Sunday, October 31, 2010

My Precious Cousin Karen

The above picture was taken a little over 6 years ago at Christopher's baby dedication at church. For those of you who don't know her, Karen is the one in the red shirt next to me. God has used her in a mighty way in my life! Here's our story:

When I was 5, Karen and her sisters became my cousins when my mother married their uncle. Since they lived in Florida and I lived in Alabama, we didn't get to see much of each other growing up - mainly at Christmas and a few family get-togethers. But when I was about 12 or 13, I rode the Grayhound bus down to Florida with our shared grandmother Maw (my dad's & her mom's mother) to spend a week with Karen's family. Karen and her sisters were at the later end of their teens and were more into boys and dating than hanging out with a cousin they barely knew. However, Karen took a special interest in me and would take me with her when she worked at the roller skating rink. She even taught me to rollerskate backwards (no, I can't still do this...I can barely rollerskate forwards anymore)! :)

Little did either of us know, many years later, God would use her to bring me to the place where I would meet my husband and raise our family. I was just finishing my teaching degree and during my time alone with God one morning, I felt that He was going to move me away from Montgomery, AL, where I lived at the time. I promised God that I would go anywhere He wanted me to go, and only asked that He allow me to have family in town. I thought that He would take me to someplace closer to my maternal grandmother, quite possibly to the town where I grew up. But, God had bigger plans! He must have whispered in Karen's heart that I needed to be in Florida, because around the same time, the school at the church where her husband works needed two teachers and she told the principal about me. When the principal made the phone call, all I could remember was the city, the only family I knew who lived there (Karen & her precious family), and my promise to God. That settled it. I knew where He was sending me.

For the first year I lived here, I lived with Karen, Forrest and their three precious little boys (who are not so little anymore)! I saw first-hand how they interacted with each other and with their children. I saw their faith and dedication to God and their church. God used this time to grow my faith by leaps and bounds...and grow me as a person! I learned so much by watching them live their daily life...and many of the things I learned from them that year, I have brought into my own marriage and family!

The following year, their guest house opened up and I moved to their back yard. This gave me the independence I needed, and yet still close. The joke had become that everyone who lives in their guest house gets married...but me being in my 30's and still single, I had almost given up hope! But, God granted me the desires of my heart and during that year, David and I (who had been friends for about two years) began to see each other as more than just friends and began courting.

When David asked me to be his wife, Forrest & Karen conducted our pre-marital counseling required by the church. They each guided us to be the husband and wife that God wanted us to be, and our marriage is better because of it! :)

Karen threw my wedding shower...and later when we found out we had been identified as Christopher's adoptive parents, she threw a baby shower for us! And when we brought Christopher home from the hospital, Karen and her family were the first to visit at our home!

Three years ago, my precious cousin found out she had colon cancer. Twice, God has healed her. And twice the cancer has returned. This third battle has been the hardest. She has indeed fought the good fight. Unfortunately, it looks like the cancer is winning this time. But in Karen's case, the victory will indeed be short-lived! Death has lost its sting! Jesus Christ as overcome the grave - and because of her trust and faith in Him, when Karen has breathed her last breath on earth, she will be immediately in His presence, spending eternity in Heaven with all of our loved ones who have gone before us! And because of our faith in Jesus Christ, we have the assurance that one day, we will see her and our other loved ones again when we join her in Heaven!

The Bible says, "For ALL have sinned and come short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23) - which means that NONE of us are worth to enter Heaven on our own. We can never be good enough because we were born with a sin nature. The Bible also says "The wages of sin is [eternal] death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Romans 6:23) and "For God so LOVED the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have enternal life." Sin separates us from God, but God loves us so much that He sent his only son to pay the penalty for our sins. Because Jesus died on the cross as payment for our sins, the ONLY thing we need to do in order to spend eternity in Heaven is to accept Him as our Lord and Savior. It's a FREE GIFT. There's nothing we can do to earn it, but the only way we can receive it is by accepting it."But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His spirit who dwells in you." (Romans 8:11)

Karen accepted that free gift long ago, and by doing so, sealed her name into the Book of Life. When she passes from this life, she will receive her reward in Glory! "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us." (Romans 8:18)

Many have prayed for her healing...and as long as she has breath in her lungs, we will continue to pray for a miracle! The doctors have run out of options to help her - but God never runs out of options! The Bible reminds us, "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible" (Matthew 19:26).

