Sunday, March 05, 2006

The Night the Angels Sang

When the doctor entered my sister’s hospital room we suddenly knew from the expression on his face that something was terribly wrong. My wife, mother, and brother-in-law, Sarah’s husband, listened in disbelief as he informed us that her cancer was in the last stages. My sister was only 26; she had three adorable children; she was beautiful, bright and talented; and in a few weeks at most, she was going to die.

Sarah was dismissed from the hospital just in time to prepare for a last Christmas with her family. She went to the shop which sold her artwork near her home in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains, and bought back enough of her paintings to give one to each member of her family. Contrary to her doctor’s expectations, she stayed strong for the Holiday by sheer grit and determination.

Sarah’s boys, Charles and Mike, were delighted when they found new sleds under our tree on Christmas morning. Her baby daughter, Debbie, loved her new doll. As we sat around the breakfast table on that happy/sad day, Sarah gazed wistfully out the window and said, “This has been the perfect Christmas. The only thing that could make it better is if it would snow.”

As if the heavens were awaiting their cue, the snow began at that precise moment. Six inches covered the ground by the time the table was set for Christmas dinner.

As the New Year began, Sarah’s condition deteriorated rapidly. By mid-January she was re-admitted to the hospital. I did not know it would be her final evening when I took my turn at staying with her for the night.

Early in the evening Sarah asked if I would sing with her. Over and over throughout the night she would awaken and begin singing again a song which had been a favorite of hers since childhood,

Oh love of God, how rich and pure,
How measureless and strong,
It shall forevermore endure
The saints and angel’s song.

Interspersed with her singing, Sarah prayed. There was no petition – just a stream of praise flowed from her lips to the God she loved. Throughout the night nurses would stand silently in the doorway and listen. It was an unusual worship experience. A warm, strangely wonderful presence I had never sensed before seemed to fill the room.

The next day was more of the same. Between short naps, Sarah would sing and pray. At her request, the whole family came over, a few at a time, to sing with her.

Late that afternoon, Sarah called her husband down to her bedside and told him of her love. She smiled at me with a mischievous grin that spoke volumes without words. Then her eyes darted around the room and she gasped with excitement, “Listen! The angels are singing.”

I heard nothing, but a chill shot up my spine. Sarah sang a few exuberant notes, then stopped and chided, “Come on; can’t you hear the angels? Let’s sing with them.”

What happened during the next hour was not to be described. I felt as if I had been privileged to hold the hand of one who was already living in the supernatural realm beyond.

I thought the air could not be any more spiritually charged. That was before Sarah squealed, “There He is! There’s Jesus!” I looked in the direction toward which Sarah’s eyes were fixed and saw only an empty corner.

And now Sarah seemed to forget everyone and everything else around her, as she beheld her Lord. She weakly reached her arms upward and cried and laughed at once, “Oh Jesus. I love You, Jesus. I want to be with You, Jesus.”

Something rumbled deep down inside Sarah and she expelled her final breath. Her arms dropped; her eyes rolled back. All was silent. She had entered her rest.

I leaned my head against the wall and wept uncontrollably. I’m still not sure exactly why.

Sarah always loved the snow, and a fresh blanket covered the ground the day we buried her. As family and friends watched her casket being lowered into an East Tennessee hillside, I sensed that Sarah was standing there beside us, wearing her mischievous grin.


Phil Hoover, Chicago said...

WOW! Brother Steve, I was a student at Lee with Charles, Mike, and Debbie....and adored all three of them. And still do.

Your powerful retelling of Sarah's homegoing has moved me to tear this morning already.

The powerful words of the song you quoted:

"Could we with ink, the oceans fill
Or were the skies of parchment
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade...

To write the love of God above..."

What powerful, powerful words!
What a precious memory!
What a trophy of God's grace!

Anonymous said...

Brother Conn,
Thank you for reminding me about the goodness of God. You will never know how Sarah's story touched my life today.
Thank you!
Tim Finlayson

Mary said...

What a beautiful picture you paint with your words. . .thank you for sharing with us your sister. How awesome to witness the homegoing!

Darrell said...

Steve, I cannot thank you enough for sharing this. I am sitting here with tears streaming down my face, yet laughing with joy at the same time. What an awesome testiony.

Libby said...

We just returned from a conference on worship and I was considering writing about it on my blog, but this story truly embodies what it means to worship God.

I'm sitting at school in front of about 30 study hall students with tears streaming down my face.

Neil said...

More and more I become convinced of the unseen realm, that place where from time to time God allows someone to see a glimpse of what is to come...and they are allowed to share with give us hope for our future. Your story of your sister, and your sharing of all the Lord has done in your family are so encouraging...Thanks for taking the time to let us into your world!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing that powerful testimony of your sister's passing from this life to the next. It reminded me of my late father's passing last year, which was similar in many ways.

God bless!