Meditation 4: In Memoriam

Mary Frances Appling ("Bubby") 
October 28, 1919 - November 15, 2008

Just a few days ago--on Saturday, November 15, 2008--my dear friend, Mary Frances Appling ("Bubby"), passed away.  She was 89.  

Bubby and her daughter, Fran, opened a home daycare together in 1981. For 26 years, she labored alongside her daughter to care for and love the children in their daycare, as well as the children's families.  My own two children were among the many beneficiaries of Bubby's warmth and love, as were my wife and I.   

In August 2007, however, Bubby began to suffer from an illness that left her bedridden. Fortunately, Fran was able to provide her with in-home care.  So Bubby was able to continue doling out hugs and kisses to the daycare kids whenever they came to her bedside (which happened pretty frequently throughout the day--the kids always had something they wanted to share with or show Bubby).  

A few months after she became ill, I began visiting Bubby.  I wanted to encourage and minister to her.  I knew it wasn't easy for someone with so much life in her to be confined to a bed.  In the end, however, it was Bubby who often ended up ministering to me.  I would come to lift her spirits, but she would focus on trying to lift mine ("I don't want to talk about how I'm doin'," she'd say. "Let's talk about how you're doin'!").  I would come to help strengthen her faith, but she would build mine.  I would come to show her the love of Christ, but often would end up experiencing it myself at her bedside.  I would come to share Scripture with her, but she would often impart to me tremendous words of wisdom.  We had some wonderful, deep, and rich conversations.  In fact, my talks with Bubby were so enriching that, with her permission, I began taking notes on the precious pearls of wisdom she'd often share with me.  I eventually began to affectionately refer to them as "Bubby's Proverbs."  Here are some of my favorites . . . 


1.  God has a way of working things out one way or another.

2.  Kill 'em with kindness!

3.  Some of our smallest blessings end up being some of our biggest blessings.  And the funny thing about it is, you never know when they're coming.

4.  Let your conscience be your guide!

5.  It's a wonderful life, even with its ups and downs.

6.  There's some good in everyone, no matter how bad the person is.  You just have to look for it!

7.  Don't let any one person ever stop you from doing God's work.  Don't no one monkey stop the show!

8.  Be a good listener!

9.  Suck 'em in!  [Bubby's playful advice to me on how to grow a church]

10.  Don't start no rootin' and tootin', and there won't be no cuttin' and shootin'! [This was one of Bubby's favorites, a classic Bubbyism] . . . 

I am deeply thankful for the encouragement and the words of wisdom Bubby shared with me during my visits with her.  I will always cherish the times I had at her bedside.  But none will be as precious to me as the final moments we shared the day before she passed away.

When I walked into her room, she was incoherent, disoriented, and in a lot of pain.  I tried talking to her, but she didn't seem to be aware of my presence.  So, I began to pray:  I told the Lord that I knew Bubby's mind was disoriented, but that I also knew His Holy Spirit could minister directly to her spirit.  Then I began to read some passages of Scripture to Bubby, believing that even though her mind was not able to process what I was reading, her spirit could.  One of the Scriptures I read was Psalm 27:1:

The Lord is my light and my salvation--
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life--
of whom shall I be afraid?
A few minutes later, Bubby stopped mumbling incoherently and began praying in articulate sentences.  Her prayers were simple, but fervent: "Lord take me home," she said. "I'm ready! Oh Lord! Take me home."  Then, in the middle of her prayers, Bubby began to quote what I had read to her from Psalm 27: "The Lord is my light and my salvation," she declared. 

My heart filled with joy as I realized the Lord had answered my prayer. Bubby still didn't seem to know I was there. But the Holy Spirit was ministering to her spirit.  And that was all that mattered!  I knew the Lord had heard her, and was preparing to call her home.  And call her home He did!  Early Saturday morning, this wonderful woman of God walked through heaven's gate. 

Today, Thursday, I attended Bubby's burial.  As her casket was transported to the grave site, I reflected on our Savior's beautiful promise, the fulfillment of which Bubby had experienced just a few days earlier: "I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live[.]" (John 11:25). 

