A Gift on Atha’s Birthday

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.

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This Is My Friend

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.

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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.

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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.

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“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.

Friend.

And with that, I am beyond blessed.

This is my friend, Atha McNay.

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The Nail Trim

I remember climbing on my Daddy’s lap when I was a little girl.  He was sitting in his chair near the fireplace, with his shelves of books on one side and his end table on the other.  His newspaper was on the end table where he could eventually read it at the end of a busy, tiring day on the railroad.  His Bible was also laying there within easy reach.  He read his Bible often as he sat in his chair. He was always ready and willing to listen to my questions about what the Bible said about this and that, especially as I got older.

 
But when I was little and would climb on his lap, I remember the gentleness that he showed.  In the early years he smelled of pipe tobacco and smoke…..that subtle odor that comforted me.  I can still see him emptying his pipe of the old tobacco and then refilling it with fresh, tapping it gently and pressing the tobacco down just right.  I can hear the sound of the pipe stem on his teeth and see the soft, swirling smoke around his head at the end of the day as he relaxed.

Dad was never too tired to listen to us kids as we talked to him.  He was patient and kind, and so wise.  Sometimes when I would climb up on his lap, he would read me a book.  Sometimes we would just snuggle.  And at other times, he would take my hands and check my nails.  If they were too long, he would ever so carefully trim each nail.  I sat very still, watching him take each of my fingers and cut the nail just right.  Then off I would hop and go on my way, not giving much thought to that simple deed that Dad performed. 

Until years later…..many years later.  The tables had turned, as they so often do, and I and my family had become the caregivers.  Dad was in his last month of life as the cancer he had fought for eight years was winning the battle.  I had been able to go home to help Jan and John as they cared for him and Mom.  It was a month of many cherished memories that fill my heart every day, especially during this Christmas season.  It was December when Dad died.  It was December and Christmas that he and Mom loved so much.

One day I rolled Dad in his wheelchair into the living room so that he could enjoy the pretty Christmas tree.  I helped him get onto the couch, his thin body so frail and weak.  Then I sat beside him and snuggled close to his bony side.  Words were few because it took too much energy for him to lift his head and talk.  But he still smiled….that gentle, kind smile that was his signature. 

As we sat there in the soft glow of the Christmas lights, I looked down at his fragile hands resting on his lap.  Hands that had worked hard, disciplined well, warmly hugged, and folded in prayer.  And I saw that his nails were so long.  How had we let them get in that shape?  So I looked in his tired face and I asked him if he would like me to trim his nails.  He slowly lifted his bowed head and gave me that smile as he said yes ever so softly. 

I got some clippers and a nail file, and I set to work on his nails.  I was afraid of hurting him so I worked very carefully, taking each finger and slowly trimming and filing.  He was very still and quiet as I worked.  Finally I was done.  He looked down at his hands and smiled again, and then slowly looked me in the eyes as he thanked me.  For days afterward, he talked about how good it felt to have his nails trimmed as he thanked me over and over. 

And just as when I was a little girl, the significance of that act didn’t hit me until later.  Dad showed me such love in the simple deed of trimming my nails when I was young.  Now it was my turn to show him the same love in the simple deed of doing the same for him in his weakened state.  His strength was mine when I needed him.  My strength was his when he, many years later, needed me.

And it was the love and guidance of Dad’s hands that led me to be there for him at the end of his life.  He raised me and my brother and sisters well.  He loved us deeply, worked hard for us, and led us to know and love the Lord. 

 
It seems like yesterday that I hopped off of his lap after he trimmed my nails, and ended up beside him on his couch trimming his nails beside the Christmas tree.  Now his and Mom’s memorial ornaments hang on my tree, and all I have are memories.  
 
But someday I’ll take his hand again in heaven, and Mom’s as well, and see them both strong and whole once more. 

 

Keeps Me Singing

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. 

 

In The Blink of An Eye

I’m thinking of my dad today for some very special reasons.  It’s been 6 ½ years since he went to heaven after fighting cancer for 8 years.  Dad was the one of the godliest men I have ever known.  He was so kind, selfless, and loving.  He was firm in his faith, never wavering through all the ups and downs of life, including his two bouts with cancer which finally took his life.  Yet despite his strong faith and his deep trust in the Lord, Dad seemed to have a great fear of death. 

None of us looks forward to dying, so on many levels we could understand his dread.  As he weakened and the end was coming nearer, he still seemed to struggle more and more with his uncertainties.  Finally one evening my brother John spent some time alone with Dad, talking to Dad about what was on his heart.  It was during this conversation that John was able to gently lead Dad to really express his concerns about dying.  One of Dad’s biggest issues was that he wondered what he would say to Jesus when he first saw Him.  We all just smiled and shook our heads when we heard that.  There he was again, not worried about his own pain but instead concerned about what he would say to his Lord.  And how like Dad that was!  He was always the ultimate planner and organizer, so for him to face this uncertain encounter with no plan or idea of what it would be like was very hard for him to handle.  Plus it very much showed his humility as he felt completely unworthy to stand before Jesus. 

Something else that was heavy on my Dad’s heart was the fact that he would be leaving my mother.  They had been inseparable during the 22 years of retirement they had enjoyed together.  Then when dad was put in a hospital bed, Mom slept in their bed right beside him and they held hands through the rails.  Dad knew that Mom was really showing the signs of Alzheimer’s in ways that we hadn’t seen.  He kept trying to find ways to tell us about it without Mom hearing him because he was so worried about what she would do when he was gone, and he wouldn’t be there to help her.  Part of his letting go was hearing our words of assurance that Mom would be cared for and that he didn’t need to worry about her.

But it wasn’t just that Dad was burdened about leaving Mom alone.  It was also that he was very concerned, almost fearful, of him being without her in heaven.  He was so close to her, so dependent on her in many ways, that the thought of being without her……even in heaven…..was nearly unbearable to him.  So on the night that John talked to Dad, he told Dad to remember that God said a thousand years to Him is but a day.  John said, “Dad, I really believe that when you go to heaven it’s going to be like you blink a couple times and then Mom will be right there with you.”

I don’t know that anything comforted Dad more than those words and that thought.  Later that night, as Mom and I sat with him in their family room, he very softly and slowly shared that thought with us…..and he sweetly smiled as he said it.  His soft, gentle smile….full of the hope that the separation from his Beth wouldn’t be so long after all.  We all know it was that night when Dad felt released to go on to heaven.  He knew that everything would be all right, and that Mom would join him in the blink of an eye.  Several days later he left this earth for heaven.

I’m thinking of my Dad today, and definitely my mom, for another very special reason.  Today my mother also left this earth for heaven.  She and Dad are finally together, whole and healthy at last!  I can’t imagine the joy they’re both experiencing right now to be with Jesus, and to be together for eternity.  Jan told me that Mom opened her eyes, eyes that had been shut for days.  It was as if she saw something.  Then she closed her mouth, closed her eyes, and was gone.  Did she see heaven?  Did she see Dad, grinning from ear to ear?  Did she see her Savior?  What precious and awesome thoughts those are!   

So while we cry at having to say goodbye to our last parent, we can’t help but smile and be so happy for her and for Dad.  Oh my goodness, I would love to have seen that reunion!  Someday we’ll join them there, and we’ll have so much joy and so much fun.  But until then, while we will sometimes weep and we will often miss them both, we can smile at God’s sweet goodness and rejoice over the certain hope we have of life together in heaven.  
 

Hey Mom, you and Dad have a great time up there! 

When we all get there, I do hope the Lord lets us sing “Oh, It Rained, Rained, Rained” again, just to torment dad. 

We’ll all see you in a couple blinks of an eye.