By Jennifer L Griffith
“Kelly loved the Lord,” Lola said as I hugged her neck, meeting her for the first time. This encounter occurred two and a half hours after her 53-year-old husband’s artificial heart valve blew while on a bike ride together in Teton Valley, ID.
The husband and wife had met ten years earlier. Lola had conquered her first century bike ride in Colorado where they both lived, thanks to Kelly. He offered to accompany her for the last 40 miles when he realized she wanted to give up. That encounter started a friendship that turned into an enduring love.
Leading up to their arrival to my town, Kelly and Lola had spent four years traveling around the West in an RV. They went wherever God led them. This particular morning Kelly woke with a smile on his face. He said, “I get another day with Lola. I can’t wait to see how God uses us today.”
Late that afternoon, I got the call from my pastor. He said, “Jennifer, I have a sister in Christ with me who just lost her husband on the bike path…” Lola had no one to be with her through the night. Her family had to drive in from southern Colorado and Indiana. At the time of the call, I was very weak and sick. I had just left a job incomplete to go home to bed. But when you know what it’s like to suffer alone, you know that someone who never has would need you all the more.
There was no question as to whether I would go to Lola or not, but I confess that I had a discussion with God regarding my current physical state. I said to Him, “She needs a healthy person, not me. You’re going to have to give me strength, because I don’t have anything inside of me to give to anyone right now. Why did you call on me tonight?” That conversation took place while I regrouped and drove to the campground. When I stepped into the RV, the first thing I saw was Lola’s arms reaching out to me. At that moment I felt “strength” first enter through my toes. It then traveled up and through my entire body, replacing my weakness as Lola’s embrace tightened around me.
God had never let me down, and His timing was perfect that night.
As we sat and talked about what had transpired, I noticed a slight cross of sapphires and a single diamond. It had settled against her chest, after what I’d figured was rough sailing that day. I’d quit wearing my own cross a year earlier, fearing dependence on a symbol to speak for my faith instead of yielding to the Spirit inside of me. Yet when I saw hers, I thought, it’s time to wear mine again. I then wondered where I’d hid my cross all this time.
The numbness that had consumed Lola wore off through the night. The reality of losing her husband and best friend took over. Wails and prayers interchanged as Lola sought consolation from The Comforter. It was beautiful and gut wrenching at the same time. Tears from my own eyes wet my pillow for her loss. Lola knew where Kelly was, and his entry into Heaven couldn’t have been planned any better. Pedaling a bike was high on his list of loves, yet the vacancy left behind took over. She battled back in prayer, though I don’t think she realized it as the Holy Spirit interceded for her through the night.
The morning breeze brought with it God’s grace. Lola stood at her stove, gently stirring blueberries into some quinoa—a staple breakfast for the two. We waited most of the day for the arrival of her sister and brother-in-law. I listened to Lola, and shared some about me–this stranger who had stayed the night with her. Throughout it all, Lola glanced at the clock on the wall. Time seemed to have stopped. But between her checks for the time, she shared who Kelly was as a man of God. How he truly lived out “A husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the Church.” (Eph 5) She told stories of Kelly laying face down in prayer and tears, pleading for our country that once stood strong upon, “In God we Trust.”
Lola showed me books and scripture that she’d read weeks prior. All dealt with suffering, though at the time she wondered why. Less than 24 hours after losing Kelly, the purpose of her preparation had become all too clear.
When her relatives arrived, I thought I’d just go home, but God said no. They needed someone to guide them to the mortuary. While there, I realized that I had seen Kelly’s smile and heard his kind “hello,” very alive just a week earlier. I also remembered the yellow jersey he’d worn that day, and this day to be his last. Kelly and Lola had passed me on the bike path. Lola confirmed our encounter. Kelly had said to her after we passed on the path, “She’s a skier.” And I remembered thinking of the two, what a wonderful thing to share between a husband and a wife, biking on a beautiful summer afternoon. Amazing the thoughts that crossed our minds when we passed, once strangers in our lives.
The miracles of God’s provisions continued as I visited with Lola and what turned into four members of her family by day three. God put it on the heart of my friend to bring food for them, all at the perfect time. A flexible work schedule allowed me to visit and celebrate Kelly’s life with my new friends. We laughed and rejoiced at the beauty of his passing as one demonstrated how Kelly would raise his hands with tears running down his face while he praised and worshiped God in church. He’d become a changed man, according to Lola, truly born again by surrendering to Christ just six years before. Kelly deeply understood the grace he’d been given—freely. And more tears flowed as his absence was felt amongst them…us.
By Saturday we watched Kelly’s favorite clip on the Crab Family.
Lola pulled out her journal to show me how she’d written down the lyrics to one of their songs. It had a theme of suffering, and how God see’s us through those times. As I read and marveled at God’s preparations for Lola for this exact time, I realized that I had not written in my own journal in a long while.
I thought, I need to start writing what God is doing in my life again. Through my own battles to regain my health, I’d let that blessing go. As thoughts of journaling again brushed against my heart, Lola reached around me and placed her sweet cross around my neck. In my protest, Lola said, “I want you to pray for me every time you wear this cross. I’m going to need all of the strength I can get to live without my Kelly.” She kissed my cheek, now wet with my tears.
When I left that night, I marveled at God’s timing and blessings that flowed from this encounter. I clutched the cross around my neck. I knew words could not convey and my fingers could never touch most of what I’d gained through walking this path with Lola, feeling Kelly’s absence along the way. But the gifts are more real than what anyone could know. I’d never felt so humbled and unworthy to be used in such a way by God.
I stopped at the post office to pick up a package that a Louisiana friend had sent to me. I’d tried the day before, but couldn’t. I sat in my car and opened the box. Inside I discovered note cards, newspaper clippings, Camilla Red Beans, Tony Chachere’s seasoning, and underneath it all was—a journal. I sat in awe at the thought of how much God loved me. The reality of His presence touched me deeper still. I no longer needed a new journal to record God’s wonders. He supplied one—at the perfect time. I marveled again at the promises found in His Word.
“Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” (Ps 37:4) And He truly does.
We often miss the blessings of the Lord due to the busyness of our priorities, or how we feel, or through self-imposed boundaries between those we do not know. What’s more important, I ask? What can be? Though many things I’ve gained through this experience and others are not tangible, the things God does for me are irreplaceable, inconceivable; they are priceless. For if we miss blessings such as these through the excuses that seem so real, what more is there to live for? What’s more precious than the gems of the heart, the ones that no one can steal? Our time is now to live and give and ultimately receive, at the perfect time. Each time I bike the path where Kelly last pedaled, a simple cross of willow reminds me of this precious journey, and how precious our time really is to God, most of all. And His is the most perfect of all.