Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News
January 17, 2021
Turning Sorrows into Celebrations
Heroes inspire us to strive for excellence. I saw that happen to my wife. When we were 30, Dean and I sat at the feet of Estelle Carver, a captivating teacher of the Holy Scriptures. We were spellbound by her teaching. Estelle became a friend and over the years she inspired Dean to become a more knowledgeable and eloquent teacher of biblical truth.
One does not become a skilled teacher overnight. Diligent study paid off for Dean and with the Lord’s help, she honed her skills as a teacher for more than 50 years. I believe those who heard her teach would agree that her hero Estelle would have been proud of her.
Since Dean’s death I have endured the tearful duty of going through her things, saving some and discarding some. I quickly discovered that she had carefully saved many of the talks and Sunday School lessons that she had taught. Her manuscripts and notes, stored in 10 to 15 notebooks, have become a treasure to me. Dare I say it? She is now teaching me as I eagerly read her lessons, some of which I had never heard.
One common experience in the early stages of grief is the frequent shedding of tears. My eyes fill with tears many times a day – when I look at pictures that stir sweet memories, or look at a dress in which she looked so beautiful, or look at the piano which she enjoyed playing every day, or read one of her talks and recall the inspiring sound of her voice.
It was surely the kindness of God that this week I came across her manuscript of a message she delivered at Saint James six years ago, entitled “What is Keeping You from the Party?” Party? In these days I am at a party alright – a pity party of my own making. I think you can imagine how God shook me loose from my self-pity as Dean’s teaching touched my heart.
“My prayer this morning,” she began, “is that God will take all our sorrows and turn them into a celebration of life, that he will take our shattered plans and broken dreams and turn them into a glorious sunrise. I pray this in the name of Jesus, who took an old rugged cross, stained with blood, and turned it into a resurrection morning that offers us eternal life in His presence.”
She went on, “During these days I am encouraging people to believe they can make it no matter what they are going through. My question for us is this: What is keeping you from God’s party? There is a wonderful party going on and you don’t want to miss it!”
Dean had a gift for using a simple story to teach a lesson you would not forget. So she told the story of a birthday party her mother was having for Dean’s sister Dot who was turning eleven. Dean was four, soon to turn five.
“Mama knew how to throw a party. The large cake had several dimes in it, each wrapped in wax paper. After singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to Dot, Mama cut the cake, hoping that each of us would have a dime in the piece cut for us. Dot’s piece had a dime in it. I searched in vain but there was no dime in my piece of cake. Everyone was having fun but me. I sat over in the corner and sulked. My sister, being the sweet girl that she was, called out, ‘Mother, Deanie is pouting with her bottom lip stuck out!’ My mother came over to me and said words to me I have never forgotten: ‘Dean, there is a wonderful party going on. We are about to have some music and dancing and games, but you can stay off by yourself and pout over one little dime or you can come enjoy the party with the rest of us.’ As she walked away, I made the right decision and joined the party.”
Next, Dean talked about the story of things lost and found in chapter 15 of Luke’s Gospel, and the celebration that followed each. There was a party after the lost sheep was found, after the lost coin was found, and after the lost son came home. “The saddest part of the story is about the elder brother who became angry and refused to attend the party. Jesus said he wanted us to be full of his joy but we must come to his party to have his joy.”
Some of us, she said, are like the person in the poem she quoted: “I peered out the windows, watched life go by. Dreamed of tomorrow, but stayed inside. The past was holding me, keeping life at bay. I wandered lost in yesterday, wanting to fly, but scared to try.”
Then she said, “Many things hold us and keep us inside, keeping us from the party. What kept me away for a long time was sorrow. I thought no one had ever endured such grief like mine when my son died. I did not want to be around people, especially children. Then one day I picked up a book and these words grabbed me: ‘Life is so strange! I laid awake last night. You ask me why. And I can’t tell – exactly, only I have lost my boy. And you won’t understand unless you too have lost a pal, a boy who walked with you the fields, and jumped with you the brooks, together you climbed the hills. Yes, I have lost my boy and now I walk the field alone; alone I walk in the woods beside the brook, and everywhere I see old footprints, signs of him, but he is gone!’”
“I sat staring into space,” Dean said, “and I realized I was not the only person who ever grieved the loss of a loved one. I realized I needed to stop pouting about my sorrow and go to God’s party because at God’s party you find Jesus. And it was Jesus who saved me from my sorrow and taught me how to smile even in the worst of times. That’ why I love this song you may have heard:
Smile, tho’ your heart is aching,
Smile, even tho’ it’s breaking,
When there are clouds in the sky, you’ll get by,
If you smile through your fear and sorrow,
Smile and maybe tomorrow,
You’ll see the sun come shining thru, for you.
Light up your face with gladness,
Hide ev’ry trace of sadness,
Altho’ a tear may be ever so near,
That’s the time you must keep on trying,
Smile, what’s the use of crying,
You’ll find that life is still worthwhile,
If you’ll just smile.
“Every day is beautiful when Jesus lives in our hearts. The last words I heard my mother say before she died were these: “It sure is a beautiful day!” So, let Jesus take your sorrow. He will make it his very own and give you the strength to smile and carry on. Jesus can turn a day of sadness into a beautiful day. Jesus can help us smile through the tears. And when Jesus is Lord of our lives, he can turn our sorrows into a celebration of life, so don’t let sorrow cause you to miss the great party God is throwing!”
After reading this message by Dean, I thanked God for letting me find it. And I thanked Dean. I talk to her occasionally now, sometimes on the porch where we used to sit and watch the sun set. She loved to do that. I told her she really wrote this message for me and that God is using it to make sure I don’t miss the party! + + +