Many friends on Facebook are posting a reason to be grateful each day this Thanksgiving month. My list of thanks seems to be a mile long. To start, there is my faith in Jesus, my health, a warm bed, the love of family and friends, and a strong calling to ministry. This year I’m also grateful for the often more visceral experiences that have changed my heart’s DNA. They involve death and life and the glory of God.
This year I traveled to India to see our J127 Clubs* in action. This three-year program is an outreach of David C Cook and based on the Scripture, “True religion that God accepts is to care for orphans in distress …” James 1:27. We equip the local church in India to feed the soul or as we call it, “the other half of the child.” The orphans involved in these clubs have faced significant trauma in their young lives. They’re either ignored by the world or seen as beyond hope for redemption.
As the communications girl for Global Mission at David C Cook, I’ve written about these children for several months. However, nothing prepared me to walk into an orphanage for the first time and be immersed in unbridled joy. The children’s songs, fervent prayer, worship and laughter shook the walls. I’d describe it as waves of glory. This type of transcendence pierces the heart and makes standing upright a risky act. These children radiate the glory of God in the midst of tragic past and an uncertain future. Only God could bring about that kind of beauty.
Christians use the word “glory” freely, but few of us dig into it’s meaning. Glory is a weighty, heavy joy, and when it hits you know it’s God and you feel nothing but praise in your heart. Pastor James MacDonald offers a great description of this in his book, Vertical Church.
“Glory is a manifestation of God’s reality. When someone or something evidences the reality of God’s existence that revealing is God’s glory. We don’t see God; we see the evidence that He has been at work; we see His glory.
Scripture is replete with descriptions about God’s glory. Here is a sampling: “… the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on a mountain top …” (Exodus 24:17). It’s portrayed as a stormy wind, a great cloud with brightness around it, a fire flashing, a gleaming metal, a burst of lightening, an awe inspiring crystal (Ezekiel 1). Psalm 29 says the glory of God “thunders, breaks cedars, hews out flames of fires and shakes the wilderness.”
My experience with orphans involved in J127 Clubs* swept me off my feet. The Lord gave me a taste of the glory described in the Bible.
I am compelled to be involved in the work of Global Mission at David C Cook. I am also called to invest time at hospice in Colorado Springs. I take my registered therapy dog to snuggle with patients and their families and to bring a sense of normalcy to a cold, sterile, and often frightening environment. In another role I assist the chaplain in caring for the spiritual health of the dying.
From what I’ve observed – and this may seem obvious – the end of life is not the best time to figure out what you believe about God and what you think happens after death. I encounter many individuals that endure great distress as they work through these questions. Emotions are raw and at the surface. Relationships take on new meaning. Regrets are combed over. Faith is tested. Faith is revealed.
There are stormy deaths and peaceful deaths. I’ve learned to see a sliver of God’s glory in all of them. It doesn’t come through flashes of lightening and thunder, yet it’s revealed all the same, and often in the most benign moments. I’ve sat for hours watching NASCAR races while holding the hand of an old man without family, my dog sleeping in the crook of his arm. I stayed until he slept, the weight of glory resulting from compassion and peace, a tangible gift. I’ve read the Psalms over someone unresponsive and near death only to have my hand grasped or labored breathing soothed. Signs of Jesus are everywhere and in the most unlikely situations.
The glory of God is revealed all throughout our day if we are open to seeing it. It’s revealed in nature, art, music, and relationships. However, when it’s paired with trouble or great trial it feels heaviest.
I witnessed God’s glory in the passing of a colleague’s wife this last week. After a 10-year battle with cancer, this feisty, affectionate, brilliant and godly woman walked with Jesus into eternity. She left behind her husband and best friend of 45 years, and two beloved children.
Mere weeks before her death she still fought the cancer, still demonstrated passion and love toward the outcast, and still exhibited rock-solid confidence in the Lord. Her faith in the face of adversity gave us a glimpse of God’s glory.
A week or so before she passed her husband said, “The Lord is walking us through each fragile step. He is providing a lot of his best people to encourage us along the way. He has not failed us. He is very present with us. We are not anxious or fearful. We have peace. We are confident He will shepherd us through whatever is ahead.”
A couple of days before her death he sent this note: “We’re thankful for God’s kindness to us. We hate to let go, but it is time. Our love means we must let her go and help ease her into the fullness of eternal life.”
This is not a man prone to put on a good face or project a forced faith. His voice cracked with grief, his face drawn – the loss already taking its toll. Yet all of us on staff watched as the glory of God manifested in such a tangible and powerful way that our eyes turned to heaven in praise. It was a peaceful death.
As we approach this time of Thanksgiving, I’d encourage you to consider how God’s presence or “foot print” manifests in the unlikeliest of moments of your lives.
One final note: The woman who died recently was passionate about David C Cook’s mission to care for the hearts of orphan children. Please consider sponsoring a J127 club* and following a specific group of boys and girls on their journey toward new life. There is a weighty joy in this mission at David C Cook. Join us in witnessing the miracle.
Amy Tracy handles communications for Global Mission at David C Cook. You can reach her at Amy.Tracy@DavidCCook.org.
*Update: In 2018, David C Cook transferred oversight of the J127 clubs to an in-country partner which continues to shepherd and grow this program. By supporting David C Cook’s Life on Life curriculum, you will be helping support this program as well.