At the same time, we recognize that God sees the big picture we cannot see and knows what is best. "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future." (Jeremiah 29:11). God loves Karen even more than we do and He still has a plan for her life. What that plan is, we do not know. He could choose to heal her here on earth (which we all hope for) or He could choose to heal her in Heaven (which may be best for her). Though we cannot trace His hand and see exactly what He's doing in all this, we can certainly trust His heart and know that He is working everything out for the best!

"And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose" (Romans 8:28). That verse does not promise that all things WILL be good, but that they will WORK TOGETHER for good. Cancer is certainly NOT good...but the things God has done through Karen's cancer have been! So many people have accepted Christ as a result of this cancer journey Karen's been on. All these people will one day spend eternity in Heaven. Had Karen not crossed their paths through this journey, she would not have had the opportunity to share her faith with them. These people will avoid spending eternity in a place of darkness and pain because Karen kept her eyes on God through her struggle with cancer.

When I started writing this blog, I only planned it to be a tribute to my cousin. I hadn't planned to share verses or talk about God's faithfulness, but how can I not? He is faithful. Even in suffering, He is faithful. Even in celebration, He is faithful. Great is His faithfulness! On that note, I'll close with a precious hymn...


Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father;
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not;
As Thou hast been, Thou forever will be.

Great is Thy faithfulness!
Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see.
All I have needed, Thy hand hath provided;
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!

Summer and winter and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon, and stars in their courses above
Join with all nature in manifold witness
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.

Great is Thy Faithfulness!
Great is Thy Fathfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see.
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided;
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!

Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide.
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!

If you don't know God's faithfulness and you haven't accepted Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior, please send me a message or talk with me personally. I would love to introduce you to the One who is holding all of us up through this difficult situation! Without Him, I would have no hope! And I don't want you to be without Him, either. I want us to all be together in Heaven someday! God has given each of us a free will - He wants us all in Heaven, but only if we choose to go. He will not force even one of us to go against our will. And he's made it so easy to "make the list" - all we have to do is trust in Jesus as our Savior and make Him the Lord of our lives. Doing so won't make your life easy, but it will make the burden lighter. God will never allow you to go through anything that He won't be there walking beside you ever step of the way...carrying you, if He has to! I've felt His loving arms around me in many times of trial. It's the most comforting place to be...especially when facing something I know I could never face in my own strength!

"God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble" (Psalm 46:1).

*Edited Note: Karen graduated to Glory on Tuesday, November 2nd. I am thankful that she was able to read this blog before her Homegoing and know how thankful I am for the way God used her in my life and how much I love her. Her text message to me after reading the blog was this: "Thanks so much Kara for your kind words...I love that it lead to the plan of salvation...God is so good!" Right up to the very end, Karen was sharing her faith with everyone who crossed her path...trying to take as many with her to Heaven as she could! She is no longer in any pain...she is face to face with her Heavenly Father and dancing on His streets of Gold. I am so thankful for the assurance that someday, I'll dance right alongside her...because HE (Jesus) lives!!!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Happy 90th Birthday, Grandaddy!

On October 24, 1920, Clarence Ray Till came into this world. Though I don't know all the details of Grandaddy's childhood, I do know that he played a very important role in mine! As the oldest (and for over 8 years, the only) grandchild, I had the benefit of having his full attention growing up...we were buddies!

My grandfather loved to tell the story of how he came to be the pastor of Northside Baptist Church. In 1943, his brother Holmes Till had resigned his position as pastor of the church in order to find a place to live where his daughter, who had severe allergies, could breathe better. My grandfather came in view of a call, and when the votes were cast, there was only one nay vote. One woman in the church voted against my grandfather for the simple reason that he wasn't yet married and she didn't see how he could minister to families without one of his own. Two years later, my grandfather married her daughter, Mary Kathryn Wells. They were married on September 27, 1945.

