Precious In the Sight of The Lord

Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his faithful servants. 
(Psalm 116:15 NIV)

It was on this day, one year ago, that I got in the car to drive to Birmingham with Lori and her family. I had driven to Birmingham with Lori many times before to visit Summer while she was receiving treatments and then while she was in the hospital the last couple of months. 

This trip had a very different feel. No laughing or stopping for Doritos Locos tacos or Fruit and Maple oatmeal. 

This time we knew we were going to say goodbye. It was time for our sister, our friend, to go Home to her Daddy. I personally had never been in a situation like that and haven't really lost anyone I was very close to and lived life with. I had no idea what to expect, what to say or how I would react.

(I'm writing this in a public coffee shop. I find I'm having to stop after every sentence to look around and distract myself so I don't burst into tears)

When we got there, Summer was not awake, so I didn't get to speak to her directly. Though I wish I could have said goodbye, I trust that I said everything I needed to say in the months and weeks prior. Honestly that moment wasn't about me at all. She didn't have a need to hear from me. It was I who felt the need to make sure she knew certain things and that I loved her. 

Anyway, the next day and a half is a time I will treasure for the rest of my life. I can't fully grasp the mind of the Lord, but I feel like I tasted what it means for the death of His faithful servants to be precious.

Now, hold on...I'm not saying the fact that she left this world too soon was precious. No. That? Well...it sucks. Big time. 

What I mean is that I count that time spent as the highest privilege (outside of raising my own children) I've ever had. To have been able to sit and hold her hand, to sing (I'm sorry, Summer - I'm not a good singer), to pray, to be silent and just be present is so precious to me. I had made a promise to stay with her to the end of her journey. Whether the journey ended in physical healing or in her homegoing. It was mostly a statement of friendship and loyalty, but I was literally able to be there to the end. 

Charles Spurgeon said this about Psalm 116:15:

"The Lord watches over their dying beds, smooths their pillows, sustains their hearts, and receives their souls. Those who are redeemed with precious blood are so dear to God that even their deaths are precious to him." 

What a sweet image of a loving God, a loving Father, caring for His child. It's what I saw taking place in the room, literally, in people caring for her and wanting to be sure she was comfortable. Sheets were smoothed, pillows adjusted and feet rubbed. And it's what I felt in the peaceful and sweet atmosphere.

(I have now vacated the coffee shop to retreat to the safety of my car)

Y'all, I don't know how to explain the mixture of sadness and joy. It's a paradox. It's indescribable but I felt it. Those hours are so special to me that I almost don't want to let you into them. It's not like I was the only person there...there were many people present. But it's a sacred thing that Jeremy and her family let me into. I am deeply grateful to them for it. I want to protect it somehow. Is that weird? Probably.

When she finally left this world there was a flood of emotion and surprisingly much of it was joy. The grief came, believe me, and it hit like a brick wall. But right then it was a precious thing to know her incredible suffering had ended and she had safely arrived home, into the presence of a loving God.

She crossed the finish line.

And I was there. It's probably the closest I have ever felt to the Lord. You see, this isn't the kind of precious we use to talk about a little girl in a cute outfit. It's the kind that stands at attention, that holds its breath, that's fixated on someone so valued and so special and handles her with great care. It's not the death that's precious. It's the saint.

The last year has been a roller coaster of emotion and memory, but I hold to the thought of her with Him, interceding for us, even now, just like she did in life. 

And she is whole. And that is, indeed, precious.



This morning before I drove Caeley to school, I got out my iPad to select a playlist for the drive and decided to choose one called, "Summer." It's a list of songs I used to listen to as I prayed for Summer Kempfer...songs that encouraged my heart and reminded me of God's faithfulness. It's not a list I have selected very often over the last year.

As I listened and thought back about last year I was overcome with the truth that despite what happened, Summer was a warrior. I remembered a day near the end that Lori, Rhiannon and I sat beside her bed praying and reading scripture to her. That particular day my heart was on fire with the truth that even though her body was weak and failing, that she was, in truth, strong - stronger than she had ever been - on the inside. I wanted so badly to communicate that to her and to let her know how proud of her I was.

I couldn't remember what passage of scripture I read to her, but then I remembered that Lori made a Caring Bridge entry that night. Something told me that when I looked back I would see that it was this same day last year. And indeed it was. On October 18, 2012, Lori shared that we had just visited with Summer and she named the passage of scripture I had read (thanks, Lori :).

I'm really awkward with words and I didn't know if she could really comprehend what I was saying, but I read Psalm 18:30-36:

 As for God, His way is blameless; The word of the Lord is tried; He is a shield to all who take refuge in Him. For who is God, but the Lord ? And who is a rock, except our God, The God who girds me with strength And makes my way blameless? He makes my feet like hinds' feet, And sets me upon my high places. He trains my hands for battle, So that my arms can bend a bow of bronze. You have also given me the shield of Your salvation, And Your right hand upholds me; And Your gentleness makes me great. You enlarge my steps under me, And my feet have not slipped. (Psalms 18:30-36 NASB)

My feet have not slipped. I love that.

On the same day, one year later, my heart again was burning with the same message. It's really the message that has been written on my heart from walking through that entire experience. Though I walked it at a distance, as compared to Summer, and to the ones who were there day in and day out, I walked it in my own way, nonetheless. And the word that continues to echo in my heart is OVERCOME.

We hear the words, "spiritual warfare," a lot in church circles, or some of us do, anyway, and I'm not sure a lot of people even understand what that means. Understand something. Spiritual warfare is not simply trying to pray evil away and change our negative circumstances.

It is mostly about standing our ground. It's about standing firm in the day of evil, as Paul says in Ephesians 6. It's about shoring ourselves up for the evil, for the bad, sad, uncomfortable, circumstances that will inevitably come. It's about maintaining our testimony that God is real and He is good, no matter what. It's about never turning back. When you're going upstream and the current seeks to sweep you away, it's about having a stronghold that keeps your feet in place and holds you upright. It's about keeping our minds on things above and on things that are true, when arguments and thoughts that exalt themselves against the knowledge of God come. It's about knowing who we are in Christ, who God says we are in the face of persecution, accusations or misunderstandings.

This is a beautiful picture of Summer, from October 17, 2012, where we see her lifting her weak arms to worship her God. The song playing was "Place of Freedom":

Photo used with permission
There's a calm that covers me
When I kneel down at your feet
It's a place of healing
It's a place where I find freedom
There's a place my eyes can't see
Where my spirit longs to beIt's a place of healing
It's a place I live in freedom
I'm gonna lift my hands
til I can reach heaven
I'm gonna shout your name
til the walls come falling down,
I've come to worship, I've come to worship

This is the heart of the Summer I knew. I have absolutely been marked by this and I continue to be reminded when I find myself in difficult situations, that I am an overcomer, too.

And what I really wanted to share with you today, what's set me on fire this morning, is that in Christ, YOU are an overcomer. If you want to be. It's in you. Do you know that?

To the one going through cancer treatments, stand firm! Overcome! You can do it!

To the one facing major surgery, stand firm! Overcome! You can do it!

To the one in financial distress and uncertainty, stand firm! Overcome! You can do it!

To the one with a troubled marriage, stand firm! Overcome! You can do it!

To the lonely ones, stand firm! Overcome! You can do it!

We have a "great cloud of witnesses" who have gone before us, showing us what it looks like. We can do this y'all.

Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, "For Your sake we are being put to death all day long; We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered." But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35-39 NASB)