You probably didn’t notice a wobble in the earth’s rotation, a split-second tilt in its axis, a brief cosmic stutter last Wednesday. Neither did I.
But when I learned later that a sweet lady in Amarillo named Melba Joy had passed away suddenly that day, I immediately felt an emptiness in my soul, a pain in my heart, and a deep sense of loss. And I confess to being irrationally surprised that this planet could sustain that kind of loss and keep spinning as the solar system carried on business as usual.
I suppose that an unbeliever, an agnostic or atheist, but a skeptic of a kind sort, would feel compassion for anyone in grief, even if the bottom line in the skeptic’s life philosophy is that we’re all accidents anyway and the planet/universe can’t be expected to notice, much less, mourn, our loss.
Rationally, though I’m a Christian believer—and one who doesn’t believe for a second that belief negates rational thought—I know that the universe is impersonal and cannot mourn. But I believe its Creator is God, not an impersonal force or capricious pagan deity, but the Father who loves his children with an intensity we cannot begin to fathom, who, as Christ has told us, numbers even the hairs on our heads.
I believe the Creator of the universe not only noticed when Melba Joy passed away last Wednesday, I believe he welcomed her with an inexpressible love and, yes, joy. I believe that our Father not only loves every one of his children, I believe that he loves us as if there was only one to love. And, though I believe that the Father rejoiced to receive her truly Home, I also believe that he feels the loss and grief of those who loved her.
Obviously, my words come from the perspective of a believer. They are also coming from a small-church pastor. If you’ve not known and loved life, and the lives, the folks with faces, in a small church family, a real family in every sense, I doubt you can begin to understand the loss the folks in the little but lovely Anna Street Church in Amarillo are feeling right now. (It’s been my privilege to know and love them for lots of years, and my brother is their pastor.)
They love all of their folks, but for over 60 years, Melba, a “charter member,” has been integral in the life of that church family. For much of that time, she served as their church “hostess” and was later also recognized officially as what she had long been, a sweet deaconess. If it was warm, beautiful, well-organized, tasty, filled with joy, you can be very sure Melba Joy had a serious hand in it.
Sweet, talented, filled with joy to match her name, and beautiful in every way, Melba died at 93 (and could have easily passed for 73). When my younger brother heard of her passing, he wrote, “How sad! But didn’t she show us how to serve right up until the finish line? What a remarkable ‘Martha’ who had a big helping of the heart of ‘Mary’!” (Mary and Martha were Jesus’ dear friends). Yes, and what a “Dorcas” (Acts 9) whose passing the ancient church mourned so deeply.
Irreplaceable. That’s the word that keeps coming to mind. For small churches who lose such a lady, irreplaceable has a name. It’s Melba Joy. It’s June Conway. It’s Robin Taylor. It’s ______; fill in the name. If you’re a genuine part of a small church family, you know it. Speak the name. Thank God for her. And when she goes Home, ask the Father to help you honor him as you also honor her by being part of the small army you’ll find it will take to try to even begin to do what she did so wonderfully with so much selfless and soul-warming love.
You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!
Copyright 2019 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.