I grieve Bubby's passing, and will miss her very much.  But I am glad that she no longer is confined to a bed--she now walks the streets of gold, and has seen her Savior face-to-face! I also rejoice in the wonderful truth that Bubby has not merely gone from ashes to ashes and dust to dust.  She is, even now, being transformed from glory to glory! "O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?" (2 Corinthians 3:18; 1 Corinthians 15:55).

Here's to you, Bubby!  I won't bid you farewell, because I know we'll meet again some day. As you once told me,"Every goodbye ain't gone!"  So, for now, I'll just say, "Congratulations, my dear friend, on a life well-loved and a race well-run! I love you!"



Meditation 3: Finding Strength in Our Weakness

"Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian's hand. Am I not sending you?" (Judges 6:14).

The Lord spoke those inspiring and adrenalizing words to Gideon, when Israel was straining under the yoke of Midianite oppression. And thousands of years later, the Lord used those same words to encourage me to answer His call to enter full-time ministry. Throughout the last year or so, I often have returned to those words in moments of doubt, reminding myself that God only asks that I serve Him and follow Him with the "the strength [I] have."

Recently, however, I found myself on my knees in prayer, and wrestling with something other than doubt--weakness. As I had often done before, I recited to myself the Lord's words to Gideon: "Go in the strength you have[.]" This time, though, the words did not bring me the same comfort and encouragement they had in the past. Instead, they helped me to distill the burning questions that were on my heart: "Well, what if my strength is gone, Lord? What if I haven't the strength to "go" anymore? What if all I want to do is to follow Elijah into his desert cave, and wrap myself in an enervating cocoon of self-pity, discouragement, and despair?"

I wanted to continue obeying God's call to "go." But I felt as though I had reached the end of my strength, and could not "go" any further. I was in the seemingly impossible position of wanting to serve God, but lacking strength to do it. Have you ever reached that point in your walk with God? Maybe you are there right now! If so, I want to share with you a few Scriptures the Lord used to teach me how to keep 'going,' when my strength is gone.

The first Scripture is in 2 Corinthians 12. The Apostle Paul tells us how the Lord encouraged him when he felt sapped of his spiritual strength, and how he responded to that encouragement:

[God] said to me,"My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

Paul teaches us that when our strength is depleted, and our energy reserves are exhausted, we should rely on God's grace and power. His grace is more than sufficient to keep us going, and His power is perfected in our weakness and lack of strength. We are at our strongest in the Lord when we are at our weakest in ourselves!

The second Scripture I found instructive is in 2 Timothy 2:

You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. . . . Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. (2 Timothy 2:1,3).

Once again, Paul reminds us that the grace of Jesus Christ has the power to strengthen and sustain us. And then he instructs us to "endure hardship like a good soldier." In other words, we are encouraged to persevere! The enemy may intensify his assaults against us, pommeling our shield of faith with his flaming arrows. But we can resist his onslaught, and continue our forceful advance, by: (i) relying on the grace and power of Jesus Christ for our strength; and (ii) persevering through the enemy's attacks, like good soldiers.

The third Scripture I found encouraging was given to me by a member of my congregation a couple of Sundays ago:

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. (Galatians 6:9).

Speaking to the Galatian church, Paul tells them not to grow "weary in doing good," and reminds them not to give up. But he also gives them some more great advice on how to maintain their strength and persevere. Specifically, he tells them to look forward to what their labors will accomplish: a plentiful harvest for the glory of God. When we are weary and our strength is gone, we need to remember the great cause for which we labor, and the life God will produce when we die to ourselves.

Finally, I was reminded of one of my favorite passages in Isaiah:

Though youths grow weary and tired,
And vigorous young men stumble badly,
Yet those who wait for the LORD
Will gain new strength;
They will mount up with wings like eagles,
They will run and not get tired,
They will walk and not become weary. (Isaiah 40:30-31).

It is natural for us to grow weary. But if we strengthen ourselves with the grace and power of Jesus Christ, if we arm ourselves with perseverance and endure hardship like good soldiers, and if we keep our eyes fixed on the promised fruit of our labor, then we will "gain new strength." We will "mount up with wings like eagles," we "will run and not get tired," and we "will walk and not become weary."

So, onward, Christian soldiers!