Upcoming FBC EventsHannah Circle
Tuesday, Sep 02 at 2:00 pm
Wednesday, Sep 03 at 3:45 pm
Wednesday, Sep 03 at 5:00 pm
Men of Faith
Friday, Sep 05 at 6:15 am
5K Planning Team
Sunday, Sep 07 at 11:45 am
Sunday, Sep 07 at 4:00 pm
Four Seasons Mending
Wednesday, Sep 10 at 9:00 am
Wednesday, Sep 10 at 5:30 pm
5K Planning Team
Sunday, Sep 14 at 11:45 am
Sunday, Sep 14 at 4:30 pm
My brother Tom and I have been blessed by having three sisters. Perhaps not all brothers would say their sisters have been a blessing, and perhaps we did not always think so, but in retrospect there’s not a better word to describe it – “blessed” it is!
As the youngest sibling, all of these sisters have been “big sisters” in my life. However, I’ve often differentiated them in my thinking as: Ruth – my “big, big sister”; Phyllis – my “middle big sister”; and Kristi – my “little big sister”. Big, middle, or little they each have left an imprint on my own formation.
Let me start with “big, big sister” Ruth. Ruth and I were born thirteen years apart. Can you imagine being a thirteen year old and learning that “another” baby was on the way in your domicile? I’m sure she was less than thrilled. As an adolescent, she must have been ready for something besides more diapers, toddler toys and babysitting to occupy her free time.
Family lore, confirmed by Ruth herself, suggests that I wasn’t always the easiest kid to babysit. I had a tendency to cry myself into a gagging reflex, which, let’s just say, did not usually end well. And big, big sister Ruth, the “built in babysitter” was too often on the cleanup end of that situation. Sorry sis.
The day I went to kindergarten Ruth moved to college. A couple of years later she was married. The distance of years between us, however, would lesson as we both grew in adulthood. Ruth and I shared some similar “wiring” – that is, I found out that we thought alike. This was discovered over adult conversation, often in the company of a good cup of coffee.
We also shared a calling in the work of the church – she as a church musician (organ & piano) – I as a pastor. Ruth understood, like no one else in the family, the hassle of a wedding rehearsal, and the “game face” of a funeral. She knew what it was to work with bossy pastors, disorganized pastors and pastors who were just kind of indifferent to volunteer staff. She helped me become a better pastor who tries never to take for granted the gifts, time and offerings of those I work with.
Sadly, Ruth passed away in late May of 2004. She was too young, just 52. We’ve missed her voice, and her wisdom, these past ten years. I see her today in the expressions, countenance, and demeanor of her girls – all of whom have grown into remarkable young women. Her legacy lives among us, even as she lives in eternity.
Phyllis, my “middle big sister”, is just four years my senior. She, together with Kristi (3 years older than I), were my immediate sibling companions growing up. While Ruth and Tom had older things to do, Phyllis and Kristi were stuck with a little brother snooping on their sleepover parties and tagging along in their play. If they grew weary of my shadow they seldom complained. They incorporated my trucks and Johnny West figures into their Barbie play. We traveled miles and miles in the back of the camper together on family vacations. They contributed many good childhood memories I cherish yet today.
I grew up watching my older siblings play sports. Phyllis was especially an inspiration with her hustle and hard work. She was a leader and remains one yet today. Band major and first chair; three sport athlete – earning a letter blanket (not just jacket); honor roll student; thespian – she set the bar high for her two younger siblings.
When Phyllis went to Purdue she wrote me a letter almost every week. This was in the days before email and texting. She often put a Purdue sports clipping from The Exponent (student newspaper) in with the letter – contributing to my obsession with all things Boilermaker. I cherished getting those letters. How many sisters would do that?
I continue to admire Phyllis and her family as they advocate for and exhibit good stewardship of the land in Agriculture. Seeing the progress they’ve made with our Grandpa Cunningham’s farm as they’ve expanded it and increased its production is always a heartwarming homecoming feeling. More than once or twice I’ve met farmers across the state and received an even warmer welcome when introduced as the brother/brother-in-law of Phyllis & Mark Legan.
Today Phyllis is the church musician. She coordinates and collaborates with a variety of others in the praise teams of her growing church. The style and instrumentation may differ from the days when Ruth occupied the organ, but the servant’s heart is the same.
My “big little sister” Kristi taught me to not take life quite as seriously as I was inclined. She always displayed a big smile and often saw the humor in situations. One of my favorite childhood memories of Kristi was how she could get our Dad laughing. He may have had a hard day at work, been worried over any number of adult things, but when listening to Kristi share a story or relay an event – his armor cracked and the laughter would roll.
