We lost a dear friend last week. We joined the family and other friends on Friday to share our tears and to celebrate her life. Debs was a private person, and I can’t claim to have known her well, but she always made you feel special, as if your joys and concerns were all that mattered. Her faithfulness in prayer, and her courage in the terrible suffering she endured, were a gift and an encouragement to all.
The tributes paid by her family and friends echoed the love and the loss of all our hearts. Her daughter said she loved coming home—how many teenagers would admit to that? And not many students, except for the laundry benefits. She loved coming home because her mother was so positive. “She believed in me. She made me feel that everything was possible.”
That’s not easy for a parent to convey. There are so many pitfalls, so much for us to worry about. How many of us manage to set our children free, to give them the gift of believing in them instead of restricting them with the impossibilities of our own fears? Of course they are legitimate fears, we fear for their safety, for their future, but they restrict nonetheless.
As Deb’s daughter spoke we could nod in appreciation. This was indeed the Debs we knew and loved.
Debs pointed her family to Romans 12:12: “Be joyful in hope; be patient in affliction and faithful in prayer.” It is a verse that sums up how we experienced Debs. Joy was a constant companion, and hope her driving force. Her patience in the terrible suffering she endured was heroic (not that she would ever have considered herself a hero). I often thought that Debs wanted to be free of it all, not for her sake but so that her family and friends would not have to endure it all. And Debs was a prayer warrior. She was one of those who left you feeling a little more secure, a little more confident, because Debs was praying. But her prayers were not intellectual exercises; they led her to action. Debs was one of those who would pray as if God was our only hope, and act as if God had left it all up to her.
One of her friends said that she (the friend) had only been a Christian for ten years, a spiritual youngster in the prayer group she belonged to with Debs. But she always knew that, when she grew up, she wanted to be like Debs.
I echo that, but such love and faithfulness, such joy and peace, do not come overnight. Paul rightly calls these fruit of the Spirit. Fruit grows and develops through a long process of watering and nurturing; it isn’t stuck on at the last minute. The fruit of the Spirit grows within us as we offer ourselves to God every day; it develops little by little through random acts of kindness; it ripens as we make small decisions to be positive, to put aside our critical inclinations, and to offer encouragement and hope to a daughter, a friend, a stranger.
It starts, perhaps, through being faithful in prayer as we ask God every day for opportunities to live out our prayers, and courage to take the opportunities presented to reach out to others.
Thank you Debs for the gifts you gave us. Thank you for encouraging us to live as Jesus in the world, and for demonstrating that it is indeed possible to do so.