Della.

From Della to Mr. Gore, July 2007…

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If you had told me two weeks ago that my first outing with Baby Shepherd would be to Ms. Della’s funeral, I wouldn’t have believed it.

But such is the nature is death…

if we knew when it was coming, we would spend every waking moment in bedside vigils, hanging onto the ankles of those we knew would soon be departing.

As it was, they were so habitual and ordinary, I don’t even remember my last words to Della.

I know we were probably standing either in the dimly-lit church sanctuary or in the fellowship hall, where we crossed paths Sunday morning after Sunday morning after Sunday morning, for as long as I can remember.

I would have told her how beautiful she looked.

(She always looked beautiful).

She would have asked how I was feeling and might have exclaimed over how much Betsie has grown or how handsome Gideon looked in his dress clothes or how Rebekah’s hair is getting so long.

(She always took time to notice the kids and ask how I was doing).

We probably hugged, and I am positive that I felt happy on the inside just to see her for that brief moment before we moved on to our respective Sunday School classes.

(Della always made me happy).

But whatever greetings we swapped during our last meeting on this earth, one thing is certain: I had no idea they would be my last to a woman who meant so much more to me than a passing hug, and who I admired for so much more than her physical beauty.

If I had known…

I would have cradled her beautiful face in my hands and told her that she was dearly loved…

I would have thanked her for consistently exhibiting to me those Christian fruits that are most admirable in a woman of God…

I would have asked her to tell me all of her funny stories one last time so I could write them down for safekeeping…

I would have recorded her speaking voice so I could listen to her rich and indescribable tone anytime I wanted…

I would have asked if I could come over and learn how to make her to-die-for homemade rolls…

I would have told her that, during the toughest days we’ve had in the ministry, her unswerving faithfulness, gentle guidance and genuine words of encouragement helped keep us going…

I would have hugged her tighter, I would have memorized the lines of her face, and I would have sat beside her at worship…

I would have asked her to wait just one more week, so she could hold my new baby…

And I would have promised her that I would miss her every Sunday and at every women’s fellowship and everytime I drove past her tidy, yellow house for the rest of my life.

Della was not a relative of mine, and if it were not for our like faith, we never would have known each other…

but when the grace of God reached down and plucked her from the road that leads to destruction to place her on the path to life, and then did the same for me years later, all of that changed; by the world’s standards she wasn’t my grandmother or my great aunt or even a distant cousin — she was just a “little old lady” who went to the same church as me.

But my redeemed heart knows better…

she was my sister. My mother. A vibrant, intrinsic part of my family.

And though I know we will spend forever in the same place, my humanity weeps bitter tears at the thought of saying goodbye.

Tears that bring to mind a day, half a decade ago, when Mr. Gore and I were discussing our future and weighing the pros and cons of him applying to be senior pastor at the church I had grown up in; to say that things at the time were messy and complicated would be an understatement. And although my husband was inexperienced and fresh out of seminary, he was a brilliant man with accolades and references galore; he could most likely have found work anywhere…

but “anywhere” wasn’t the story God had written for us. He wanted us here, and He tuned our hearts and our passion to stay, no matter how difficult the road ahead seemed to be.

The church was in turmoil, the budget was limited, and due to an unfortunate church split five years prior, well over half of the remaining membership was over the age of 65. There was one baby in the nursery and he was ours…

But it didn’t matter. We were in love.

“I just can’t leave them…” Mr. Gore said, with conviction. “I want to be their pastor. I want to walk them through the rest of their life. I want to preach their funerals…”

My heart agreed, most vehemently.

But here we are so many years later, and my, those funerals are hard…

Each lifelong friend who leaves us for “Beulah Land” leaves a huge vacancy in our hearts, not to be filled until we meet once more in our forever home; God has only caused our love and tenderness for them to multiply, and while our initial dream of walking these dear saints through life has come true, it carries with it a pain that we couldn’t have imagined…

The day before Della’s funeral, Mr. Gore went to her viewing at the funeral home. Finding himself very much alone with the body our friend left behind, he sat and wept. Della had ministered to him in ways no one else ever saw, giving him godly advice, sending him encouraging notes and cards, praying for him

much like our sister Thelma and our brother Richard, the world might not have known the tiny little lady in the little yellow house, but she mattered, and her role in the Kingdom was vital and beautifully performed.

Since the day we pursued this ministry, God has been so faithful to us and to our church. The division we inherited has flown the coop. Old wounds are being healed. Our membership, though smaller, continues to grow purer and purer. Love abounds. And while our budget is still limited, God has met every single need.

If the thought ever crossed my mind that we would be giving something up to “lay down our lives” for a church that was tiny and troubled and, frankly, not-the-coolest, five years with Della (and so many like her) has proven me stupid…

we have gained the world, drinking in priceless wisdom and encouragement from some of God’s very best, and learning what it means to be the body of Christ.

We grieve over the precious and important member we lost this September…

even as we thank God for the gift of knowing her at all.

~

Della, holding Baby Rebekah at our women’s fellowship in 2009

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Want to know more about Della and the sweet people in our church? Read one of my favorite posts: The Early Birds