“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (I Corinthians 15:55)
My niece Bethany Fowler-Jimenez died this week. She was 33 years old.
I was heartbroken when I learned the news and I have been in that state since. This morning I asked myself why. After all, I hardly ever saw Beth.
Sitting on my sofa and weeping (and I am not ashamed to write this), I think I came to understand why her passing hurts so much. There are several reasons for the sense of loss I feel.
First, Beth was family. She was the daughter of my only brother, himself very dear to me.
In this day and age, you would think the word ‘family’ doesn’t mean what it used to. Still, as the old German proverb says, blood is thicker than water.
There’s something almost mystical in relationships between those who share the same DNA. Beth and I were joined by mutual histories, triumphs and failures carried down to us from previous generations.
Second, as an adult Beth had become my friend. Once when my family and I were thinking of coming to her area, she learned of it and made a point to contact me and invite us into her home with open arms.
We did come and we did spend a weekend with her and her family. It was a fun and enjoyable experience as we got to know her husband and kids, and even her multiple dogs!
Beth not only was my niece and my friend, but she was a person who treated me with honor. In recent years, this one especially, she has contacted me for advice and made no secret of her respect and love for me. Indeed, when Beth told you she loved you, somehow you knew she truly meant it.
Her young son and I share a name together. Blood is thicker than water; names connect us.
William Shakespeare wrote,”If it be a sin to covet honor, I am the most offending soul.” Beth honored me and that fed my spirit.
Speaking of spirituality, there was a time this year when Beth caught me on Facebook and began a chat with me. She asked me how I sensed my calling in life was from God.
Beth told me she was asking this because the older she got, the more she found herself turning to Scripture and prayer. “I have learned to let go and let God a little bit more”, she wrote.
She related to me a meeting she had had with a female chaplain recently. This woman touched her so greatly that it had made her cry.
Beth wrote to me:
“The cry was a good cry because I almost felt like the conversation we had cleansed my soul and took me further into my faith and it renewed my hope that God has a plan for me. Im just not sure what it is and how do I know that’s it..I don’t wanna miss the boat!”
Beth talked about how she felt drawn to helping people since she was 18. She became an emergency medical technician as a result of that.
Her posts told me that she was thinking of going to nursing school. Her motivation came from this passage from Matthew in which Jesus is telling a parable:
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’(Matthew 25:31-40).
For me, Bethany didn’t miss any boats. Unbeknownst to her, she had already loved me in the manner Jesus describes here and made Him proud.
Beth told me she loved the Psalms. This morning as I was thinking on her life, I read Psalm 91. I believe the Psalmist had her in mind when he wrote these words:
“Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.I will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”
Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare [AND IF I MAY PAUSE HERE, WE FOWLER’S HAVE A LOT OF THEM) and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, Nor the plague that destroys at midday. A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you. You will only observe with your eyes and see the punishment of the wicked.
If you say, “The LORD is my refuge,” and you make the Most High your dwelling, 1no harm will overtake you, no disaster will come near your tent. 11 For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands,so that you will not strike your foot against a stone. You will tread on the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent.
“Because (s)he[loves me,” says the LORD, “I will rescue her I will protect her, for she acknowledges my name. She will call on me, and I will answer her; I will be with her in trouble, I will deliver her and honor her. With long life I will satisfy her and show her my salvation.”
Beth, you are in Jesus’s boat now. Knowing this has lessened the sting the scorpion wanted to make of your passing. See you on the other side.