In case you hadn’t heard, my sister died. I was standing there holding her hands and singing to her as she slept and breathed labored breaths. She didn’t respond to my touch or my song. They say that the hearing is the last to go, but I don’t know how they could possibly know that. At any rate, I had no indication from her that she heard me, just as I had no sensory indication that God heard the prayer that I sang over her.
Pass me not O gentle Savior,
Hear my humble cry,
While on others Thou art calling,
Do not pass me by.
Savior, Savior, hear my humble cry!
While on others Thou art calling,
Do not pass me by.
And then it happened. There at the last word, it appears that God did hear my humble cry on her behalf, and my sister ceased the labor of taking in air. She just stopped. And in the silence that ensued I stared at her in disbelief. Was this really it? Was she finally gone to her rest? And suddenly my heart cried out, “Not yet! Not yet! I don’t know how to live without her!”
There was a memorial service in which I both sang sweet harmony with my surviving siblings, and spoke words of sorrow and hope. There was another memorial service in which I spoke memories. There were days in the home that my mother and my sister shared with my sister’s husband and son. Days where I carried around the piece of paper in which the tragedy of our loss was coldly proclaimed in legal terms. I worked on getting my sister’s name removed and mine put in its place on all my mother’s important documents and accounts.
It’s no wonder then, that my words at the art show where my sister was honored were scattered and gangly. Words are my thing, but the overwhelming flood of emotions that came with me to that venue were turned into a raging torrent when I saw her picture staring back at me from the center of her art display. And then I saw her husband across the room and the tears flowed for us both. So I walked away feeling ashamed that I wasn’t able to express myself with the grace and beauty my sister deserved at that moment.
This is what I wanted to say. This is what I meant to convey on that occasion:
For Cindy, art wasn’t something she did, it was something she was. It was a way of living. She read various books that taught how to foster a creative mindset in all areas of life. She saw it as a means of worship. It influenced every aspect of her day.
You could see this in the way she drank her tea in the morning. On her tray was a china cup and saucer, a small silver creamer and sugar bowl and a pot with a cheerful cozy she had knitted herself. She would take this tray to her bedroom where she had created a tiny retreat that was just for her. She had a green snuggle chair with ottoman. On one side was a wicker basket shelf that held her variety of obscure books, her journals, pens, tissues, and fingernail files. On her left were containers of art projects and knitting supplies. It was here she started her day writing her pages (The Artist Way), and drinking her Yorkshire Red.
You could see her creativity in the way she worked with her succulents and planned her flower gardens. You could see it in the way she cooked, in the things she knitted, in the gifts she gave, in the letters she wrote, in the clothes she wore.
The beauty of seeing art in this way, is that it makes it accessible to people like me who will never be able to create a painting that anyone would want to hang in their house (I recently found out my son hates it when I say that – but my goal isn’t really to have a painting hanging in someone’s house). I want to learn to incorporate beauty and art in my life the way she did. It has become something I think about as I go through my day. I hope to share with you some of the ways I have accomplished this, and perhaps discuss the way we bear the image of our Creator when we are creative. More about that later.
Towards the end of her life when she was forced to depend on the rest of us for so much, she was incredibly patient with our lack of imagination and with the way we forgot the details that were so important to her. But there were days when her patience ran out, and she would let it be known that we had not put enough ice in her water, or had put too much sugar in her tea (also, I was banned from making her toast). One such day she was particularly irritated at the way people would put their dishes in the sink, or by the sink, when the dishwasher was right there. There were a lot of us in the house that week, and, well, we weren’t keeping her space clutter free. She made the statement to me with strong conviction, although her voice was not particularly strong any more, “I don’t believe in procrastination destinations!” I remember thinking to myself as I envisioned my suitcase that was full of dirty clothes and my house with various projects that had to be left undone to make another trip to New Braunfels, “My whole life is a procrastination destination.”
I had put my husband in the nursing home on a Tuesday, and had made my first trip to New Braunfels on the following Thursday. The year and a half since had been a series of trips back and forth between my husband and my first family. Every time I left one for the other, I felt the guilt of leaving someone without adequate help. And then my father died, and then my sister died, and my mom moved into assisted living, and I looked at myself in the mirror and saw the proverbial dishes by the sink and I didn’t have any idea who I am or what my life is supposed to be.
I have the convenience of time and freedom to determine what are my priorities. I have the inconvenience of time and freedom that can thoughtlessly be filled up with whatever presents itself first. I have floundered. I have frittered away time. I have contemplated my life ad nauseam.
After way too long, (considering the amount of good teaching I have had) I realized that I have been asking the wrong question. Instead of asking who I am, I need to be reminding myself who He is. I need to be asking what can I do this day to seek the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. I can’t really answer the question of who I am and what I am supposed to accomplish in this world apart from who God is. Because, as a Christian, my identity is intimately and intricately wrapped up in His Kingdom work. If I am to accomplish any large and significant things, it will be because of many seemingly mundane moments of just being obedient in the here and now. And if I never accomplish anything of worldly significance, what is that to me? I’m here to do my Father’s bidding. So for the moment, I am laying to rest the question of what I am supposed to do with the rest of my life. I’m back to the basics: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind. And love your neighbor as yourself.”
I have hopes. I have goals. I have things that I would like to accomplish. I want to be useful. But I affirm with Paul that whatever things are gain to me are nothing compared to the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord (Phil 3:7-10).
So for today, this is my goal: “Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my strength and my Redeemer.” (Ps 19:14)
That is all. That is all.