Only three months ago life had been normal. Sam sat next to Debbie at the leaders’ meeting, laughing over memories of “ministry emergencies.” There was the time a well-known guest musician came, but no one could find a microphone stand, so Debbie sat next to her and held the mic up to her guitar the whole time, arms aching like Moses at the battle with Amalek. Or the Christmas party when the potluck instructions were unclear and every single lady brought a fruit tray. And then last spring, Sam and Debbie each thought the other was preparing the devotion for the Mother’s Day Tea, so neither came prepared. That one actually turned out wonderful, because they both got up and presented together, and God made something out of nothing, the way only He can. Sam chuckled to herself as she felt her heart warm at these memories.
Her smile melted and she swallowed a sob. That was the day Debbie had asked for prayer for her upcoming biopsy.
Sam stared without seeing the empty chairs as she stuffed her Bible study books back into her bag and shrugged into her coat, which somehow felt too big for her today. The last day of study.
The end always comes sooner than we expect.
Debbie was the kind of teacher who could bring the Word to life. Her classes on inductive study were always the first to fill up, and the women she discipled went on to serve and teach with confidence in God. Debbie spoke truth with wisdom and compassion, like she really understood what was going on in a person’s heart, and Sam treasured their friendship and the rare times she got Debbie all to herself for an hour or two. Sam and the other leaders were comfortable in the studies they led, but everyone knew Debbie was a gifted teacher flourishing in her calling.
At first the church rallied together in prayer, certain that God would heal their sister; after all, she was the backbone of Women’s Ministry. They prayed together in faith, they fasted, they brought meals, they laid hands on Debbie. But within weeks the tone drew down; the treatments weren’t working. Debbie was getting weaker.
Then came the trip to the Emergency Room; Debbie was too weak to eat. While she was there the doctors discovered an infection. Reality hit like dynamite, and the tower of faith crashed down around them all. Debbie’s kidneys shut down. She wasn’t going to make it.
Tears dripped from Sam’s eyes as she recalled the stream of visitors shuffling through Debbie’s hospice room; the crowd of flowers, the hazy recognition, the hum of machinery keeping her mentor alive a few more hours. The last embrace, when Debbie had rasped into Sam’s ear, “I want you to teach my class.”
Then Debbie was gone.
It still didn’t seem real; Debbie’s death was a vapor Sam couldn’t grasp.
How could it even be possible? Debbie was so full of life and passion. Sam tried to work it out, but understanding evaded her.
And now, here she was, standing in the same spot as before, wrapping up the same class she had taught so many times, but nothing was the same. Next fall, Sam would be teaching Debbie’s class. The weight of it pressed down on Sam, making it hard to breathe. She could never live up to the high standard Debbie had set.
Sam’s phone vibrated. She shook herself back into the present, sweeping the tears from her cheeks. She took a deep breath, closed her eyes and tried to remember the truth she knew.
She didn’t have to live up to Debbie’s standard. God would equip her to fulfill her calling; she would work hard, and He would do the rest. Teaching the Word is the Holy Spirit’s job. Obedience is my job.
Sam checked her phone. Oh! Only ten minutes until I’m supposed to meet Jackie for coffee! She gathered up the rest of her stuff and flicked off the lights.
Jackie was already waiting for her at the coffee bar. She jumped up as soon as she saw Sam coming. “Sam! Thank you for meeting me today. See, I know you’re going to be teaching Debbie’s…” Jackie paused to blink her tears away. “… Debbie’s class, and I want to help. See, Debbie was teaching me how to lead, and I learned so much from her, and, well, I’d be honored if you’d let me learn from you too.”
Sam froze as the room began to roll. Her face flashed hot and fresh tears gushed out before she realized they were coming. She felt Jackie’s strong arms around her, shaking with her own sobs. The fist clenching her heart loosened its grip as they grieved together, and Sam understood at last: Debbie was done with the work God had given her, but the work itself wasn’t done. Sam nodded. Yes, Lord. I will.
The featured image is courtesy of Julie Jablonski and used with her generous permission for Cultivating.
The illustration of the oak leaf is courtesy of Jordan Durbin and used with her generous permission for Cultivating.
Athena Williams is honored to serve as the Director of Online Publication for Cultivating Magazine. She is currently working towards a master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling through Liberty University online. Athena considers writing a privilege and a wonder, and hopes her work will encourage each reader to lean in to the shaping work of God. athenawrites.com
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