Kristi and I were bunk mates in the old slide-in truck camper, sharing a bed above the cab. Dad slept just below Kristi with Mother on the table bed and Phyllis on the floor. Dad snored! Kristi devised a subtle, yet effective, tendency to drop her leg or arm down (in her sleep of course) and hit Dad, waking him from his sleep and ceasing the snoring. How I admired that move.
Kristi was also an athlete and school leader. She played volleyball and ran track. She was also a cheerleader all through school. She was crowned the homecoming queen her senior year – by none other than her high school sweetheart, one day to be husband, Jim. When Jim and Kristi were seniors, I was a freshman. Jim and I ran the same event on the track team, the 400 – though you might not know it, he always finishing way ahead of me. Who would’ve known then that this couple would marry and have such a beautiful family together?
Another favorite childhood memory is listening to Kristi play the piano. She was a natural, hearing and feeling the music and giving expression to each song. She also played the flute and piccolo, and she had a good singing voice.
Lori and I lived near Kristi and Jim when we moved to Chicago for seminary. About the first week we were there we had to call Kristi to bail us out, as Lori had locked her keys in the car at a job interview. I was miles away on the school campus with the other set of keys, but no car and not yet acquainted with anyone. Kristi took off work, fought the Chicagoland traffic, came to get me and the keys . . . . and Lori got the job!
We enjoyed being close enough to welcome their firstborn, Wendi, to the family when she was born and share a few get-togethers before the Robinson’s moved to another opportunity miles away.
As I write this reflection on my sisters, we have, sadly lost Kristi (like Ruth) to cancer. Our niece, Angie, Ruth’s daughter, put it well on her Facebook tribute: “Gone too soon.” How true. We watched the courage and resolve with which our sister endured this illness for nearly four years. We admired the steady, loving ways her husband and children cared for her and honored her. She taught us much during this time.
Cash’s have never been much on displays of affection. It’s just not in our DNA. We love each other and will be there to help and defend and support the other, just don’t ask us to hug! Kristi may have always been an exception to that trait, but after her diagnosis she rewrote the rules. Every time I saw her she made a point to hug me – often always saying, “I love you”. She did this with all of us – her siblings, her nieces and nephews, her parents, her friends, and of course her own family.
She was always positive when we were together. That smile continued on – even when I know she did not feel it. She seldom complained. She gave us the gift of herself. I know I am the richer for it – “blessed”. And I know that I am not alone.
The only sense that I can make of losing two sisters in the prime of their lives – Ruth at 52, Kristi ten years later at 53 – is to say that we live in a broken world. It’s a world where God’s intent for creation was broken long ago. We continue to live in the aftermath of that brokenness – and in the anticipation of its full redemption. This brokenness and its manifestations, I believe, is something that God grieves every bit as much as we do. When wives, mothers, daughters, sisters, grandmothers like these die, we all experience loss. It’s a palpable sense of loss, an emptiness or numbness that is hard to come to grips with – even after ten years.
Kristi and I shared a conversation a year or more ago. I had stopped to pick her up and give her a ride into Greencastle where we were going to gather with our other siblings, Mother and Dad for lunch. We had a few minutes to catch up – what were the kids up to? How was she feeling? What was the latest in her treatment? Somehow the conversation turned to the future. It turned to heaven.
“I want all my children to be in heaven”, Kristi said. “I want them to have spouses who will also be in heaven.” I asked her if she thought about heaven a lot. She said that she did. She was looking forward to heaven.
The Apostle Paul writes in Philippians 1:21: “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” That’s a tough statement for some to hear. Our culture, in its constant effort to deny the reality of death, tells us “fight to live”, do everything to live – even with “living” bears little resemblance to life. The medical community puts almost all its weight behind thinking and treating illness and disease with any and all efforts – regardless of the cost.
But faith in Jesus tells us that the ultimate healing comes in life through our death. It’s in life everlasting, in the presence of our Creator, that the intended order of things is set right. There, on heaven’s shore, we can hear the echoes of Paul’s other words (I Corinthians 15:55) “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”
Last week I watched the film Heaven is for Real. It tells the story of a four year old boy’s experience of heaven, during an operation in which he nearly lost his life. The part of the film that hit me the hardest, and that I continue to think on, was the “reunions” he experienced. Meeting a grandpa he’d never met, and a sister his mother had lost in pregnancy.
I imagine the reunions my sisters are enjoying these days, together with our Dad, our grandparents, and other loved ones. Heaven’s gain is most certainly our loss. But I give thanks for the memories and blessings of “sisters”.
In Loving Memory
November 17, 1960 – August 1, 2014