Monday, May 29, 2017

Joy: How sweet the sound

Amazing grace how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me 
I once was lost but now am found 
Was blind but now I see ...

'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear 
And grace my fears relieved ...

Nowhere in the lyrics of "Amazing Grace" is the word joy, but joy is surely a fruit of God's amazing grace. The celebration of life for a beloved fellow church member on Saturday affirmed this for me.

Wayne Hooker was one of those people with a personality that could not be ignored. On the surface, he could seem gruff, ornery, maybe even a bit of a trouble-maker. He definitely had a sense of humor, but he didn't hesitate to let another person be the butt of one of his jokes or pranks. I was among those who felt a sense of pity for his sweet wife, Kathy.

I'm not sure when I started to notice how much more there was to Wayne than that. I know it should have been much earlier. But I may not have really noticed until watching him and Kathy serving when Goodrich United Methodist Church was part of the Angel Tree food ministry. In more recent years, I became more and more aware of how much service they provided and how much of a team they were.

When a knot on his hand yielded a troublesome diagnosis last year, I was among the many who went into big-time prayer mode. And when follow-up diagnoses were even worse, my heart ached with so many of his family members, friends and others.

But several things were quickly clear. First, Wayne was not going to let a cancer diagnosis get the best of him. He was going to stay active as long as he could. Second, he was not going to let it steal his personality. Even when the pain made it difficult, he seemed to find a way to make people laugh or at least smile.

Right after Easter, I wanted to go by for a visit. I knew a lot of people took food, flowers or other gifts when they visited. Cooking isn't my thing, but God put it on my heart to see if Wayne and Kathy might welcome a song or two.

I remember as I was driving to their house, knowing that he was already to a point of having some pretty rough days in which he preferred not to have company, I wondered what he would be like, even on a better day. I prayed that no matter how he was feeling, I wanted to be a bright spot. I wanted to bring a smile, if not a laugh.

Of course, it was quickly apparent he would be the one eliciting the laughs. Even when pain momentarily interrupted a sentence or gesture, he wouldn't let its effects linger.

Before I got ready to leave, I explained that I didn't bring food or flowers, but that I would like to sing a hymn or two, if he thought he would like that. He asked if I had the accompaniment on my phone. I said no -- I can sing without that. And so I did. "Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow" and "Great Is Thy Faithfulness." Praise, prayer and hope through a song. My heart overflowed with joy for these precious people.

The next time I called about visiting, Kathy said Wayne did not feel up to having visitors. I mailed a card that Wednesday instead, as I prepared to head for a long weekend in Arkansas, Wayne's native state and the home of his beloved Razorbacks. While I was there on Sunday, I learned that Wayne had died.

And then I learned that he had asked Kathy to ask me and fellow church and choir member Shirley Franklin to sing a duet of "Amazing Grace" at his celebration of life. Now, Shirley is an amazing singer. I love to sing, as well, and have actually sang at funerals and celebrations of life. But our voices are quite different. As Shirley tried to explain to Kathy, it's like a mashup of "a little bit country" and a "little bit rock 'n' roll" (although I don't know which voice would be which in that equation; I thought it might be more like oil and water -- something that would not blend easily at all).

Kathy asked if we should instead do separate songs, but Shirley insisted that, no, we should and would honor Wayne's request. We accepted the challenge in his amazing (or twisted) spirit. And we trusted that God would either bless it -- or we could blame it on our departed friend!!!!!

I must admit that, along the way, I stressed out a bit. I felt certain Shirley would do a much better job if she just sang "Amazing Grace" as a solo. But I was determined to trust God and to honor and respect Wayne.

After practicing quite a bit and trying to find a way to blend my voice with Shirley's, by the night before the service, I wasn't feeling too anxious. And Saturday morning, my devotional readings strengthened my faith and confidence in the Lord, reminding me that I should and can be joyful rather than anxious.

Shirley had urged me, "Don't overthink it, Pat." But I do overthink things. And God's grace saves me, again and again and again.

It was an honor and a privilege to share in the celebration of Wayne's life. I thank God for the gift of joy He gave me through Wayne's life and the heart of "Amazing Grace." I pray in faith that God's amazing grace will bless and sustain his family as they move forward in these days ahead.

“These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. (John 15:11)

"Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the Lord.
"For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing,
    and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress;
    instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle;
and it shall make a name for the Lord,
    an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off." (Isaiah 55:6-13)

"He has made everything suitable for its time; moreover he has put a sense of past and future into their minds, yet they cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I know that there is nothing better for them than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live; moreover, it is God's gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil. I know that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it; God has done this, so that all should stand in awe before him."  (Ecclesiastes 3:11-14)

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