us. But I just never dreamed it would be in this way. Never in a million years.
Many people were in that church this morning to honor Atha. As part of the service, people were given time to tell their stories of Atha…..of how they knew her…..of what she meant to them…..of how she had impacted their lives. She would have loved the stories, even though they were about her. She did love hearing and telling stories, after all. It was wonderful to hear just a small sample of how she had blessed and helped so many.
I’ll always treasure the many Atha stories I have tucked away in my memory and in my heart. Too many to tell here, that’s for sure. But suffice it to say that the best thing that Atha could ever have said to me is the last thing she ever said to me.
And with that, I am beyond blessed.
This is my friend, Atha McNay.