Almost two years later, in July of 1947, Rev. C. Ray & Mary Kathryn Till gave birth to my mother, Kathryn Annette. In January 1949, they had thier only son, Alan Wayne. And about 10 years later, my aunt, Carolyn Raye was born. Eventually, four grandchildren were born - me, my brother Josh, and my cousins Katie & Whitney.

My grandfather retired from the only church he ever pastored - Northside Baptist Church in Anniston, AL in 1986 - after 43 years of service. He touched the lives of many people in Anniston during that time and was more affectionately called "Brother Ray" by just about everyone who knew him but didn't have the privilege of being related to him!

Grandaddy loved the deal. He often went to sales and auctions with his buddy Oscar Cotton. He also loved working on cars. And I loved working on cars with him! I don't think I was really any help - but I was company and I adored everything my Grandaddy did...and he adored me! He adored each and every one of his children and grandchildren. I think we all thought we were his favorite...he never compared one of us to the other, so we were all certain we were the one he loved most!

Many times, Grandaddy would pick me up and take me out for what I used to call "cherwy pie and coffee." What it was in reality was Shoney's Big Boy strawberry pie. Grandaddy did have coffee...but mine was more a cup of milk and sugar with just a hint of coffee...or maybe sometimes hot chocolate. Every time I eat strawberry pie or drink coffee, I always think of my Grandaddy!

Alzheimer's robbed Grandaddy of his memory, and eventually, of his life. I can remember the day that the family was meeting to decide what was the best care plan for Grandaddy when the Alzheimer's had stolen so much of him from us that my grandmother could no longer care for him. Not wanting Grandaddy to be upset by the conversation, they decided to meet away from my grandparents home. I had the privilege of staying with Grandaddy while they met. On my way to their home, I stopped at Shoney's and picked up a strawberry pie for us to share. While we were eating together, Grandaddy said, "You know, I used to pick up this little girl and take her out for pie like this." He didn't recognize me as being that little girl so long ago and when I desperately tried to make the connection for him, he gently said, "Yes, she called me Grandaddy."

Grandaddy loved to tease. He was never mean, but he could often be the slightest bit aggrivating. :) I remember many times when he was in his bedroom, either preparing for his sermon or watching TV, if I passed by his bedroom door, he would call out, "Darrrrrrrrrrlin!" I don't know why it aggrivated me so, but he knew it did and would therefore do it every time. What I wouldn't give just to hear him say that just one more time! I wouldn't pout and say, "Oh Grandaddy, stop it!" Instead, I'd smile, run in his room and give him a great big ole' hug!

One more thing I'd give anything for is to walk down the church aisle and shake hands with his congregation. During the closing prayer of every service, Grandaddy would make his way up the aisle so he could shake hands with the congregation as they left the sanctuary. From the time I was a little girl until I was in my early teens and thought myself too old to do so, I would always step out in the aisle as I heard the familiar jingle of Grandaddy's keys in his pocket as he walked past my pew. Then I would proudly stand by his side and shake hands right alongside him! At his final service, just before he retired, I heard that familiar jingle coming up the aisle and I debated about stepping out as I'd done in my childhood...but pride took over and I stayed put. I opened my eyes as the sound of his keys told me he was near my pew...and saw that he still moved over as if I were still stepping out next to him! I kick myself now for being such a prideful teenager that I didn't step out that one last time!

Even though Grandaddy never met a single one of his great-grandchildren, he named my son. I was about 10 - 12 years old when I made the declaration to Grandaddy that I was going to name my first little boy after him. He immediately made me promise not to put "Clarence" on a child. Sensing how much Grandaddy hated his own first name, I agreed with the stipulation that my son's first name would have to start with a C because Grandaddy signed his name "C. Ray Till." Together, we came up with the name Christopher and the matter was settled until Christopher Ray Till Jansen was born some twenty-something years later! The interesting thing is that even though Christopher never met his great-grandfather, he also prefers to go by C. Ray!

Today, Grandaddy is spending his 90th birthday in a wonderful place called Heaven. He's celebrating with his wife, who joined him in eternity almost two years ago. And some day, by our faith in Jesus Christ, our family has the hope of seeing him again someday! My precious Grandaddy was a very important part of my life - my friend, my confidant, my advisor, my grandfather!

Happy 90th Birthday, Grandaddy! I love you!!!