This weekend, friends in Salem, Virginia laid to rest the body of one of the dearest friends I’ll know in this lifetime, Annie Shrader. It was just about this time of year, twenty-nine Octobers ago, when I came to know her. I was moving to a state in which I’d never lived, to a house I’d never seen, to work with a church of people I did not know. When I arrived at that empty house, on that crisp October morning, there were wreaths on the doors, donuts on the mantel, coffee in the kitchen and leaves and pumpkins in festive corners. The empty house was not so empty, after all. There was already warmth and there were telling signs of the deep fellowship we would enjoy with God’s people in Salem. And it was Annie’s doing.
I loved those sweet anonymous (at the time) greetings and so did my very young children. It just made for a happy end to a difficult trip and an inviting threshold to a whole new life for our family. It was later that I found out it was Annie who made my home warm that day. And it was later that I learned she was very sick, having had cancer first as a child, and that she would battle it over and over for the rest of her days. My first visit to her home was when our family trick-or-treated at her house that same October. She was confined to her bed that Halloween, but she laughed and laughed at our silly costumes and she made our pictures and kept them on her refrigerator. One year, for Halloween, our family dressed up to impersonate the Shraders. Halloween became a traditional time of fun with this sweet family and, even after we’d moved to Alabama from Salem, we exchanged silly trick-or-treat cards every year. I’m sad that I will not get those funny cards anymore at the end of October. I will miss them.
So, as I remember Annie, I remember the person in my life who was the most likely candidate for being absorbed with self pity, but the one who was the most caring for those who could use a hand up…the one who brought the most smiles to innocent faces of children…the one who wrote long letters to those who were far from home…the one who took time for the fatherless…the one who made lives that were shattered by sin a little more hopeful. She made those who were left out or eccentric feel included and normal.
Several years ago I wrote the following in which I reminisced about Annie. I’m thinking about her again tonight. It occurs to me that the words I used above, about my new home in Salem can also be used about her new home: “…a happy ending to a difficult trip and an inviting threshold to a whole new life.” She’s pain-free. Her neck and face are not misshapen any more. Her speech is not slurred. I want to see her like I’ve never seen her. I want to see her whole and strong.
In honor of the person who never pity partied…In honor of the person who sent me all these Halloween cards that make me smile anew every October when I pull them out and peruse…in honor of Annie:
4. Sometimes we forget who fills our tank. Sometimes when I am driving a long distance, I am frustrated because I have to stop and pump gas. I hate to pump gas. I especially hate to pump gas at night. I abhor pumping gas at night when the price of gas is three times what I paid only two years ago. I can get in a bad slump over pumping gas. When I do start feeling frustration at the pump, it only takes me a minute to think about the primary reason this frustration builds. It’s because pumping gas is a pretty rare occurrence for me. See, I have a husband who will go out of his way to pump my gas for me under normal circumstances. It’s only when I travel alone that I am forced to deal with the bite of the chilling air, the smell of gas on my fingers and the pinch of the price gouge. Naomi in the book of Ruth said, “God hath sent me out full and brought me home again empty.” It is true that Naomi had experienced devastating losses while she was away from home. But she, like so many of us today, was quick to blame God for the losses while failing to credit Him with the sustenance, strength, and even the lessons that come with trials. She could have used a quick lesson from the book of Job .
And he said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, And naked shall I return there. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; Blessed be the name of the LORD.” (Job 1:21)
But she said to them, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me.
I went out full, and the LORD has brought me home again empty. Why do you call me Naomi, since the LORD has testified against me, and the Almighty has afflicted me?” (Ruth 1:20,21)
She said, “God treated me very bitterly.”
She said, “God emptied me.”
She said, “God testified against me.”
She said, “God afflicted me.”
*(Much of this material taken from Women of Troubled Times, by Cindy Colley, Publishing Designs, Huntsville, AL.)