Saying Goodbye — and Waiting for the Glad “Hello”
The icy wind whipped the tent surrounding the open grave into billows and slapped the mourners standing nearby with aching chills to their bones. It was a miserable day to say goodbye to a well-loved lady.
And it was a far cry from the 100 plus degree temperatures in Thailand. It was hard to believe that just a couple of days before I had been sorting medicine in the sauna-like storeroom when Paul’s phone rang. I stopped, wiped the sweat from face, and cocked an ear to see who was calling.
“Mom’s in heaven,” came a quavering voice from across the world. Patti, Paul’s sister, went on to tell how their mother peacefully made her journey over Jordan in the night.
It was not a surprise – his mother was nearly 90 and had suffered from increasing dementia over the past few years. These last months she had been confined to a wheelchair. But no matter how prepared you are, you are still taken aback at the reality and finality of death. It’s always hard to lose someone you love.
In short order we had tickets for the trip back to the US and I was frantically packing.
We had decided not to make our yearly trip home this year. Instead, Kimmy and I would travel to the mountains to do English camps (Vacation Bible School with English thrown in as a lure). Plans changed before I even had those set up, because it looked like we would be moving. We found a property that we could afford and that would work well for our various ministries. Best of all, it was near three Lahu villages. We could do so much more if we lived within easy reach of the people we came to serve. I started sorting and getting ready to move as soon as the kids went home for their summer break from mid-March to mid-May.
And it fell through. But – God had a better plan, and we soon saw it. There was another piece of property in the same general area that was more expensive, but would work just as well.
And it fell through, too.
I had to face it. There would not be time to find another place and to move before school started in May. Three kids would be getting their schooling at home with me and attending Thai informal school, but four still have to attend the Thai elementary school. We have already discovered that it is a major problem to change schools mid year. We would have to stay put for another year.
The busy days suddenly looked empty. I was at a loss, not used to days that weren’t crammed full of busyness.
Those empty days disappeared with the phone call. Our God who works all things together for good had cleared our schedule so that we could go to say goodbye to my mother-in-law. It was with a thankful heart for His plans that we packed and took the first available flight to the US. Kimmy changed her tickets for one a few days later, cutting her stay a few weeks short since the kids were already gone and she had nothing special left to do.
We arrived in Oklahoma on Sunday and Paul was able to be there to support his sister as they made funeral arrangements. It has been especially tough for Patti as she has faithfully cared for her mother for the past several years. As Mom became more confused and infirm, Patti’s world grew ever smaller as she spent her days caring for her mother. Suddenly her life has dramatically changed, and it will be a huge and difficult adjustment for her.
Patti had a big part in our Thailand ministry, although one in the background. Because she was there to willingly look after their mom, Paul has been able to do his important work on the other side of the world. He missed his mom, but never worried about her. We knew that Patti was giving her the best of care.
Our children arrived in Oklahoma City from across the US – two girls from the west coast and a son from Kentucky meeting at son Peter’s home in OKC. Ten of our 13 grandchildren gathered around us. Lots of noise and confusion and joy as the cousins became reacquainted.
And the day came to say the final goodbye. I shivered inside my borrowed coat and pulled two of the nearest grandkids closer to me, both for comfort and for warmth. Bro. Keith Brown, pastor now at Sherwood Baptist where Paul pastored for 38 years, read the obituary. He told how his children, and those of all the church, grew up knowing Betty as “Grandma Brown.” He told how she always served in the background rather than the limelight, more comfortable in the church kitchen during fellowship dinners than in front of a class. Tender hearted and ready to give rather than dynamic and taking the lead.
Our son Paul gave the funeral message, honoring his grandmother who was always so supportive and encouraging. Mentions of good food, of warmth, of love, of laughter. And he shared the Gospel, the reason we have hope of seeing Mom again. It wasn’t because she was a kind and sweet lady – although she certainly was. It wasn’t her friendliness and zany sense of humor.
No, she, like each of us, was a sinner, missing God’s mark of perfection. But long ago when she was a young mother she had seen her need and had come to God for forgiveness. She trusted in His death on the cross as a payment for those sins – that He took them and paid for them so she could be forgiven. She surrendered to Him as her God – and she served her Lord faithfully to the end.
I feel blessed to have known her, and to have been her daughter-in-law.
Many people are like Paul’s mom, faithful Christians who never make it to the headlines, who serve unseen by the multitudes. But their names are written in glory and their faithful service is seen by God, the One who truly matters. Many of those folks give sacrificially to make our work in Thailand possible. We may be the ones folks see and recognize, but God sees and honors each one who serves from a surrendered heart in love. We appreciate each of you!
We will be traveling here in the States until the end of the month, but will be in the saddle in Thailand before the kids come home the first week in May. I’m so thankful the Lord cleared our schedule to allow us to be here. Thankful for the love and support of the many people who serve behind the scenes. Thankful for Him. He is good!