To Honor Annie

10011689_10152669580002586_1383661133_oThis 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:

 

Have you any friends who are party animals? I mean pity party animals?  I do, and I love them, but they are not very much fun.  They always get the raw end of every deal, the short end of every stick, and nobody, but nobody understands their plights. If it’s raining, they’re depressed. If it’s sunny, they’re  sweaty. Either no one pays attention to them or people just won’t leave them alone. They just have perpetual gloom, despair and misery regardless of the circumstances in which they find themselves.
Why do we have pity parties?  Why do we allow the circumstances of this life to impede our progress toward the next?  Let me offer a few reasons. Perhaps these can help us to be prepared for pity party invitations and just RSVP in the negative every time. There is always something better on the agenda!
1. Sometimes we forget that we are not alone. 
Our God is described as the ever present source of strength (Psa. 46:1) and He has promised that he will never leave or forsake us (Heb.13:5). The never of this passage is actually a double negative word adding emphasis to the assurance of His presence.
2. Sometimes we forget that Christians see in 3-D.
Having worked extensively with a group of ladies who are newly converted to Christianity, I have observed that it’s very difficult for them to correct the one-dimensional vision that characterizes worldliness. The focus of their existence has always been on themselves. Every decision has been based on “What’s in it for me?”  This inward obsession is simply and sadly characteristic of our society. To begin to have an upward focus and really care about what God thinks is a challenge for ladies coming out of the world.  Then to develop an outward focus, noticing and responding to the needs of others is just a whole new dimension of vision that the new Christian must really work to maintain. Symptoms of the problem are evident. A new Christians may think the fellowship meals are for her, never stopping to think to prepare food and bring it to an activity. A new Christian may have a different problem she wants you to help resolve each time she sees you at a worship service while she may rarely express interest in the problems of others or take the time to pray for them. She may tell you how busy she is and how little time she has for activities of the church, listing all of her job demands, sports activities and hobbies, never even thinking that those who are faithful and involved have tough schedules every week as well.  She may expect to be visited or called, without once thinking of visiting someone herself.
But these ladies are babies in the faith. We must remember that babies are all about themselves.  All of us who are moms understand that babies are not thoughtful of the needs of others. The focus is definitely inward. But for those of us who have been Christians for years the focus should no longer be one-dimensional. Stopping the self- absorption and becoming absorbed in the Word and in fervent, practical prayer has the ironic effect of self-fulfillment.  Likewise, when we see and minister to the desperate needs of the people around us, we ourselves are lifted up. We begin to be great when we begin to serve (Mt. 23:11).
3. Sometimes we stop walking and have a seat.
Idleness is the devil’s workshop.  Sometimes I see widows who go home from the funeral, close the door and just resolve to never be happy again. Other times I see widows who, for a very long time, have been unable to do much else besides care for an invalid husband. But once the long hours of caretaking are over, these godly women immerse themselves in programs of the church, ministry to the needy and the development of godly friendships.  These widows are some of the happiest Christians I know.
I remember when I was in my thirties (you know a couple of years ago), I had a dear friend named Annie. I was amazed at what Annie could accomplish for the Lord. She visited several nursing homes weekly, carrying little goody baskets to several patients. She had a tiny gift for every single child of the congregation at each holiday. (She was the Dollar Tree Queen!) Her four and five’s classroom was amazing as her husband lugged a big box of visuals and activities every Sunday and Wednesday night. She remembered birthdays and anniversaries and took the time to keep children when their parents were sick or just needed a little time away. She brought computer-made banners to the building for us all to sign so they could be posted in a lonely hospital or dorm room. She prepared welcome signs and goody baskets for the hotel rooms of our visiting preachers and teachers. In short, she was “ready to every good work (Tit. 3:1). I think some people thought Annie was just a great person with lots of spare time to do great stuff for other people. Annie was, in truth, a cancer patient, having already had several surgeries with several more to come. She was raising a child with a disability, caring for a mother-in-law who was in poor health, and struggling with severe back problems. I actually remember her attending our Wednesday night ladies class and lying in the back of the classroom on a table because sitting in a chair was both painful and harmful to her back. Annie simply chose not to stop and sit down when life hurt. She chose to keep walking toward heaven.  It was her choice not to have a pity party!

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)

5. Sometimes we like to broadcast the problems and keep the blessings a big secret.
Listen to Naomi’s homecoming statement in full:

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, “Don’t call me by my old name. I would like to be called ‘Bitter’.”
She said, “God treated me very bitterly.”
She said, “God emptied me.”
She said, “God testified against me.”
She said, “God afflicted me.”
I believe Naomi had thought ahead about this little speech. I believe she was ready to get a few things off her chest when she got back to her family and friends. Perhaps it was not the first time she had delivered it. But the indictment of the Almighty God, who is the giver of every good and perfect gift (Jas. 1:17), was a pity party theme that borders on blasphemy. (Thankfully, the party was brief and she soon had an outward focus once again.) Broadcasting our problems in a spirit of bitterness serves to feed that spirit. It is a call for reinforcements for all that is negative in our lives.  Sometimes Mom’s words, “If you can’t say something positive, then don’t say anything at all,” make a lot of sense.

*(Much of this material taken from Women of Troubled Times, by Cindy Colley, Publishing Designs, Huntsville, AL.)

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