This past week was a particularly difficult week for me. We all have them from time to time. Maybe we are sick or fighting off some unseen illness. Maybe we are dealing with some difficult issues in our personal lives. Maybe we are just tired, and the normal activities overwhelm us. Maybe the snow just gets to us. Maybe it is missing someone who has meant something to us. For me, it was deadlines and meetings and fatigue and snow. Finally on Friday, I really felt sad, and I was really missing my Dad, who died 12 years ago this spring.
I found myself sitting in silence with God, asking what to do to make me feel better when I remembered that on the wall of my office is a framed piece of writing by my Dad from many years ago. I took the piece off the wall and sat down in the quiet to read it again. It was good to read his words, to hear his voice in my mind and to feel comfort from something that he had written the month I turned 1-year-old. This piece was written just after his mother died nine days before my birthday. I found comfort in reading these words again, and I decided that I would share the words of my Dad with you today:
My father, the Rev. Charles Wesley Randolph, began this note to his congregation with the words from a hymn by Issac Watts.
O God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Our shelter from the stormy blast,
And our eternal home!
We tell ourselves that when no crisis clouds our lives, that we believe the truth expressed in the words above. The difficulty comes when the stark reality breaks in upon us that one we have loved dwells no longer with us. We have our doubts about God's love and help. It is natural for us to have these doubts, because we are human, and the frailties of our human lives press down upon us when death removes those we love. But in these tender moments God can be more real and closer than at any other time of our lives. Last Friday afternoon, I sat by my mother's bedside as she crossed the threshold of death to a life of victory in our Lord. There was the unmistakable feeling of God's presence in the room. As I watched her breathing growing shorter and quieter, there came over the room a hush and quiet presence of God Himself. Like a piece of beautiful music which lifts you beyond the cares of this life, giving a vision of the life more glorious, then quietly dying away leaving only a serenity pervading the atmosphere, so was my mother's death.
God is the strength of our lives, and we need only to put our trust in him to gain victory over the worst life can do to us. I have preached this throughout my ministry. Now, when I have really come for the first time in my life to the testing point of my faith in God, I want to share with you, our people, my experience. It is not easy to give up our loved ones, nor should it be so. But when we have faith in God, we do not give our loved ones up. For in a very real way, they are closer to us after death than while they were with us. No longer do we worry about sorrow and broken bodies and agonizing suffering, for these are past, and for the first time we can see our loved ones as they really are. Their personalities go on, and they hover near to comfort us. God has planned life this way for those who love Him. In my mother's death, I have come closer to God than at any time in my life. It is our faith that makes this coming closer to God possible. Like the prophet of the Old Testament who pointed out the difference between first-hand experience and second-hand knowledge, I too can say "I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear, but now I have seen Thee."
In this experience God has given to me the assurance that he does love us, and no matter what happens, He is our "help and hope."
I finished reading my Dad's words and felt better. Immediately I looked up the date of my grandmother's passing, and guess what, Jan. 26 was the anniversary of her death. Fifty-odd years ago the very day that I was reading those words was the day before my grandmother's passing. The comfort of my Dad's words on that particular day took on a deeper meaning for me, and I am overwhelmed at the mysteries of God.
At times God gives us small, yet significant moments that bring help and hope to our lives. Reading my Dad's words about his mother's passing on Friday and then discovering that Saturday was the anniversary of her death-the anniversary of those significant moments for my Dad-was one of those moments of help and hope for me. What have been some of those moments for you? Come by the Parish House and let me know. I would like to hear your stories. Thanks so much for hearing mine. To God alone be glory!
On the Parish calendar
Burlington youth visit, Saturday, Feb. 2
Valentine Dinner, Sunday, Feb. 10, First United Methodist Church. Proceeds support youth program.
Shrove Tuesday Pancake Supper, Feb.12 from 57 p.m., First UMC. Proceeds support repair of the stained glass dome in sanctuary.
Ash Wednesday service, Wednesday, Feb. 13, 7 p.m., at the First UMC.
Appreciation Dinner, Tuesday, April 16 at the Chapel Hill UMC.