Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News
January 3, 2021
Those precious hands are still now
When she was a little girl, her father, James David Brown, would often rock her to sleep, holding her in his arms as he sang softly, “You Are My Sunshine.” Dean knew her father loved her older sister, Dot, but she cherished the idea that
she was his little sunshine.
Remembering that Dean loved that song, I sang it to her many times while she was suffering and dying during the last week of her life. I held her hand as I did and she squeezed my hand to let me know she knew why I was singing the song that reminded her of her father’s love. It had been a long time since she heard her father’s voice. He died at age 46 when Dean was seven.
My family joined me in singing many other songs to comfort Dean during her final days, songs that reminded her of her heavenly Father’s love. She comforted us with words that assured us she was holding the hand of Jesus as she prepared to depart this world. Katelyn, grandson Anthony’s wife, asked her how she was doing. She replied, “I am at peace. My heart is filled with joy.” That was the last sentence we heard her speak. Later, her final word was “Jesus” as she pointed toward the ceiling. That moment I shall never forget. I thought about the song, “You can have all this world, but give me Jesus.” Ultimately, nothing matters more than Jesus.
During her last days Dean often reached for my hand, wanting me to hold it as she wrestled with pain. So I spent many hours beside her bed, in the hospital and at home, holding her hand and hoping my grasp would help her realize how much I loved her and how I hurt with her. I wanted desperately to stop her pain but could not.
As I held her hand I began thinking about my blessed history with her precious hands. I recalled our first dates as teenagers when I was reluctant to take her hand, fearful she might reject my touch. I still remember the night I found the courage to take her hand in mine; we were walking back from seeing a picture show at the Fain Theater. I was so relieved when accepted my grasp of her hand. Months later our first kiss was on that same sidewalk under a street light. We were in love but would wait until we were 20 to get married.
Our wedding took place at First Methodist Church in Wetumpka on a hot Sunday afternoon in June. How hot? Well, the church was not air-conditioned back then and the heat caused the candles in the sanctuary windows to begin bending over. I told Dean the candles were bowing in admiration of her beauty. I still have a lovely picture of her in her wedding dress at my desk. I am still awed by the fact that such a beautiful young lady would marry a country boy who did not have two nickels to rub together.
A woman’s hand is prominent In the wedding ceremony. On cue from the pastor, the father gives the hand of his daughter to the groom. Later, as in our wedding, the pastor said, “Walter, take her hand in yours.” Then, with his hand on top of our hands, our pastor pronounced us “husband and wife.” We walked out of that church into 68 and a half years of marriage bliss, and agony, hand in hand.
As Dean lay dying, I began thinking about the many ways her hands had blessed me. There were times when our roles were reversed. Times when I was sick and it was she who caressed my head with her gentle hand. Over the years I told her often how much I loved for her to rub my brow. Now and then I would say, “My head hurts so bad.” With a smile, she would caress my brow even though she knew I was kidding.
I thought about the five sons those precious hands had held. With those hands she had nursed them, bathed them, fed them, dressed them and rocked them to sleep when they were feverish. I thought about the ton of diapers she had changed and the many times, when they had thrown up, it had been those hands that cleaned their vomit from the floor.
Those hands had been constantly busy for so many years raising our family – washing, cleaning, cooking, driving the boys to school and games, wiping away tears when a knee was bleeding or an arm was broken. It had been those hands that applauded the boys’ achievements, small and large, always cheering them on to be the best that they could be. Using an old Singer Sewing Machine, with those hands she had made many of their clothes – until they began begging her to buy them shirts “like the other boys were wearing.”
When the boys grew up and began leaving home – one to join the Air Force, and another the Navy, it was those hands that wiped away her own tears and mine as well. It was those hands that comforted me in my distress when our youngest son left for college, leaving me with no son to watch play ball on Friday nights. And it was with those hands that she beckoned me to get over the pain of the empty nest and find new ways to serve Christ together in this new chapter of our lives.
My focus had been mostly on the boys and myself while they grew up. Now I began to admire her precious hands at work – making Raggedy Ann Dolls, teaching Sunday School, helping develop a ministry to the poor called Christian Care Ministries in Opelika, assisting the Wetumpka “Mourning to Morning” ministry to women who had lost a child, and hosting a Life Group for men and women who met weekly in the “Glory Room” of our home to grow spiritually as we studied the Bible.
Those creative hands were always busy studying the Scriptures, calling people, writing letters, cooking, serving food, and helping others. Lately, reading her Bibles and devotional books, I came across notes and prayers, written by those hands, that moved me to tears.
Those hands had dragged a suitcase through many airports – to England, Costa Rica, Brazil, Jerusalem, Mexico, Germany, Japan, Nepal, India, and several times to Zambia in Africa. People in so many lands had felt the love of Christ as those precious hands embraced them.
Three years ago Ken Austin asked me to preach for him one Sunday at his New Walk of Life Church in poverty-stricken west Montgomery. The roof was leaking. The bathroom had caved in because rain had caused the floor to rot. There was no money to repair the church and Ken was ready to give up.
After I had preached, Dean stood looking at the gaping hole in the church floor and said to me, “We’ve got to fix this.” She meant business. Within a few weeks she had organized Dean’s Army and that army of caring people raised over sixty thousand dollars to remodel the church. That church has a future because those hands got busy when God said, “Fix my church.”
Now, those precious hands are still, folded, at rest in a casket. But Dean is not there! Her body, the shell her soul used to serve Christ, is in the cemetery but Dean is with the Father, the One to whom Jesus shouted with his last breath, “Father, I entrust my spirit into your hands!”
I was holding Dean’s hand when she breathed her last breath. Then, one last time I caressed her brow, remembering how during her final hours she continually said, “Thank you, thank you; that feels so good,” when one of us wiped her forehead with a cool washcloth. As long as I live I will remember that she passed from this life to the next saying repeatedly, “Thank you, thank you.”
That is how I want to live the rest of my life – with gratitude to God for the privilege of being blessed ten thousand times by Dean’s precious hands. Thank you God, thank you! + + +